Learning mustn’t stop with Covid-19

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) brings technology into our everyday lives, making education accessible anytime, anywhere.

THE Covid-19 pandemic has pushed schools, higher education institutions (HEIs) and training providers online to ensure that effective learning continues. While technology can facilitate seamless migration of face-to-face learning to a virtual platform, accessibility to quality digital content is crucial especially during the movement control order (MCO).


Interest in SMK Jerlun science teacher Norhailmi Abdul Mutalib’s free online content has seen a surge since the MCO was imposed on March 18.

His blog which has been running since 2012, provides science and educational information for teachers and students.

“I get some 10,000 daily views but it has spiked to 35,000. Articles on online quizzes, science experiments and topic notes, which students can use to study at home, are popular.”

The Global Teacher Prize 2020 top 50 finalist, whose teaching methods include enabling students to produce creative online content through blogs and videos, also shares his science content on YouTube.

“Views on my channel increased by 127% in the last few days – especially the science experiment videos. I usually get 10 to 15 subscribers daily but since the MCO, I’m seeing 50 to 100 sign ups every day, ” he said, adding that viewer engagement time has also gone up from 2,000 to 7,000 minutes.

To make sure that learning is not disrupted, he keeps in touch with his students through phone and video calls, and social media.

Advising parents to follow the Education Ministry’s social media page and credible education portals and blogs for updates and useful content, he reminds students to keep in constant contact with their teachers and peers through group chats, and to complete their online homework and activities in a timely manner.

“Collaborate with each other and share your e-learning resources.”

Higher education

Many varsities have moved their classes online to minimise the spread of infection, said Universiti Malaya’s Academic Enhancement and Leadership Development Centre (ADeC) e-learning head Dr Zahiruddin Fitri Abu Hassan.

To ensure limited interruption to teaching and learning activities, HEIs must make sure the remote approaches are effective for students.

Those who have never designed an online interaction before can start with virtual lectures to minimise anxiety, he suggested.

“There are plenty of online meeting applications you can use (see info-graphics). Your IT department may have an institutional account that you could borrow.”

Most of these applications, he said, allow for simultaneous connections and screen sharing so educators can browse through their lecture slides like they would normally do in class.

“Lecturers can share the meeting link from the application with their students in the varsity’s learning management system (LMS) page together with instructions of when to connect for the online lecture. The laptop camera and microphone are good enough for this.”

Online learning, he said, should include assessment activities.

“Talk to your students. The move to online teaching especially if it has not been done before, might be unsettling to some, ” he said, adding that attendance can be taken through a screen capture by recording the online lecture.

The assessment submission time stamp and chat or forum logs can be used as a participation record for other online learning activities. These can even be printed out, he said.

“When using chats or forums, students must be told that their ‘attendance’ is being taken.”

To measure student learning time, the lecturer must identify ‘measurable activities’ that students have to do online.

The time for students to read articles, watch videos, go through lecture slides, create content, write reflections and answer assessments, can be estimated.

The LMS, he said, can be used as an indexing portal to design a step-by-step learning experience while its activity modules can be used together with articles, journal papers, e-books, YouTube videos, online collaborative tools and web 2.0 applications, to achieve learning objectives.

“Practice makes perfect. In some varsities, regular e-learning activities are conducted so educators would have had plenty of time to fine tune their online teaching practice and test the e-learning system.

“For others, it helps to be in constant communication with the teaching and learning centre and IT department.”

The MCO, said Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh, is a bold and responsible step in safeguarding the community from exposure to the virus.

All academicians and institutions are now challenged with minimising the impact on students, he said, adding that Mapcu members have adopted different remote learning approaches to ensure continuity to the teaching and learning process.

For example, educators who previously used ‘flipped classrooms’ to enhance collaborative learning in physical classrooms, have turned to technology to implement ‘flipped virtual classrooms’ instead. This ensures that the same level of learning effectiveness is achieved whether or not the lecturer and students are in the same physical space.

Some institutions have also implemented synchronous learning, effectively conducting ‘live sessions’ with their students online. These are recorded and made available to students who weren’t able to join the session.

“Others deliver sessions purely in asynchronous mode, with recorded sessions viewed by students in their own time, followed by shorter engagement sessions like chatroom and online meetings where the recorded material is discussed.

“A variety of approaches enables e-learning to operate regardless of the availability of strong Internet connectivity, ” he said, adding that most HEIs have well-developed frameworks, tools, support facilities and infrastructure to handle both synchronous and asynchronous learning.

These, he said, have been developed and enhanced continuously alongside advancements in learning technologies.

“Although Covid-19 has put us in an unfortunate situation, the MCO is a golden opportunity for HEIs to test all their remote learning approaches and to give students the full experience of technology-supported learning.”

Students, he said, should also be able to access the library via e-books, online databases, journals and open access resources.

Taylor’s University and Taylor’s College have implemented their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) since Monday.

Classes – including orientation for the new students – will be conducted virtually until April 19.

Taylor’s deputy vice-chancellor and chief academic officer Prof Dr Pradeep Nair said students’ educational progress won’t be hindered during this period as they can easily access the VLE.

“Each Taylor’s course has its own virtual site with e-assessment, e-tutoring, e-submission and e-forum features which lets students learn outside the classroom.

“It also allows them to connect with their lecturers, collaborate with their peers and take charge of their learning.

“Students’ progress is tracked by using a progress bar. Digital badges are awarded when students complete all the required activities online, ” he said, adding that students also have access to the Lecture Capture System (ReWIND) which has over 5,000 recorded lectures – complete with audio, visual, presentation slides, and other module-related content.

Students can fast-forward, rewind, or skip to a specific segment, to learn in a self-directed and personalised manner, anytime, anywhere.

Taylor’s also uses live streaming on YouTube in University Compulsory Modules (UCM) and Lightboard Video Technology for recording lectures.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), said its vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Aini Ideris, started conducting online lectures last month.

That was put on hold when the MCO was announced, as students in rural areas were facing Internet access issues. UPM, she said, is in the midst of identifying the students involved and their Internet speeds.

“We’ll have online lectures in real time which requires high bandwith, and also versions that are suitable for lower bandwith, ” she said, adding that the varsity was also ready to carry out online assessment for its students.

“We’ll face this challenge positively. Covid-19 is a push factor for us to ensure that learning and assessment in the new millennium is carried out effectively.”

Urging the Education and Higher Education Ministries to support, strengthen, and expand online learning, HELP vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Paul Chan said this would ensure that students’ study routine and discipline are not compromised.

Without online learning, students may end up playing video games, watching TV or idling at home.

“Most importantly, they lose the discipline of learning in a structured way.

“They don’t know what to do and parents may not be around to help them, ” he said, adding that all schools and colleges should be encouraged to implement e-learning as most students have hand phones and Internet access.

“E-learning is part of IR4.0. If the MCO goes on for months, those who already have access to online education will learn but those without are at a further disadvantage.

“It’s better to accelerate e-learning in all colleges and schools rather than to stop it, ” he said.

Telcos, he added, should also be encouraged to support a national online education effort by lowering cost for students.

He also suggested television networks broadcast learning content so that poor and rural students who may not have access to the Internet can watch and learn from the broadcast.

Lifelong learning

Nellie Wartoft, of Tigerhall – a Singapore-based knowledge-sharing platform which provides digital learning content – said many HEIs and corporations have gone digital.

But despite what’s going on, learning cannot stop. Individuals today have to learn more than ever before to keep up with these rapid changes and global challenges, said the CEO.

Learning and development departments in corporations across the region are shifting to virtual sessions that can be scaled digitally.

“There are plenty of digital alternatives we can tap into, including mobile applications, cloud-based platforms and video conferencing. HEIs stand to gain significantly.

“For example, a lot of varsities fly guest lecturers in from different continents. Plenty of resources go into making such arrangements, when in reality these lectures are just as effective when conducted virtually. They can also be scaled to include more people, ” she said, adding that in addition to cost-savings, an effective virtual learning programme consolidates training content so that students can access a particular session as many times as they want, making it easier to remember the crucial takeaways.

The Covid-19 pandemic will be a catalyst in moving the world towards the digital future, she opined.

“It will definitely help educational institutions and organisations shift to virtual learning and digital education sooner, helping more people get ahead by making knowledge more accessible to everyone.”

THE Higher Education Ministry has announced that all HEIs in the country can continue e-learning teaching and learning activities – provided all students have access to the Internet, lecturers and infrastructures.

“We don’t want any students to be left behind due to their lack of access to the Internet. We take note of the level of readiness of some HEIs in terms of their infrastructure, lecturers, and online teaching and learning programme with Open and Distance Learning license, ” it said in a statement on March 20.

It reminded HEIs that face-to-face teaching and learning aren’t allowed.

The ministry had earlier suspended all teaching and learning activities, including e-learning and online tests, student development activities and research, from March 18 to 31, to avoid the spread of Covid-19. The move led to an outcry among institutions, students and parents, who were worried that learning would be disrupted.

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