Lessons must go on

Lights, camera, action: Lee (left) and Nazrul conducting a video recording for a virtual laboratory session.

NOT all knowledge can be learnt through lectures and discussions.

Laboratory and practical experiences are also needed to enhance students’ understanding of their curriculum and provide them with actual insights into the roles they will one day play.

With global lockdowns hindering the ability of lecturers and students to actively pursue practical learning in physical settings, educators had to get creative and go online to conduct their laboratory-based lessons.

Assoc Prof Dr Geeta Selvarajah, a biology, genetics and biotechnology lecturer at the INTI International University Faculty of Health and Life Sciences made recordings in the genetics laboratory just before the movement control order (MCO) came into effect in March.

“For biochemistry labs, I depended on existing virtual labs, online videos, home-based experiments and also bioinformatics which can be done on a computer, ” she said.

Leveraging on home-based experiments, she would get students to conduct hands-on experiments using items they could find at home, such as simple testing using plants found in their gardens.

While videos are a good way to teach, she said it is time consuming to produce.

“There’s the editing, sound quality and so forth to look into and of course thinking up ideas on how to do it.”

While most of her lessons are conducted virtually, Geeta said her presence was still important to students even while they carry out their practical learning online.

As her students work on their experiments and reports, she responds to questions raised throughout the lesson and sometimes even afterwards.

“Extending the lesson time, even by just a little, and being there for my students, have resulted in better journals and reports being handed in, ” she added.

Besides the usual concrete samples and lab equipment, you can also find recording tools, video lighting, selfie sticks and camera stands at the university’s civil engineering laboratory.

Facilitated by senior lecturer Dr Lee Hoong Pin and his colleague Nazrul Azmi, both from the Faculty of Engineering and Quantity Surveying, the virtual lab was set up for video recording of lessons on concrete for the Bachelor of Engineering in Civil Engineering and Diploma in Civil Engineering programmes.

Lee said discussions and planning have to be done before the actual recording session.

“Nazrul and I will then record different scenarios in the laboratory without giving away the findings. This is so students are forced to think critically when watching, ” he said, adding that video editing software helps make the production better.

“In the beginning, it felt weird lecturing to a camera, but we got used to it eventually. It is important to prepare notes beforehand so that you know what to talk about, ” added Nazrul.

It was a new experience for them as they had to learn how to use the video editing software.

As educators, Lee and Nazrul tried not to limit themselves to common methods but preferred to explore different perspectives and tools during the online laboratory session.

One of the things they did was buy a writing pad to teach engineering calculations.

“We also want to ensure students are paying attention to the lectures, so we conduct quizzes during the lessons. Having a break every 30 minutes between sessions is important to keep students focused on the lecture, ” he added.

To help students adapt to virtual lab learning, Lee and Nazrul also provided pre-designed laboratory data so that students could explore different solutions.

Once they have completed their online labs, students deliver a virtual presentation with their data findings during the lessons.

Through these new processes, the lecturers said their online laboratory sessions were more efficient, helping to make the learning experience more rewarding.

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