Engaging effectively

Essential: Mastering soft skills a must. — Photo: 123rf

THE importance of education is enshrined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4, SDG4: Quality Education for all.

The Covid-19 driven worldwide lockdowns forced educators worldwide to reconsider quality education delivery, in shifting from the traditional live classes to online offerings.

Such delivery is possible through ubiquitous hardware and software platforms.

The challenge is structuring the delivery to make the learning exciting and engaging, leveraging the unique features of the online setting.

A key opportunity to set a motivating tone for the rest of the semester occurs in the first class, where students can be asked to introduce themselves.

My classes have had students physically located across the world, including USA, Indonesia, India, China, Europe, and East Malaysia, taking online classes until the global travel bans lift and they can travel to Malaysia to complete the remaining semester at our Malaysian campus.

In the first class, I ask students to tell the class about themselves, including their name, where they are from and a favourite pastime.

Memorable moments in this unstructured setting, where students are given space to express themselves freely, include classmates seeking likeminded individuals to form a music band and a group interested in sharing cooking tips!

The informal bonding and warmth created in this little exercise did not wane throughout the semester, and friendships were forged online, just as they would be in live, on-campus classes.

Contemporary classes incorporate activities that foster the mastery of soft skills that are essential for success in the workplace. Nowadays, it could include the completion and presentation of team-based case studies and the traditional interview. Employers look for such skills in staff recruitment activities.

With the view of producing job-ready graduates through

settings that simulate the workplace, the classes are typically divided into groups in live campus-based assessments and given specific tasks that develop skills in teamwork and group discussions.

Each group consists of men and women, and Malaysian and international students, to simulate the diversity of the settings in current workplaces so the students work in an environment that reflects real-life workplace settings. Instead of passing a paper around, I use Google sheets.

According to my pre-specified rules, the students fill their names in the Google sheet, ensuring that each team incorporates gender and cultural diversity.

The teams are assigned group exercises. The team members need to meet online, discuss their projects, and eventually come up with a group presentation video and a report.

Several freely accessible online meeting packages enable students to do all of these tasks effectively as they would in a live classroom setting.

The confident and flawless, non-hesitant presentation flow of the better-prepared students, in contrast with the hesitant delivery of students who are not as well prepared, is as evident in the videos as in live presentations.

In an era driven by globalisation and interconnectivity, the larger firms, especially multinational companies, are increasingly using online systems to connect their employees across the world seamlessly.

The online teaching systems that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore has, from a broader viewpoint, provided opportunities to immerse higher education in the emerging globalised world where talent from anywhere in the world could work for savvy multinational employers spanning the globe.

These systems will remain, in some form, long after the pandemic has passed.

It is good to experiment and document best practice, which benefits all of us, from students to educators.

A lecturer at the School of Business, Dr Ananda Samudhram teaches postgraduate and undergraduate courses in Monash University Malaysia. In the 14 years he has been with the varsity, Ananda was recognised with the Pro Vice Chancellor Award of Excellence in Teaching, and awarded Purple and Blue Letters that signify top scores in student satisfaction across all Monash University’s campuses worldwide. He has published research papers and contributed book chapters in top ranked international research journals and books, and has presented his research at international conferences in the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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online learning , Monash , Covid-19 , e-learning


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