Learn the science and art of teaching

THE Year 2020 will be remembered as a year of infamy in education as it saw the closure of schools, colleges and universities across the globe, affecting millions of students. Interestingly, it took a disease named Covid-19 to get educators at all levels to rethink and reimagine the way they have been teaching for centuries.

Recently, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad stressed that higher education institutions in Malaysia do not have a choice but to transition to online learning – also known as e-learning – or at least maintain a blend of face-to-face and online learning.

Unfortunately, many higher education institutions and their staff are struggling because they are ill-prepared to make the shift and have to do it in a span of months.

This is not unique to Malaysia but has become a challenge for the world’s education sector in ensuring that students continue to learn amid the various restrictions imposed.

Teaching online is not the migration of traditional face-to-face classes to the virtual landscape, or listening to a three-hour live or recorded lecture.

It requires a new bag of tricks that necessitates quite a bit of learning, relearning and unlearning for those who are accustomed to the traditional face-to-face format with the lecture being the dominant teaching method and involving small group sessions.

Online learning has been around for some time but for most brick-and-mortar education institutions, it is new for both teachers and students.

Hence, there is an urgent need to prepare both academic and administrative staff and students for how to teach and learn online.

The minister also mentioned the Malaysian Research and Education Network (Myren) as an important player in supporting online learning in higher education institutions.

Myren could play the role of curating digital content – especially in Bahasa Malaysia – and obtaining Creative Commons licences for it, making it available as an open educational resource that can be remixed and rewritten, and distributed to students without having to worry about violation of copyright issues.

The minister emphasised the need to enhance the capacity of academic staff to engage in effective online learning, and expressed the desire to see the “classroom of the future” an integral feature of Malaysian higher education institutions.

Academic staff are, however, distributed across the nation and usually have little time at hand. The best option is to get them to follow an organised series of short online courses on how to teach online.

Few teachers in Malaysian higher education have any form of pedagogical training and most are employed to teach based on their expertise and qualification in a discipline such as chemistry, hydrology and marketing.

Oftentimes, technology is touted as the solution to any innovation in education.

But technology alone is not the silver bullet and is insufficient to ensure the successful implementation of online learning.

It has to be accompanied with an in-depth understanding of the learning sciences and pedagogical strategies, which are defined as the science and art of teaching. PROF DR JOHN ARUL PHILLIPS Dean

School of Education and Cognitive Science Asia e University

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