Online Learning During Covid-19: Empowering Educators and Engaging Students

Cheng Jack Kie, Deputy Dean (Academic & Student Affairs), Faculty of Industrial Management, Universiti Malaysia Pahang

Cheng Jack Kie, Deputy Dean (Academic & Student Affairs), Faculty of Industrial Management, Universiti Malaysia Pahang

The Malaysian Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025 had outlined ten major shifts in the Malaysia Higher Education System where one of the shift is focusing on the importance of technology-based education through Globalised Online Learning.  The purpose of this shift is to move from mass production delivery mode to a more personalised learning experiences through technology-enabled innovations.  Universiti Malaysia Pahang, being one of the Technical University in Malaysia advocates the shift through the development of our very own online learning platform calledKnowledge and Learning Management System(KALAM).

KALAM is designed to help lecturers to create effective online learning materials and to enhance students’ online learning experience.  By 2019 with rigorous awareness activities and enforcement, the adoption of blended learning using KALAM among lecturers in Universiti Malaysia Pahang was 59%. The achievement of 59% was purely based on the frequency of lecturers uploading teaching materials, conducting learning activities and assessments using the online platform.  The teaching mode however was still 100% face to face.  

The global outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 not only caught the world off guarded but also served as an invisible force that pushed the adoption of online learning among lecturers in Universiti Malaysia Pahang to greater heights.  Classes were suspended from 18 March 2020 to 31 May 2020 and given the high spike of COVID-19 in Malaysia at that time, we all know students will not be able to return to campus on 1 June 2020.  Therefore, it’s time to ditch the whiteboard for remote teaching and learning.  During the span of March 2020 to May 2020, young lecturers, senior lecturers and professors were encouraged to attend upskilling programmes.  Numerous workshops and seminars were conducted to encourage, motivate and empower lecturers.  These include learning how to conduct classes using video conferencing platform such as Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams; how to record lessons in small bite sizes using PowerPoint, Loom and OBS Studio; how to redesign online teaching plan and how to include creative and innovative activities and assessments without compromising student’s learning time. 

Once the semester and classes were resumed at the beginning of June 2020, we faced with another challenge where there are some of our students living in remote and rural areas with poor internet connectivity.  With slow internet connection, joining classes via Google Meet or assessing KALAM are out of the question.  Some lecturers turned to WhatsApp and Telegram where they uploaded the summary of their lessons in smaller files.  The lecturers also organized students into groups and have the discussion and lesson feedbacks done via WhatsApp or Telegram.  Some lecturers recorded their lessons and uploaded the recordings in both KALAM and YouTube. All these measures are to ensure no students were left behind. 

Fast forward to the present, we are already at the third semester of online teaching and learning since the outburst of COVID-19 last year.  Now lecturers and students already grew accustomed with online learning.  Students who have poor internet connections are allowed to returned to campus.  Classes however are still conducted via online.  The challenge that we faced now is how to retain students’ attention and interest throughout online classes.  Many lecturers are frustrated when students did not participate actively during the online classes.  Students are struggling to maintain their focus from one after another online classes throughout the day, thus diminishing their motivation to interact during classes.  In order to solve this issue, lecturers began to reorganize their lesson plan.  Emphasise is given to asynchronous learning where lecturers and students do not need to have real-time interaction.  Instead, the course materials are made available in KALAM and students can access them anytime as long as the activities and assessments are completed before the deadlines.  Synchronous learning is still made available especially for students that need personal coaching from the lecturers.  A good blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning can improve students’ engagement and their academic performance. 

Lecturers in Universiti Malaysia Pahang are now more incline towards exploring different innovative teaching and learning tools to craft their online lesson so that students have better online learning experience.  The success of online learning very much depending on how empowered the lecturers and how engaged the students, thus creating a virtuous cycle.  Well, what can we say, it takes two to tango!  

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