UTAR holds OTL Forum 2.0 to enhance digital teaching skills

Online Teaching & Learning (OTL) Forum

In light of the recent pandemic, UTAR has thoroughly changed their learning system, where face-to-face teaching and examinations have been replaced with online teaching and learning (OTL) and final assessments. This transition has not only been hard on students but for lecturers as well, as they have to employ different teaching methods, in order to effectively teach and engage with their students. Thus, following the success of the first forum “OTL Forum: My Personal Journey”, another online forum titled “Online Teaching and Learning (OTL) FORUM 2.0” was co-organised by UTAR Centre for Curriculum Development and Innovation (CCDI) and Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT). The forum was split into three sessions; the first session was held on 10 August 2020, followed by the second and third on 13 and 14 August 2020 respectively. All sessions were held via Microsoft Teams. The forum also saw a total of 200 participants across all three sessions.

The forum aimed to enhance the digital skills and pedagogies of the academic staff. During the three sessions, a total of nine panellists from different faculties of both campuses shared their own experiences in OTL pertaining to e-learning pedagogy, student engagement and specific OTL tools. Speaking in the first session were Faculty of Accountancy and Management Head of MBA/MBA (Corporate Governance) Programme Dr Ng Kar Yee, Lee Kong Chian Faculty of Engineering and Science lecturer Ir Dr Teoh Hui Chieh and Centre for Foundation Studies lecturer Ting Jen Ching. The first two sessions were moderated by Faculty of Creative Industries (FCI) Deputy Head of CCDI Dr Ngeow Yeok Meng while the last session was moderated by Faculty of Arts and Social Science lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Cheah Phaik Kin.

The first speaker, Dr Ng’s session focused on her experiences in engaging with adult students, as she is in charge of 62 Masters in Business Administration (MBA) students. “Adult students are harder to teach, since they are purposeful and competent in nature, so they know what they want to learn from the course and can be sometimes too direct or less open-minded. These students also have multiple responsibilities, such as busy work schedules and family commitment, which is why I am quite flexible with them in terms of time,” said Dr Ng when explaining the characteristics of the adult students.

Dr Ng explaining the adult students’ characteristics

Dr Ng then explained her methods of conducting online classes with her students, in which she stated, “It can be difficult to teach and engage these adult students online as they can be very busy. So, I used several methods, such as case studies, hands-on practice and problem-solving questions. The most efficient method is using the SmartBook, which is a sort of e-textbook platform. SmartBook has so many helpful functions other than allowing my students to use the textbook they need, such as giving test questions, creating quizzes and arranging assignments.” Her students told her that the SmartBook was useful and convenient, especially since they do not need to travel a long distance to attend class. 

Dr Ng showing the functions of SmartBook

Dr Teoh, the second speaker, continued the forum by speaking about open-ended questions. She started her talk by explaining the multiple definitions of the open-ended question. “Whenever I ask my colleagues about their definition of an open-ended question, the two common answers that I would receive are ‘questions that cannot be found in the book’ and ‘questions that have no right answer’. However, there is no specific definition; it can be mostly described as questions that are designed to encourage a full and meaningful answer using the subject’s own knowledge and feelings,” said Dr Teoh.

Dr Teoh defining open-ended questions

Dr Teoh then provided an example to demonstrate the difference between open-ended and close-ended questions, noting that the latter can easily be tweaked to turn into the former with a few minor changes. “Close-ended questions can be changed to open-ended questions by making several changes. For example, you can provide additional knowledge in the question to teach students or ask them their opinions and reasons for their agreement or disagreement with the question statements,” said Dr Teoh. She moved on to explain its characteristics and ended her talk by explaining the reasons as well as the challenges faced by lecturers and students in making and answering open-ended questions.

Dr Teoh showing an example of a good open-ended question

The third and final speaker, Ting, began her talk titled “How to use Autodesk Sketchbook” by explaining her reasons behind using this application. She stated that Sketchbook is a free-to-use drawing application. She said, “Sketchbook is not only user-friendly, but it also helps me to produce drawings quickly compared to when I draw during a physical class. By drawing and explaining, it can help students remember the information easily and keep them focused during class.”

Ting teaching the participants to use Sketchbook

Ting then went on to demonstrate the basic functions of Sketchbook whilst explaining how to use it. She displayed several of its functions, such as creating and duplicate layering, colouring, lassoing, and others. She also taught participants how to create simple animations using a function called “Flipbook” in the Sketchbook. “In Sketchbook, there is a function called Flipbook, which you can use to create simple animations. I find this really useful because by showing animation, some students will be able to understand the concept much more easily,” said Ting.

Ting demonstrating how to create animations

The first session ended with a brief Q&A discussion.

Following the success of the first session, the second session was conducted via Microsoft Teams on 13 August 2020 where the invited speakers were Centre for Research in Traditional Chinese Medicine Chairperson-cum-Department of Chinese Medicine Head Assoc Prof Dr Te Kian Keong, FCI lecturer Long Yew Foo and Institute of Chinese Studies of Kampar Campus Dr Chou Wen Loong.

From top left, clockwise: Long, Dr Ngeow, Dr Te and Dr Chou during the second session

The second session started with Dr Te sharing on student feedback about the overall experience of online and traditional learning. “The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) course was initiated in the year 2010. We have been conducting evaluation and receiving feedback from our students every semester ever since,” said Dr Te. He presented the evaluation results and compared the students’ feedback before the implementation of the online class with the current one.

According to him, a survey was conducted to see whether students wwere ready to return to campus for physical classes or remain at home for online classes during the October 2020 trimester. “A total of 74 students provided us with survey feedback. According to the survey, 43 per cent of them are more likely to attend hybrid classes; 35 per cent of them said they are ready for physical classes and only 22 per cent of them are likely to take online classes. Overall, most of the TCM students prefer blended learning,” he said. He also shared some comments from students regarding their choice of the learning method and explained that the feedback could provide additional insights into improving the learning and teaching environment.

The event saw an active interaction between the participants and speaker

Long, on the other hand, shared some tips on how to stay connected with students, as well as how to keep them concentrated and engaged in their learning. “You should actively engage your students and help them feel connected to their learning. You may also use videos as part of your teaching which allows students to process information faster and better,” said Long. He also mentioned that students would be much more motivated if the teaching is infused more joy and fun. “To get my students energised and excited to learn, I use an online spinner tool like Wheel Decide to decide which chapter to teach that day,” he said. He also advised to change the teaching background constantly to avoid boredom, and let the students know if the class would be ending soon in order to enhance their patience and focus. Besides, he recommended lecturers to use student response options such as Kahoot to get a better sense of the level of learning.

Dr Chou, who also shared some ways to encourage student engagement in remote learning, introduced an online tool called Padlet to assist lecturers in assessing the learning of students in the classroom. “It is an online sharing tool that allows users to post text, images, documents, comments and voice recordings on a digital board,” he said, adding that lecturers and students can have a discussion simultaneously by posting their opinions using Padlet. He also provided guidelines on how to use the tool effectively to create digital support structures for students.

The second session also ended with another quick Q&A session.

The last session saw three speakers, namely Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FAS) lecturer Dr Joanna Tan Tjin Ai, Faculty of Science (FSc) lecturer Mohan Selvaraju and Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (FICT) lecturer Ts Wong Chee Siang, sharing their respective topic of interest.

DDr Joanna Tan spoke about student engagement particularly for Year 1 Semester 1 students. She highlighted the challenges that occur when engaging with students. The challenges include connectivity; lag and webcam issues; distractions such as loss or lack of concentration and noise; non-conductive environment, and absence of human connection, which refers to students’ inability to see the lecturer or coursemates face-to-face for discussion. To overcome these issues, Dr Joanna Tan gave several suggestions. The first suggestion was to obtain a data plan that can provide a stable Internet connection for the online classes. The second suggestion involved going to a location with a strong signal to avoid disruption during the online classes. She also advised participants to be more disciplined and focused during class by putting away their phones and having better time management. She encouraged students to contact their lecturers or friends to get information using social platforms such as Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and etcetera. Her final suggestion was to watch the recording of the videos to recall or revise the lesson taught by the lecturers. Other than that, Dr Joanna Tan also talked about the important aspects of a good online learning experience, which included interaction with coursemates, gaining feedback from the lecturers or tutors, self-motivation and discipline.

Dr Joanna Tan’s sharing session in progress

Mohan, on the other hand, elaborated on a teaching process called scaffolding. He provided the definition of scaffolding in education and explained its goal which was to provide instructions just beyond what the learners can do by themselves. The lecturers or tutors could help scaffold their student to accomplish tasks they could otherwise not complete without assistance. Mohan also highlighted the necessity of scaffolding students as it encourages them to be independent and self-regulated learners through deliberate and careful instructions. Besides that, scaffolding is important to provide a continuous level of temporary support to students. “Hence, this process involves incorporating extra support and responsibility in the teaching process. Many educational experts believe that scaffolding is an essential element of effective teaching,” Mohan said and continued, “There are six types of scaffolding techniques which are modelling, bridging, contextual, schema building, text presentation and metacognitive development. Also, there are four components of scaffolding which are exploring, measuring, promoting and evaluating scaffolding.” He also said that lecturers who provide substantial support in the early stage of a new concept whether it is verbal, procedural or instructional, are employing scaffolding techniques.

Mohan explaining the definition of scaffolding

LLastly, Ts Wong gave some insight into the ICT setup and tools for OTL. He mentioned that in order to have an effective OTL, one should have strong Internet connectivity. With that, Wong suggested several broadbands— fibre optics (e.g. TM Unifi/Maxis Fiber) and cellular networks (3G/4G) such as Maxis, Celcom, Digi and others. He also said that network coverage is important, hence he encouraged participants to get a prepaid plan before a postpaid plan, just to analyse the network coverage. Wong also mentioned that there are several tools that need to be considered when attending an online class or meeting. The tools include webcam and a microphone which will be useful during online class or presentation. He also helpfully recommended a few webcams and microphones to use for online classes. Wong finally gave several tips to improve the Wi-Fi speed and signal to ensure better connectivity. He recommended to conduct Wi-Fi speed tests by using an app called, “Wi-Fi Analyzer” and use an external router to boost the Wi-Fi speed and signal.

Ts Wong’s sharing session focused on ICT setup and tools for OTL

The third session ended with another brief Q&A session.

Group pictures at the end of the forum

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