Adapt, improvise, improve

Farhan Julaihi

Amid the upsurge of COVID-19 cases in the Sultanate learning has been moved online to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

In recent interviews with the Bulletin, two lecturers from Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) shared what it means to be a teacher in such trying times.

ADAPTING TO A NEW NORM

According to programme coordinator and lecturer Dr Salbrina binti Haji Sharbawi, there is “no one-size-fits-all when it comes to online learning. I needed to find the best platform to delivery my lectures.”

She continued, “In a module called MS-1501, we cannot use Canvas, which is what lecturers normally use. But since the number of students cannot be too big, we had to switch to MS Teams.

“For classes that do not exceed 40 minutes, we use Zoom, as we need to subscribe for lessons which run for more than 40 minutes. We have to utilise different online platforms, depending on the needs of the lecture and/or students.”

She also highlighted that teaching virtually has led to some students complaining about their Internet connectivity, but since it is a nationwide issue, not much can be done with that.

Meanwhile, Associate Professor Dr James McLellan agreed that with the new norm, he had to adapt to online platforms.

“Choosing the most suitable platform and deciding which, out of Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet or Canvas, on the basis of which is the most student-friendly, optimising student participation and of course getting used to all of these is especially hard for older academic staff like myself.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge is moving the assessment coursework and examinations to an online setting. We have to do this in a fair and equitable way, so that no one is disadvantaged, while at the same time maintaining the high academic standards that everyone expects of UBD as a world-ranked university.”

IMPROVISING DURING LECTURES

From her experience of teaching, Dr Salbrina noted that students tend to get bored if the lectures go beyond one hour. So, she makes sure her classes don’t go beyond the one-hour mark.

Given that students are in the comfort of their own home, they can get distracted easily. So for longer classes, she adds breaks in between, so the students have an opportunity to think about the lessons.

For Dr McLellan, he tends to break the class up into groups especially for discussions, students then report back to the whole class.

“Another way is to always provide space for it. For example Canvas is good for those who are too shy to ask their questions and make their comments, with some even reluctant to make use of the chat functionality. There is an option to request clarification or repetition without interrupting the lecturer,” he said.

IMPROVING FOR THE BETTER

Learning from the first wave of virtual teaching, Dr Salbrina had the chance to further improve her teaching in this second wave.

“I have incorporated online games such as Kahoot!, to get the students to pay attention in class and also to make learning more fun.”

She added that, with the implementation of prizes for the top scorers, students now have more motivation to participate and more likely to be interactive during online class.

Dr Salbrina also shared words of encouragement for students finding it hard to cope with online learning.

“This is the new norm and it’s something that takes time to adjust to. So be kind to yourself and to your lecturers; take things one at a time; allow yourself time to get used to the new learning format; remind yourself that you are not alone in the struggle and that everyone is in the same boat; and most important of all: ‘Fa inna ma’al usri yusra’ – So verily, with every difficulty, there is ease/relief.”

For Dr McLellan, he believes, “the lecture or tutorial does not end at the timetabled finishing time. Afterwards students still need to, follow up on reading, review lecture slides and talk with their peers via WhatsApp groups about the module content.”

He also advised against closing off the video, “even if it uses up more megabytes as it is good for us to see students’ faces. Then we can tell if we are going on for too long or not being understood and if you are nervous about showing the room you are in.”

Additionally, he said, if students find it difficult to cope with the change in learning environment, Dr McLellan encourages them to “approach us privately – for example through e-mail – and we will follow due process and pass the information confidentially”.