15 April 2020

Transition from face-to-face to online teaching and delivery

By Dr Siti Salwa Hashim

Working from home gives me the perfect opportunity for a little self-reflection on the transition from face-to-face to online teaching and delivery. My recent foray in online teaching and delivery had me searching for answers to questions such as “How will my perspectives on online teaching and delivery impact my being accustomed to face-to-face teaching?” and “What are the deciding factors when choosing the different digital learning tools in my unit?”

The traditional face-to-face learning has limitations in dealing with student diversity, for example, their personal, cultural and educational backgrounds. Online teaching and delivery could potentially address various student learning styles, and provide great learning adaptability as well as flexibility in time and location.

When I ponder upon the learning tools or technologies that I currently use and/or will be using for my online teaching and delivery, it occurs to me that several of their components reflect cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism learning theories. Cognitivism is deemed relevant since students can blend their online learning experience with the information and qualifications they already possess.

Following the legacy of cognitivism, constructivism learning approach is also relevant to the use of digital learning tools because students can work together to create, invent and innovate knowledge on top of pre-existing ideas. Furthermore, students could construct new understanding and boost up their self-confidence through non-judgmental questioning; even introvert students could cooperate well with extrovert students, which is not likely in traditional face-to-face classroom environment. This could promote a more lifelong leaner-centred and motivating environment as well as to maintain a sense of wonder.

Connectivism, on the other hand, can be correlated on the usage of digital learning tools to improve communication between lecturers and students, and while lecturers still provide guidance as needed, they primarily encourage the students to collaborate as users.

From my teaching experience, chemical engineering is best learned through meaningful learning rather than rote learning. In the field of chemical engineering, it is essential to develop both technical and generic skills in problem solving, communications, team working, numeracy and IT skills, as well as self-learning to produce industry-ready graduates.

Students should therefore be placed at the heart of this online learning journey, as making sure that students can readily grasp and appreciate the concept well is the key to improving their retention of information as well as increasing their self-confidence. As lecturers, we must not only encourage students to become lifelong learners but also prepare them for work environments that demand proficient skill sets. Whether visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, they should be exposed to a variety of learning tools.

For example, YouTube is a useful learning tool that could stimulate students’ understanding and visualisation of concepts, as well as motivate them to become more interested and engaged in the subject. Companion web sites also provide enrichment opportunities and additional contents such as links to living example problems and additional homework problems. Students can then utilise the concept learnt, hence, encouraging self-learning and self-reasoning.

The transition from face-to-face to online teaching and delivery is in its entirety, a learning process. Therefore, I shall not be afraid to fail. If the tool that I use is not well received by my students, I will revamp my delivery style so that it works better next time.

I am now more than willing to experiment with different tools in my online teaching and delivery. By putting the needs of my students first, I believe I can learn and identify the most suitable learning tools. This is vital to our students who are a generation of digitally literate people.

My journey towards online teaching and delivery has only just begun, and I look forward to more learning opportunities and experience. ‘Ancora Imparo’. Michelangelo spoke those words at the age of 78. In English, it means ‘I am still learning’.

Dr Siti Salwa Hashim is a lecturer from the School of Chemical Engineering and Science, Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She can be reached via email at shashim@swinburne.edu.my.