Thursday, August 13

Curtin’s smooth transition to the ‘new normal’ of education


WHILE many tertiary institutions struggled with online courses, Curtin Malaysia already had its programme up and running one day after the Movement Control Order (MCO) shuttered education institutions nationwide.

This campus in Miri weathered the nearly 100 days of MCO and Conditional MCO since March 18 with resilience and versatility in what was arguably the most challenging period for tertiary education in Malaysian history.

thesundaypost took a look at what enabled Curtin’s largest overseas campus to achieve this.

In a swift response, Curtin moved all lectures online within 24 hours, according to Curtin Malaysia board of directors chairman Datu Ose Murang.

Datu Ose Murang

This was followed by transitioning tutorials and workshops to online spaces within that same week.

The university also adopted a variety of e-learning approaches with well-developed frameworks, tools, support facilities, and infrastructure alongside advance learning technologies.

The Miri campus and its parent campus in Perth, Australia, worked together to ensure the curriculum, course materials, and teaching were not cut back.


Superior system

Curtin Malaysia pro vice-chancellor, president, and chief executive Prof Simon Leunig said the campus actually ended up with a superior online study system that would remain relevant and applicable as it fine tunes content and delivery.

From the onset, keeping its staff and students safe while learning continued uninterrupted was the golden rule under the often fluid conditions to contain the pandemic, he added.

Ose said all Curtin campuses in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, and Dubai responded swiftly to the Covid-19 pandemic in accordance with the directives of the respective governments.

Prof Simon Leunig

The innovations revolved around their education model, involving a considerable amount of online teaching. Much of the course material was already available online.

By complementing their Moodle and Blackboard learning management systems with public domain video conferencing programmes, lecturers and students took to online learning and teaching fully and naturally.

Most of the classes were in synchronous mode with lecturers conducting live sessions with their students online.

For asynchronous classes, students viewed recorded sessions in their own time, followed by shorter engagement sessions such as chatroom and online meetings, where the recorded materials were discussed.

Lecturers applied flipped virtual classrooms in place of conventional flipped classrooms for collaborative learning despite physical separation of lecturers and students.

Leunig said the key was the teaching staff putting in considerable effort to ensure online learning got off to a good start in the initial weeks with the help of unit coordinators and colleagues at the main campus in Perth.

Online learning will continue until the end of the year.

Great opportunity

Ose said the MCO was actually a great opportunity for the campus to test all its remote learning approaches and give students the full experience of technology-supported learning, adding that everyone was encouraged to collaborate and share e-learning resources for continued improvement.

Students and academics have access to substantial online resources, including over 150,000 journals, about 420,000 e-books, and more than 600 online databases, besides open access resources and support from the library staff providing a fully online learning and teaching environment.

As restrictions have eased under the Recovery MCO since June 10, the Malaysian campus is preparing for reopening in stages over the next few months.

Line managers and their staff are now finalising return-to-campus plans but the transition will be carefully staggered and coordinated to comply with all health and safety protocols.

Leunig said face-to-face classes are still suspended and online learning and delivery will continue until the end of the year or as directed by the government.

Adaption includes online second semester enrolment semester for degree programmes, starting Aug 3. The online orientation is scheduled for this month, while for foundation programmes it will be next month.

Postgraduate Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students are now allowed into the campus to resume their experimental study, while final-year undergraduates who need to do final-year projects, involving practical work and experiments in specialised laboratories and design studios to complete their degrees, will be allowed to return in the new semester.

Newly-enrolled HDR students who require similar facilities for their research, will follow suit.

According to Curtin, students who do not have access to the internet or a conducive learning environment at home can also apply to use campus facilities for more effective participation in their ongoing online classes.

All these comply with the latest directives from the Ministry of Higher Education for phased reopening of university campuses in adherence to Health Ministry SOPs.

Meanwhile, Curtin Malaysia is humming to the “new normal” of education – come what may.