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Published by Afterschool.my on Feb 11, 2021, 11:55 am
Pushed by the pandemic, the University makes progress in ensuring quality education continues
Like other sectors, higher education has been significantly impacted by the rapid spread of COVID-19, creating uncertainty among parents and students. Over the last year, universities and colleges have been very responsive to the current situation by implementing actions to control the spread of cases and to keep students and staff safe.
The University of Southampton Malaysia (UoSM) and its parent campus in the UK, the University of Southampton (UoS), have withstood the turbulent challenging times by undertaking various efforts to ensure that the highest quality of education continues. These collaborative efforts can serve as a model to the global community in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of coordination, solidarity, decisiveness and leadership.
From vaccine testing to the protection of frontline medical staff and the modelling of the spread of the virus worldwide, the University of Southampton (UoS) has risen to the challenge to make major contributions to the fight against COVID-19. Among its efforts to keep shared spaces safe, the University has developed a pilot home-based, non-invasive saliva testing programme for students. Students who arrive from across the UK and overseas are encouraged to take the test to keep the infection risk low in Southampton, and to give confidence to students, staff and local communities in Southampton city.
Figure 1 COVID-19 saliva testing kit
Providing facts and resources on COVID-19
UoS and UoSM are closely monitoring the situation and responding to the measures taken to combat COVID-19 as efficiently and responsibly as possible. As the situation continues to change rapidly, their top priority is the health and safety of their students and staff in Malaysia and the UK while ensuring learning continuity for students to complete their programmes and graduate.
With the campus closure of educational institutions under the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia and the England lockdown, the University has taken decisive measures to ensure that teaching and learning for all programmes will continue to be delivered as planned. To ensure that the community is regularly updated and kept informed, both UoS and UoSM have created a comprehensive set of FAQs which have been emailed to students. Information on topics such as studying and assessments, travel, facilities and support during these times is also made available through the university social media.
Maximising online learning
Like other universities, the University realises that higher education institutions need to align their objectives with the digital age. Even prior to the pandemic, the University has already adopted many technologies to enhance learning such as providing a wealth of support and information through over 200 million digital resources to aid physical and online learning. Students can access the electronic journals and e-books from the comfort of home. This, along with customised teaching and learning methodologies in blended learning, can provide an engaging and personalised learning experience.
The University has both live sessions and flipped classrooms for virtual lectures and tutorials, whereby students can listen to a lecture online and then participate in a group discussion or work project. Understanding that some students are unable to fully benefit from online resources, the University has recorded the classes to make them accessible offline. Besides using the usual online platforms such as Microsoft Teams, students are also supported through Blackboard, a web-based service where they can find material, take online tests and use discussion boards.
Agilesh Manivannan, a Year 3 Electrical and Electronic Engineering student, said: “There has been no damage to our studies as the University allows us to use many technology-based tools at our disposal.”
Believing that lecturers have now become guides, facilitators and collaborators in the learning process, Assistant Professor Dr. Ivan Ling, an Electrical and Electronic Engineering lecturer at the University of Southampton Malaysia, created a learning portal, inspired by other online teaching and learning providers, to offer mixed media content instead of just lecture recordings.
“The world is changing and so are we. Here, at the University of Southampton Malaysia, we are thinking of innovative ways to practise what we preach, by incorporating technology into our virtual classrooms. We create a virtual environment where demonstrators and tutors can interact with students and provide the much needed support virtually.”
Supervised digital lab activities
Knowing how challenging it can be for higher education institutions and students to cope and adapt to the current shifts, the University of Southampton Malaysia continues its commitment to the students by delivering Bitscope, one of the components of the students’ laboratory projects, to their home – for free. Bitscope and other associated components are loaned to students during the shutdown period to facilitate virtual laboratories. With these virtual scopes, lecturers can guide students virtually to perform the activities and to ensure excellent grades in their assessments. Undeniably, nothing can beat the experience of hands-on activity in an actual lab setting but these efforts are parallel to the way lecturers run projects in a laboratory setting.
Figure 2 The Bitscope was delivered to students' homes to mimic actual laboratory activities
Providing personal support for wellbeing beyond classroom walls
The University understands that shifting so quickly from interacting in a four-wall classroom setting to a virtual engagement can be challenging. To enable students to feel supported, both UoS and UoSM assign a Personal Academic Tutor (PAT) to each student. The PAT offers one-to-one support and advice on their studies and other issues, especially during the pandemic. Adding to this advantage, UoSM also provides online student services to support students in any matter regarding their university experience.
Beyond this, UoS also provides several other services to students in coping with the current situation. The Enabling Services and Student Support Hub are on hand and ready to chat with students if they are feeling overwhelmed while the Ask UoS series is the university’s mitigation measures that have been put in place to support students in their studies, coursework and assessment during this challenging academic year.
While the University is agile in providing academic-related services to students during the pandemic, the student associations at both UoS and UoSM are also proactively promoting a healthy, safe and enjoyable university experience by hosting a range of virtual events to enhance the student experience such as virtual game nights, virtual treasure hunt, career webinars and festive competitions.
Figure 3 A virtual game night organised by the UoSM Student Association to break the ice between existing and new students joining the campus online
Reimagining university education at Southampton
It is challenging to say the least, but we should credit universities for the way they are adapting and responding to the pandemic. Many of the adjustments to teaching and learning, research and student engagements have brought a newer and better version of the higher education experience. Determined to further pursue this, the University of Southampton Malaysia and University of Southampton UK will continue exploring new opportunities to improve the quality of teaching and learning to benefit students even after their graduation. The University of Southampton Malaysia is a specialist in business, computer science and engineering programmes, and allow students to start their degree in Malaysia and complete it in the UK. For more information, visit www.southamptonmalaysia.edu.my