Since the novel coronavirus outbreak and the consequent suspension of classes to prevent the spread of the virus, distance education has become a hot topic in Macao, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Here at the University of Macau (UM), faculty members have been offering online courses to ensure that students keep learning amid class suspension. What preparations did the teachers make and how has the class setting changed?
Group Research on Novel Coronavirus and Related Crime Topics
Xu Jianhua is an associate professor and head of the Department of Sociology of the Faculty of Social Sciences. This semester, he teaches an online course in qualitative research methods to students enrolled in the master’s programme in criminology and criminal justice. Before launching the course, Prof Xu did a lot of preparation and uploaded lecture notes and reading materials to UMMoodle. He also collected pre-class questions from the students. According to Prof Xu, he began using online software as auxiliary teaching tools in 2017 to let guest speakers give lectures to students. ‘In this semester, I continue to invite UM graduates to share their research methods and progress with our current students,’ says Prof Xu. ‘These graduates are now studying at the University of Oxford, Cornell University, and the Australian National University.’ He also recommends authoritative international journals and classic research-related books for students to read online. He requires them to write and upload book reports and their questions to UMMoodle every week.
Basically, each student in his class is required to find a sociology-related topic and conduct research studies in a group setting using qualitative research methods. According to Prof Xu, although class suspension in this semester presents an unusual situation, he does not plan to make an exception to this arrangement. He divides his students into groups of five and each group is required to conduct a research project on a different topic. He says that all students have chosen topics related to the COVID-19 pneumonia or related crimes, including differences between Hong Kong and Macao in terms of the crimes related to the epidemic, discrimination prompted by the epidemic, and the use of big data and surveillance systems during the epidemic. Every week, each group reports the progress of their project, brainstorm ideas, and make adjustments based on Prof Xu’s feedback. The students may also ask him questions on WeChat. Using the screen sharing function of Zoom, the students can present their work to others during class time and participate in group discussions. ‘The online teaching tools provided by UM are not only handy and effective, but also help to smoothen the transition from in-class learning to online learning this semester,’ he says.
Virtual Field Trip
Since early February, Associate Professor Tang Mei Fung in the Faculty of Business Administration has been teaching an online course in food and beverage (F&B) management to third- and fourth-year students of integrated resort and tourism management on UMMoodle and Zoom. According to Prof Tang, the course covers a wide range of topics related to F&B services, including menu design, restaurant atmosphere, strategies for enhancing overall service quality, and related administrative work. Although Prof Tang has been teaching this course for four years, she never slacks in course preparation and designs new handouts in each semester to reflect the latest changes in the industry. In transitioning to this new mode of distance education, she spends three times more time preparing for each online class and the biggest challenge she faces is increasing student involvement.
Because of the epidemic, four resort field trips for her students have to be cancelled. ‘This is rather disappointing to the students because they really want to participate in more off-campus learning activities in order to prepare themselves for internships and jobs in the future, but I think they will understand,’ she says. To make it up to the students, she incorporates in her online classes materials on Virtual Field Trip, a website established by the Australian government that provides virtual tours of various famous hotels in Australia. Through this website, students can learn about the operations of these hotels at their own pace. Prof Tang also uses various online resources, such as videos, class presentations with commentaries, case studies, reading materials, and quizzes, to keep the students engaged.
Prof Zhou Yisu in the Faculty of Education shares all teaching materials, reading materials, videos, and his comments on student assignments on UMMoodle. The ‘Comparative Education’ course he offers in this academic year is mainly taught with an asynchronous approach. ‘This gives students the flexibility to study at their own pace,’ he says. ‘I also give them mandatory and selective reading lists so they can choose the content that suits their level of ability and interest.’
According to Prof Zhou, it takes more time to prepare course materials with distance education. For instance, a three-hour-per-week teaching load usually requires him to prepare 50 to 70 pages of course materials, which takes around eight to ten hours. Take his ‘Comparative Education’course for example. In preparing the course materials for one unit about Cuba’s achievements in education, he designed 50 pages of course materials. ‘Technology is not the end, it's a means to an end, which is education. So my strategy is to focus on the content,’ he says.
Overcoming the Limitations of Online Education
Lok Man Hoi, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST), teaches two online courses this semester: an undergraduate course in soil mechanics and a postgraduate course in advanced topics in soil mechanics. ‘I’ve participated in many workshops organised by UM’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Enhancement on distance education, so this is a good opportunity to put my knowledge into practice,’he says.
Prof Lok admits that distance education cannot replace classroom education because of the lack of face-to-face interaction. He says, ‘Zoom has its limitations. When students disable the webcam, it’s hard to know if they are paying attention. For this reason, each online session can’t last too long. It’s best to leave some time for students to ask questions. Otherwise it would become a one-way process, without any guarantee that the students would receive everything that’s taught.’
To overcome the limitations of distance education, Prof Lok uploads a video to Zoom before each class to explain the key points of the course content. He requires the students to read the textbook, watch the video, and study the basic theories of civil engineering before each class. During each online class, he enquires after the students’health and asks them to share the difficulties they have encountered before moving on to teaching. For complex or difficult concepts, he explains one more time during the class. Students who don’t understand can ask questions at any time. ‘I hope to add an element of interactivity to the online mode,’says Prof Lok. ‘Science subjects don’t offer as much interactivity as arts subjects. Science subjects usually involve a lot of deduction and formulas and don’t require as much interaction, which is an issue that can’t be circumvented even with online education. That’s why we need to be a bit creative and think outside the box to overcome the limitations of different modes of education.’
Starting Each Class with Hypothetical Case Studies
Li Zhe, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law, teaches two online courses this semester: one is Foreign Criminal Law, and the other is East Asia Legal System. The first course is taught to more than ten postgraduate students from Macao and mainland China, some of them are working students. ‘These students have diverse backgrounds, so when preparing the course materials, I take into consideration their understanding of the subject and the difficulty they may have finding the materials because of the novel coronavirus outbreak,’ she says.
Prof Li starts each online class with a hypothetical case. For instance, she may present a case where a young adult suspected of participating in illegal parades is arrested under the current criminal law. ‘When I analyse a case with the students, I would break down one big question into at least ten smaller sub-questions and assign one sub-question to a student,’ she says. ‘The students then share the relevant laws in mainland and Macao and discuss how a problem should be solved from a comparative perspective. The students are very active during each online class and there is a lot of interation.’ Currently, Prof Li communicates with the students mainly through a WeChat group. She would upload cases, electronic legal documents involved, the teaching materials, and the PPT to UMMoodle. Considering that some students may not feel comfortable turning on the webcam because of concerns about their clothes, home environments, or other factors, Prof Li only requires the students to discuss and answer questions through voice messages, which lets her know if the students are paying attention.
Creating an Atmosphere Conducive to Interactive Learning
Hari Venkatesan, an associate professor in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, teaches several online courses this semester, including Translation for the Media, Translation of Legal and Business Writings, and Translation Technology. When he first started the online courses, some students felt too shy to turn on the webcam, which made it difficult for him to know if they were paying attention. ‘Sometimes I felt like I was talking to the air,’ says Prof Venkatesan. But he soon came up with an idea to enliven the class. ‘Each class, I ask every student a question or ask for their comments on the content of the day. That made them pay more attention because they knew there was always the chance that they could be asked to answer a question,’ he says. The best way to improve translation skills is through practice, that’s why when teaching the consecutive interpreting course, he requires the students to take turns interpreting each sentence he reads with no gaps in between. When the class is over, he uploads the entire recording to UMMoodle for grading. For group translation exercises, he requires students to work together on an exercise using Google Translate.
Teaching a Course in Writing Research Proposals
Prof Garry Wong in the Faculty of Health Sciences studies the fundamental biochemical and genetic mechanisms of dopaminergic neurons. This semester, he teaches an online course in writing research proposals to 58 postgraduate students. In the past few weeks, he always began each class with a simple question which he gave the students ten minutes to answer. This way, he was able to tell how many students were attending the lecture. He says, ‘Distance education is great for teaching courses in writing because assigning questions and submitting answers can both be done on UMMoodle.’
Prof Wong carefully designs each three-hour online class to ensure that he stays on track with his original teaching plan. According to him, most students are too shy to turn on the webcam and feel more comfortable discussing and asking questions in the Chat Room. ‘During the three hours, I have to do a lot of things,’ he says. ‘I go through the content while changing the slides and keeping an eye on what the students are talking about in the Chat Room. I feel time goes by quickly in each class.’
Source: Communications Office
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Release on 2020-03-06 17:56