By K. Raman, Managing Director, Microsoft Malaysia
Since the announcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) by the Malaysian Government to help curb the spread of COVID-19 virus, education institutions across the nation have taken great measures to ensure that their students can continue learning through digital means.
Much like the business continuity plans (BCP) put in place by organizations to sustain business momentum by leveraging technology, the education community in Malaysia is also hard at work to ensure the future leaders of our nation continue receiving a quality education in these challenging times. With the right set of tools in place, remote learning provides a solution that empowers educators to continue their classes virtually, as if they were conducted in a normal setting.
We have been pursuing and enabling the shift towards remote learning and virtual classrooms with the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) and various higher education institutions long before the MCO came into effect. Our aim has been to provide them with the technology and best practices necessary to sustain education, irrespective of the circumstances.
That said, most universities today have the technology and strategy in place for successful remote learning exercises. Though in the current scenario, conducting classes, meetings and seminars for an entire university, consecutively, for several weeks, is certainly unprecedented.
Collaboration and knowledge sharing as an imperative
In recognition of the urgent need to help the education community make this shift, Professor Madya Dr. Wan Zuhainis Saad, Director of Academic Excellence Division, MOHE who also watches over MEIPTA-MAGNETIC-MAPITA, called for an urgent and apt discussion to review policies and recommendations to support remote learning among public universities in Malaysia. MEIPTA-MAGNETIC-MAPITA is a coalition of three higher education bodies, namely:
- MEIPTA: Malaysian eLearning Council for Public Universities (Majlis e-Pembelajaran IPTA Malaysia)
- MAGNETIC: Malaysian Higher Education Teaching & Learning Council (Majlis Kerjasama Ketua-Ketua Pusat Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran IPTA Malaysia)
- MAPITA: Malaysian Public Universities Council (Majlis Pengarah-Pengarah ICT IPTA)
Together with our partners, Alfa Connections Sdn Bhd and Fedelis Sdn Bhd, we shared our knowledge and best practices to ease and fast-track the transition to remote learning using solutions such as Teams, that can be adopted by all public universities, community college and polytechnics nationwide. The transition to remote learning was also made easier since most universities already have access to Microsoft 365 A3, which provides access to Teams for education institutions to leverage upon already.
One of the key challenges highlighted was of connectivity and internet bandwidth among students. I am glad to say that this is now no longer a hurdle, as the recently announced economic stimulus package will see Malaysians get free internet data of up to 1GB per day, a move that will surely aid all Malaysians who are learning (or working) from home.
In addition to our collaboration with MOHE, we also conducted several open webinars and online tutorials led by Microsoft Partners and school teachers for IT Teams and educators, to share knowledge on setting up remote meetings and virtual classrooms. The open webinars were attended by educators from public schools, MRSM schools and private institutions of higher learning. We were inspired by the passion and dedication of the hundreds of educators who had joined these sessions in the spirit of community and peer sharing. Their commitment drives us here at Microsoft, to keep doing what we can to help support the nation’s education system through these challenging times.
Microsoft’s commitment to the education community
We have long been advocates for technology to enable and enhance education around the world. We believe in the power of technology to make education more accessible, inclusive and enjoyable, allowing more people to benefit from a quality education, regardless of their surrounding or circumstances.
This is just as true today as it was before the MCO. Our present circumstances may make it challenging for education to continue without the help of technology, and we believe it is our responsibility to provide solutions to these challenges.
In the past few months, my colleagues at Microsoft have developed numerous articles and blog posts to help guide educators on how to make the switch to remote learning, best practices for using Microsoft Teams for education, how to integrate Teams into your learning management systems as well as the various Microsoft Education resources available for you to leverage.
I would encourage educators to read these guides and to be aware of all the tools available to them to make their remote learning experience smoother and more productive.
But to simplify things, I have summarized 3 brilliant tips that had been previously shared by my colleague Jared Spataro, on what you can do to enhance remote learning in your institution:
1. Make the shift to a virtual classroom
Teams is a great tool that enables face-to-face connections, classroom management and the allocation of assignments among students, all on one single platform. Its ability to do all this simultaneously effectively emulates the classroom environment and can make remote learning a seamless experience. Microsoft has developed a best practices guide for School Leaders and IT professionals to refer to, in order to make the process of integrating technology into their curriculum smoother and faster.
Once Teams or any other communication tool is up and running, educators should consider:
- Conducting interactive video classroom sessions, sharing screen and encouraging the use of the chat feature for a collaborative learning experience.
- With large classrooms (and taking into account the background noise of students joining from home), teachers can moderate the class discussion by muting students, making them presenters, or if needed, removing them from the meeting.
- Consistently make and keep recordings of the lessons, so students can review it in their own time. This would also benefit students who were unable to join the live sessions.
- Using Microsoft Forms, teachers can easily create assessments and grade quizzes, all whilst still being on Teams.
- Empower learners with all abilities with the accessibility features built into Teams.
- It is also important that a casual or fun channel is created, to encourage extra-curricular activities such as poetry, reading or even a virtual science fair, which can go a long way in boosting the happiness level of students.
2. Have support in place to train educators and staff
As it is the responsibility of educators to ensure our children and youths get the education that they deserve, we at Microsoft believe that it is our responsibility to provide educators with the skills and tools required for them to achieve their goals. We endeavor to continuously support Educators with practical guides, resources for professional development and information to empower them, and their students, to stay motivated and engaged, regardless of the circumstances.
As such, we would urge educators to review our series of webinars, to also help them get up and running with remote learning. We have also created a Remote Learning Community where educators launching distance learning programs from around the globe are sharing best practices, and where our Microsoft Education team is answering questions in real time.
3. Keep your students engaged
Continuity is key, especially when it comes to education. Indeed, keeping students engaged can be a challenge when conducting classes via remote learning, but there are tips and tricks to help make this work. Support must also come from parents for remote learning to truly succeed, and or them we have created a Remote Learning Guide, which provides tips on how they can make full use of the tools available to them to set up an conducive (and safe) remote learning environment for their children.
For guardians that would like to lead the learning experience themselves for the whole family unit, there is a great resource that parents can leverage on for learners of all age groups at the Microsoft Family Learning Centre.
For educators, tools like Flipgrid, Skype in the Classroom and Minecraft: Education Edition can also help inject some creativity into their lessons, giving an opportunity for students to have fun while learning.
Seeing the Malaysian education community come together to find a way to keep the flow of education going fills me with great pride. This is the essence of my great nation – we do not crumble when times are hard, instead we unite, both in spirit and in mind, to find a way forward. Our nation’s youths are our pride and our future, and we at Microsoft will continue to work closely with the education community here in Malaysia to ensure that no one is left behind in their education.
We will stand by our fellow Malaysians, always.
Stay strong Malaysia!
Featured image designed by macrovector_official at Freepik.