Close ↓
Universities must practise innovative teaching

ONE of the key purpose of tertiary education today is to generate holistic graduates who can compete globally and be ready take on challenges being brought about by the technological development of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0) - which is affecting the jobsphere by creating new knowledge and skills requirement.

Hence, student experience at higher education insitutions must facilitate the opportunity for every student to learn in innovative ways that is engaging, enabling them to reach their full potential and develop skills that will help them thrive in the future.

Education Minister Dr Mazlee Malik at the Education Minister's Special Award Ceremony: Innovative Curriculum Design and Delivery 2018 (AKRI 2018) last month said lecturers should be dynamic and adapt to various changes and yet hold on to the basic concepts of higher education.

And that there must be a culture of innovation in the profession of lecturers to diversify teaching and learning methods.

Associate Professor Dr Wan Zuhainis Saad, a lecturer who has been teaching at the biotechnology and molecular science at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) for the past 11 years and is currently seconded to the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education as the Director of Academic Development Management Division, believes in empowering learners, learning by doing and experiential learning.

"Students nowadays who are from Generation Z (people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s) are different from those in other generations. They want to be involved, and have freedom to speak their own mind in their learning experience.

"As an educator, we need to create that opportunity for them to unleash their creative potential, skills and innovation. We need to design the learning activities so that students able to identify their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses and those will not happen if only learning through lectures in a conventional classroom setting.

Life Skills Facilitators at Taylor’s University pose with Dr Maszlee Malik and Janaronson Nagarajah (left) after being named the winner for the Face-to-Face Immersive Learning Experience category at AKRI 2018.

"We should take the advantages of the great things technology can bring that may not have been possible before," said the recipient for Teaching award under the Pure Science Cluster category at the 12th National Academic Awards (AAN) last year.

Spurring active learning

SO, what is innovative teaching at university and what shape does it come in?

Associate Professor Dr Fauziah Abdul Rahim - dean of Universiti Utara Malaysia's (UUM) School of Education and Modern Languages - said essentially

teaching at any level would need to have the same basic ingredient – it has to be learner and learning centered, it needs to be meaningful.

It would also require designing tasks or activities that engages learners to become involved in the thinking and learning process as well as learn in a collaborative way and above all learners can have lots of fun when learning. In her view, this would be the essence of designing for learning to take place at the university level and the innovation would really depend on the creativity of the teacher, considering the needs and learner diversity, in order to achieve their goals.

"So using flipped classroom where learners can do tasks inside and outside of classroom via technology and the use of various learning tools can assist teachers to provide engaging learning experiences among the learners," she said.

The Anugerah Akademik Negara award winner for Teaching (Applied Arts and Social Science Category), highlighted the current and future generation of university students cannot be separated from technology and have a shorter attention span perhaps due to that though they love to share their experiences, working in a flexible way and they thrive on challenges.

"Thus, in order to get them on board in the classroom, teachers in the university level need to be equipped with the know-how of integrating technology and interactive learning in their classroom," she said.

She highlighted that the challenges for faculty members at tertiary level occurs when they are required to become involved in research and publication and the emphases that have been given to these activities can sometimes be overwhelming for academicians when designing innovative and meaningful teaching at the university level that sometimes result in traditional lecture becoming inevitable.

"Hopefully make universities understand and place greater emphasis on the importance of ensuring that academicians become motivated to place innovative teaching as central in their teaching and learning processes," she said.

The UKM Faculty of Medicine E-MERS team discussing the finer details of Immersive Hybrid Simulation session targeted at final-year medical students.

On inovative teaching in the fields of applied literature and social science for example, Fauziah useslearner-centered strategies that require students to take ownership of their learning when solving problems in various ways.

This is especially critical as her students are from the education programmes whom ultimately, she hopes will become innovative teachers in their respective contexts when they graduate from their studies.

"While ensuring that the learning outcomes of the courses are achieved, there is also an effort made to prepare them with the obstacles and challenges that they may face in the real world contexts of teaching.

"This is done through activities like solving cases provided which enable students to relate theory into practice in a meaningful way. That way it helps students to prepare themselves before they set foot into the real world," she said.

"I am humbled and pleased when getting feedback from past students on how tasks that they did and knowledge as well as skills they have acquired when attending the class as students were relevant and helpful when they became teachers. The received feedbacks motivate me to do more even if it is not easy. After all mediating learning is never easy," said Fauziah.

Asked about her teaching strategies in teaching pure sciences subject, UPM's microbiology lecturer Associate Professor Dr Wan Zuhainis Saad said it's all about curiosity, exploration, and relationship.

"We need to deliver content in a manner that will spike students curiosity, instil their interest and allow them to see things differently. I practice BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Students will come in with their own gadgets, smartphones, laptops, iPads. hey will come in prepared because they know they need to participate in activities prepared for them by me or their classmates. I don't have to worry about attendance because they won't miss my classes. It is an active learning environment," she said.

She believes active learning promotes innovation and creativity.

"I will have activities for each lecture, lots of formative assessment, interaction, participation, engagement and group work. Students have the freedom to throw out ideas and suggestions, interactive and engaged. In the words of Einstein, I don't teach my students, I just attempt to create the environment in which they can learn," she said.

Wan Zuhainis practices blended learning using flipped classroom with Web 2.0 tools. The learning materials are prepared earlier with interactive video quizzes using EdPuzzle. The tasks are distributed among the group of students that will prepare the learning materials for a particular topic for the whole class.

"You'll be amazed on what they can do. I use Project Oriented Based Learning (POBL). A project is designed for the students encompass the content for the whole semester. We will discuss progress, problems, sharing ideas on the project. Usually they are big events such as Mini Showcase of Microbial Ecology where students were the organising Committee. and Virtual Microbes, a virtual peer-learning project to learn microbes with students from eight ifferent universities, including Lafayett College, USA. It not only teaches others, students learn best by doing and experiential learning," she said.

"As a 21stCentury educator, a learning designer, we have to be ready to learn, unlearn and relearn. Learning takes place in many different circumstances and contexts and learning is process that never ends. Our enthusiasms, passion and excitement for learning should be contagious and infectious, and everyone must be infected," Wan Zuhainis said.


Taylor's University Face-to-Face Immersive Learning Experience project, which won an award in the category at the Education Minister's Special Award Ceremony: Innovative Curriculum Design and Delivery 2018 (AKRI 2018) last December, goes back to 2014 when Taylor’s University launched the Shine Award programme to enable its students to develop their life skills aptitude, which would see them improve on their lifelong life skills and emotional wellbeing capabilities.

It is actually the implementation of two subjects - Life Skills for Success and Well-Being and Millennials in Malaysia: Team Dynamics and Relationship Management - which is targeted to help students to focus on developing themselves to be emotionally intelligent and be able to interact with others.

"This innovative approach to education was the brainchild of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer, Professor Dr Pradeep Nair who saw the merit in introducing this after talking to industry leaders who shared about how they also assess emotional intelligence when hiring graduates," said Janaronson, who is the Associate Director of Integrated Teaching and Life-long Learning Center at Taylor's (INTELLECT).

A specialised team, called the Life Skills Coaches/Facilitators who come from various backgrounds, was appointed to look into this aspect of the learning. The Life Skills Facilitators, which include certified coaches, clinical psychologist, humanitarian and corporate trainers among others, deliver these life skills modules to all first-year students, providing them the opportunity to enter into a journey of self-discovery, catching foundational life skills, emotional intelligence and tools that will help with emotional well-being.

"While this was first introduced on a voluntary basis, the programme was met with positive response by the students which led to the establishment of a more comprehensive framework that was introduced as part of the Taylor’s Curriculum Framework which was launched last year," said Janaronson.

"It’s a new approach to learning and all our students in the diploma and degree programmes are enrolled for these two modules in their first year, regardless of their course of study," he said.

He elaborated by going through the two subjects, at the end of the semester, the students will have the opportunity to go through a self-discovery process and know how to thrive in a team setting and how to give neutral responses and behave with people in teams.

Dichotomie Le Toys

"This is important because research has indicated that the one reality is that those in the workforce in the future will work across different teams, in different sectors and also spanning cultures," he said.

he highlighted the initiative has been met with positive response, with close to 90 per cent of students involved sharing that they found the two modules helpful and provided them the platform to safely develop their emotional wellbeing in a positive manner. "Our team have also been approached by an industry partner who recognises the impact of this approach and wanted a custom-made 10 week module for their scholars," shared Janaroson.

As educators, he commented it is necessary to be innovative as it will allow instructors/ lecturers to remain relevant to the needs of students.

"The Life Skills modules provide a platform to the Life Skills Facilitators to constantly enhance the way they engage their students and allow the students to be future ready," Janaronosn said.


Transformative Teaching Without Lectures effort by UMT biodiversity lecturer Associate Professor

DrFaridah Mohamad a new approach to the teaching of ‘building and using a dichotomous key’ for first year biodiversity students. These skills, she said, are crucial for biodiversity graduates who will end up working in the biodiversity field later where they will be the ones holding the responsibility of exploring and safeguarding the mega-biodiversity. Therefore, she highlighted, skills in classification of organisms which involves building and using dichotomous key is crucial.

The things that triggers me to do this was when we noticed that majority of our final year students failed to demonstrate good knowledge and skill in identification and description of species when they presented their final year project, despite have been taught these lesson and skills during their first year.

"And so I thought of changing the way it is taught, but retaining all the learning outcomes. The only change I tried was the delivery of the course, from lecture based to activity based, where students took charge of their own learning by applying active learning in class," said Faridah.

The original course involved lecture and practical sessions. What Faridah did was to select the original most basic practical module, where students were taught and required to classify lab apparatus and stationaries into their own classes.

"This is the basic of making organism classification. I expanded this module to become the center of my teaching of the course. But instead of using those materials, I changed them to lovely coloured, cute toys of all sorts. The whole process of remodelling the module and crafting the activities took me quite sometime but it’s all worth it when comments from students were extremely encouraging," she explained.

Under Dichotomie Le Toys, a 2-3 hour activity was carried out in a group of five without given any prior lecture on the topic. The students further applied their understanding of the practical sessions using real plant and animal specimens and using various published taxonomic keys available.

The whole process of the activity was done on a basis of active learning where students took charge of their own learning through learning-by-doing, peer, collaborative and self-determined learning.

Each group was given a task to classify a set of 12-13 plastic toys of all sorts according to their creativity. While trying to complete the task, they listed the problems they faced, compared and discussed with the whole class facilitated by the lecturer. The importance of having a system to simplify the classification process is highlighted, followed by the introduction of “Dichotomous Key” terminology.

Each member of the group was then instructed to read an article of their choice from the internet, share with others and finally managed to build a correct dichotomous key of their toys.

"We started this new approach in 2017, and the students are now in their final year. Spontaneous interview carried by my other colleague on some of them add more proves that they are retaining the knowledge and skills they gained from Dichotomie le Toys, and started applying them to various projects that they are working now for their final year projects including birds, bats, fish and plants.

"This is precisely what we want from them, able to apply these basic skills taught previously during their study into “real job” situation, and was not happening at the rate we want before this," said Faridah.

Test done on students gave evidence of correct understanding of the concept and indicate their competence in using dichotomous key to identify organisms and building the key to classify them.

"We are working towards better teaching deliveries, especially on topics or subjects that we identify needs to be refreshed. How do we know this? We have their grades as indicators, and we have students’ comments to reflect upon each batch. That will tell us whether the students attain the intended outcomes or not," she shared.


HAVING introduced Disaster Response Medicine as a submodule under Emergency Medicine to the medical undergraduate curriculum at UKM, lecturers of the Department of Emergency soon found the student contact allocation for final year students for a one hour lecture inadequate to impart the principles of disaster response medicine and information for accompanying field experience.

"We had one hour of lecture followed by a simulation exercise where we put students through role play on the field. The whole affair is labour intensive with 50 students undergoing the simulation physically either in the ward or an open space each time. And there are 280 students in total for the whole batch, meaning we hat to carry out this simulations five to six times each year. While this disrupts our daily operations in the faculty, there is also no guarantee students will come away with complete knowledge on the overall principles of disaster response medicine as they are stuck with only one role on only one aspect of disaster response medicine during the simulation session," said UKM Medical Centre senior consultant emergency physican Professor Dr Ismail Mohd Saiboon, who is also a healthcare simulationist educator, and deputy dean of Graduate Studies at UKM's Faculty of Medicine.

So together with six other lecturers, he formed a 7-strong Emergency-Medical Education Research in Simulation (E-MERS) Team to see how can the teaching of the submodule be more effective.

The team came up with a blended immersive learning experience teaching and learning approach using blended learning With multi-modal web-application and immersive hybrid simulation


Before the actual face-to-face interaction, students had to access a lecture video through a screencast application where they can rewind and repeat as they see fit. An online discusssion ensues for students to put forth questions and request from clarifcation from the lecturer via Padlet which is an interactive platform which allows everyone to join in.

Only after that students will have the face-to-face interaction with the lecturer to delve in-depth into the topic after which a post-classroom task is given in preparation for a hands-on experience done through an immersive hybrid simulation (IHS).

For the IHS, students are exposed to a pre-recorded audio-visual trigger of an emergency - a vehicle accident or natural disaster - couple with actual role play by students taken on roles such as victims or medical personnel on stage in a lecture theatre hall. There are also students in the audience observing the whole scene.

"The victims are done up in woulage which is the art of applying mock injuries for the purpose of training emergency response teams and other medical and military personnel. Those taking on the roles of medical officers will then make decision as to what action or treatment is to be taken; they apply treatment principle, apply critical thinking and decision making.

Dr Ismail Mohd Saiboon engaging with finalyear students before a lecture on Disaster Response Medicine.

"When the session is over, we perform formative assessment onsite by having students give their responses to questions on what they have seen through an audience response system. Straight away we can see their answers and interact on why they derived on the answers. Students enjoy the experience and the whole process is a good way to ensure understanding on the topic and clear the doubts straightaway," said Ismail, adding that the whole approach has proven to be highly effective in terms of teaching the topic.

The E-MERS team is now looking at putting the initiative into the virtual reality (VR) platform and is in discussion with one local vendor to make it happen.

"VR is a good platform to learn procedural medical techniques such as intubation, putting in IV line as the experience will be objective and standard for all medical students. As it is not all medical students get to do the hands-on experience in the wards or surgery, some only get to observe. With VR and simulation this will no longer be an issue," he said.

Ismail also hopes that the mediccal faculty would one day come up massive open online course for learning medicine that would allow anyone anywhere to do so.

“This will be ideal for those interested in medicine but are not able to attend medical schools, to learn remotely. But, of course, becoming doctors is a totally different matter because it includes skills development which can be done at a simulation centre and apprenticeship with a doctor at a participating hospital.”

Close ↓