Digitalising Teaching and Learning in the Mathematical Sciences

The difficulties of digitalising teaching and learning of Mathematics during these challenging times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes in all sectors including higher education. The traditional system of teaching and learning has been greatly challenged which has necessitated immediate changes to education delivery across the world. The impact has pushed the educational system to take swift yet effective steps towards digitalisation of teaching and learning. Sunway University responded quickly to ensure that the disruption to learning was minimal during the periods of lockdown, by moving classes online.

It has been more than a year since all teaching and learning went online; but this still undeniably imposes its own challenges within the School. At SMS, multiple initiatives were undertaken early on to ensure all students receive adequate educational support during this period. Digitalising teaching and learning meant that the School needed to provide an efficient communication system to ensure constant engagement with the students where none will be left behind. While the system is moving towards the use of these technologies, the School would also need to equip the teaching staff with digital competencies to continuously provide world class teaching and learning experiences for the students.

As face-to-face interactions were limited, lecturers were faced with one of the greatest challenges; that is to maintain constant engagement with the students. This had brought to light the lack of a centralised online platform for communication between students and the School. Thus, SMS decided to utilise MS Teams extensively as the main platform for communication. A general channel for all students within the School was created, followed by sub-groups based on cohorts. Lecturers and administrative staff were then assigned to monitor these groups.

Students undergoing internship were also monitored using the same platform. With the movement restriction imposed by the government for significant parts of the year, these students were at a higher risk of feeling isolated as they attended classes online. The communication platforms enabled students to stay in contact with peers as well as lecturers, since there were no formal contact hours during their internship.

Communication with students was of paramount importance to many institutions throughout the pandemic. This continuous effort by the School to focus on maintaining student engagement proved valuable to students, as they rated the School highly in the area of communication according to the global COVID-19 Student Barometer survey conducted by i-Graduate in 2020. The University received a high rating of 83% “overall satisfaction with communication by university”, against the global average of 76%.

The switch to online teaching and learning also meant that lecturers needed to quickly become experts at managing various learning platforms. The School scheduled rehearsals for all lecturers at the early stages of the pandemic. Through this rehearsal, multiple good practices and steps for improvement were identified and shared among lecturers to ensure that student learning experience did not suffer due to poor delivery. SMS lecturers have been actively sharing their experience, feedback and concerns amongst themselves to identify the teaching methods that would work best for students. Continuous support was also provided to lecturers with multiple training sessions and workshops on online teaching, assessments and virtual classroom management. Thanks to the strong teamwork, the School delivered the best online learning experience within the University, as rated by the students in the COVID-19 Student Barometer Survey.

For the School of Mathematical Sciences, the digitalisation of teaching and learning has partly cushioned the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on its educational activities. With these immediate changes, it is important for the School to ensure that it continues to communicate clearly with students, while teaching staff provide the best teaching and learning experiences with increasing digital competencies to ensure high standards of teaching and learning delivery are continuously maintained.

Norshalina Basar
School of Mathematical Sciences
norshalinab@sunway.edu.my