The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in universities having to temporarily halt physical classes across Malaysia.
Face-to-face (F2F) learning was risky and students had to be out of the campus until the vaccinations for students and academicians were completed. F2F teaching and learning were replaced by remote learning on digital platforms. Education, thus. changed dramatically with Blackboard becoming the new “classroom”.
As a lecturer who specialises in Furniture Design and 2D software skills (e.g. AutoCAD), prior to the pandemic, I taught both courses physically, with step-by-step guidance for 3D modelling and rendering to produce high-quality furniture pieces. Students learnt how to develop models quickly and efficiently with face-to-face guidance and hands-on methods which helped them learn by example.
Surprisingly, the transition from face-to-face to online learning in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic did not hinder learning goals. Instead, I saw alternatives being sought to allow students, especially disadvantaged students, to realize e-learning better. With that, the full potential of e-learning can and has now been unlocked.
Conventionally, learning was believed to be more efficient when we, lecturers, provided a stimulus (teacher-centered activities) where students can respond. The pandemic created the opportunity for learning to be more independent and socially constructed by students themselves (learner-centered activities) which sustains a diversity of ideas (Mpungose,2020).
This suggests that digital learning is possible even in a course that was previously thought of as could only be taught physically, such as furniture making. It could even prove to be more participatory and effective than traditional learning as it requires lecturers to engage students in a dialogue for the social construction of knowledge (Downes, 2010).
Students today are digital natives (Bennett et al., 2008; Prensky, 2001), who are familiar with the use of technologies such as laptops and smartphones, and software resources such as Blackboard and Zoom which represents advanced e-learning.
Malaysian students who have always been shy about asking questions and speaking up are now more responsive with e-learning because they can express themselves in the chat room and through WhatsApp of which are mediums they are more comfortable with. E-learning advocates student-centredness versus teacher-centeredness in teaching and learning of furniture design content.
On digital platforms, students have the freedom to access course information and content anytime and anywhere. Lesson recordings are particularly useful for students to learn at their own pace, especially when they are trying to understand abstract concepts.
Students also develop practical skills and work on smaller-scale furniture design projects through lively discussion in weekly online classes and personal feedback. They can understand materials and techniques, create technical production drawings, analyse markets and consumers with the same course content and learning outcomes pre-pandemic.
Instead of full-scale furniture prototypes, students produce many 1:5 scale furniture models and communicate their designs from 2D (AutoCAD) to 3D (Furniture models). As full-scale prototypes are more time-consuming, small-scale models allow students to spend more time experimenting with the furniture joineries and sourcing the materials and finishes. Furthermore, it is more cost-effective too.
All course information and notes are stored electronically and easily accessible. In other words, the accessibility of modern physical recourses has made life easier for students and lecturers. Lecturers can show students their senior’s work as they are archived digitally. Moving away from the traditional paper and pen environment (F2F), teaching and learning university courses are significantly more effective and sustainable now. However, this efficiency can be limited because of issues like bandwidth requirements.
In conclusion, the distance learning solution could be possible and as efficient as the F2F pedagogy. An online course for professional Furniture Design can be made an alternative so that all students can have the same access to e-Learning irrespective of their culture, geographical location, socio-economic factors and others.
I believe that blended learning will be an effective way for learning as nobody knows what the future holds vis-a-vis the Coronavirus. The successful transition from F2F to e-learning will surely make online education an integral component of university education.
Dr Nicole Fu is Lecturer at the School of Arts, Sunway University. In 2014, she was awarded a scholarship by the Ministry of Higher Education to pursue her PhD specialising in furniture and corporate identity design.
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