I spent most of my educations, from elementary school to undergraduate from 1984 to 2002 in Indonesia. I carried in my mind on how great teachers and professors taught in the class. When I continued further study in United Kingdom in 2003, the teaching style was also the same.
I brought that experience when I became a lecturer in 2009 in UTeM. Never had an experience in teaching, I just copied and pasted the same teaching method into my class. I often delivered two-hour lecture straight, went from one to another point in my Power Point slides.
My taught subject, Mechanical Vibration, is a compulsory subject and so the typical number of student is 50-60 students. From my observation on the first three years, the students sitting on the front rows seemed to enjoy my lecture. I could say that they engaged with me and with the contents I delivered. In fact, I had five best students in the faculty (with CGPA nearly 4.00) to be supervised under me in their Final Year Projects and then became my research students (MSc by research) simply because they loved the vibration subject and they loved the way I taught in the class.
I am sure they also noticed that many times during the class, I was always disturbed by the other students who made noise on the back rows. Even mumbling noise can change my mood in teaching. If they were silence, I could see they were busy with the smartphones, disengaged from the topic.
For the Final Exam, I like to design the questions with high-order thinking to challenge the students to think deeply and critically. I sometimes create the questions based on the case from my consultation projects with oil and gas company. I even got positive comments from the Engineering Accreditation Council who audited our Bachelor programme in the faculty stating that this is how the questions in the final exam should be designed. Theoretically, if the students can master the fundamental concept, the questions will be easy to solve. However, to strengthen the concept, this requires them to practice solving many example problems outside the class. But, unfortunately, this was not the case.
And so, Mechanical Vibration subject became one of the killer subjects in the faculty producing great numbers of failed passing mark (‘E’) and/or just pass (‘D’). The position was usually interchanged between the 1st rank and 2nd rank with Engineering Control subject (another 'horrible' subject full of maths 😄)
During those times I never really took this seriously. It might be that I was focusing my energy on research (grants 💸and publications) and so the problem was dragged for almost 4-5 years. And the best thing in the university is that, the lecturer was never wrong 🦸🏼♂️.
The often repeated claims were:
– Although lecturers have tried their best to explain the subject, the students still do not understand.
– UTeM mostly gets slow learner-students (compared to other top universities in Malaysia).
– The students do not study hard enough to the pass the exam.
– They are adults learners, and a lecturer is not responsible to ensure that they do lots of problem solving to understand the subject.
As the time passed by, I too became bored with my way of teaching. I spoke too much in front of the class, and observed the students ‘were not really’ in my class. I was questioning myself again and again the purpose of me to be in the class. Is it not to inspire them? Is it not to make them feel the joy of learning Mechanical Vibration so that they can appreciate what they learn when they work in the engineering field later?
When I realised that I have to change, the followings are my reflections:
1. How could I deliver two-hour lecture explaining the physics and maths and assumed majority of the students could follow what I explained? 🤦🏼♂️ Was it wrong if they disengage from the topic?
2. Even back at those times, most students already had smartphones. The students now can easily be distracted and lose attention.
3. I am now dealing with students from generation-Y, where they are familiar with information technology (gadgets, computers, internet). And here I am, still deliver the lecture with only Power Point slide? 🤳🏼
4. Can I use the technology to empower the student’s learning experience and at the same time makes the teaching not too exhausted? 💻
5. Can the technology be used to maximise the number of the students engaged with the content, not only the front row students?
6. Can the technology be used so that in the classroom, the main activity of the students is on problem solving to improve their critical thinking 🤔?