On Monday 30 March 2020, the University began full online teaching to provide some sense of business continuity amidst the nationwide Alert Level 4 lockdown. As staff scrambled to prepare, students were understandably anxious on how the following weeks, and possibly months, would play out for their learning experience. For this to work, what was needed more than anything else, was for both teachers and students to manage expectations and maximise learning – as everyone accepted the situation was indeed a national and worldwide crisis.
It has been a little over two weeks since 30 March and we now have some time to review and reflect on the online teaching experience, while we enjoy a two week semester break from teaching. Some of the positives has been with the many staff members using this opportunity to develop innovative ‘flipped’ classroom style teaching.
Found to be hugely beneficial to enhance learning, flipped classrooms require students to listen to the lectures online and then come to class (in this case online zoom meetings) to discuss and explore the concepts presented. The lockdown has thus forced us to start developing the material and methods to carry out such flipped classroom teaching. The obvious negatives are the lack of access to laboratories, and actual physical classrooms, where proper active learning, and discussion may be experienced in fullness. Also the added pressure of being confined at home, and isolated from friends, colleagues and fellow classmates, makes the tasks of teaching and learning very challenging. It’s times like this when we realise that we are indeed social animals.
Research-wise our department spearheaded a faculty symposium held on 21 March 2020 where our researchers could brainstorm on how current engineering expertise could be used to mitigate the COVID-19 problem. Attended also by experts in Emergency Medicine, epidemiology and virology, the meeting discussed many ideas, including some that were quickly actionable. Our staff members have started working on sensor technology for detecting COVID-19 fast (Ashton Partridge), and application of UV technology for improving sanitation in hospitals (Mohammed Farid), while others in the faculty are looking at applications of Internet of Things and AI for contact tracing, new and portable ventilators, and increased manufacturing of critical PPE.
In all, the amazing response from both staff and students has been great and I am confident that together we can overcome the challenges of this crisis – as we look forward to contributing to an incredible recovery.
Associate Professor & Head of Department
Chemical & Materials Engineering