Distance Education Series
Interviews with FAH Professors
Text: Debby Seng │ Photo: Debby Seng, with some provided by interviewees
Editor’s Note: Since the novel coronavirus outbreak and the consequent suspension of classes to prevent the spread of the virus, distance education has become a hot topic in Macao, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Here at the University of Macau (UM), faculty members have been offering online courses to ensure that students keep learning amid class suspension. In these My UM articles, we cover the online courses from different faculties and departments and take a closer look at how faculty members prepare these courses and how they monitor the students’ learning progress.
In this semester, Associate Professor Hari Venkatesan, Assistant Professor Roberval Teixeira e Silva and Senior Instructor Cheong Im Lan in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities offer courses such as ‘Introduction to Interpreting’, ‘Portuguese Language Drama’, and ‘Chinese for Professional Communication’. What challenges have they encountered in the process? How do they increase student engagement in class?
Creating an Atmosphere Conducive to Interactive Learning
Prof Venkatesan teaches several courses this semester, including ‘Introduction to Interpreting’, ‘Translation of Business and Legal Writings’, and ‘Translation Technology’.
When he first started the online courses, some students felt too shy to turn on the webcam, which made it difficult for him to know if they were paying attention. ‘Sometimes I felt like I was talking to the air,’ he says. But he soon came up with an idea to enliven the class. ‘Each class, I ask every student a question or ask for their comments on the content of the day. That made them pay more attention because they knew there was always the chance that they could be asked to answer a question,’ he says. He requires his students to study the PPT slides, lecture notes, and the teaching video he uploaded to UMMoodle before each class so that they can have more time for in-depth discussion and translation exercises during the class. When he finds that students have difficulty understanding any concept, he would make additional learning materials for them.
The best way to improve translation skills is through practice. When teaching the consecutive interpreting course, Prof Venkatesan requires his students to take turns interpreting each sentence he reads with no gaps in between. After the interpreting exercise, the students upload recordings to UMMoodle for marking.
Roberval Teixeira e Silva, an assistant professor in the Department of Portuguese, used to teach online courses in his home country, Brazil, so he is no stranger to distance education. This semester, he teaches two courses, namely ‘Research and Report Writing II’ and ‘Portuguese Language Drama’.
Prof Roberval Teixeira e Silva
According to Prof Silva, it is not difficult to teach ‘Research and Report Writing II’ online, but the ‘Portuguese Language Drama’ course is a different story. It is because the latter requires students not only to study Portuguese drama, films, and plays, but also to write scripts and perform on stage.
‘This course emphasises face-to-face interaction, and it is also important that students experience how to express themselves creatively not only in Portuguese but also using other semiotic resources such as body language and voice,’ says Prof Silva. ‘I upload lecture notes, videos, and other course materials to UMMoodle to motivate our discussions on Zoom and WeChat. We can neither meet in person nor perform on stage at this moment, so I have encountered many challenges when reorganising the course.’
Increasing Student Engagement
Prof Silva has come up with some solutions to overcome the limitations of teaching ‘Portuguese Language Drama’ online. For example, he uses drama games such as role-playing to promote peer communication. For report writing, he shares students’ group reports among themselves to encourage the idea that doing research is a collaborative task.
All the students enrolled in this course are in their final year of college. At first, they were worried about not being able to keep up and graduate on time. Prof Silva told them to just focus on working hard to the best of their ability. ‘I told them: “You can’t just sit there and expect good grades. All you have to do is to be engaged and responsible for your own and the group’s development.”
Prof Roberval Teixeira e Silva (upper row, centre) gives a lecture online
Teaching a Course in Resume Writing
Cheong Im Lan, a senior instructor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, teaches several courses this semester, including a course in practical writing and a course in popular literature and life. In the past few weeks, in the practical writing course, she taught students the principles of writing for practical purposes, including the writing of resumes to cater to the needs of those graduating students who are about to join the workforce.
When preparing for the course, Cheong learned that some students had slow internet connection at home or lack the suitable equipment to use the software Zoom. So she made audio files and PPT slides and uploaded them to UMMoodle and WeChat groups. She also answers students’ questions on WeChat and provides feedback by email after grading their assignments.
Cheong Im Lan, a senior instructor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature
Online Teaching Requires More Time to Prepare
Cheong says that online teaching takes her twice as much time and energy to prepare compared to traditional classroom-based teaching. To ensure optimum learning outcomes, she spends a lot of time checking the recordings, sometimes even redoing part of the recordings. Another course taught by Cheong in this semester, namely ‘Popular Literature and Life’, explores the meaning, origin, and development of popular literature. Two classes of students enrolled in the course share the same set of recordings and PPT material. So far, teaching of this course has been going according to the original teaching plan.
Cheong talks to students on WeChat
Of course, online teaching has not been all smooth sailing for Cheong; she has encountered her share of challenges. For instance, when she first started, she did not know how to explain the content in the PPT slides and do audio recording at the same time. But she soon got the hang of it and solved the problem. At first, she was also worried that students might not fully understand the content by merely studying the PPT slides and listening to the recordings. So she spent a lot of time talking to the students and provided after-class tutoring on WeChat to ensure that they thoroughly understand the course content.
Launched in 2008, UMMoodle is an online teaching platform at UM, where students can obtain course-related learning resources including text files, PPTs and video clips. They can also submit assignments and take quizzes on the platform.
Learning resources from UM’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Enhancement