Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education has undergone a marked transformation. Universities have been forced to postpone new semesters while border restrictions have ground inter-institutional student exchanges around the world to a halt. Government and institutional responses were made to overcome this crisis, from national guidelines and safety measures for physical education to bringing lessons, classroom discussions and examinations online.
Within this context, the Korean Council for University Education (KCUE) and the ASEAN Universities Network (AUN) co-organised a webinar on 17 February 2021 titled “Responses from Higher Education to Global Pandemic”. Nine invited speakers from institutes of higher learning (IHLs), as well as higher education-related organisations in Korea and ASEAN countries, shared their experiences and best practices of improving the quality of higher education. The discussion also centred on ways to further strengthen international institutional cooperation in the face of an evolving pandemic.
Webinar participants comprising representatives from national governments, university staff members and students from universities around the world, were keen to learn about alternative learning initiatives that had been successfully developed and implemented since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
In line with SMU Vision 2025’s strategic priority of Growth in Asia, where the University seeks to share good practices and gain understanding of Asia’s economy, polity and society, Prof Venky Shankararaman, SMU’s Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Matters and Professor of Information Systems (Education) participated in the webinar. Addressing the 1,000-strong audience virtually, Prof Shankararaman elaborated on how SMU had adapted quickly to the sudden onslaught of the pandemic last year, including the concrete measures taken to ensure continuity of student learning.
“Following the DORSCON Orange announcement on 7 February 2020, we moved all classes with enrolment of 50 or more students to an online format by 10 February. By 17 February, close to 50% of our undergraduate offerings were online,” commented Prof Shankararaman.
The University had also been tapping on opportunities for collaboration on pedagogical innovations and personalised technology-enhanced learning.
"SMU is developing an integrated digital learning strategy for all students, including undergraduates, postgraduates, as well as for the professional and executive education,” said Prof Shankararaman, in relation to how technology could be harnessed to enhance education and learning. “As face-to-face interaction [in learning] is important, we are developing more blended learning courses instead of moving all of them online.”
“Going forward, we will personalise the content for students of different learning needs and put in place a system to measure and provide personalised feedback to students on their learning outcomes," added Prof Shankararaman. He called for members of the AUN to deepen collaborative efforts to deliver online courses, therefore increasing the opportunities for faculty and students to work together virtually. Highlighting the benefits of such initiatives, he encouraged faculty from member universities to come onboard, where they could exchange or acquire knowledge and intercultural experiences in the process.
Prof Shankararaman was joined by other speakers, including faculty members from international universities, government representatives from the education ministry and student representatives from AUN.
Click here for more insights articulated by Professor Shankararaman and his fellow speakers.