Varsities go online to welcome new students

Wednesday May 20th, 2020
By Murniati Abu Karim

Starting life as university students is something that most school leavers look forward to.

Upon entering a tertiary institution, students will go through a week of faculty meetings and campus tour as part of the orientation week.

With campus closure, however, universities must welcome new students fully online, from the registration process to orientation week activities.

UNITAR International University (UNITAR) recently conducted an online orientation week for its June intake students.

UNITAR chief executive officer Puvan Balachandran said: "We used our existing platform to conduct a virtual orientation, which is the UNITAR Education Core Virtual.

"Students were briefed on the steps to access their learning materials, including a readiness kit to begin their studies online. They were also guided on how to use Microsoft Teams effectively to ensure an interactive learning atmosphere."

He added that the university is the first in Asia to receive the five-star ratings awarded by United Kingdom-based QS Stars in the category of distance learning.

With such recognition, Puvan stressed that the university is ready to continue with online delivery mode for a longer period if the practice of social distancing continues.

"Decisions will depend on the directives set by the Higher Education Ministry. As all systems are in place, it's business as usual for us and our students in terms of how they learn."

Commenting on the students' enrolment. Puvan said the uncertainty out there is causing students to take a "wait and see" approach.

Some are keen in deferring their studies to a later point in time, when there is more clarity on the situation, he added.

"However, at UNITAR, we are fortunate that the number of student intake is not significantly affected by the Movement Control Order (MCO)."

Meanwhile, Taylor's University saw more than 2000 new intake students in March go through digital orientation using Taylor's Integrated Moodle e-Learning System.

According to Taylor's University deputy vice-chancellor and chief academic officer Professor Dr Pradeep Nair, the platform was designed specifically to support the delivery of teaching and learning materials online, including live video lectures.

"The university prepared a series of videos to help new students seamlessly navigate the campus and its facilities when they return to the lakeside campus.

"Students were able to access programme-level briefings online with an interactive forum allowing them to communicate with the university and current students throughout their digital orientation.

"In addition, more than 1,200 students participated in 'Test your Knowledge' quiz where students were assessed on their knowledge and understanding about campus facilities and services."

The digital orientation was preceded by student pre-engagement events, such as friendly eSports competitions and a Tik Tok Party Challenge to break the ice.

Noting that having an e-orientation would pose a lack of human interaction and student experience, the university involved senior students and clubs and societies to help welcome the new students and mitigate this problem, said Pradeep.

"The 71 clubs and societies at Taylor's also held an online exhibition where new students could engage them through live social media feeds and register to join.

"Our post-orientation survey showed that 97 per cent of the new students clearly understood school academic matters, such as the academic calendar, general rules and regulations, and nearly 90 per cent were happy with the e-orientation."

Taylor's University international student from Bangladesh Shamiha Khadija Saan said: "It was very convenient for the university to conduct orientation online. I was worried that I couldn't make it to the orientation due to the travel ban."

UNITAR Bachelor of Information Technology student Ku Muhammad Akashah Ku Abdul Kadir, 19, said: "I was guided well by the lecturers and I managed to get used to online learning during the orientation week."

Despite feeling a bit disappointed for not being able to meet his new friends and work on assignments physically, Ku Muhammad Akashah, said it is good that the online platform allows him to engage virtually.

"The first thing I would do once the campus reopens is meeting my friends and lecturers. I will try to incorporate online learning as much as possible into my studies even after this period as I believe the future lies in technological platforms."