Cross-border virtual classes amid coronavirus outbreak

Friday - 10/04/2020 00:48

Despite being thousands of kilometers apart, the virtual classes between foreign lecturers and students of the University of Science and Technology of Hanoi (USTH, Vietnam France University) have been regularly taking place amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Proactive change to adapt 

According to Dr. Nguyen Hai Dang, Vice Rector of USTH, the university is expected to welcome more than 200 foreign lecturers from France, Japan, South Korea, Thailand… in 2020. However, since the beginning of February 2020, many visits of foreign lecturers were cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the physical classrooms have been replaced by online teaching and learning. 

Facing a new situation, the lecturers have to adapt proactively to overcome both objective and subjective difficulties in order to deliver high-quality lectures to the students. Adjusting personal schedules to fit with the timetable of the students in Vietnam is the solution that many foreign lecturers choose to cope with the time zone differences. Currently living in Lebanon, Mr. Ziad Jreijiri, a lecturer in Aeronautical Engineering at USTH, has to start the virtual classes even before dawn. Although Mr. Ziad Jreijiri has to wake up very early in the morning, he finds it “no big deal” because “for me, students are the first priority.” 
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Dr. Manasawee Kaenampornpan often asks random quizzes to increase interaction with the students.

With specialized science subjects, online teaching also poses a big challenge for lecturers. Prof. Eric Lacombe, a French lecturer, Director of Department of Life Science at USTH, said: “Sending learning materials, pictures and videos is the method that I choose to help the students easily visualize and proactively study the new knowledge. I spend more time solving the students’ questions before, during and after the classes.
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Prof. Eric Lacombe spends more time in online teaching sessions to answer the students’ questions.

Meanwhile, asking questions and randomly calling students to answer are the solutions that Dr. Manasawee Kaenampornpan, a Thai lecturer of the Department of Information Technology and Communications, chooses to create a vibrant atmosphere and make the students focus on the lecture. “What I like the most about online teaching is that the students can send their answer more quickly via the live chatbox. I usually record the online sessions and send them to the students so that they can download and review anytime; also, I spend more time before and after each lecture to answer the students’ questions.

Challenges in maintaining teaching quality 

Online teaching and learning approach is now considered as an effective solution to cope with the prolonged absence of physical classrooms due to the Covid-19 epidemic. However, it also gives universities challenges in ensuring and maintaining the teaching quality. 

Dr. Nguyen Hai Dang stated that an effective online learning session requires lots of efforts from many sides, including the University in creating favourable conditions for technical solutions and software, the lecturers in adjusting the lectures and teaching methods, the students in proactively participating in the virtual classes. Thus, USTH often conducts surveys from the lecturers and students to provide timely support, change and advice.
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Providing highly practical training programs is the core training motto of USTH.

Regarding the prospect of applying online teaching in the future, Dr. Nguyen Hai Dang said that in the digital era, online teaching and learning has become a trend thanks to its advantages such as travel cost saving, time saving and ability to apply new technology. However, for universities majoring in science and technology with high amounts of practice within the courses as USTH, online teaching is impossible to replace entirely physical classrooms but only can be considered as a temporary solution during the unavoidable circumstances such as the Covid-19 outbreak.

Currently, we still prioritize to arrange virtual classes for the theoretical lectures during the time the students cannot come to the university. USTH will try not to cut down the number of practical sessions in labs or field trips since these are the essential learning contents with high practicality, and this is USTH’s core training motto.”, Dr. Nguyen Hai Dang emphasized.