Curtin Malaysia emerges more resilient and versatile from pandemic

Miri – 17 June 2020 – Close to 100 days into its campus shutdown consequent to the initial Movement Control Order (MCO) and subsequent variations imposed by the Malaysian Government, Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia) has emerged more resilient and primed to navigate the continually fluid and challenging circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the outset, the campus (Curtin University’s largest international campus) reacted positively to the new conditions, implementing various measures and processes to ensure academic and business continuity, and that its campus community was sufficiently supported and protected.

Indeed, all of Curtin’s campuses in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Dubai responded swiftly to the COVID-19 outbreak in accordance with the directives of their respective governments, according to Chairman of Curtin Malaysia’s Board of Directors, Datu Ose Murang, recently.

“As a responsible higher education institution, we have kept our campus closed, except for essential services, for the duration of the MCO to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and to protect our campus community. At the same time, we are doing everything we can to safeguard the interests of our students, including ensuring that they continue effective learning,” said Datu Ose.

As soon as the MCO was announced, Curtin Malaysia responded immediately by moving all lectures online within 24 hours, followed by the transition of tutorials and workshops to online spaces as well within that same week.

He said Curtin Malaysia is able to adopt a variety of e-learning approaches due to its well-developed frameworks, tools, support facilities and infrastructure, which have been developed and enhanced continuously alongside advancements in learning technologies.

Sharing Datu Ose’s sentiments, Curtin Malaysia’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive, Professor Simon Leunig, said, “Curtin’s education model involves a considerable amount of online teaching and much of the course material was already online. By complementing our Moodle and Blackboard learning management systems with public domain video conferencing programmes, our students and lecturers have taken to fully online learning and teaching quite naturally.”

Most of the classes are in synchronous mode, with lecturers conducting ‘live sessions’ with their students online. Other classes are in asynchronous mode, with recorded sessions viewed by students in their own time, followed by shorter engagement sessions like chatroom and online meetings where the recorded material is discussed.

Lecturers have also shown creativity in using technology to implement ‘flipped virtual classrooms’ in place of conventional flipped classrooms to ensure that the same level of collaborative learning is achieved even though lecturers and students are not in the same physical spaces.

According to Professor Leunig, teaching staff put considerable effort into ensuring the online learning got off to a good start in the initial weeks and, along with their unit coordinators and colleagues at the main campus in Perth, continually fine-tune their online teaching practices to ensure the effectiveness of their remote approaches.

“Because of this, the quality of our curriculum, course materials and teaching have not been diminished in any way. As far as online study goes, with the extra focus and enhancements put into the content and delivery, we have actually ended up with a superior online study system that will remain relevant and applicable for the foreseeable future,” commented Professor Leunig.

“The MCO has actually been a great opportunity for us to test all our remote learning approaches and give our students the full experience of technology-supported learning. Furthermore, everyone is encouraged to collaborate with each other and share their e-learning resources for continued improvement,” he added.

Professor Leunig also pointed out that Curtin Malaysia’s students and academics have access to its substantial online resources, which includes over 150,000 journals, about 420,000 e-books and more than 600 online databases in addition to open access resources, and the campus’ library staff provide a high level of support in the fully online learning and teaching environment.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to improve and more economic sectors reopen under the new ‘Recovery Conditional Movement Control Order’ (RMCO), staff of Curtin Malaysia are making preparations for a staged reopening of the campus over the next few months under a comprehensive campus COVID-19 action plan.

“Our line managers and their staff are now finalising their return-to-campus plans. The transition back to campus will occur in a careful, staged and coordinated manner to ensure all relevant health and safety protocols are established and maintained,” said Professor Leunig.

However, for students and lecturers, face-to-face classes are still suspended and online learning and delivery will continue until the end of the year, as directed by the government. Furthermore, with the university’s second semester for degree programmes due to commence on 3 August 2020, enrolment will be conducted online with an Online Orientation scheduled from 28 to 31 July. Foundation programmes, meanwhile, will commence on 17 August following online orientation from 11 to 14 August.

As of this week, postgraduate Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students are being allowed onto the campus to resume their experimental study, according to Professor Leunig.

Meanwhile, final-year undergraduates who need to undertake final-year projects involving practical work and experiments in specialised laboratories and design studios in order to complete their degrees will be allowed to return to the campus in the new semester. The same goes for all newly-enrolled HDR students, who will require similar facilities for their research studies.

In addition, those who do not have access to the Internet or a conducive learning environment at home can also apply to utilise campus facilities for more effective participation in their ongoing online classes.

All these are in accordance to the latest directives from the Ministry of Higher Education for the phased reopening of university campuses, provided appropriate SOPs guided by Ministry of Health advice are established and adhered to.

“It has been a very challenging year so far for everyone and I would like to express my sincerest thanks to all our staff and students for their commitment and resilience in the face of the many challenges and the new normal that is to come,” concluded Professor Leunig.

The 1,200-acre Curtin Malaysia campus in Miri, Sarawak.

Campus buildings still locked down but being prepared for a staged reopening of campus.

Online learning to continue until the end of the year.

Chairman of the Board of Directors, Datu Ose Murang.

Pro Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive Prof. Simon Leunig.