Since classes have moved online this semester, teachers have been working hard to figure out how to help students feel more engaged and connected.

Assistant Professor of the Division of Culture and Creativity (DCC), Dr Guido Alvarez, teaches a course titled "Concept Development for Time-based Media", which aims to discover the concept and practice of time-based media design (animation, continuous images and motion graphics). Students are required to make inspirational sketches, design characters, as well as develop storyboards, etc.

Due to having classes online, Dr Guido Alvarez asked the students to download software called Second Life. Second Life is a massive multiplayer universe (MMU) set in a 3D virtual world and provides an online interactive community. Teachers and students "meet" and interact in the virtual world through their unique personal image.

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Students and the teacher communicate via their unique images in Second Life

Dr Guido Alvarez said: "I was exposed to this software when I was studying for a doctorate in 2006. Now I am reminded of it in the online teaching environment. For students, replacing them with virtual characters may be more comfortable than opening cameras because to some extent, the teacher would intrude on student’s personal space. We noticed that unless students are required, most students are reluctant to turn on the camera. When both cameras are turned off, the teacher has no way to determine whether they are actually in class. When using this software, if the student stops operating for five minutes, their virtual image will fall asleep."

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Dr Guido Alvarez gives lecture in the virtual classroom

Dr Guido Alvarez also said: "Online teaching has its advantages. It may encounter many problems for students who usually do not plan and like to procrastinate, but for students who have goals, and are self-motivated, online courses are very effective. Both teacher and student need to have good time management skills."

Associate Professor of the China Language and Culture Centre (CLC), Dr Wang Qin, teaches Chinese history and civilisation, and she mainly uses the Panopto platform for classes. Before each class, she will interact with the students in the WeChat group by asking a question. In the middle of the class, she would ask another question and the students will leave their answers in the discussion area, as a way of signing in.

Dr Wang Qin said: "Everyone lives at home and there is no group learning atmosphere. The Q&A method creates an atmosphere and encourages everyone to learn and supervise each other around the course content. We also set up various interactive forms of teaching, such as pre-class oral reports and after-class discussion questions, so that students have multiple ways to express and improve themselves."

Dr Chally Lim, an Assistant Professor of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, has been teaching two courses this semester, which are Communication Theory, and Mass Media Writing. Dr Lim said: "When UIC announced the launch of online teaching, I thought a lot about how to teach uniquely to maintain students' attention."

Dr Lim likes to interact with students and often encourages students to answer questions. In addition to teaching professional knowledge, the Malaysian teacher also shares daily life in her home country via recorded videos. The videos not only create a natural interaction between Dr Lim and her students, but also make her very popular among the students.

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Chally presents a Malaysian traditional outfit and a Malaysian restaurant

Dr Lim recorded the videos (the students named them “Chally’s vlogs”) when the epidemic was not yet serious and these videos included attending traditional weddings in Malaysia, experiencing local speciality restaurants as well as leisure moments.

Dr Lim said: "I remember the first short video I made after the outbreak was about food, because my students started to imagine what food they would get after the epidemic, and I wanted to cheer them up. The theme of the video later became more about the local culture of Malaysia. The students all liked the short videos, and when they knew that my country had to lockdown, they all came to comfort me and also sent me some short videos that they had recorded from China and I am very touched."

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In order to help students learn more about the migrant workers and their children, and to help students better design volunteer service programmes, Whole Person Education Office lecturer, Ms Luo Zhuoheng, along with the Zhuhai Facilitators, arranged a special ‘meeting’ that consisted of 12 UIC students and 13 children of migrant workers from Doumen District and Jinding.

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Year 2 Computer Science and Technology student Ren Zhenyu sings for the kids

Ms Luo said that the course focuses on the needs of the floating population and surrounding communities in Zhuhai. In this course, students get to study the concepts and cases related to charity works and volunteer services, and try to respond to the needs of service groups. This online exchange is to enable students to better plan the corresponding charity activities according to the needs of the subjects.

“For Experiential Learning, it is more challenging at this time, but trying new methods is also fun. Students are very willing to turn on their webcams and talk to the service subjects online,” Ms Luo said.

Translated by Lauren Richardson

Editors: Samuel Burgess, Covee Wang, Deen He

(from MPRO)