Jointly reported by:
Tan Yi Khai 16412 Sr2ScD
Robert Boxwell 15100 Sr3A
Lew Yuen Teng 15070 Sr3ComA
On 23rd April 2020, at 4 pm, an hour-long online interview was conducted by the Newsletter Club to make known the specifics of online learning that has taken a stand in our school ever since Movement Control Order (MCO) was brought into effect nationwide in Malaysia. A behind the scenes and planning stages that had been carried out by our School different departments were the core of today’s meeting. Participants included the Principal, Dr Chua Lee Lee, Deputy Principal, Madam Chong Siew Fah, Head of HR & Finance, Madam Chuah Ang Leng, both Heads of the Academic Department, Ms Leong Wai Yee and Ms Loh Hoi Yuen, ICT Department Head Ms Cheah Yuen Pheng together with all the teachers from the Computer Department. This video meeting session was hosted by Teacher-advisor of the Newsletter Club, Ms Helen Foo Mun Yee, and a total of six student journalists in attendance.
Before Online Classes
In a detailed address at the start of the meeting, the Principal gave a quick preview about the preventive measures the school took against the spread of Covid-19 prior to MCO. Some of these actions included canceling after school activities and Monday morning assembly. Realising that the students would most likely be confined to their homes for an extended period of time, the school also urged students to bring back their school books before the holidays began.
Before the school’s official online learning directives were issued, some teachers already took initiative to start online classes of their own. The Counseling Department also started “Counseling2U”, a program designed to offer advices and assistance to students in need of the counseling’s service, while the school’s library page shared content may be helpful to students that want something extra. Besides learning, the school also hoped for students to remain positive as well, so activities were held online on the school’s Facebook page such as the “Positivity Poster Competition” and “Let’s Change” Challenge in a new mood. Madam Chua also highlighted the importance of self-discipline for self-learning and a personal growth, as students would have to step out of their comfort zones into a new learning environment.
A lot had gone into the preparation work to establish an adequate system for online learning. The school’s administration had started much earlier in late February, but the announcement of the MCO made it clear that the school would have to make use of online learning to keep its students continuously up to date with the syllabus. Therefore, such meeting was held just before the start of MCO to lay a detailed plan.
“Before the classes started, teachers from all subjects met online and decided what they would teach each day. Then comes the preparation for the PowerPoint Presentations and homework for the students. The capability to work as a team has greatly enhanced the efficiency of the process.” said Ms Loh.
After conducting some meetings and surveys, the school decided on Zoom as the online learning platform, and the timetable was announced April 1st with an online class training on Zoom for teachers and students by the respective Computer Teachers. On April 6th, online classes officially started in Kuen Cheng High School.
Executing the Plan, and the Problems that Cropped Up
A few days after the start of MCO, the school’s administration had contacted Zoom to ask if they could provide 50 meeting rooms that could each fit 500 participants at once. It didn’t take long to get a reply from Zoom representatives.
The Principal also shed some light on the school’s negotiations with Zoom. “We had no issue negotiating with them,” said Madam Chua. “They were very friendly and had good understanding of our current situation, and later had even graciously provided the School with a one-month free-of-charge service.” The one-month period will be ending soon, but Kuen Cheng will continue to use Zoom for its online classes.
The main issue with online learning is that the school needs to teach the teachers how to become experts in using Zoom, so to speak. In comes the school’s computer teachers — only ones that are truly clear about what they are going to face. They also taught other students and teachers how to use the platform.
Other than that, for the first week in, there were issues regarding the miscommunication between the teachers. There were also technical issues where teachers face. For example, some teachers entered the wrong meeting room while some have forgotten to admit students into their online class as some of them were still at the waiting room.
Despite all of the problems faced, our admin did a great job in handling the issues. After a week into online learning, there aren’t as many issues faced. The school’s administration wouldn’t have been able to do it without strong teamwork.
Most of us had never heard of Zoom before this pandemic, but it now plays an integral role in our daily lives. But why did Kuen Cheng choose to use Zoom?
Easy-to-use, as Zoom claimed. Zoom provides the fundamental tools needed to emulate learning in a physical classroom. “It’s a very well-rounded piece of software,” said Ms. Cheah of ICT Department. “Teachers are able to share slides and videos, and also to annotate their screens as they would write on a whiteboard in a real classroom.” However, Zoom is not the only software equipped with these tools.
“Yes, we have been asked why we chose Zoom, in particular, seeing as there are many other similar services available,” continued Ms. Cheah. “Especially since there is similar software launched by more widely known companies, like Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.” However, the school was clearly not concerned with how famous the brands involved were. “What sets Zoom apart is that it makes it easy to effectively manage the large number of classrooms we have set up,” elaborated Ms Cheah. Zoom makes it easy for the school to monitor various aspects of the online classrooms’ use, such as the number of active classrooms and active users at any given time. “Google and Microsoft simply do not provide these supportive tools”.
This ease of management is extremely helpful to the school’s computer teachers and IT personnel — the front-line workers of Kuen Cheng’s online education system. “Using Zoom’s system, we can spot anomalies very quickly and jump in to assist at a moment’s notice,” said Ms. Tiong Lay Bee, a computer teacher. “If teachers encounter any problems, such as being unable to enter the classroom, or having technical issues with Zoom, it’s our job to help them.”
But is it Safe?
The school has always valued student safety, and that remains unchanged even though we have temporarily shifted to a virtual platform. Mr. Chong Sau Hor, Head of the Computer Department, shared the measures taken by the school to ensure the students’ online safety.
“Well, we implemented a password entry system for each online classroom,” said Mr. Chong. These passwords, along with the learning schedules, are published on a Google site only accessible by those with a Kuen Cheng email address. “We also made it mandatory for students to name their Zoom accounts according to a predefined format. The waiting room system also allows teachers to vet accounts attempting to enter the classroom,” he continued. If students do not comply with the naming requirement, they will not be allowed to enter the classroom. “The idea is that this will prevent any outsiders from entering the classrooms and causing trouble, as they will likely be unknowledgeable of how to meet these requirements.”
Another step that the school has taken to ensure that only students may enter the classroom is to have students turn on their webcams at the beginning of each lesson. These webcams are turned off during the rest of the lesson to prevent recordings of the students from being used for nefarious purposes.
There have also been some issues raised about Zoom’s alleged data security issues. “I have heard these allegations, but they are largely untrue,” said Mr Chong. “You see stories in the media of people blaming Zoom for computer safety breaches they’ve encountered, but these are most likely false correlations as there has been no evidence to corroborate these claims.” Mr. Chong also emphasized that the onus is on the end user to protect their own privacy and security online. “As long as you take proper precautionary measures, you will not have any problems.”
What the Students Think
As the interview drew to an end, the Deputy Principal asked for the students’ feedback on online classes, as this was a new experience for them. The students replied that although it had been difficult and different in the beginning, they have become used to it. Its advantages include the one hour break time between lessons which can be used to review the previous lesson as well the lesson recording, most students adapt to the self-learning. They thanked the teachers for their detailed and thoughtful class preparations. Mr Chong also said that although the teacher may teach a lot in that one hour, students can still revise the lesson through the recording as they like.
In conclusion, the School thanks all the teachers for their cooperation and teamwork in making the Online Classes into a reality with good academic progress. More important, students’ cooperation has much lessened the teachers’ burden. Hopefully, we will all have become well acclimated to the “new normal” we are currently living through, and thus will be more resilient and adventurous when faced with more new challenges in the future.