Making the best of your undergraduate days

By Aznan Mat Piah

When the new semester begins first week of March, it would be for the third time since the outbreak of the pandemic that classes will be conducted the remote way for most courses, except for certain categories of courses and those listed under special considerations that require students to be back physically in campus.

The remote teaching and learning (RTL), both online (synchronous) and remote (asynchronous) learning, is necessary in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the movement control order (MCO) to continue to break the chain of virus infections and to ensure a safe environment for students to study. This would mean that there will not be the physical presence of a lecturer and students in the normal face-to-face classes that were used to. For most of the students, particularly the freshies, this would be the first time that they will be meeting their lecturers albeit online.

The RTL mode requires far greater commitment on the part of the students to give full attention to their studies as they will be following lessons from a distance where they just cannot afford to take things for granted. It would mean students need to have greater self-discipline and set their mind from the start to attend the online class regularly and to respond to the lecturer’s teaching at all time.

Unlike the normal face-to-face physical classes where they can turn to their classmates and seek help or clarifications when they do not understand the lesson, the online classes demand extra efforts by the students to show greater interest in their studies by responding online. They need to interact by turning on their cameras so that the lecturer would be able to see their faces and communicate with them during class. This means students are required to actively participate by showing their interest in the course and lectures conducted online.

Not only that they need to engage with the lecturer but to take the initiatives to ask the lecturer if they do not understand the lessons taught or require further clarification. Students must also learn how to present themselves online and to make themselves interested in the topics delivered and discussed. And they need to read their books or be familiar with the topic before attending the class.

The advice by the Head of Communication Department, Dr. Zeti Azreen Ahmad in her opening remarks during the Communication Academic Briefing (CAB) on Thursday (18 February) was appropriate and timely not only meant for the new students who just joined the university, but also a good reminder to the seniors.

In this sense there have to be effective collaboration and cooperation by both the students and the lecturer. Distance should therefore not be taken as the excuse for not communicating effectively although there could at time be issues cropping up such as technical glitches when internet could be a problem for students to follow the online classes.

Nevertheless, students should take upon themselves to make the initiative to communicate with their lecturer through other platforms like email, telegram or WhatsApp or to inform the lecturer of any likely problem they might encounter so that alternative arrangement could possibly be made as a preemptive move. The students must always be on the alert. Keeping in silence or remaining passive would not help the students rather it would drive them further away from the lecturer.

No doubt, it requires active participation from both students and lecturers. Lecturers will not be able to see each and everyone and to respond to individual needs unless the student himself / herself makes the right move and communicates even more. They ought to learn how to engage and respond online. The lecturer will be too happy to respond if the students were to learn to communicate well. As Dr. Zeti Azreen rightly pointed out “students must learn and present online, and learn how to attract attention”.

Dr. Zeti also alluded to the fact that even the senior students have no choice but to undergo their internship attachment online during this time where the challenges are far greater because they have not even met their supervisors and colleagues from the organisation they are attached to. And yet they are expected to perform their job or tasks everything via online.

As most companies and organisations have resorted to have their staff to work from home, the students on attachment during the current pandemic situation have no choice but to perform their assignments from home in line with the new normal. What students need to do is to have the right attitude, tune their mind to the new norms and gain the confidence of their bosses so that they could deliver work satisfactorily.

The reminder from Dr. Nerawi Sedu during the briefing for students to not take lightly on the ethics and integrity when doing their assignments whether individually or in group should not go unheeded. For example, students should be aware of the penalties if they are caught committing plagiarism or trying to submit assignments previously done by their seniors as claiming to be their own work, would be tantamount to cheating and committing a serious offence.

Doing this will only go to show that a student is indiscipline, desperate, silly, or even lazy, and definitely he or she will not be learning anything or benefiting from the course at the end of the day. Herein lies integrity and good values within individuals which this university is trying to inculcate through its philosophy as in KhAIR (Khalifah, Amanah, Iqra’, Rahmatan lil Alamin), built on the belief that knowledge must be pursued as ibadah (continuous worship) and amanah (a trust) which Allah has placed upon mankind.

As new students who have just joined the university, they should not miss the opportunity to join the respective platforms or clubs / entities available within the department which are specially designed to mould the students in terms of leadership and exposure to practical aspects of communication such as writing, broadcasting and production skills as well as speaking and public relations skills.

Students can choose to join IIUMToday to be exposed to journalism skills like news reporting, news writing and feature writing. Or they can join or IIUMtv if they are interested to develop their skills in presentation and broadcasting.

Those interested in developing and improving their public relations skills and gaining exposure to professional aspects of the field should seize the opportunity to join the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia Student Association (IPRMSA) – IIUM Chapter where students will have the chance to network and interact with public relations practitioners in the field.

Of course, all communication students are automatically members of COSA or communication student association where they would gain opportunities in terms of leadership skills and engagement with the community both within and outside the campus.

It is never a waste to join any of these entities which would help to shape the students’ personality in meeting the challenges of the industry when they graduate from the university after their four-year journey as undergraduates.

As communication students, their core business when they graduate would be communication, so they should be able to communicate effectively. And the skills of communication especially in writing, presenting, engaging, and building networking will go a long way in building the students’ career in their field.

It is never a waste, instead it is a great asset, because news reporting, news writing and production work actually hinge on one’s ability to organise his or her thoughts in presenting messages and contents in a manner to make the audience understand and in turn influence attitudes and behaviours for change. After all, communication graduates are bound for their role as agents of change in society.

Basically what the students learned in class in terms of theories, principles and concepts need to be applied and this could be put into practice by joining these readily available platforms. Students will be exposed to do real reporting of events, followed by news writing and doing feature stories which will be published in the student portal IIUMToday which they can take pride and leave a mark.

Similarly, students will be involved in producing broadcast programmes for online radio or IIUMtv. These are the skills and experiences that would enrich the students’ knowledge and performance as potential communication experts through hands-on experience.

If students can plan their way within the four years they are going through their undergraduate studies, they should get the best of what the university offers them by the time they complete their studies and graduate. The communication knowledge, skills and experiences they acquired during their undergraduate journey will prove their self-worth to survive in a competitive world and to serve the ummah well. ***

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