On the 2020 AGENDA

Five Minutes with Prof Dr Widad Othman
Vice President (Academic), OUM

By Dr David Lim

2020 will witness the continuation of our effort from the previous year to increase the number of fully online courses offered to our students.

Dr David Lim (DL): New year, new plans on the academic side of things for OUM, Prof?

Prof Dr Widad Othman (WO): 2020 will witness the continuation of our effort from the previous year to increase the number of fully online courses offered to our students. Rendering our courses online, complete with e-lessons, will not only help our learners learn better, it will also enable us to offer entire programmes internationally, broadening our reach beyond the various international markets we have entered such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Also on the agenda for 2020 is a more vigorous promotion of APEL or accreditation of prior experiential learning. This will enable adult learners to capitalise on their work experience and prior experiential learning to gain admission to our academic programmes. As well, it will allow them to earn credits for their prior learning, thus shaving off perhaps a semester or more from the standard study duration. Aside from the general market, we would also like to attract more adult learners of non-Malay backgrounds and those from Sabah and Sarawak to leverage on APEL, as they are currently rather under-represented. Aside from these plans, we are planning to fully deploy our Question Bank System which will allow us to add yet another dimension of flexibility to our learners in the form of exam-on-demand services. Last but not least, we will be piloting our micro-credentialing scheme for selected courses to enable learners obtain micro-credentials or certification for the attainment of a smaller set of learning in a narrow area of study and practice.

DL: How will OUM's micro-credentialing, commonly abbreviated as MC, work?

WO: OUM's MC scheme will enable learners to follow - in online mode, and for free - three bite-size topics of each course offered for MC. The topics constitute approximately thirty percent of a full standard course that OUM offers. Upon successful completion of three topics, learners will be awarded a certificate of completion. They may subsequently choose to complete the rest of the topics in the course at premium. And when they complete that, they will be awarded a badge worth three credits which will be kept in OUM's MC Bank. Learners may continue to collect more badges which are equivalent to credits. When all badges are collected for all required courses in a given programme offered by OUM, learners may then petition to be awarded a degree. Micro-credentialing, in essence, puts value to learning leading to the award of a degree for a fully accredited programme.

DL: On fully online courses which OUM launched in 2019, what are the latest developments and how have learners responded to them?

WO: Preparation of learning materials, including e-lessons and video lectures, are on-going. We are still gathering feedback from the learners following our fully online courses. Early responses have been encouraging and we will employ them to finetune our offering. We are cognisant of the fact some learners may appreciate a more robust easing into the fully online mode and we are providing more support to enable them to maximise learning in this highly flexible mode.

DL: Much ink has been spilt on the predicted obsolescence of certain jobs and on the need for universities to be vigilant about offering courses that are future-proof. What's your take on that?

WO: Changes in the work market is unavoidable and we are keeping a close watch with the help of subject-matter experts and industry consultants who are attuned to market sentiments. We cyclically review programmes and courses to ensure their relevance. We are rigorously enhancing and beefing up the contents of our learning materials as an on-going effort which began with the 2018 cycle. Short videos that promote learning will feature prominently in the courses we offer. As well, we are looking into setting up virtual classrooms that will remotely and in real-time connect geographically-dispersed learners with their e-tutors. OUM's Centre for Learning Technology will spearhead many of our effort this year.

Today, the majority of the learners joining OUM are in their 30s.

DL: Many conventional universities across the world are seeing lower enrolment numbers due in part to the different ideas that millennials have on their personal aspirations and the pursuit of higher education. Would you say that universities operating in online and distance mode and catering mostly to working adults will see a different enrolment pattern? What challenges do you expect the latter type of universities to face in time to come?

WO: Actually, OUM as a university catering for adult has already seen changes in the enrolment pattern. They are getting younger! Years ago, most of our learners were from the 40s and 50s age-bracket. Today, the majority of the learners joining OUM are in their 30s. Millennials, also known as Gen Y, are more active in online learning. Where teaching and learning are concerned, they have a different set of demands. OUM's digitalisation plan for year 2020 is designed to meet their aspirations.

DL: Can you elaborate on your personal education philosophy or teaching philosophy?

WO: My principle has always been to help learners acquire the key to learning and ignite a sustained sense of curiosity so that they may keep learning by their own volition over a lifetime.

DL: Aside from what we've just covered, what changes, improvements, and enhancements would you personally like to see happening for OUM in the immediate future?

WO: It bears emphasising that academics are the essence of the university, the heart that keeps the institution going. For that very reason, I want to see our academics thrive as content experts of their professed disciplines, as committed teachers, and as active researchers who contribute new knowledge to the world. When our academics excel in these areas, the university itself will be lifted with cutting-edge programmes, pedagogies, assessment tools and technologies.

DL: Many thanks, Prof, for your time and responses.