The Human Touch That Transcends Time and Space

*Benedict CHUA, Royden LIM, Eugene TOH, Jabelle TAN, Kieran TAN, TAN Ying Ting, Evelyn Aliansyah, Class of 2021, Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Science, and
**CHNG Hui Ting, Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Science

This post comprises a dedication from a group of students* and reflections by an educator** on online teaching and learning from home, and the lessons learnt by both.

 

Dear educators,
The past semester challenged us to step out of our comfort zones, even as we were paradoxically confined to the comfort of our respective homes. However, we also witnessed how you responded to the situation and went the extra mile in trying out innovative ways to teach and engage us. We experienced amusing moments online such as guest appearances by a professor’s dog, laughter when friends used interesting virtual backgrounds, and learning through questions posed via Zoom’s chat function, all of which we would not have had in face-to-face (f2f) classes. We would like to dedicate this video clip to all of you, to thank you for the priceless lessons imparted during this COVID-19 season.

 

Dear colleagues,
What was one thing that struck you from the above reflections and video by the students? I would like to share my thoughts through the stories below.

The past semester was challenging for both educators and students alike. I had adopted remote teaching via Zoom since mid-February, and was already at ease with conducting interactive online lessons by the time Singapore implemented strict measures in early April to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, counterintuitively, it was then that I felt the most stressed. Now that teaching, child-minding, and juggling family needs were taking place simultaneously in one space, my top worry was whether I was able to conduct smooth lessons uninterrupted. As I lamented to my peers about my child “Zoom-bombing” my lessons, one of them said, “It may be good if kids interrupt a lecture. It immediately gets students’ attention. It makes it nice and warm.”

Upon reflection, I learnt two things about myself:

  • I had an unfounded expectation that online lessons must be flawless. Why is it alright to fumble and slip up in f2f classes but not during online lessons?
  • In the chaos of trying to cope and deliver a lesson, I forgot about being human.

At the end of one particularly long and challenging day of facilitating four back-to-back tutorial sessions via Zoom, I told my students, “Sometimes, it feels quite demoralising speaking to space, not knowing if you all are there listening.” Suddenly, a few black squares lit up—one by one, students turned on their webcams. That moment was magical—the students were reaching through the screen to my heart, to encourage me! A cat came into view in one of the squares, and within a few seconds, the atmosphere flipped from being pitch black and cold, to colourful and warm. I was reminded yet again that being human and sharing my vulnerabilities—perhaps that was what students needed more than a perfect lesson.

What struck me from the students’ reflections and video was that above all else, it was the human touch and values that they would appreciate and remember. Therefore, colleagues, as we continue to conduct more online teaching in the new normal, let us remember to be human. Share our stories and connect with our students—let not machines and screens turn us into cold robots.

 

CHNG Hui Ting is a Lecturer with the Department of Pharmacy, NUS. In class, she is a proponent of active and collaborative learning. Outside of class, she is actively engaged in mentoring student co-curricular activities. Guided by her teaching philosophy of “bringing out the child in you”, Hui Ting aims to rekindle the curiosity and joy of learning amongst students.

Hui Ting can be reached at phacht@nus.edu.sg.