From the Dean's Office

Interview with Dr Widad Othman
Interview by Gowri Venkatesan

ASSOC. PROF. DR WIDAD OTHMAN joined OUM in 2006 as the head of the Tutor Management Centre. In 2007, she became the Dean of the Faculty of Education and Languages. TCX had the privilege of talking to her on how she viewed learning. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Gowri: What is your personal take on learning?
Dr Widad: Learning is a beautiful process that provides knowledge. Most people desire to become knowledgeable so that success will come their way. Learning is a timetested method to gain knowledge; no one can deny that. It should be a continuous process. We will stagnate if we cease to learn. The best way to keep abreast of the latest developments is by learning. I strongly feel that age should not be used as a pretext to elude learning. That said, learning is not confined to schools and universities. Life itself is an excellent teacher if we view it positively.

Gowri: Is there any difference between learning today and when you were a student?
Dr Widad: There has been a sea of change. The advent of technology has made learning much easier compared to those days. People can now learn at the push of a button from the confines of their homes. Information can be easily sourced from the Internet. Earlier, we had no choice but to spend hours in the library looking for learning materials. Though a physical library is very much relevant till today, learners have the option of logging into e-libraries from a place convenient to them to do research and revision. Anyway, technology itself does not guarantee learning excellence. Without self-discipline, learners cannot go far no matter how advanced the technology is.

Gowri: What do you recommend as effective strategies for learning?
Dr Widad: Each person has a style of learning. The most important question is: How effective is it? Note-taking and mind-mapping are popular learning methods. I would recommend learners to adopt a method they are comfortable with and stick to it. If they merely read the text, there will come a time when the eyes will be taking in the words but not the mind. Revision must be done on a consistent basis and not only when examinations are around the corner. Cramming a lot of information in a short time may lead a learner to pass an examination but not excel in it. Group study is also ideal as it fuels information-sharing. When many heads are put together, there is synergy.

Gowri: How do young people perceive learning nowadays?
Dr Widad: Learning has become a burden for many youngsters. Paper qualification is the primary motive for learning. Without paper qualifications, career prospects are dim. So, they are forced to learn and eventually, they develop a hostile feeling towards learning. I have met many learners who mug and mug, and then regurgitate facts in the exam hall. They forget what they have learnt the minute the exam is over. Learning should be more meaningful than this.

Learning may be a hassle for adult learners but they need it for career progression. This is why we have cases of adult learners cheating or plagiarising. A person can attain academic excellence when he or she enjoys learning. I believe the onus is on the learning institution to make learning enjoyable for learners.

Gowri: How can tutors motivate OUM learners?
Dr Widad: Besides doing their prescribed duties, they should not mind walking the extra mile. OUM learners come from different walks of life with the majority having to juggle work commitments with family life, and this takes a toll on them. This is where tutors/facilitators come in. They can motivate learners to do well in their studies. It is a pity to see some learners give up on their studies midway due to pressure. If tutors/facilitators come across such learners, they should not hesitate to spend extra time with them to boost their spirits. Our hard work will pay off the day the graduates walk up the stage to receive their scrolls with smiling faces.

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In my opinion, tutors should regard our learners as:

Experienced in learning techniques and capable of studying on their own
Experienced in learning techniques but still need to be guided in some areas
Adults who need to relearn some concepts
New to learning techniques and need to be guided
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