Tutor Profile: Interview with Ayub Nasir and Johnathan Wong Shin Voon

Opportunity Knocks
Interview with Ayub Nasir and Johnathan Wong Shin Voon
Interview by Azahar Ahmad Nizar (azahar_ahmad@oum.edu.my)

AYUB NASIR and JOHNATHAN WONG SHIN VOON are both lead tutors at OUM’s learning centre in Seksyen 7, Shah Alam. Johnathan is the recipient of the Best Lead Tutor Award At National Level for 2009.

Azahar: Please tell us a little bit about your educational background.
Ayub: My initial background is in banking. I took up my Masters in Business Administration in 1999. After that, I left banking and joined the Faculty of Business in Universiti Tenaga Nasional on a free-lance basis. I was also then tutoring at Open University Malaysia (OUM) concurrently and have been doing so until now.

Johnathan: I was a teacher in the past, and like Encik Ayob, also joined the banking line. Along the way, I realised that teaching is still my passion and so I decided to return to teaching.

Azahar: Learning spaces are an important component of effective learning. Give us your take on learning spaces.
Ayub:Let me begin by saying that the concept of learning spaces is not familiar to me by way of theoretical research. I could, however, give a layman’s view of what I personally understand to be learning spaces.

I think of learning spaces as opportunities - opportunities for the student to maximise their learning. Learning is for life, and so if the student desires to learn, he/she has to give him/herself the opportunity to learn along the way. These opportunities may come from the university, tutors, family, and so on.

The university, for example, may provide opportunities for the student to acquire knowledge in the most conducive manner possible. This can be achieved by making sure that the physical environment is perfectly tailored to the students’ requirements. The architecture and design of buildings may have an effect on the students’ receptivity to learning.

Johnathan: I agree with Encik Ayub - the concept carries various meanings and may refer to any number of things. For me, what comes to mind when I think of learning spaces is cyberspace. Since OUM practices blended learning and online learning, this virtual space becomes even more important to OUM students, especially as they depend a lot on myLMS for their learning materials and to participate in online forums.

Azahar: You were once learners yourselves. How did you create the ideal learning space for yourself back then?
Ayub: That was a long, long time ago. Anyway, it is important for me to have my own private physical space to study, my own little corner, as it were. I am a very habitual person - I need that sense of familiarity and quiet to study. It works for me, but I am not about to say that it would similarly work for others. Some may study perfectly fine while listening to music or in the middle of a noisy crowd. Whatever works, I guess.

Johnathan: As for me, I feel that you need to create that learning space for yourself, wherever and whenever. As a matter of practice, I used to steal pockets of time during train rides to revise my pocket notes or to skim through mind maps. As the Malay proverb goes: “Sikit-sikit lama-lama jadi bukit.” These pockets of time ultimately add up to hours and hours of substantial learning.

Azahar: Now you’re tutors working for OUM. What does it feel like to be tutors?
Ayub: I’ve been a tutor since 2002 and so far it’s been an enjoyable and challenging experience. I would like to stress that tutoring is not merely the linear transmission of knowledge from tutor to learner. Tutoring is in fact a two-way process. Both tutor and learner are sharing knowledge:

I don’t just expect them to learn from me, I also expect to learn from them.

Coming back to the idea of learning spaces as opportunities, I feel that as tutors, we have to provide our learners with opportunities to explore ideas and to ask questions. This way, they will develop the courage to speak up and come up with original solutions to problems.

Johnathan: I am honoured to be a part of OUM’s teaching staff and to render service to the university. It’s always a pleasure to meet learners from all walks of life and age groups. In fact, as an online tutor, I also have the experience of interacting with learners who reside in other parts of the world. Online learning makes possible the communication of ideas across continents. As tutors, we all have to embrace technology as a means of disseminating knowledge.

Azahar: How do you find OUM students generally?
Ayub: Actually, I can easily identify with our students because I used to be a part-time student myself. And I know that it is not easy to juggle work and studies. Our students have to divide time between family and their other commitments. Therefore, it helps if family members give them all the support they can get. That is also an opportunity for them to learn. As it is, they have very little free time for themselves, let alone for their family, given that their weekends are usually reserved for classes, assignments and studying for exams. The family has to sacrifice so that the learner has breathing space to study.

Johnathan: I would like to add that because of their various commitments and responsibilities, you will often find OUM students complaining about the lack of time for revision. By the time they get home, they are already burnt out and family matters demand their attention. So you often find that OUM students fail to allocate enough time to properly maximise their learning.

Azahar: In light of your observations, do you have any tips or advice for our adult learners out there?
Ayub: Since our discussion is on the subject of learning spaces, I would like to affirm firstly that the creation of these spaces is indeed useful and helpful for our adult learners. However, what is more important is the willingness and determination of the learner to acquire knowledge. You can provide them with the most complete and state-of-the-art learning space, but none of this would matter if the learner is not resilient in the face of challenges and obstacles.

Johnathan:I fully agree with Johnathan on this point. Ultimately, the learner has to generate the will and desire to learn regardless of the circumstances that he finds himself in. We all have our own set of problems, but if we are positive, we should focus on overcoming those problems instead of dwelling on them. Nobody else is going to do that learning for the learner but himself.

Having said that, I would also like to remind adult learners who are working that their first priority should always be their work. Why do I say this? Because you are being paid to work, whereas you are paying to learn. Learning is a means of maintaining and enhancing your career, but without that career to begin with, you would not have the funds to study anyway.

Azahar: It’s 2010 and we are 10 years away from 2020. How do you see OUMs role in developing a new generation of graduates come 2020?
Ayub: I would like to believe that as an institution of higher learning, OUM is doing its part to generate graduates who are competitive in the job market. In fact, the workplace can also be seen as a learning space where the learner finally gets to apply what he has learned to solve real-life problems. This is in line with OUM’s philosophy of inculcating a culture of life-long learning.

Johnathan: To me, OUM’s biggest selling point is its focus on online learning. I believe that our graduates are more IT-savvy because of their exposure to our blended mode of learning. This will hold them in good stead as our country is heading towards the future and needs quality graduates who are technologically savvy and globally competitive.

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As a tutor, I believe that I can help learners to create learning spaces by:

Encouraging them to think independently by giving them short essay tests
Encouraging them to work as a group
Adding variety to the assignments and encouraging them to think from a different perspective
Ensuring that the tutorial room is always conducive for the learners
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