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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bandung - Day 2

The second day in Bandung, which is also the first day of the conference, was spent mainly in the hotel itself. The whole day was full with plenary and parallel sessions of academic presentations. It is interesting to note the seminar culture in Indonesia. I personally find the Indonesians to be more active and participative during the question-and-answer sessions. They have a lot of questions, as well as opinions on the papers presented, which certainly makes the whole thing lively and interesting.

After the first day of the seminar ended, at around 6 p.m., the delegated from outside Bandung were taken to the official residence of the Walikota of Bandung. Walikota is the local term for mayor. The current Walikota, M. Ridwan Kamil, an architect by profession, was just elected to the post less than a month ago. He welcomed us for dinner, and made a short speech. However, he himself was not able to join us for dinner, as another group was waiting for him at another location in the premises. (If anyone was keeping abreast with what was happening in Indonesia, the labourers in the country went on strike to demand for minimum wage, and the Walikota had a discussion with a group of them that evening).

In brief, this was what transpired on the second day. Some of the Malaysian academics had presented their papers. My turn awaits tomorrow.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bandung - Day 1

The journey to Bandung got off to a delayed start, or to be exact, four delayed starts. The flight which was scheduled at 3 p.m. was delayed to, initially, 5 p.m. Just as I was about to leave the house for the airport around 10 a.m., I got a notification from the airlines that the departure time was rescheduled to 6 p.m. I eventually left my home just before noon, taking the LRT to KL Sentral Station, and from there, took the airport bus. I checked in around 3 p.m., and shortly thereafter, I got information that the flight was further delayed to 6.30 p.m. In any case, we finally took off around 6.50 p.m. There were a number of academics from the University of Malaya on board the same flight.

This is my first trip to Bandung, and I did not really have much expectation. All I know is that Bandung is well-known as a shopping haven. As I am not the shopping type, this was not on my agenda. After all, this is a working trip. I am attending the International Conference on Islam in the Malay World, co-organised by Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Gunung Djati of Bandung and the Academy of Islamic Studies, University of Malaya. This is the third annual conference, with both Bandung and Kuala Lumpur taking their turns to host the event. I have a paper to present on the second day, and that would be my main focus of this trip.

The time difference between West Indonesia and Malaysia is one hour, with Malaysia being ahead. We arrived in Bandung just before 8 p.m. local time. The host provided a coaster (minibus) to shuttle the Malaysian delegates from the airport to the Bali World Hotel where we stayed and where the conference is held.

When we arrived at the hotel, I got my first taste of local food, to be exact Sundanese food. The people of Bandung are mainly Sunda people, or Sundanese. The food here to me is quite interesting. What I enjoyed was boiled potato and boiled peanuts, and the drink that went with these, known as bajigur, is certainly an eye-opener. Bajigur is a sweet drink served hot, made from brown sugar and coconut milk with slices of young coconut meat.

After that, I checked into my room, and looked forward to a good night's rest. The first day of conference awaits when the new day begins.

Destination Bandung

It has been a while, over a year to be exact. In just over twelve hours time, insha-Allah, I will be travelling again. This time to Bandung, Indonesia for a conference hosted by Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Gunung Djati (UIN SGD). I did not travel overseas during my first year of service, but now, just under two months into my second year, I will be going overseas for the first time as a university academician.

Truth be told, I am not sure what to expect. This is my second Indonesian trip. The first trip was over a decade ago, and it was to Padang in Sumatera. I will be in Bandung from Monday and will be returning to Malaysia on Thursday.

If I have the opportunity, I will be updating my blog and Facebook page from Bandung.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

University students: Then and now - Part 1

I was a university student in the 1990's. Things were very different then. Today, I am a university lecturer, and as such, it is only inevitable that I jot down this observation. This is part 1 of an as-yet-to-be-decided length of posting on this topic.

#1: Taking notes
There were three types of lecturers back then (at least the ones that I encountered). First, a lecturer who literally gave a lecture - no notes, no slides, only a list of books as references at best. Second, a lecturer who used the blackboard. Yes, a blackboard. Whiteboards were expensive back then. And third, a lecturer who used slides and the OHP (that's overhead projector, for the uninitiated). The OHP was the state-of-the-art technology for lecturers in the 1990's. Regardless of the type of lecturer that you get, students would have to take down notes. If the lecture is a full two or three hours, that would be two or three hours worth of note-taking. Of course, you could always compare notes with your friends, just in case you missed something. Students would try their very best not to miss lectures because of the fear of missing out on things. Students would never dream of going up to the lecturer and asked for the lecture notes.

With the advent of ICT, lecturers these days would use PowerPoint presentations. Some would opt for the use of a visualiser. Of course, there are whiteboards as back-up, just in case there are technical difficulties. Lecture notes and slides are usually put up on e-learning portals. Students virtually has no need to take down notes. They just need to attend the lecture and listen. There are also students who have taken the initiative to download the notes and bring the notes to the lecture. They would then highlight the important points or even jot down some extra points given in the lecture. Some would record the lecture using their smart phones. If there are some important slides which the lecturer purposely did not include in the notes uploaded on e-learning portals, students can just as easily take out their smart phones and snap the picture of the slide. Some would upload the picture on Facebook in order to share the information with their friends who did not attend the lecture. Some even more daring students would come up to the lecturer and ask for the softcopy of the notes (even when the notes are already up on the e-learning portal).

My observations:
1. Note-taking skills are almost non-existent among students today. Most are unable to listen and write at the same time. Even more absent is the ability to distil the information given in the lecture, and discern what is important and what is not.
2. Technology is a good aid in teaching and lecturing. As a lecturer, I find technology to be very useful to both lecturers and students. However, both sides must be smart and wise in utilising technology. Over-dependence on technology can be problematic. One apparent problem is that some students feel that they should be "spoon-fed", and there seems to be no effort on students to look for information themselves.

Regardless of the advances in technology that we have today, I think note-taking skills are still very important. This is one skill that one has to have, and this should be present in students today. Whether one realises it or not, note-taking skill is crucial when one enters the real world. Unfortunately, technology has rendered this skill unimportant. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Travelling again

It has been over a year since I travelled anywhere. The last time was to Hamburg, and that was in June 2012, a few months before I joined the university as a full time academic staff. Now, due to my academic commitments, I will be travelling again.

At this age, frankly, I prefer not to travel too much. That is why I feel three overseas trips in the span of four months can be overwhelming. In between these, I have two domestic outstation trips. Nonetheless, I try to think positive. At the very least, the trips will provide some new experience. Hopefully, I will be able to establish some networking as well.

At the end of this month, I will be off to Indonesia - specifically, Bandung - to attend a seminar co-organised by Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Gunung Djati (UIN SGD) and the Academy of Islamic Studies, University of Malaya. I will be presenting a paper there.

At the end of December, I will be heading to Tokyo, Japan to attend a conference co-organised by Waseda University and the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya. I am also scheduled to present a paper in this conference.

Less than a couple of weeks later, I will be flying to Hamburg, Germany to attend an international workshop on bioethics organised by Universitรคt Hamburg and the University of Oxford. The workshop will discuss and review a number of papers, one of which is co-written by myself, to be published in an international journal called Die Welt des Islams (translation: Journal of the Study of Modern Islam).

In the middle of these international trips, I will be going to Gambang in Pahang to give a short briefing on a research project on organ donation, and later to Kota Bharu in Kelantan to give a lecture as part of a master's course at the university's Nilam Puri campus. These two will take place in November.

I am also involved with at least three seminars as co-author of papers - one in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan; one in Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu; and one in Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, my co-authors will be presenting the papers.

In many ways, I am enjoying my life as a full-time academic. It reminds me of the days when I was with the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia. I am now in my second year at the university, and looking forward to many more years here. Insha-Allah.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Informed opinion, not just any opinion

I have been away from blogging for far too long. During this period, I mainly jotted down my thoughts in short simple sentences on Facebook. It is quick, and it can be done almost anytime, anywhere.

After today, I have changed my mind. There are things, I suppose, which are best suited for blogs.

I was at a function today in conjunction with Aidiladha. I was sitting with a professor who is well-renowned in his field. I have known him for quite some time, and am quite acquainted with his "eccentricities". The professor is known as someone who is combative, opinionated, and critical. In many ways, he is considered to be an alpha male in any group he is in. He likes to pose difficult questions, forcing us to think - and rethink - our position.

I have met a few people who are like this. I find them intriguingly fascinating. Many a times, I find myself "challenged" by these people, something that rarely happens, truth be told. Whenever I feel challenged, I would force myself to up the ante. In other words, this would become a catalyst for me to improve myself.

Those who know me well would know that I hate to engage in rhetorical debates. I prefer to put my thoughts in writing, either on paper or electronically. Whenever I am in a situation where a debate takes place, I would usually listen and absorb all the arguments, before giving it some time to think the points over and refer to various thoughts on the matter being debated, analysing the points over and over, before finally synthesising my thought.

It is frustratingly time consuming, I know, but that is how I work. I would not give spontaneous reactions unless the subject is something that I am really familiar with. If the subject is new, I do not see myself in the position to give an opinion, unless and until I have studied the subject matter thoroughly. I do not want to give an opinion that is half-baked or based simply on emotions. I would prefer to give informed opinions, instead of merely being opinionated.

Many a times, I keep my opinions to myself. That will change, insha-Allah.

After today, I am convinced that I have to voice out my opinions. I may not be an orator, but I can certainly put down my opinions in writing. That is the point of having this blog in the first place.

And so, I will put down "my thoughts on stuff" from hereon, hence effectively reactivating the blog TeropongSkop. Salam Aidiladha to visitors and readers (if there are still any left) of my blog.