Online education: How Hong Kong got a head start


When the Hong Kong government first funded Responsive4U, a blended learning experience between four local universities, he couldn’t have known how prescient this investment would be in the age of Covid-19.

Since 2018, the project has allowed students to take credit courses delivered by partner universities through a combination of online and in-person courses. The participating institutions – the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (PolyU) – had to work together to find solutions to technological, planning and other problems. logistical obstacles. Currently, the project has 11 courses attended by 2,000 students, but is looking to expand.

“Obviously, when we decided to fund this project, we had absolutely no idea how the spread of Covid-19 would disrupt the higher education sector to such an extent,” said James Tang, Secretary General of the University Grants Committee, during a press conference. e-symposium organized by HKU.

Professor Tang announced that UGC is increasing funding for its Teaching Development and Language Enhancement Grant, a striking move as public education faces cuts around the world. The budget for this grant will increase by 52% over the 2019-2022 triennium, bringing the three-year total to HK$781.2m (£81.4m).

Ian Holliday, Vice President and Professional Vice Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) at HKU, said Responsive4U set the stage for many of the changes that had been made due to campus closures and a rapid shift to digital. online learning. “Three years ago we started experiencing some of the problems that we suddenly face because of Covid,” he said.

Ricky Kwok, professor of engineering at HKU and project manager of Response4U, called the initiative “a stress test for true collaboration between institutions.” It is also a means of “pushing the limits in terms of systemic course layouts”.

Even the project’s marketing, which uses anime-like characters representing the various institutions, is different from traditional university promotion.

“We have some crazy ideas,” Professor Kwok said. “Conventional ways of organizing education are seriously challenged. We want to decouple content from time and space. He also wanted to “transcend the borders of courses, departments or even establishments”.

For example, live-taught sessions may no longer need to include didactic teaching. These lessons can be supplemented with pre-recorded videos, freeing up classroom time for active learning.

And with “compressed teaching modes”, didactic learning could be limited to three or four weeks of intensive online teaching. “Students like to binge watch,” Professor Kwok joked. This would leave the remaining 10 weeks of a semester for exchange, experiential learning, or community service.

Chetwyn Chan, associate vice president (learning and teaching) at PolyU, said future plans could involve HyFlex, or flexible hybrid models, in which each class would have both online and face-to-face versions, which would work in parallel. “Students could go back and forth between the virtual and the physical,” he said.

However, he added that these initiatives were more demanding on teachers and required additional resources and teacher training.

Several of the speakers at HKU’s online event said that Responsive4U’s intra-institutional exchanges, even between campuses in the same city, were valuable experiences for students.

“PolyU focuses on vocational training, so our students don’t always have the opportunity to be exposed to people outside of those professions,” Professor Chan said. “General education courses are fairly new to us, and this project gives our students a wider choice.”

The most popular Responsive4U course to date is The Science of Crime Investigation, which uses an augmented reality app to recreate a CSI-like crime scene. Students can play a game to solve a crime based on evidence, including weapons and autopsies.

Wincy Chan, one of the course lecturers in HKU’s Department of Pathology, said her experience with Responsive4U came in handy after the Covid-19 hit and campuses closed. “It made the unexpected transition to online learning much smoother,” she said.

She also took the opportunity to find a solution to a situation that upsets almost all teachers with large classes. “We were so tired of answering the same questions over and over again, so we created a chatbot,” she said. “They can ask 1,000 questions without exhausting the bot.”

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com


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