‘Teaching and Learning Connections’ launched today

Hello. I am very excited to inform you two important steps we have taken in our Community of Practice Project.

  1. We have launched our e-newsletter ‘Teaching and Learning Connections’ today. It aims to serve as a channel for communication among people who are interested in teaching and learning. The first issue focuses on ‘Cultivating a Community of Practice (CoP) on Teaching and Learning’. Since there are many different perceptions and opinions regarding the concept of CoP, we would like to invite you to take a look at our undertakings as well as leave us some comments. You may also wish to join the discussion section through posting comments to ‘What does a Community of Practice mean you?’. This is the link to our e-newsletter: http://www.cetl.hku.hk/teaching-learning-cop/
  1. We have successfully hosted our first join-the-conversation event today on a new theme: Internationalisation in teaching and learning. We outlined eight learning opportunities and challenges associated with this notion. I will write a more decent summary of the event as well as questions from the audience next week to share with you what has been discussed.

Wish you all a very nice weekend. Stay tuned with us.


Our upcoming event: Join-the-Conversation on Learning Benefits of Internationlisation


In common with other leading universities, HKU is seeking to enhance the internationalisation of its curricula and its teaching. But what will this mean for student learning? How can internationalisation enrich what our students learn in their studies at HKU, while also having benefits that extend far beyond graduation?

Internationalisation of teaching and learning is the main focus of the UGC-funded “Communities of Practice” project this academic year. This Join-the-Conversation event is the first in a CETL series of events exploring various aspects of internationalisation. Drawing on ideas and perspectives from universities across the world, as well as experiences at HKU, it will open the debate by highlighting key learning challenges and opportunities, and invite you to consider their relevance to your own role and responsibilities. The ensuing discussions will help shape the themes, resources and interactions that the CETL project team will be collaborating on over the coming months.


Harvard Professor Eric Mazur’s idea of getting students to do homework

I read an interesting article from LinkedIn today ‘Even at Harvard, students don’t read the book. Unless…’ (Arthur: Evelyn Van de Veen).

The article is about how Prof. Eric Mazur gets students to do homework during out-of-class time. According to Evelyn, Prof. Mazur’s approach is to assess the process rather than the outcomes of the work and the assessment score contributes to the final grade. As Evelyn said, this could be largely controversial as making things compulsory could kill intrinsic motivation. I guess Prof. Mazur is aware of that so he does it a bit differently:

Students read the assigned reading through an online platform called “Perusall”, in which they can see who else is reading and discuss about the content by asking questions, making notes and respond to other students’ questions.

In problem solving tasks, Prof. Mazur also assesses the efforts in tackling the problem by assessing the records submitted by students about how they went through certain steps in solving the problem.

Quoting Evelyn’s words, ‘(B)by assessing aspects of the learning process such as engaging with a text and tackling problems he sends a strong message about what matters when you are learning and is much more likely to stimulate deep learning processes.’

The original article of Evelyn can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/even-harvard-students-dont-read-book-have-so-how-does-van-de-veen

In addition, I would like to add that I went to one Prof Mazur’s seminar on ‘peer learning’ around two years ago at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, during which he demonstrated the power of peer learning through giving all audience a physics problem to tackle (When a metal ring is heated, does the hole expand, contract, or stay the same size?). The audience were asked to think about the problem individually and then worked with other people who gave a different answer. Finally, most discussion groups got the answer right while initially many individuals did not get it. I was very much impressed though I never really loved physics in my life 🙂

Let your students’ work be reviewed by the professional community

My colleague in Department of Psychology, Dr. Tseng, shared her approach in a foundation course of Vision Science. I really appreciate her notion of students being the lecturers. She and her colleagues work with students for hours and hours together in preparing the lecture. During the class, it is the student who is giving the lecture based on the co-developed materials.

Furthermore, she requires students to compile a protocol following the professional standard at the end of the semester and she will share the materials with the professional community on vision science (upon consent from students). Letting the student’s work to be reviewed by the professional community has received amazing results, according to Dr. Tseng. Students feel accountable as their names will be on the protocol. More importantly, they are brought into the professional community through active participation in its discourse.

This method has useful implications to assessment, too. The professional community now becomes the external assessors (in a longer term and with a much more profound impact).

Note: this is a small-size class setting and the topic (vision science) is advanced for the student level.

Link: http://www.cetl.hku.hk/sem151214/

New book by my colleagues

My colleagues at HKU published a new book entitled: Educational Technologies in Medical and Health Sciences Education (http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319082745). I went to their book launch seminar.

I firstly have to admit that I am not a fan of technology and quite a late adopter. I used to perceive technology to be of marginal use in education. Whenever there is a chance, I always like to use post-it notes to facilitate discussion rather than an e-board or something electronic. However, with all these young generations being the native technology people, I feel that I cannot always bury my head in the sand.

There are some interesting observations and discussions from the book launch seminar:

  1. Authenticity and situated learning

The use of videos and other multi-media technologies seems to bring more authenticity to the problem-based learning, especially in medical health education. I am convinced in this aspect.

     2. Social dimensions

This is the point that I am struggling with. On one hand, technology could provide a different social learning process, for example, students can communicate through online conference, virtual concept maps and various e-tools to co-construct something, like a collaborative knowledge building process. It could be more convenient and faster. On the other hand, I still feel that nothing can beat the face-to-face discussion. It is so awkward that students sitting around a table all looking at their computer and communicating there. Why not just talk to the group? I am not convinced in this aspect yet. I could only see the benefits for this if students are located in different places.

      3. What will be the changes in assessment in technology-enhanced learning?

This is something very difficult to answer. On one hand, you can say that with the electronic evidence and data, teachers will be better informed of students’ performance and give timely feedback. On the other hand, we are so unsure about how to assess some of the students’ work in the technology-enhanced form, for example, a collaboratively written document or concept map.

     4. Are we pushing students to surface learning?

This is a great point brought out by the book editor, Dr. Susan Bridges (also my colleague). She said (I paraphrased) that the pace of learning becomes so quick and just-in-time in a technology-enhanced learning environment and will this push students to use more surface learning approaches?

I do have this concern. When our young generations (and maybe us too) are already so used to social media, quick news updates, twitter, and other fast things and when their attention span becomes shorter and shorter, are we contributing in this trend by making learning so fast-paced?

I don’t know about others but I still enjoy my book reading time in weekends (not e-book, not through internet, I mean the real paper back books) and I read slowly, sometimes back and forth, to allow me sometime to think.

More resources on the talk about ‘flipped classroom’ at HKU

My colleagues at HKU have compiled a very attractive video and an insightful summary about the seminar on ‘flipped classroom’ I mentioned in my last blog. You can find every detail there and here are some of my personal thoughts about flipped classroom:

  1. Will students read or watch at home? A typical ‘worry’ of teachers about ‘flipped classroom’ is whether students will read the contents (or watch the videos) to get prepared before the class. In this case, it seemed they did. I observed at least two things: peer pressure and relevance to the classroom discussion. If what students are assigned to read is highly relevant to the problems or scenarios in the classroom discussion, they seem to face the peer pressure and do not want to be seen as lazy by their peers.
  2. Are these student-led group discussions better than tutorials? Some people wondered if a tutorial could do the same thing. Actually this was one of the questions from the audience during the seminar. My view is that it actually depends on how the tutorial is designed. Some tutorials are unfortunately designed as mini-lectures. The only feature that makes it a tutorial is that they are led by a tutor instead of a professor. If that is the case, certainly the tutorials will not serve the purpose so well as these student-led discussions. Another magic thing about this large ‘flipped classroom’ is that students get a sense of what others in the same cohort are doing (and what do they look like). This can be stimulating especially they see fresh view points from those other groups. It is like saying, ‘hey, everybody is working hard on that scenario, are you going to take a rest?’
  3. If students understand the contents from watching videos, what shall I ask them to do in the classroom? In Rick’s case, he gives students real scenarios from newspapers so that students can present their legal arguments around the real case. It is not something that they can find in textbooks nor in Google. I guess that is why they really see the value of discussing it with other students, tutors, and Rick. In the video (started at 3:08), one student said, ‘…that is the way of applying some legal principles on the issue (on the problem), we have practiced very little in previous lectures…’
  4. Finally, how to align the assessment with this class design? With the above conditions being met, Rick does not assess the classroom discussions directly. However, in his classes, he always uses real cases (mostly from newspapers) in assignments and final exams. In this way, students are clear about the importance of critically analyzing legal issues in real-life. That is probably why they feel getting prepared and being engaged in those group discussions so essential. (I personally would say it is the most important ingredient of success behind this large-scale flipped classroom.)

Here are the videos:

Documentary of Flipped Learning at HKU (LLAW 1005):


Recap of the seminar:


My observations – Dec 2015

In our last communication, I introduced the launching of our wise assessment website (http://www.cetl.hku.hk/wise-assessment-forum/). I hope that you find some of the materials useful. Please feel free to forward the link to people who might be interested.

In this message, I would like to share some of our development and my observations about assessment for learning.

  1. We are planning to launch a regular e-newsletter (Teaching and Learning Connections), starting from January 2016. It focuses on contemporary issues related to teaching and learning. The contents will be beyond assessment while assessment is still one of our important themes. You will be our first group of audiences. Before the e-newsletter, I shall still communicate in this casual way.
  2. I went to attend a seminar two days ago in HKU given by Prof. David Carless and Dr. David Pomfret on ‘Engaging and Assessing Students through Short-written Responses’ (http://www.cetl.hku.hk/sem151201/). Questions are given to students at the beginning of every class and students need to submit their answers in the form of ‘short responses’ at the end. The questions are often thought provoking, asking students’ opinions about a debatable issue relevant to the course content. One key point, emphasised by the two speakers, is to design questions that are relevant to the next class so that the responses from students could be used to inform learning or preparation. If you are thinking about assessing in-class participation (not attendance), I feel that this is a relatively easy way to make a start.
  3. Here was another seminar recently about ‘Flipped Learning at HKU’ (http://www.cetl.hku.hk/seminar-flipped-learning-at-hku/). Prof. Rick Glofcheski (Faculty of Law) presented his large scale ‘flipped learning’ with 260 students in a compulsory law class. Students viewed videos about the content before attending the class and worked in small groups of four to solve ill-defined real-world problems during class time, and then presented their arguments in front of the entire class. It turns out that not everything needs to be assessed. The purpose of encouraging students to work actively and collaboratively in class has been achieved without actually assessing their responses.
  4. Finally, a quote from Ken Bain’s book entitled What the Best College Teachers Do (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674013254) impresses me: (good teachers) ‘“reached them (students)” intellectually and educationally, and had left them wanting more. …We too were concerned with how students performed on the final, but we had to weigh the growing body of evidence that students can “perform” on many types of examination without changing their understanding or the way they subsequently think, act, or feel. We were equally concerned with how they performed after the final. ’ (p. 7, emphasis in original) – so, if students have to twist their thoughts and use certain techniques to complete a specific piece of assessment and then forget them afterward, we might need to reflect on the assessment design.

Many thanks for your continuous support. Let us stay connected.