Forced off campus, Hong Kong universities take teaching digital

Academics are ‘putting in a lot of effort’ to ensure students are not harmed by shutdown

November 26, 2019
Hong Kong protests
Source: iStock

There has been an unexpected outcome of the anti-government protests that have left many Hong Kong campuses in physical disarray: almost all teaching and learning has gone online.

Instead of cancelling teaching entirely when face-to-face sessions and classroom-based exams were suspended for the last two weeks of the semester, universities have moved courses and assessments online as quickly as possible. This not only avoids safety concerns as facilities are repaired, but it also creates a level playing field for students who may have left the city because of the turmoil.

Nicholas Noakes, associate director of the Center for Education Innovation at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said courses were shifted online on 18 November. Staff are using platforms such as Canvas and Zoom for everything from real-time conferences to distributing documents and showing videos of lectures.

“I take my hat off to the faculty,” Mr Noakes said. “They are putting in a lot of effort for the benefit of the students.”

Kevin Tsia, an associate professor in the department of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Hong Kong, was teaching two courses in biomedical engineering when the suspension of classes was announced. He has actively used Facebook to reach out to students. “I’m always online…and most of you know how to find me. Stay safe, strong and smart,” he wrote.

“We’ve found different ways to connect,” he told Times Higher Education. “We can chat on various platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp or email, so they can ask me questions. We can have forums on Moodle, where all the course materials are uploaded.”

Dr Tsia is adapting end-of-term assessments to an online model. For a lecture-based course, he is using an at-home assignment as the exam. Another course that requires physically building machines and equipment is “a bit trickier”. He has asked students to record their progress and produce a short video demonstrating their work.

The digital workaround was not perfect, Dr Tsia said, but he and his students were finding solutions. “We’re just trying our best to ensure fairness for every student.”

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