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Friday 6 December 2019
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Using Flexible Approaches to Support Teaching and Learning in Uncertain Circumstances

This page shows a number of approaches and practices to support teaching and learning in uncertain circumstances. They are compiled based on three sources of input: (1) the discussions held during the two workshops on this topic hosted by Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) on 17 October and 22 October 2019; (2) the handouts and follow-up suggestions provided by teachers at HKU1; (3) other resources including information from the various units and departments as well as international practices.

1. Creating engaging online materials

a) ‘Bitesize’ videos

When compiling online materials for students on Moodle, you may wish to make your videos ‘bitesize’, e.g. 1 to 2 minutes. You might also consider designing one or two core questions and daily tasks for your students. The purpose of these videos is to stimulate thought rather than explaining academic contents. It also keeps your presence as the course teacher and makes the interaction more human.

Example: What does Ms. Tanya Kempston (Faculty of Education) do with bitesize videos?

In her PGDE Major Method (pedagogy) group, Tanya sets a task for students to video themselves at home using whatever materials they have to explain a verb tense to a group of Secondary 3 students. Students are then asked to upload their videos. Tanya plans to run a discussion through Moodle on different approaches to teaching grammar. Here are a few steps recommended by Tanya.

  1. Prepare questions/thoughts/main points for your videos.
  2. Use a mobile phone to record the videos.
  3. Keep it short, sharp, and to the point so as to keep students’ attention and ensure that the video file is not too big to upload to Moodle.
  4. Upload 5 bitesize videos for one session with questions on the reading materials, a non-synopsis of approaches to grammar teaching and learning, and the tasks for students to do.
For technical details of using a mobile phone to make videos, please see here:

b) Microsoft PowerPoint presentation

If you wish to have your narration alongside PowerPoint slides, you might consider recording slide show – a simple function in Microsoft PowerPoint. It is also recommended to break the presentations into small sections (not more than 20 minutes for each section). Before uploading them to Moodle, it is always a good idea to test the quality and make sure you save them properly. For technical details, please see here: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/record-your-screen-in-powerpoint-0b4c3f65-534c-4cf1-9c59-402b6e9d79d0

2. Facilitating online forum discussions

Some teachers might wish to adopt online discussions through the Forum function in Moodle. There are some strategies you may wish to consider in order to keep the forum discussion lively and meaningful. Below shows a number of strategies adapted from the guideline in Purdue University’s repository for online teaching and learning2:

  1. Set clear expectations about discussion requirements, deadlines, and grading procedures, if any.
  2. Make discussions engaging by varying the ways that you ask prompting questions, e.g. analytical questions, brainstorming questions, and multiple-choice questions. For 9 types of questions suitable for online forums, please refer to: https://www.purdue.edu/innovativelearning/supporting-instruction/portal/files/8.1_Varying_your_Discussion_Prompts_as_an_Instructional_Strategy.pdf
  3. Participate actively by posting your questions, responding to students’ inquiries, and providing feedback.
  4. Keep the discussion focused. Reframe the question if the discussion goes off-topic.
  5. Draw conclusions and offer content expertise or assign students to post their ‘take-away’ messages from the discussion on the forum.
  6. Balance group dynamics. Intervene when there is inappropriate behaviour or offensive posting.
For technical details of setting Forum on Moodle, please see here: http://moodle-support.hku.hk/teacher/forum

3. Facilitating synchronised online conferences

(e.g. using Skype or Zoom)

A successful synchronised online conference depends on the creation of a collaborative discussion environment. Below shows seven ways to get students more engaged in online conferences3.

  1. Incentivise participation (e.g. by stating explicitly how it may benefit student learning in the course).
  2. Encourage peer learning and feedback (e.g. by providing students with opportunities to respond to each other’s input).
  3. Make the activity/topic interesting.
  4. Go deeper (e.g. from sharing opinions to discussing analytical results and organising coherent arguments).
  5. Structure the activities (e.g. debates, brainstorming, stating pros and cons of a solution).
  6. Require a deliverable after the conference (e.g. solutions, plans, list of ideas, take-away messages).
  7. Intervene intentionally by giving feedback, critiques, and content expertise.
For technical details of setting up online conferences, please see here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=49440

4. Supporting students in their experiential learning

Many of our students are undertaking experiential learning overseas and in Hong Kong. The uncertain circumstances may create both pragmatic challenges, such as logistics and transportation issues, and deep-level challenges, such as value conflicts and threats to professionalism. You might wish to reach out to your students proactively, understand their needs and challenges, and adopt flexible approaches accordingly.

Example: What does Prof. Samson Tse (Faculty of Social Sciences) do to support students in their experiential learning journey? (e.g. in master courses on human development and abnormal psychology and undergraduate courses on social division and addiction.)

Samson has identified three major issues that students face:
Pragmatics: Some students may worry about not getting enough clients for clinical programs; some others may worry about their own safety when getting to work for their clients. A few students expressed that they were confused if they are still covered by HKU’s insurance.

Deeper challenges: Some of the deeper challenges are about upholding professionalism and positive values (e.g. seeking hope, empowerment, and social justice) and maintaining ethics (e.g. what to do with violence and brutality seen in the community). Some students experienced conflicting values between themselves and their host agency and found it difficult to stay neutral.

Students’ own mental health/self-care: Some students may experience fear, exhaustion, frustration, and other sorts of emotions; some others mentioned that their family relationships were adversely affected.

Samson has offered two suggestions (see below):

  1. Try to show your understanding of students’ experience: ASK – Acceptance (Listen, showing understanding of students’ situations.), Safety (Let them know it’s fine and safe to share with you.) and Kindness (Offer students a glass of warm water, asking if there is anything you can help.)
  2. Be proactive and assuring: Reaching out to students proactively and assuring them that we are doing what we can. Possible strategies include emailing to the whole class, staying in touch with students or class representatives, working with agencies/supervisors to ensure consistency and transparency, and safeguarding educational integrity.

More resources on experiential learning

A full package of video resources for supporting experiential learning at HKU can be found here: https://www.cetl.hku.hk/preparing-for-experiential-learning/

Findings and good practices across HKU and a Guidebook on Facilitating Experiential Learning can be found here: https://learning.hku.hk/expl/section-5/

1Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the following teachers and teaching staff who have shared their flexible approaches in uncertain circumstances. They are: Prof. Michael Botelho, Dr. Susan Bridges, Dr. Caroline Dingle, Ms. Tanya Kempston, Prof. Gina Marchetti, Ms. Hanyuning Lin, Mr. Mathew Pryor, Prof. Samson Tse, Mr. Alan Wong, Dr. Venus Wong, and Dr. Lily Zeng.

2A complete guide on facilitating online discussion generated by Purdue University can be found here:

3The seven ways were adapted from online resources: Eight Ways to Get Students More Engaged in Online Conferences. Available at http://blackboardsupport.calpoly.edu/content/faculty/handouts/Eight_ways.pdf