A connected virtual community for learning – Pauline Luk, Francis Tsoi, Sarah Chan
It is getting more popular to have experiential learning outside of the classroom that is supported by online measures. The Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at HKU (HKUMed) recognises the potential of a holistic, experiential curriculum that could nurture the professional and personal development of our students. Started in 2018-19, all third-year medical students took up a mandatory, credit-bearing Enrichment Year. Students conducted service or humanitarian work, research, pursued a higher degree, or went for university exchange anywhere in the world, having flexibility in an area of study of their own choosing. The idea of Enrichment Year is crossing boundaries from multiple perspectives, including curriculum, disciplinary, geographic, cultural, and learning space. We identified that there might be social isolation among students when they are not physically present on campus. We also saw the need to connect students’ Enrichment Year experience with specific learning outcomes. Therefore, we pursued this project, connect*ed – to facilitate students’ connections with one another and with education.
connect*ed used a commercially developed social media platform – Workplace by Facebook creating a virtual community to support students’ learning. We have chosen from a wide range of virtual communities for learning. Based on students’ pilot testing, we have identified that students would like to have a platform that is user-friendly, easy to learn/use, and mobile-friendly. After examining 17 platforms on team collaboration, instant messaging, content management, e-portfolio, and software suite, we decided to use a commercially developed collaborative platform – Workplace by Facebook to connect the students and the faculty.
In connect*ed, students are divided into teams. Each team comprised 4 to 6 students and a faculty member as a mentor. In the first year, there were 33 teams, 206 students, in total; in the second year, there are 218 students divided into 38 teams. Students are allocated to the teams based on the nature and location of activities. We have tried to maintain a balance of diversity in all teams.
We designed learning modules, called inquiry pods in pedagogically sound ways, creating online learning activities that required students to post and join discussion on Workplace. The inquiry pod themes are based on the University aims and learning outcomes of the faculty. In the first year, we chose three themes: communicator, ethical decision-maker, and global citizen. In the second year, we focus on the 21st century essential skills suggested by the World Economic Forum. Students and mentors will post, comment, reply, or give responses to each other’s posts.
Based on our first-year experience on connect*ed, we identified three key functions that the social collaborative platform performed: making learning connections, social connectivity and support, and information exchange. From what the students had posted and discussed in the Workplace, we found that there were two key areas that students enjoyed to interact with – sharing and reflection of their personal experience, and also social support to one another. If the content could help them relate to their own learning experience, they would enjoy reading and giving more feedback.
After the completion of the first year, we have found that online interactions tend to be less structured. It is challenging to use social media as a formal learning platform. The roles of active members and mentors have played important parts in maintaining the team dynamics. Our experienced mentor shared tips on how to use diversified sources of information to engage in discussion online. A wide range of multi-media materials, e.g. TED Talks, Harvard Business Review, or updated news from the mass media provided an abundance of discussion points to the team. This could be used to fill the gaps, expand, and stimulate the team discussion. The use of an online network that adopts these features can better support learners who are geographically separated and engaged in different learning experiences.
For more details about the connect*ed project, please visit: https://connected.hku.hk/
All HKUMed faculty members who served as mentors, the Enrichment Year Deanery of HKUMed, and TELI team