A day of unlocking innovative learning at HKUST – Tracy Zou

I experienced a day of unlocking innovative learning at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) on May 11, 2018. It was a symposium hosted by the Center for Education Innovation at HKUST, aiming to explore the innovative learning pedagogies that are in use to equip students with the required skills and to envision the roles and models of higher education in the next 20 years. An insightful message posted by the organiser before starting this exciting journey of exploration was:

Today’s graduates will enter jobs that not yet exist, using technology that has not been invented, to solve complex problems that we have not solved before.’ (CEI, HKUST, 2018) So what can we do as educators to prepare our students for this unknown world?

Among the many thoughts that came along as the programme of the symposium unfolded, let me share some intriguing questions I noted from this journey.

1. Is large class blocking innovative learning?

Many of the discussions regarding the current innovative practices were about the issue of scaling up. It seems that many faculty members had a consensus that innovative teaching and learning practices became much more difficult in a large scale, for example, in a class with more than 200 students.

2. Is heavy content blocking innovative learning?

Another set of discussions were surrounded by questions concerning how to teach courses with heavy theoretical content. Innovative practices seem to be not so applicable in these courses and it becomes very easy to turn to conventional one-way teaching mode for the sake of covering all the necessary contents.

3. What is the value of university when all the knowledge seems to be readily accessible through the internet?

The journey of unlocking innovative learning at a certain point stopped at a very broad yet fundamental question: what is the value of university? (And what is the value of professors?)

While I do not believe that the symposium has conveniently provided all the answers, I have to admit that it did offer some important and provocative thoughts on these puzzles. Part of the solutions to the first two questions rely on the cultivation of a peer learning environment, in which students take ownership of their learning, mentor and coach one another in specific areas according to their expertise, and collectively form an academic communities of practice (Brew, 2012). Such approach should not be confined to the idea of employing students as teaching assistants; instead, it should be seen as a co-constructing process through which both teachers and students are learners that explore and push the knowledge boundaries together.

With the above thoughts, it seems that a partial response to the third question is that university is an academic community in which its members collectively discover, explore, and tackle issues facing the world while individuals are enjoying a certain degree of autonomy to self-discover their own interest and learning paths. This community cannot be replaced by the internet because there needs to be a shared identity and a sense of belonging that bound the community members together for a brave journey of exploration. Professors as scholars as well as more experienced members in this academic community have the responsibilities to guide students in the discovery of new knowledge and of themselves.

Note: This is my personal reflection on the experience of attending a one-day symposium on Unlocking Innovative Learning held on May 11, 2018 at HKUST. The official information of the symposium can be found here: http://ceisympo2018.ust.hk/


  • Brew, A. (2012). Teaching and research: New relationships and their implications for inquiry-based teaching and learning in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 31(1), 101-114.
  • CEI, HKUST (2018). Unlocking Innovative Learning: Discovering New Teaching Approaches in Higher Education. Retrieved from http://ceisympo2018.ust.hk/
Dr. Tracy Zou
Dr. Tracy Zou

Assistant Professor
Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
The University of Hong Kong

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