Message from the Director of CETL – Grahame Bilbow

As we welcome the beginning of the new spring semester at the University, no one can deny that students and teachers have gone through an unusual teaching and learning experience over the past few months. We have therefore decided to make the current issue (i.e. Issue 11) of Teaching and Learning Connections a special issue in which we share some of the approaches and practices that have been developed by five HKU teachers to facilitate student learning in the face of the current uncertainty.

To most teachers, the 2019-2020 fall semester presented unprecedented challenges, as, with effect from 14 November, the campus was closed and all teaching and learning activities were converted to a fully online mode. Many questions were raised and discussions held on how we could facilitate student learning and maintain a productive learning environment despite classroom interaction no longer being possible. As most of our courses and programmes had not been designed for exclusively online delivery, the switch from classroom teaching to online teaching created various challenges, ranging from designing and repositioning course materials to facilitating meaningful and active online interaction. The timing of the switch (i.e. Week 11 of a 14-week semester) posed additional difficulties, as it meant that there was very little time to prepare students and teachers for e-learning-based pedagogy.

In the face of these various uncertainties and difficulties, many colleagues have taken measures, and used a range of resources, to create a productive flexible learning environment in order to engage students outside the traditional classroom. Although different colleagues have used different combinations of approaches, a number of good practices have emerged that are worth highlighting.

Be flexible

Despite the restrictions imposed by the change in mode of learning, it has emerged that there is still a lot of flexibility in terms of when and how students make use of online materials. For example, in David’s article, he describes how he has adopted learning technologies to generate interactive case scenarios that have been used in various ways throughout his course.

Adopt low-stake tasks

Small, low-stake tasks (e.g. course videos) can be embedded in learning materials. In Tanya’s article, she describes how she has carefully designed tasks in her pedagogical courses which have enabled students to use whatever materials are available to illustrate their views. These tasks were not difficult to complete yet they enabled students to build their capacity step-by-step.

Encourage students to ‘own’ their learning

Even in online situations, students can still be empowered to connect what they learn with what they observe or experience around them and be provided with opportunities to analyse and make sense of these observations and experiences. Gina and Tanya, for example, have encouraged students to share responsibility for the success of the online learning sessions by assigning them roles and building upon their inputs for stimulating further exploration of the subject under study.

Get connected and remain connected

In online learning, the online platform and social media tools are used to connect students with their teachers, tutors and peers. Pauline, Francis and Sarah, for example, divided students into teams based on the nature of their off-campus activities and allocated a faculty mentor to each team.

I am confident that most of these approaches will interest you and enable you to enhance your own teaching. If you’d like to know more, please go to the relevant articles in this special issue to find out the context, supporting mechanisms, and necessary preparations for these approaches to be effective.

In my introduction to this message, I started by highlighting some of the challenges of teaching online; however, I would like to conclude by mentioning hopes and opportunities. We have observed that the current uncertainty has sparked numerous discussions and discoveries on how we can better engage our students both in and out of the classroom. For example, the two workshops hosted by CETL early in October 2019, on “flexible approaches to teaching and learning in uncertain times” (, allowed CETL to start some useful conversations across campus, and these continue to this day. To be honest, though, nobody could have predicted full-scale campus closure at that time.

Learning everywhere and all the time is not a new concept at all. It just happens that we have been compelled to examine it in quite a pressing manner because of the uncertainty that has faced us. I suggest that we continue our commitment to exploring further ways to leverage classroom learning and online opportunities so as to foster a broad, holistic student learning experience. With this in mind, Alice’s article on fellowship, mentorship, and the scholarship of teaching and learning sheds timely light on how we can support one another in a community of practice to advance teaching and learning. It is my hope that we can all work together on this journey.

Professor Grahame T. Bilbow
Professor Grahame T. Bilbow

Director, Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
The University of Hong Kong

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