Message from the Director of CETL – Grahame Bilbow

While the shift to online teaching and learning at our University in late 2019 was very much in response to specific Hong Kong conditions, delivering education online has now become something of a global norm due to the outbreak of COVID-19 – something that no one could have predicted.

The pandemic has presented the entire education sector with unprecedented challenges and led to dramatic changes; the impact on both students and teachers has been immense. Indeed, the suspension of face-to-face teaching and learning has been only part of the narrative. Experiential learning, a distinctive component of our University’s undergraduate curriculum, has also been seriously affected. Assessment, too, has had to be re-designed. And who can tell what the impact of the pandemic has been on the overall well-being of students and teachers who have had to adapt to new modes of teaching and learning while coping with various health, economic, and social challenges in their lives.

In the face of such uncertainty, I believe it is absolutely essential that we remain “connected” as a community, specifically that we continue to identify, acknowledge, share, and reflect on our work collectively as a community of practice. This was, in fact, the original motivation for establishing this e-newsletter, and it is reflected in its name, ‘Teaching and Learning Connections’. Especially under the current circumstances, we must stay together as a community of practice, albeit virtually. Only by staying connected, can we support one another and handle difficulties effectively.

The University has been working hard to maintain and energise our community of practice in teaching and learning. A clear example of this was the phenomenally successful Half-Day Virtual Forum, entitled Online T&L 2019-20: The HKU Experience (https://www.cetl.hku.hk/forum2020/), where 18 teachers shared their practices and experiences of teaching and learning during COVID-19. Over 160 participants joined virtually and actively voiced their views through the Chat function on Zoom.

The current issue (Issue 12) of Teaching and Learning Connections is another example of our commitment to remaining connected. This is a combined issue on online teaching and learning and student engagement. As a continuation of the previous special issue ‘Wise Practice in the Face of Uncertainty’ (https://www.cetl.hku.hk/teaching-learning-cop/issue-11/), three more exemplars of online teaching and learning appear in this issue. We are also including two articles on student engagement, which demonstrate how student initiatives and research projects are supported and facilitated through working with students as partners in a virtual environment. Unlike the previous special issue (Issue 11) that focused more on responding to the sudden shift to online teaching and learning, the articles in this issue reflect a systematic plan and more reflective thoughts on current practices, as well as some implications for the future landscape of higher education. This is our reaction to what is being described as the ‘new normal’.

I should like to end this message on a personal note. As I plan for my impending retirement, I should like to express my sincere gratitude to all my colleagues at HKU, including authors, readers and editorial staff of Teaching and Learning Connections, for their generous support and great effort devoted to teaching and learning. I also wish to thank colleagues within CETL for their valuable contributions at all times.

I could never have expected to spend my final months at the University under such unusual circumstances. That said, it really is true that necessity is the mother of invention, and I have been immeasurably impressed with the inventiveness and resolve of my colleagues in responding to these circumstances. I also have complete faith that my University colleagues and University students will benefit from the new opportunities that have been identified and become even more resilient and resourceful learners than they already are.

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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