Editorial – Wise Practices in the Face of Uncertainty – Tracy Zou

If I am asked to use one word to describe the learning environment in Hong Kong’s higher education this year, it will be ‘uncertainty’. In all my years working and studying in universities, I have not seen any scenarios close to what we experienced in the Fall semester in the Academic Year 2019-20. Switching from classroom teaching and learning to an entirely online mode all of a sudden created a tremendous challenge to teachers and students.

As a staff member in the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, I was approached by many colleagues who wanted to discuss how we could still engage students who cannot attend classes in person. Through conversations, I have identified several teachers (and teaching teams) that have adopted wise practices in a timely manner to maintain student-centred, interactive learning since the switch to online mode in November 2019. I am very grateful that they accepted my invitation to share their practices with colleagues within and beyond HKU through this special issue. What most impressed me was not the flexibility of the approaches, but the delicacy and specificity shown in the design of the online learning tasks and discussions. Below shows a brief introduction to each article.

Still teaching and learning in uncertain times – Maintaining momentum in an online environment by Tanya Kempston shares a number of carefully designed online tasks that help her students gradually build up their capacity yet keep their attention and energy. Students were assigned interesting roles, for example, ‘chat provocateur’, ‘breaker’, and ‘catcher’, which made the online discussions as lively as possible.

Reflections on Preparing to Teach in a Dynamic Environment by David Lee draws on the concept of leadership agility to describe how he proactively responded to the change of the learning environment. Digital media in the form of case scenario videos were some of his tools to engage students in a dynamic environment.

Teaching in times of protest by Gina Marchetti shares how she brought current events into the classroom and modelled academic discussion of controversial topics without taking a partisan position. Gina also introduces how she developed her perspective and approach based on past experiences, some of which were related to the Umbrella Movement in 2014.

A connected virtual community for learning by Pauline Luk, Francis Tsoi and Sarah Chan depicts how a social media platform, Workplace by Facebook, created a virtual community to support students’ out-of-class experiential learning. Though not originally designed to cope with the emerging uncertainty, their virtual community connects student learning occurring around the world through social support and connectivity.

Fellowship, mentorship and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Three ships to professionalism by Alice Lee does not directly deal with online learning and teaching but highlights how we could develop and enhance our practices effectively in an uncertain environment. The essence of her message is to develop teaching as a profession through mentorship and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, both being part of the fellowship scheme of the Advance HE.

Finally, I am aware that there are many equally effective practices being adopted in different courses and programmes that are not included in this special issue, so I also cordially invite you to share your viewpoints, experiences, and insights. For a quick reference to some of our earlier discussions on this topic, please refer to our page on flexible approaches to teaching and learning: https://www.cetl.hku.hk/flexible-approaches/

Would you like to share with us your opinion?
We are looking forward to hearing your opinions. Please email your views to us (tracyzou@hku.hk) or simply voice your opinion in the Poll through one click.

Would you like to contribute to future issues of Teaching and Learning Connections?
Please express your ideas through emails to tracyzou@hku.hk. I am happy to discuss with you and assist you in the publication process.

Preview of the next issue (Issue 12)
Issue 12 to be published in May-June, 2020 will focus on embedding undergraduate research into the curriculum. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, capstone designs, undergraduate research experiences, research internship development, student-led research projects/initiatives, and student-staff co-developed research projects/initiatives.

Stay tuned with us.

Alice Lee
Dr. Tracy Zou

Editor of ‘Teaching and Learning Connections’
Assistant Professor
Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
The University of Hong Kong

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