Transforming teaching and learning through a discipline-based community of practice – Kara Chan, Felicia Fei Fan, Lei Vincent Huang
Kara: As I approach the end of my career in academia, I would like to make an impact on teaching and learning practices in the discipline of public relations and advertising. I applied and secured a teaching development grant of HK$360,000 from our university to form a community of practice (CoP). Ms. April Qiqi Li, our Senior Project Assistant, did a great job in managing the project. Altogether 13 members from five higher education institutions teaching public relations and advertising were recruited to the CoP through my own professional network and referral of CoP members. We met about once a month on Saturday mornings from March 2020 to May 2021 for three hours with members participating either online or face-to-face. As Dr. Lennon Tsang (the project coordinator) and I had previous experience of producing teaching videos by interviewing practitioners, each CoP member committed to recruiting an interviewee and speaking on a specific topic related to creativity, innovation, design thinking, and organisational communication. The teaching videos were produced using the in-house shooting team. Ms. Jasmine Tse, a year-3 journalism student, helped with the transcription of the interviews. I took the lead to produce the first video, on the effectiveness of MTR advertising, by interviewing Ms. Shirley Chan of JCDecaux Transport. Altogether 12 teaching videos were produced.
We also believe that assignments are the bread and butter of our trade and decided to explore innovative pedagogy through the design of assignment briefs. In the first five meetings, we discussed four types of assignments, namely individual assignments, group projects, course-based research projects, and blended learning assignments. For the course-based research projects, students engaged either in the data collection part only or journeyed through the entire research process from research design to data interpretation. For the blended learning assignments, students were supposed to go through the teaching materials on their own. Class time would be devoted to the completion of a task specified in the assignment brief. In subsequent meetings, we designed ways of collecting output and outcome measures among CoP members as well as participating students. Members recorded their reflections after meetings and shared these through Google Drive. We appointed Dr. Julie Bilby, Senior Lecturer at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, to review all the assignment briefs. Based on her comments, the assignment briefs were revised.
CheerStudio, a visual design company, was hired to design a website to house our repertoire of teaching and learning resources (www.coms.hkbu.edu.hk/cop-pra). The website was announced and promoted through professional associations such as International Communication Association, American Academy of Advertising, and Association of International Business as well as the Linkedin social media platform. We conducted two focus group discussion sessions in November 2020 to collect feedback from students. We conducted a survey among CoP members with closed and open-ended questions in December 2020. One journal manuscript and two conference presentations were prepared. In 2021, members continued to meet but less frequently. We discussed students’ learning outcomes and selected exemplar works for the website. I also took the lead to coach members in the application for fellowship and senior fellowship of Advance HE (formerly Higher Education Association). For this article, I invited two CoP members, Dr. Felicia F Fan and Dr. Vincent Huang, to share what they experienced through this CoP journey.
Felicia: As a lecturer in Creative Communication serving the College of International Education, Hong Kong Baptist University, I joined this CoP project one year ago. During the project period, members met regularly to exchange good thoughts about how to improve teaching quality in courses about public relations and advertising. I learned a lot from teaching fellows from different local universities and educational institutes and also actively applied the CoP outcomes in my teaching. For instance, when I taught a core course about media and communication last semester, I used several teaching videos about public relations and social media communication tailored by our CoP members. After watching the selected teaching videos, students were asked to reflect on what they had learned from the video cases by applying the concepts and theories explained in the lecture sessions. Students commented that it is very inspiring to know more public relations-related information and experience from the industry practitioners featured in the teaching videos.
Overall, I would like to share three key takeaways from this article. The first takeaway is the adoption of interactive teaching and engagement pedagogy such as blended learning and course-based research pedagogies. After participating in this CoP project, I adopted the pedagogy of course-based research to nurture students to solve problems by applying quantitative reasoning skills. This semester when I co-teach a course about data and media, we ask students to form groups and work on a research project about how social media usage influences interpersonal relationships. After several rounds of group discussions, the submission of a research proposal, and student consultations, most groups could develop an interesting and meaningful research topic and appropriately address some social media-related issues via quantitative reasoning skills. For example, I have students using a cross-sectional survey to analyse how online dating apps influence perceived intimacy among the partners. Some groups address how social media influences the relationship between teachers and students under the Covid-19 context and also students’ study efficiency. I also have students studying how online games influence the development and enhancement of friendship. Overall, this kind of course-based research project is challenging but useful. After participating in the research-informed teaching and learning activities, students can identify the process of conducting academic research.
The second key takeaway is how to motivate and engage students in a mixed-mode teaching and learning environment. Because of Covid-19, we have been using mixed-mode teaching for almost one year. I think the most challenging part is how to engage students studying online. Through the CoP project, different new e-learning tools were introduced. Last semester, I adopted several new e-learning tools to engage students and collect students’ feedback. For instance, Mentimeter, an interactive presentation software, was frequently used in my mixed-mode teaching. Each student was asked to share thoughts and answers on Mentimeter. Functions such as ranking, short answers, and word cloud were frequently used to collect students’ answers and encourage them to participate in the classes.
The last key takeaway is how to design a more engaging and multimedia-driven assignment. I learned this good idea from Dr. Vincent Huang. Traditionally, group projects are presented in written format or face-to-face group presentations. However, Dr. Vincent Huang in the CoP meetings shared a new assessment format– podcast. Since podcasts are popular among youngsters, I believe this format deserves a try when students prepare for group projects.
Vincent: The project gives junior faculty members valuable opportunities to learn from colleagues, validate teaching design, and grow with confidence. When we first join the university as a teaching faculty, we don’t have many opportunities to learn from our colleagues about how we can successfully and effectively teach. Teaching is like doing an independent endeavour. Without a mentoring network or some formal opportunities for interactions, new faculty members may find it challenging to exchange ideas or validate pedagogical innovations with colleagues. The Community of Practice project creates opportunities to reflect and articulate our teaching philosophy, identify and recognise our teaching problems, and collectively find solutions to the problems. The resources that we create will be beneficial for newcomers because they represent best practices shared by experienced faculty members.
In addition, as a junior faculty member, I tested my teaching ideas and received lots of useful feedback to improve my assignment design and teaching. I proposed podcasting as an assignment idea in my organisational communication course. The team members graciously shared their experience of giving a production-related assignment and provided critiques to my assignment design, such as how to make teamwork a more effective and efficient experience for students and how instructors could guide the students to design and ensure the quality of the podcasts. The fruitful discussion helped me better design the assignment. In the next semester, I implemented some of the suggestions (e.g., adding a progress sharing session and giving continuous feedback), which improved the quality of students’ work ideas and new initiatives from team members. Recently, we tried out the LEGO Serious Play as a potential pedagogical approach. This idea was brought by one of the team members. Even after the completion of the project, we still keep sharing our teaching experience. This kind of sustainable network that we’re creating brings us to a life-long journey of learning and growing with the members.
Kara: “Together, we travelled further”. The discipline-based CoP provides a space for colleagues at different career stages to experiment with innovative teaching pedagogy. The success enjoyed so far demonstrates the promising value of such an endeavour.
This project was fully supported by Hong Kong Baptist University, Project title: Sharing good practices in teaching and learning of advertising and public relations (COP/1920/02).
The CoP attended a LEGO Serious Play workshop on creativity
A colleague Bonnie Chiu was invited to share her experience of supervising a General Education Capstone project with onsite and online CoP members participating