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The new norm for post-pandemic teaching and learning

31 Jul 2020

Dr Albert Chau, Vice-President (Teaching and Learning)
Dr Albert Chau, Vice-President (Teaching and Learning)

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused serious disruption around the world, and higher education is no exception. Face-to-face classes came to a halt. International exchange activities and internships were suspended and students rushed back home. As Dr Albert Chau, Vice-President (Teaching and Learning), recalls, “At the beginning of the outbreak, we had to improvise the strategies in the face of uncertainties and a rapidly changing situation.”


Nevertheless, crises create opportunities. “If it is not for COVID-19, e-learning would not have developed so rapidly worldwide,” says Dr Chau. Since all classes went online in mid-March, improvements have continuously been made to ensure the quality of teaching and learning. Positive feedback was received from the student survey on e-learning at the end of the courses as well. 


New modes of teaching


As the pandemic lingers worldwide and uncertainties remain, fully online teaching and learning will be adopted when the new semester starts in September. When the situation allows, HKBU will bring students back to the campus in a closely monitored and staggered manner. Mixed-mode teaching and learning will then be adopted.


With the campus closed due to the virus, assessments were held online instead of on campus last semester. Dr Chau says it is perhaps an opportune moment for universities to consider a paradigm shift for assessment. He suggests that we should also rethink how we can assess the learning process more comprehensively and provide timely feedback to students in addition to assessing learning outcomes. “We are working with The Education University of Hong Kong on a project to try out some innovative approaches to assessment in the coming academic year.”


Reshaping international exchange


The pandemic has also opened up possibilities for novel ways to carry out international exchange. HKBU is making arrangements with partner universities about virtual exchange programmes, with students taking the courses of partner universities online and vice versa. Co-teaching is another mode under consideration. “Students will definitely benefit more as virtual exchange allows students from different backgrounds to collaborate.”


Considering the importance of immersion in developing students’ global vision, Dr Chau hopes to send students overseas for a short period to explore the host country and experience their culture after the virtual exchange. “One way is to let students of both universities come together in person and work on a project for a week or longer.”


The Virtual Hack and Design Challenge 2020, which was organised by the Department of Computer Science in April, provided an excellent example of a new norm of international exchange. More than 110 university students from 16 countries and regions gathered online over a 48-hour period to develop innovative projects that address the COVID-19 crisis. The enthusiastic response showed that effective remote collaboration and the exchange of ideas is achievable in a virtual setting.


Dr Chau says, “The competition offered the participants a unique opportunity to collaborate across different time zones and share global wisdom and impactful insights. Activities of a similar kind should be held more often even after the world resumes normal order.”


Encouraging adaptability 


To strengthen students’ ability to solve problems when confronted with unprecedented and recurring global situations, Dr Chau proposes integrating global issues into the formal curriculum to encourage student discussion. “In the face of uncertainties and global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for students to have flexibility and adaptability.”


These attributes also apply when it comes to job-seeking. As worldwide unemployment is expected to escalate over the next few years, graduates need to prepare well for the job-seeking process. In addition to adaptability, awareness of the latest worldwide developments is equally important. “For example, the contactless economy is gaining momentum during the pandemic, are students able to grab the opportunities arising from it?”


Dr Chau believes it is essential for students to be equipped with broad exposure to multiple disciplines and information literacy. “They need to be able to formulate a conceptual framework to understand and analyse different issues in spite of the magnificent volume of information. They should be empathetic and understand the needs of people from different sectors of society. Finally, the ability to plan, execute and work with a team must not be overlooked.”


In the age of artificial intelligence, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills would definitely be an asset. “In the midst of a gloomy global economy, students may consider creating a job for themselves and eventually others.”