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We believe that online courses are more than just YouTube videos plus a quiz. In building courses online, we endeavour to create the most integrated and personal learning experience for our learners.

In this age of information explosion, with numerous education resources available already, why would somebody care to be involved in a MASSIVE open online course (MOOC) through participation in the discussion forum? Ms. Karen Carlson, an enthusiastic MOOCer and a star learner in the course HKU03x Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought, is kind enough to share with us her thoughts. To Karen, one of the best things about HKU03x is having an instructor who is “extraordinarily involved” in the course from the start. Discussion with the teaching assistant, Catherine, also prompts her to think further and ask questions on issues such as whether it is possible to have a morality that is not imposed from the outside.

The course instructor Professor Hansen’s ownership, together with the active involvement of teaching assistants and fellow learners, are great motivations. Without instructor ownership, a course tends to turn into just “YouTube plus a quiz”, which is hardly a good class. “A class is far more of an overall experience where everything is integrated,” said Karen, and this is exactly what we believe.

While we are flattered to receive Karen’s positive comments, it is also our pleasure to meet and greet our MOOC learners. To us, producing a MOOC is not just about uploading videos and quizzes, but is also about connecting with learners from all around the world and building an online learning community. We don’t just teach. We care. Contact us if you have anything to share about your learning experience in HKU MOOCs.

Further reading
Take a look at Karen’s blog for her deep reflections on our course and other MOOCs.

What does the future hold for vernacular architecture in Asia? In this concluding episode, we will try to look into this question and examine tradition, modernity, and cultural sustainability in the context of the Asian vernacular built environment. Register to take the course for free at http://tinyurl.com/architecturemooc and join learners from around the world on July 26, 2016. Find out more about it here!

Sneak Preview ( Week 5 )

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As vernacular architecture faces various threats, how do we make sure that the needs of both the current and future generations are met? In Week 4 of Vernacular Architecture of Asia, we focus on the conservation of the built vernacular heritage. Register to take the course for free at http://tinyurl.com/architecturemooc and join learners from around the world on July 26, 2016. Find out more about it here!

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Does the city you live in have “slum” areas? Have you ever thought about how they are built and how they meet the needs of the people who live there? In Week 3 of the Vernacular Architecture of Asia: Tradition, Modernity & Cultural Sustainability, we continue our examination of the urban environment by focusing on these “informal settlements”. Register for the course for free at http://tinyurl.com/architecturemooc and join learners from around the world on July 26, 2016. Find out more about it here!

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Can urban environments also be vernacular? In Week 2 of the Search for Vernacular Architecture of Asia, we will examine the broader and more complex issues in the urban built environment. Register for the course for free and join learners from around the world on July 26, 2016. Find out more about it here!

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We begin the Search for Vernacular Architecture: Tradition, Modernity & Cultural Sustainability with a look at the rural vernacular. In the first pisode, we will focus on the different aspects of the rural vernacular environment in Asia, and the ways in which these environments communicate meaning. Register for the course for free at http://tinyurl.com/architecturemooc and join learners from around the world on July 26, 2016. Find out more about it here!

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Course starts TODAY!
Join us and think along with Classical Chinese masters as they explore and debate how and where we can find ethical guidance in nature.

Philosophy can be a daunting subject to teach, as it often involves the explanation of complex and abstract ideas, and encouraging students to think creatively and independently. The challenge becomes more pronounced in the context of online teaching, where students learn remotely and independently in front of their own computers. How do you engage the students and maintain their attention span, while doing justice to the intellectual depth of the subject? Such was the challenge we faced.

Course Instructor Professor Chad Hansen is a brilliant philosophy teacher. His lectures are always intellectually challenging and interesting at the same time. So how did we turn his course into a MOOC?

It has been a long development process with lots of trial and error.

At first, the production had a humble beginning. We just tried to film Professor Hansen without much preparation work to see how it would go. Chad is such a good speaker that he could speak on any topic effortlessly without a need of script and prompter. However, the result was not good. The clips filmed were too long and were difficult to be sliced into chunks to put into the edx platform. We realized that a very careful planning of table of content and flow is extremely important before you could even start. Our instructional designers then worked with Chad to divide his course material into many 6-10 minute long knowledge unit. Many researches showed that the optimal length of online educational video is 6 minute or shorter if you want to keep student engagement.


Then we tried to film again strictly according to the defined knowledge units – clip by clip. We asked Chad to speak directly into the camera, as if addressing the viewers himself. The result was not bad, but that could not capture the dynamic and engaging character that his lectures are well known for – something was clearly missing.

Finally the production team tried a new and risky method – we put Professor Hansen in a small classroom setting and surrounded him with real students and three cameras. We shot it like a mini-concert in order to capture his signature performance naturally. The result was great and dynamic. One learner said in the discussion forum: “I envision this as an idealized college scene – a professor and a small group of students sitting in the green lawn discussing great thoughts concerning humanity”. This was exactly what we were trying to capture.

After capturing all footages, we tried to work backward to make storyboards. Instructional designers digested the clips and designed what highlighted text to be put on the screen. Our multimedia designers worked with Chad and his teaching assistants to create interesting and relevant visuals animations to present those abstract philosophy concepts. The goal was to create a right mix of intimacy and authority.


Also we understand students lose easily in a sea of video clips with subject matter they are not familiar with. We did a few things to give a sense of structure throughout the course.

  1. Each week has an introduction clip and an conclusion clip.
  2. Each clip has an opening with the title of the knowledge unit.
  3. Each clip has a clear ending. The same piece of music chimes in when Chad is going to conclude the clip.
  4. We kept typography and graphic style strictly consistent. Each style got its structural meaning.

Besides the visual part, we believe the audio part is equally important. The audio level should be consistent with relatively free of noise and little ambience. The audio quality should not be muddy or overbright. The room we used to film was not good in terms of acoustic properties. It was huge with big ambience. There was also a lot of noise from air conditioners. We used special audio software to process every word in each video clip. We removed the noise, reduced the ambience and made EQ ( Equalization ) adjustment to make sure Chad’s speech sounds clearly in mediums that most learners will watch on – laptops with small speakers, mobile phones and headphones.


The balance between education and entertainment is a hard one to strike. And we hope that we are able to make the learning experience as informative, enlightening, and enjoyable as possible.

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Greetings learners!

The wait is over. Vernacular Architecture of Asia: Tradition, Modernity and Cultural Sustainability is here!

The course aims to:

  • Deepen your appreciation of the values and meanings of vernacular architecture in your local environments
  • Establish your personal perspectives on the more complex issues in vernacular architecture, such as self-conscious or un-self-conscious way of building, informal settlements, and cultural sustainability
  • Help you to generate your own ideas of how to protect and conserve your local vernacular built environment

If you are someone who is curious or cares about the everyday environment you live in, this course is for you. Learn more details, register, and continue the journey with us in Vernacular Architecture of Asia: Tradition, Modernity and Cultural Sustainability. I look forward to seeing you on July 26th! Find out more about the course here!


David Lung,
Professor of Architecture
Lady Edith Kotewall Professor in the Built Environment
University of Hong Kong

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MOOC and on-campus teaching crossover has always been the ultimate goal for MOOC teachers and instructional designers. Recently, Dr. Masato Kajimoto has repurposed his MOOC Making Sense of News for teaching an Undergraduate course. We are happy to recount the experience and analyze students’ response via an edX blog. Learn more about his experience here.

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masato-avatarDr. Masato Kajimoto is an Assistant Professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. Masato specializes in news literacy education, multimedia storytelling, and social media in journalism. His MOOC, “Making Sense of News”, started on May 19, 2015.
We are delighted to have read Dr. Masato Kajimoto’s blog piece in Comunicar Journal about the data collected from his MOOC HKU04x Making Sense of News (ran between May 19 and June 23, 2015). MOOCs are definitely “the New World” for researchers. Enjoy the article.

I’ve recently finished teaching my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on news literacy for the public on edX, the non-profit education portal founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The six-week course, titled Making Sense of News, attracted thousands of students from 147 countries. It comprised 63 short lecture video clips (mostly between 2 to 4 minutes), exercises, readings, five graded assignments (two of which were peer-reviewed) and discussion forums (964 comment entries were made by the final week).

Making Sense of News: Geographical data
More than 7,500 students from all over the world signed up for the course.

The massive collection of students’ behavioral data aggregated at the end of the course made me realize the potential of online-based media education research.

The following blog post sketches out some of the many possibilities this emerging form of teaching and learning can be used.

The big data gathered through MOOCs, in my view, would shed light on certain elements that could have not been examined through the conventional research methods.

1. Correlations, correlations, correlations.

The MOOC provides an all-in-one platform for media education research whereby the researchers can gather everything — from entrance/exit surveys to demographic information to learning patterns (access time, clicking behaviors, etc) to the results of knowledge tests to commentaries in the class discussions (forums) to academic performance (assignment grades).

MOOC Data: Education
The data indicate that obtaining higher degrees do not necessarily make people smarter news consumers.

This gives the researchers the dataset that can be examined in a wide variety of ways to explore whether there is a correlation among different variables. For example, the relationships between two of the followings can be examined.

  • Selected demographic variables
  • News literacy skills (assessed by the assignment results)
  • Frequency of forum posts
  • Forum engagements
  • Video playback patterns
  • Click-through behaviors

2. Control group recruitment? A/B testing? Double-Blind test? Not so difficult.

The online platform makes it possible and easy to test different instructional designs, a variety of video-based communications and other pedagogical methods to teach news literacy.

For example, a researcher could produce two or three different instructional video clips with the same script – one with the instructor talking with his/her face shown, one with an avatar replacing the instructor’s face, and one with a professional TV talent taking the role of the instructor.

The three clips can be randomly assigned to different students. Later, the effectiveness of each clip could be measured by the results of quizzes that follow immediately after the video. Such A/B testing normally won’t work in a lab setting as standardizing the test-takers’ individual abilities would be next to impossible, but the whopping sample size that a MOOC can provide could possibly alleviate such concerns greatly.

With the same method, two different news articles can be given to the students with only one word changed. It would be interesting to see if the choice of one word over the other would affect the ways students detect and evaluate media biases. The possibilities of using the online platform for both teaching and research at the same time are limitless here.

3. Who is communicating with whom? Qualitative insights into the minds of students and their learning behaviors.

MOOC: Data visualization
Every single communication can be mapped on MOOC.

The written communications among the students can be tracked down, mapped and combined with other variables, which could form a foundation for qualitative research.

The dataset allows researchers to see how each student engages with one another through peer-reviewed assessments and forum discussions easily.

Once certain patterns are identified, researchers can delve into the content of their written communication.

Say, for example, let’s suppose there are two clusters of engagements among high news literacy skill students (group A) and low news literacy skill students (group B) that were organically formed. If the data shows that they (the group A and B) are not communicating with each other, we can qualitatively analyze their digital conversations and possibly distinguish some key elements that might tell us why certain instruction works for some students and not others.

4. What works? What doesn’t? Improving our teaching.

The detailed video playback data reveals many things. For instance, the learning analytics system developed at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology called VisMOOC can let us visually see each video clip’s “forward seeks” and “backward seeks.”

VisMOOC visualizes video playback data.

We could see the exact points where students paused, fast-forwarded and rewound the clip, which indicates not only how students interacted with the video lectures but also what visual cues disappeared too hastily for them (pause), which parts seemed to have been considered redundant or unnecessary (fast-forward or “forward seeks”), and what concepts and explanations were difficult to understand (rewind or “backward seeks”).

The click through data and other web analytics data also reveal many other factors that would inform us of the students’ learning: say, for instance, which reading assignments students tried to read (click), how much time students spent to complete different exercises and assignments, what time/day they accessed the teaching materials and so much more, all of which could provide valuable information for us to improve our teaching.

Possibilities endless

The above four ideas are only a fraction of what we can do with the online-based news literacy education and research. By taking advantage of the detailed behavioral data with a large sample size, researchers can now track down, aggregate, and investigate the varying patterns of news literacy skill acquisition. The implications and possible future directions of internet-based teaching and research are, I dare to say it, endless.

Ultimately, this kind of research could evolve into a computer modeling that pinpoints specific variables as predictors. We could measure the effectiveness of educational intervention in the field of news and media literacy and improve our teaching strategies accordingly, as our goals are to nurture the future generation of discerning media consumers who also produce and distribute content.

In today’s technologically interconnected societies, I believe the computer modeling would give great insight into the design of effective online pedagogy while presenting opportunities for news literacy scholars to test a multitude of pedagogical designs, teaching methods and research hypotheses in a large scale.

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