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Dr. Yat Ming Chan from the Department of Mathematics gave a public lecture on group theory on April 9 to over 120 participants, most of whom were secondary school students. TELI enhanced the event with real-time polling activity and an interactive demonstration of “perfect shuffle” using gigantic poker cards.

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Group theory is an important area of study in abstract algebra. Using the examples of mattress flipping and contra dance, Dr. Chan explained to the audience the four conditions of being a group, namely, closure, associativity, identity and invertibility. While these big terms and concepts might be too abstract to first-time learners, Dr. Chan checked their level of understanding by posing this question on mentimeter, the online polling tool:

“How many perfect shuffles do you think it will take to restore a deck of 52 cards to its original order?”

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Many “confessed” through anonymous submissions that they were just randomly guessing. Therefore, Dr. Chan invited 9 students to go on stage and demonstrate what would really happen when we shuffle the 10 cards perfectly (i.e., divide the cards into two equal decks, and then interleave them one by one). This activity presented an opportunity for participants to creatively take ownership of their learning.

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Dr. Chan concluded his lecture by showing participants how group theory can be used to appreciate symmetry in 3D shapes (using http://hkumath.hku.hk/PublicLecture2016/), wallpaper designs, and other specialties in science.

TELI supports STEM education. We see ourselves facilitating best practices in STEM through e-learning, and we are keen to discuss plans about making the younger generation of learners curious explorers of the world. If you’d like to collaborate with us, please get in touch by emailing enquiry@teli.hku.hk.

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What transforms lectures into lessons learnt? Participation, perhaps. Small twists such as inviting students to provide short-written responses would allow for personalized learning in many ways, as suggested by Professor David Carless, Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) in the Faculty of Education, and Dr. David Pomfret, Chairperson of the Department of History. They gave a seminar on this subject on December 1st, 2015.

In Dr. Pomfret’s history class, students were prompted to write short responses to one question each time. For example,
· “What nation do you think you belong to? Why?”
· “Which do you think is more valuable – history in history books or history in movies?”

These questions invite personal participation and reflection, and are associated with issues to be addressed in the next class, where a summary of the graded responses would be presented by way of a springboard for discussions. The rewards of such a practice are manifold: it enables students to quickly connect learning materials with their personal experiences; and their participation keeps them motivated throughout the semester. Teachers may also gauge common prior knowledge (or misconceptions, sometimes) among students in a timely manner through students’ submissions. In other words, short-written responses facilitate closing the feedback loop in learning.

At the seminar, some teachers suggested inviting students to post their responses on online platforms such as Moodle as it is much faster, and allows everyone in class to view their peers’ submissions. That’s certainly one quick and easily doable way. However, if the teacher would like to have anonymous feedback, an audience response tool such as Mentimeter might serve the purpose better. Would you like to give it a try?

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On September 22 and October 20, 2015, the Technology-Enriched Learning Initiative (TELI) team facilitated an extraordinary “flipped-classroom” learning experience for the students in Professor Rick Glofcheski’s Tort Law class. The idea was to provoke their initiative in discussion of authentic legal issues.

“We don’t just sit in class and listen to really boring lectures or boring powerpoint slides.”

Student interviewed on her expectation before the session

To “flip” the classroom is to mobilise the classroom time to the greatest, that is to reserve as much time as possible for interaction among students. Before the large-group meet-up, short videos were prepared to consolidate students’ knowledge on legal principles, with each video covering a key concept.

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In groups of five, students were seated in Loke Yew Hall. They analysed news articles as if they were analysing a live case in front of them. Discussion was completely student-led. Tutors simply observed group discussions and supplemented their ideas at times.

“One of the best things about this class is that you have to learn to juggle different opinions… and you also have to learn how to express your own opinions in the best way possible.”

Student interviewed on her experience after the session

One interesting touch to the ‘Flipped Classroom’ was the use of Mentimeter, an online polling system. Students were invited to answer several questions online anonymously after watching the video lectures as well as to provide justifications for their answers. The answers were then shown at the beginning of the large-group class. In this way both students and tutors got a better understanding of common misunderstandings that might be incurred when learning about the topic.

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It was extremely rewarding to the team to hear that students and tutors cherished this experience and were looking forward to more. Students pointed out that unlike tutorials, they really do engage in a discussion with one another. Tutors also believed that by not “dictating” the classroom, students were allowed more spaces for discussions, and would eventually benefit from them.

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