HKU’s second Massive Open Online Course, HKU02.1x The Search for Vernacular Architecture of Asia was launched on April 14, 2015. As of April 30, the course has attracted 6,700 students from 137 countries. This five-week course combines Professor David Lung’s lively and visually rich teaching videos with a number of interactive activities that are having a positive impact on student engagement and learning.

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Figure 1. Top 10 countries/regions of enrollment. Data as of April 30, 2015

Building a sense of community

The benefits of learners feeling a sense of community is well discussed and much valued in the education field. However, pedagogically speaking, a learning community is not often easy to build. In this course, we leverage both technology and social media to achieve this goal.

Map of the class
In Week One we asked students to introduce themselves and share with the rest of the class what motivated them to join the course. To provide the students a visual and engaging experience, we used a world map where students can add their locations and a description. In turn, others can click on the pins to learn more about their classmates.

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Figure 2: Map of the class. Nearly 450 students entered their locations and self-introduction. Collectively these entries were viewed by students in the class for more than 4,200 times. Data as of April 30, 2015.

Social media
To build a sense of community and enable connections between the course and the learners and amongst the learners themselves, we built a Facebook page and provided the students with information about local edX meetup groups around the world that they could potentially join. The Facebook page has nearly 700 ‘Likes’ from students. Beside posting course-related information and updates, the course’s Facebook page also turned out to be a good communication tool between the course team and the students as well, where a number of students posted their course-related questions that we helped answered.

Enabling peers as a powerful source for learning

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MOOC learners bring with them tremendously diverse background such as geography, education, profession, and life experiences. Well-designed MOOCs provide opportunities for students to learn from both the professors and others in the same course. This course uses several ways to enable students to learn from their peers.

Weekly discussion forums and roundup videos
Each week we provide the students with a relevant topic for them to share their experiences and perspectives with each other. Now at week 3 of the five week course, the students have added more than 700 postings in the forum responding to the discussion weekly topics.

We then produce a video each week where Professor Lung and his course team respond to the main themes and specific questions raised by the students in their discussions. Students found the weekly roundup videos to be very helpful. For example, one student said,

“Very lively, useful discussion stimulated by ‘virtual’ student responses to the course content; it is gratifying to know that the academic team is absorbing and taking seriously the input of such a large and diverse student body! Well done.”

Peer assessments
Two of this course’s assignments involve peers to evaluate each other’s work. While using peer assessments in large-scale online courses is still a somewhat controversial issue that is being discussed and explored, well-designed and meticulously implemented peer assessments can be a powerful tool for students to learn from each other. Student response regarding the first peer-assessed task in this course has shown that the peer assessment has had some positive impact on student learning. Based on the student responses to our survey after the peer assessment concluded, 97% of them said they were glad they participated in the peer assessment task. Students responding to the survey described how they found the experience to be beneficial for their learning.

“First I had an opportunity to tell my peers about my local built environment because it is interesting enough to be shared. Second, my peers shared a lot of stories about their hometown. That was great!”

“This course offered a new style of peer assessment I have not seen in other edX courses. I liked this one the most, the flow was good and made it enjoyable to take part in.”

“What I like about this course is that there are many people from different countreis sharing their knowledge which is priceless.”

“Very interesting and well executed assignment. I have started many online classes and dropped out because I didn’t feel I fit within the structure. Only one other class (MIT microbiology class) was as well-structured and wide-encompassing as this class seems to be. A very difficult goal to accomplish.”