Teaching and Learning at The University of Hong Kong HKU

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Trailer and sneak previews


About this course
“If history is our guide, we can assume that the battle between the intellect and will of the human species and the extraordinary adaptability of microbes will be never-ending.” (1)

Despite all the remarkable technological breakthroughs that we have made over the past few decades, the threat from infectious diseases has significantly accelerated. In this course, we will learn why this is the case by looking at the fundamental scientific principles underlying epidemics and the public health actions behind their prevention and control in the 21st century.

This course covers the following four topics:

  1. Origins of novel pathogens;
  2. Analysis of the spread of infectious diseases;
  3. Medical and public health countermeasures to prevent and control epidemics; and
  4. Panel discussions involving leading public health experts with deep frontline experiences to share their views on risk communication, crisis management, ethics and public trust in the context of infectious disease control.

In addition to the original introductory sessions on epidemics, we revamped the course by adding:

  1. new panel discussions with world-leading experts; and
  2. supplementary modules on next generation informatics for combating epidemics.

You will learn:

  1. the origins, spread and control of infectious disease epidemics;
  2. the importance of effective communication about epidemics; and
  3. key contemporary issues relating to epidemics from a global perspective.

Who is this class for
This is an introductory course suitable for all learners, with no prerequisite required.

Join the fight against epidemics now.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for more updates!

(1) Fauci AS, Touchette NA, Folkers GK. Emerging Infectious Diseases: a 10-Year Perspective from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Emerg Infect Dis 2005 Apr; 11(4):519-25.

Related Items 

The Jurassic Park franchise has successfully made dinosaurs a popular Hollywood theme and merchandise. Yet, these striking giants are more than animated sculptures – they are a key factor in the evolutionary chain that deserves serious research effort. For this reason, Dr. Michael Pittman from the Department of Earth Sciences produced Hong Kong’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on geology, dinosaurs and evolution, starts on 8 February 2017 on edX.

One important reason for studying dinosaur is that their descendants might still be living among us. Dr. Pittman is devoted to proving that birds, the feathered animal we see day in day out, are a type of carnivorous dinosaur. If successful, it would be a breakthrough in our understanding of the physical evolution of birds, for example, how they make sounds and how they assemble their bodies to fly. The evolutionary links between dinosaurs and birds is also what enabled the Jurassic Park producers to simulate the sound of the dinosaurs in the film “because their larynx (vocal box) looks quite similar to their closest relatives – birds,” Dr. Pittman elaborated in an interview for timeout.com.hk.

Another purpose for producing a dinosaur MOOC in Hong Kong is to properly capture the dinosaur fever in the city. As a Hong Kong raised Londoner, Dr. Pittman finds it unfortunate that palaeontology is not a popular subject in Hong Kong despite people’s immense enthusiasm in dinosaurs. For instance, over a million people visited the Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs exhibition held at the Hong Kong Science Museum last year. As the only dinosaur expert in Hong Kong, Dr. Pittman feels that it is his responsibility to open up more channels for dinosaur enthusiasts in Hong Kong to explore the palaeontology field. Against this backdrop, Dr. Pittman teamed up with Professor Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, to produce Hong Kong’s first ever MOOC on dinosaur.

To give MOOC takers a real taste of the environment that housed the Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and others, many of the MOOC lectures were filmed in the Gobi Desert in northern China. The dinosaur hunters also examined samples of fossil and ancient rocks to reconstruct the ecosystem that nurtured dinosaurs. The key is to vividly present this ancient animal before viewers’ eyes. “It takes a lot of work to get the MOOC into an attractive video format, so having a strong inspiration for it was very important,” said Dr. Pittman.

Hopefully, with more palaeontology enthusiasts and new fossil discoveries, future Hollywood blockbusters on dinosaurs will bear a closer resemblance to what actually happened over 150 million years ago.

Click here to read the full article on timeout.com.hk.

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.


Dr. Beth Simon
Principal Teaching and Learning Specialist on the Course Success team, Coursera
Faculty member of UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Venue & Time: CPD 2.75, 20 May 2015 12:45pm – 2:00pm


Why create a MOOC in a science or engineering topic – and once you’ve decided to take the plunge, how do you set your course up to be successful on Coursera? Dr. Beth Simon will share her recommendations based on her experience both as a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and as Coursera’s Principal Teaching and Learning Specialist. In this workshop, we will discuss faculty experiences of creating courses in science and engineering subjects on Coursera, including faculty goals and motivations as well as practical advice and best practices for course design and implementation.

About the speaker

Dr. Beth Simon is the Principal Teaching and Learning Specialist on the Course Success team of Coursera. Beth is also a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego where she specialized in teaching large classes and improving learning with student-centered learning environments and educational technology. She also worked with faculty implementing hybrid/flipped classes using Peer Instruction as Director of UCSD’s Center for Teaching Development. In 2007-2008, Beth served as Science Teaching and Learning Fellow with Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman’s Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia.

See also: Asian e-Table on 18 & 19 May

Guest blogger series: Michael Pittman on Coursera Partners Conference 2015

masato-avatarDr. Michael Pittman is a Research Assistant Professor at the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory of the Department of Earth Sciences. He is a multi-disciplinary vertebrate palaeontologist whose primary interests are in the evolutionary biomechanics of vertebrates, especially dinosaurs.

In this article I am going to talk about the opportunities and benefits of MOOCs for on-campus teaching and learning at HKU. I will do so by presenting a number of case histories from other universities that were shared at the recent Coursera Partners Conference.

Before I begin I would like to provide some background to my conference experience. At the conference I picked up a few ‘tricks of the trade’ for my own planned MOOC (see Dr. Masato Kajimoto’s insights here) and considered and critically evaluated the conference sessions from my perspective as a younger academic. I was deeply impressed by what has been achieved so far on the Coursera MOOC platform – the amount of high-quality material offered is staggering.The sense of community amongst the Coursera partners was another inspiring aspect of the conference, and it was evident that a number of fruitful institutional collaborations have been formed in this context. For example, the course ‘Create and develop a technology startup’ (‘Créer et développer une startup technologique’) is jointly run by École Polytechnique and HEC Paris of France. However, like most things, MOOCs have room for improvement and there are obstacles to the full leverage of MOOCs (I believe the latter will be when MOOCs become a mainstay of on-campus university education). Dr. Joseph Wu, for example, identified the sustainability of MOOC production as a major issue for universities to further consider. For me, the need for broader communication of the learning value of MOOC education had particular resonance during the conference. This is because the use of MOOCs on-campus has not gained global traction, including at HKU. One reason for this might be because peer-reviewed research on MOOC learning effectiveness is more limited in comparison to research on more traditional multimedia teaching (see insights into multimedia and MOOC teaching methods here). In this article I specifically focus on my conference insights into MOOC-based flipped courses, a key use of MOOCs on-campus. I hope that in reading these words you will also see value in developing this area at HKU.

Professor Grahame Bilbow (left) and Dr. Michael Pittman (right) at the Coursera Partners Conference.

Professor Grahame Bilbow (left) and Dr. Michael Pittman (right) at the Coursera Partners Conference.

In a MOOC-based flipped course students study MOOC lectures in their own time, but go to class for feedback and discussion sessions. By shifting in-class teaching in this way, students can work through their learning with more direct benefit from their peers and their instructor. These MOOC-based flipped courses typically have a structured online forum too so that students can improve their learning outside of class from a body of students that is much larger than their own on-campus class. During the conference many case histories about this course format were shared, ranging from improvements to the learning experience of students to the cost-benefit for an institution.Below I present a select number of these case histories to illustrate the benefits and drawbacks of this course format:

Dr. Kim Manturuk of Duke University noted that half of their MOOCs have been used to successfully flip related on-campus courses. In some cases their MOOC material had even flipped multiple courses, allowing instructors of other courses to dedicate more time and effort to tutorial, discussion and feedback sessions.

An audience member from the University of Nebraska commented that MOOC materials from other institutions had been used by his university, and that they have paid this forward by providing their own MOOC materials to other universities. This sharing of MOOC materials for on-campus teaching – which is often a sharing of specialist teaching material – is building momentum, and is especially convenient given the video format of lectures. Fellow Coursera partners seem to have generally shared MOOC materials free-of-charge, underscoring the sense of community amongst partners.

At the University of Alberta the MOOC-based course Dino 101 is taught to ~600 undergraduates every year, allowing large numbers of students to learn important biological and geological concepts all the while being inspired by amazing dinosaurs. The University offers two versions of this course to its students: a completely online version where students study MOOC lectures and online reading materials, and a flipped classroom version where online materials are supplemented with fieldtrip and laboratory visits as well as guest lectures. Dino 101 is a wonderful example of large-scale on-campus knowledge dissemination that would have been impossible to do through traditional teaching methods. However, larger class numbers require additional course infrastructure to be in place e.g. the training of teaching assistant to lead small groups of students, so tutorial- and discussion-based learning can be scaled up.

Regarding the cost-benefit of this course format, Dr. Annemarie Zand Scholten of the University of Amsterdam said that government funding changes in the Netherlands inspired her University to use MOOCs as a cost-effective way of teaching selected courses. This allowed the university to retain – rather than close – popularpremaster programs in social sciences and child development and educational sciences.

Prof. Roger Cheng shared that HKUST has successfully used MOOC-based on-campus education to recruit exchange students that had previously been ineligible because of term time incompatibility. From this perspective the on-campus use of MOOCs can have substantial benefits towards the internationalisation goals of a university. On the flip side, Prof. Roger Cheng highlighted some shortcomings of MOOC-based on-campus teaching and learning, including the relatively short length of MOOC lectures and the need for students to adapt to more active learning practices. This mode of education needs support from well-structured tutorials, discussions, further reading and coursework and even supplemental in-class lectures as well. MOOCs can simply be used as a supplemental resource to traditional on-campus courses but this negates the benefits of MOOC-based course flipping. In either case, time and training must be given to students to adapt to the new active learning style which requires a higher degree of self-motivation.

Ms. Valentina Todoro of Boccini University, Italy argued that effective flipped courses benefit from a customised teaching environment e.g. moveable furniture and a more flexible and capable projection setup. Her view was shared by her institution which has been renovating classrooms for this reason. HKU has examples of comparable classroom facilities that have been used for non-MOOC based flipped classrooms – these facilities would be an ideal platform for experiments involving MOOC-based flipped classrooms in the future.

MOOCs have great potential to improve multiple facets of on-campus teaching and learning at HKU, particularly when used in flipped classroom scenarios. MOOC-based flipped courses require careful planning and at larger class sizes require greater investment in teaching assistant training to scale tutorial- and discussion-based learning as well as coursework marking (and feedback sessions). Online assessments might also be necessary to develop and if these require written answers then peer-marking might also be required. However, if these challenges can also be overcome at HKU, I see a number of opportunities and benefits for the university, including:

  • More tutorial and discussion sessions to consolidate learning.
  • A new way of learning more suited to the younger generation.
  • A big variety of courses than might otherwise be offered.
  • Greater inter-institutional collaboration.
  • Knowledge dissemination to more students.
  • A means to retain important specialist courses, despite small class sizes.

Guest blogger series: Joseph Wu on Coursera Partners Conference 2015

coursera conference

Joseph WuDr. Joseph Wu is an Associate Professor at the School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine. His primary research is in influenza epidemiology and control, particularly focusing on pandemic preparedness and response. The MOOC developed by his team, Epidemics, attracted over 10,000 enrollees in its first offering.

I led the production of HKU’s first MOOC Epidemics which was launched on the edX platform in September 2014. In this Coursera meeting, I participated in one of their design labs to exchange experience and views about MOOC production with other MOOC developers (whom I presumed were mostly using the Coursera platform). The facilitator from Coursera asked us to share a few pain points in our MOOC development and operations. It turned out that my major concern was not quite among the top concerns from others.

The points that we discussed most were real-time management of questions and complaints from learners, justification of the value of MOOCs to senior management in universities, the lack of beta-testing support, etc. These are factors that are geared towards learner experience, visions and strategies for MOOC among universities, and the design of MOOC platforms. My major concern was more about the seemingly unrecognized burden and stress borne by the in-house MOOC production team members who are often graduate students and research staff of the MOOC developer drafted to venture into this unchartered territory of MOOC education. To them, many aspects of MOOC production such as copyright clearance, sourcing for graphics and animations, filming, video assembly and editing, translation, and beta-testing are not really their primary interests, expertise or responsibilities. Furthermore, given that most institutions are still trying to position themselves in this new realm of MOOCs, there is no or very little existing in-house support (in terms of both technical expertise and financial resources) readily available to help the team with MOOC production. My impression is that with a few exceptions such as Rice University and John Hopkins University, most universities have not yet figured out clearly how MOOC will be integrated into their teaching and learning strategies. Without a consensus on the value and cost of MOOC within an institution (or even a department), it is difficult to have a fair and objective assessment of students and staff involved in MOOC production and operations in their performance evaluation. The value and cost of MOOCs themselves are difficult to assess. The requirements and outcomes for MOOCs vary substantially depending on their nature and scope. For example, teaching computer programming would presumably be less demanding on speaking techniques and illustrative graphics but more demanding on real-time interactions and tutorial, while teaching history would require captivating eloquence and graphics that we expect in a BBC or CNN documentary program. On outcomes, computer programming MOOCs tend to have a lot more learners than MOOCs on history, so using the number of enrollees as a performance metric (which is often done for showcasing popularity) is unlikely to be fair when comparing MOOCs from different disciplines. These are issues that need to be addressed upfront in order for the production of MOOCs within an institution to be sustainable.

Guest blogger series: Grahame Bilbow on Coursera Partners Conference 2015

specialization coursera

masato-avatarProfessor Grahame Bilbow has been Director of the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) since May 2013. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Director of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the UK, with responsibility for the Arts and Humanities. In recent years, Grahame’s interests have turned to the quest for quality in teaching and learning in higher education internationally.

The Coursera Partners Conference was a great opportunity to learn more about Coursera, their vision and their strategic priorities, and to meet many of their partners.

Specialisations: the answer to the problem of scalability?
A recurrent theme at the Conference was to do with the ‘scalability’ of MOOCs: their capacity to grow in a planned and efficient manner. At the moment, MOOCs tend to spring up in an organic way, and are largely disconnected from each other. In the interests of scalability and future revenue-generation, Coursera are becoming interested in the development of so-called MOOC ‘specialisations’: sequences of interrelated courses that culminate in a capstone project that only course completers are eligible to take.

What do specialisations look like?
Specialisations tend to consist of a number of MOOCs that are shorter than standard individual MOOCs. According to Coursera, nearly half the learners they surveyed expressed a preference for specialisations that consisted of three or four MOOCs, each of four weeks’ duration separated by one or two weeks, leading on to a capstone experience. An example of a specialisation is the Modern Musician specialisation designed by Berklee College of Music in the United States, which consists of three short MOOCs followed by a capstone project.

How do learners react to specialisations?
Coursera’s research suggests that there is a widespread preference among MOOC takers for specialised MOOCs of this type. It appears that the rates of course completion and verified certificate conversion are both higher among takers of specialisations than among takers of individual MOOCs, and this translates into higher revenue. What appears to appeal to learners about specialisations is the fact that the content of MOOCs can be more comprehensive and cohesive and have clearly aligned learning outcomes. This knowledge can then be applied in practice in the capstone – something that also appeals to employers. Specialisations can also involve collaboration across training providers, and this can result in more broad-based learning that appeals to learners and employers alike.

So, what’s in it for us?
Specialisations are of interest to the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) at the University of Hong Kong. The MOOC we are planning in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education could quite easily be broken up into a number of three-four week modules dealing with discrete topics such as instructional design, student learning styles, assessment for learning, and so on, and include a capstone project which would require takers to apply what they have learnt to their own real-world teaching and learning situations. I am optimistic that such a modular specialisation course with integrated capstone would be of interest internationally; however, it might be of particular interest in a regional context, among teachers in higher education in Mainland China and elsewhere in East Asia.

Guest blogger series: Masato Kajimoto on Coursera Partners Conference 2015


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”, starts on May 19, 2015. Register now.

As an instructor of the upcoming Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at HKU, my focus to attend this conference was to find out how other university educators around the world have been developing their pedagogical designs specific to the online platform that is totally new to me.

The conference featured more than 25 sessions and covered various aspects of MOOC implementation from institutional strategies to video production workflow. I was particularly intrigued by the engaging teaching approaches adopted by some participating scholars whose instructional methods draw on a number of research in cognitive science, neuroscience, educational psychology, social psychology and other related fields.

I was aware that the concept of MOOC is still in its early stage in the academia and some observers are skeptical about where it is heading but what I didn’t know was the tremendous amount of efforts put into the production of courses at a global scale with many experimental projects and the user analytics data that eloquently tells us about the effectiveness of different teaching and learning approaches.

There are two major takeaways for me from this conference:

First, seemingly subtle changes in the instructional design and video presentation could have a strong impact on users’ learning experience and improve the overall understanding of the subject matter.

9781101621615Take, Dr. Barbara Oakley, for instance. She is the author of New York Times bestselling science book, A Mind for Numbers, and her MOOC is one of the most popular and successful on-demand courses on Coursera. She demonstrated through a series of workshops how she performs and produces her video clips based on her knowledge in science of learning — the complex connection between neuroscience and social behavior — to minimize learners’ cognitive overload.

For example, she takes an aesthetic decision of how to frame a talking head in the video to a new level of pedagogical decision. According to her, including the hands of a standing instructor (three-quarter shot) has proven to be more effective in the asynchronous online communication than a close-up shot as researches have shown that hand gestures would help learners understand the instruction better.

When she uses graphical elements, they appear just a second earlier before her narration kicks in. In other words, explanation comes shortly after the visual cue is presented. This seems to create a moment of short cognitive challenge inside our head (as we try to figure out what the graphic illustrates), which keeps users engaged in the video.

MAYER_MECH0136117570Professor Richard Mayer, a well-known educational psychology expert who penned such books as Learning and Instruction and Applying the Science of Learning, also shared in his keynote speech a variety of multimedia teaching techniques derived from his research in the science of learning. His presentation focused on how we could effectively reduce students’ extraneous processing of information and solidify understanding of the subject matter in the video-driven, online environment.

His illustration of research findings again reminded that instructors need to pay attention to subtle details. The spacial distance between a graphical element to the text; instructors’ intonation in the voice over; frequent inclusion of the word ‘you’ in the narration, signaling what to focus with gestures (or other cues like highlighting texts); they all significantly affect the learning outcome.

The ‘tricks of the trade’ shown by the two scholars and many others like them in the conference are tremendously valuable to the course I am developing right now.

The second takeaway might sound somewhat contradicting to the first, but, I find that it is important to remember there is no one formula that guarantees success on the online platform. Although there are some proven methods to improve MOOC courses as discussed above, this new way of creating a global, non-restricted teaching and leaning environment for all members of the public has encountered many unexpected challenges and we need to figure out what to do as we go along.

The sharing session on copyright-related issues, for one, was both helpful and confusing. On the one hand, I could learn a lot from the cumulative experiences of the expert panel members and participating educators in dealing with the legal matters; on the other hand, the circumstance and the nature of each course is different and thus, in the end, there is no straightforward procedure one can follow in this regard.

The same goes to the marketing strategies of promoting the courses. In this workshop, while I could learn a great deal about the basics such as search engine optimization and social media integration as well as other common public relations planning, the participants’ experienced outcomes greatly differed for the same methods. University brand, country, timing, targeted student groups, public’s demand, industry’s demand and all other factors obviously come into play, and thus, one’s experience cannot be easily duplicated by others.

The second takeaway is nothing unexpected or insightful but it was a reminder for me that in practice I need to try everything I can for my upcoming course and see what comes out. The two-day conference taught me not to be afraid of making mistakes because that was the way other colleagues have been tackling the MOOC.

In one workshop, two researchers showed us their horribly executed web-cam video lectures they used for their first MOOCs and their dramatically improved third iterations, which put me at ease as it has taken some pressure off my shoulders; at the same time, their presentations made me realize that we teachers are also learners in this global endeavor and we all learn something important for our trade along the way.

Professor Richard Levin Coursera

HKU had the fantastic opportunity to welcome the esteemed Professor Richard Levin (Coursera CEO and Yale President Emeritus) for a publically-open keynote speech on the 5th December. In this captivating and anecdotal talk, Professor Levin drew on his two decades of experience as a leader in higher education to discuss his common challenges and lessons from his time at Yale, his views on the state of higher education in Asia, and his recent decision to join Coursera.

Underpinning much of his discussion of the progressive internationalization of higher education was his view that cross-cultural communication is essential for anyone who aspires to leadership. Testimony to this belief is the work that Professor Levin undertook in Yale to establish a programme for undergraduates in Beijing and increase participation in international work and study programmes; his involvement on the board of the National Committee on United States-China Relations; and the creation of the first liberal arts college in Asia: Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore).


Alongside this growing need for cross-cultural communication as an integral part of the higher education experience are the changing assumptions about how the world works. He noted that international understanding is a core part of the 21st Century curriculum – a curriculum which has, to a large extent, become internationalized ‘by itself’. He drew on the example of one of the initial courses which he taught in 1974 on the topic of Industrial Organisation in a North American context. He reflected that, from a contemporary perspective, the scope of this course would no longer be sufficient as industries rarely exist within one nation. Multinational communication and industry is central to many of today’s workplaces. Perhaps this insight is one of the factors which led to Professor Levin’s pioneering of online learning environments which enable learners to communicate across contexts and potentially across cultures, too.

After a fascinating exploration of several of his experiences experimenting with online learning spaces in higher education, Professor Levin discussed how he saw the role of Coursera in providing quality education to a global audience. With more than 10 million learners, 875 courses, and 115 partners, this platform is certainly not short of numbers and, by extension, is likely to embody a huge range of cultures, perspectives and areas of inquiry. It seems logical therefore that any discussion today on the internationalization of higher education mention MOOCs and the way in which they can leverage interaction and learning within and across cultures through the lens of subject areas scaffolded by reputable tertiary institutions.


Professor Levin’s passion for this exciting new space was clearly shared by the audience, which consisted of students, faculty, leadership alumni, UGC, school principals, amongst other stakeholders. Questions sparked discussions on how Professor Levin saw the future of Coursera; censorship and quality issues; the possible changing emphases of professoriate evaluation as a result of MOOCs; and considerations of assessment reliability for those considering offering credit-bearing MOOCs.

This inspiring keynote gave us all the opportunity to reflect on the world in which we live from the perspective of educators and learners. In order to gain insight into the scope and impact of MOOCs, one need not look past the experience of one of Professor Levin’s colleagues who calculated that, in his first MOOC offering, he had a completion rate of 20,000 learners; around 2.5 times the number of learners he had taught in face-to-face mode over his career! A sincere thanks to Professor Levin and the Coursera team for so generously sharing your experiences and insights with us.

A post from the e-learning Pedagogical Support Unit (EPSU)

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Mariel Reed

On a bright December day, we at HKU were lucky to have two opportunities to meet and talk to Mariel Reed, Coursera Partnership Manager and Co-Founder of Lean In Beijing.

In the first session, Mariel led a discussion with HKU academic staff in which she shared insights into what motivates faculty members to produce Massive Open Online Courses, what Coursera as a MOOC provider learns from its academic collaborators and how it takes advantage of this knowledge to improve and innovate on its platform. While Mariel shared some fascinating examples of Faculty motivations relating to MOOCs, three main areas emerged. Firstly, Mariel talked about professors making a social impact – for example, teaching more learners on one MOOC than in a lifetime of face-to-face lectures. A second motivation stems from a desire to improve teaching and learning with one famous example provided by Andrew Ng, a co-founder of Coursera, whose own teaching benefitted enormously from preparing and delivering his groundbreaking Machine Learning MOOCs. The third and final motivation that Mariel highlighted was the role that delivering MOOCs can play in academic staff’s professional enhancement, with an example of an Ohio State professor whose tenure track progress benefitted from a higher post-MOOC profile.

Mariel Reed

Along with these insights from faculty, Mariel also shared upcoming Coursera innovations, the highlight being ‘courses on demand’ which seeks to disrupt the current MOOC paradigm – in which the majority of courses mirror their face-to-face counterparts in having defined start and end dates – and replace it with students setting their own pace for study, perhaps finally evidencing the ‘anytime, anywhere’ claim that is often made for the benefits of e-learning. This coupled with Coursera’s continued focus on mobile learning marks exciting times indeed for online learners.

Mariel’s second session of the day was very different but equally rewarding. In ‘My East-West Adventures’, a talk primarily designed for students but with much of interest for faculty too,  Mariel reflected on the things she cares about the most and spoke of the lessons learned from her experiences. One guiding and thought-provoking principle in Mariel’s life has been the idea that when considering your path in life, instead of focusing on what you want to do, focus on what problems you can solve. She applied this to her own life’s journey, firstly the leap from Washington D.C. to teaching English and Business at Shihezi University in Xinjiang, in which the issue that was at the forefront of Mariel’s thoughts was the importance of US-China relations. A second concern of Mariel is the development of people and she had a chance to work directly on this in her time in Beijing, co-founding Lean In Beijing which focuses on roles of professional women, and Beijing Commons, a volunteer organization that brings new ideas to life. The third guiding theme of Mariel’s life is that of universal access to quality education, which provides a link between previous teaching posts and her current work for Coursera back in Silicon Valley.

Mariel Reed

These ideas resonated with staff and students alike, who found Mariel’s vision inspiring and shared their own problems, thoughts and views on future growth. This session was much more ‘conversation’ than ‘presentation’ and was a perfect counterbalance to the previous information-rich seminar; here, participants had time to speak and reflect, and their willingness to share the personally-held beliefs is testament to the relaxed atmosphere that was created. Overall, two highly engaging talks from Mariel – we hope she comes back to visit HKU soon.

A post from the e-learning Pedagogical Support Unit (EPSU)

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