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Educators, wherever we are, should keep up with the challenges and trends in higher education worldwide. One effective way to stay informed is to engage in dialogues with colleagues from around the world. On 20 June, 2017, we learnt about the top 10 challenges and trends in Australian universities in a seminar delivered by Dr Caroline Steel, Strategic Educational Consultant, APAC, Blackboard International ASCILITE Life Member Awardee and Past President Adjunct Academic, The University of Queensland.

The following is the list of key challenges and trends ranked by Australian academic leaders in a study led by Dr Steel:

10 Teaching and Learning Challenges 10 Teaching and Learning Trends
  1. Student career development and employability
  2. Student engagement and satisfaction
  3. Assessment and feedback
  4. Technology-enhanced pedagogical practice
  5. Student attrition
  6. Improving work-integrated learning
  7. First year experience and transition
  8. Personalized adaptive learning
  9. Academic adoption of educational technologies
  10. Academic misconduct
  1. Learning analytics;
    Unbundling qualification
    (both items ranked number one)
  2. Teaching quality standards;
    Fully online courses;
    Students as partners
  3. Mobile-enabled learning;
    Adaptive learning technology
  4. Digital examinations
  5. MOOC’s;
    Open Education Resources (OER’s)

Key Challenges in Teaching and Learning
Student career development and employability is considered to be the biggest challenge in the Australian higher education context. In the past, universities mainly focused on training students into critical thinkers. In today’s rapidly changing society, educators should take one step further to educate both the ‘thinker’ and the ‘worker’. Given the rapid development of automation, AI and cognitive computing, some jobs may no longer exist in 10 years’ time. Students may not be fixed to one career throughout their lives. To prepare students for this highly uncertain future, HE institutions should help them acquire various employability skills and develop cross/trans-disciplinary thinking.

The second challenge is student engagement and satisfaction, in both on-campus & online teaching. According to Professor Karen Nelson, an interviewee in the study, student engagement constitutes of three parameters: behavioural, cognitive and affective. The challenge for universities is to “create the educational conditions that will trigger emotion and motivation so that students are engaged.”

Major Trends in Higher Education
The two most prominent trends in Australian higher education are learning analytics and unbundling qualification.

Learning analytics is a potential game changer in higher education. ‘There is enormous potential in learning analytics,’ said Professor Martin Carroll in an interview for the study. However, even though analytics have been used by lots of industries in Australia, high education is falling behind. It is necessary for institutions to keep up with the trend and look for ways to use analytics to improve teaching and learning.

Unbundling qualifications is another prominent trend in Australian higher education. Universities are now looking into the possibility of unbundling qualifications and micro-credentialing as alternative ways to provide learning, so that learners can obtain the skills they need as quickly as possible. For example, instead of completing an entire MBA programme, some professionals may only want to learn certain components of the degree. If universities are able to repurpose some of the content, then more choices will be available to learners. After obtaining skills and credits from various programmes and fields, learners can demonstrate their expertise in their e-portfolios.

It is worth noting that, among the top 10 T&L trends, 6 are tech-related, namely

  • Fully online courses
  • Mobile-enabled learning
  • Adaptive learning technology
  • Digital examinations
  • MOOC’s
  • Open Education Resources (OER’s)

This finding is certainly encouraging as the use of technology enhances teaching and learning and better prepares institutions for the challenges in higher education. Technology allows flexibility in learning and makes personalized learning possible. Learning management systems and grading tools such as Turnitin make it easier for teachers to assess students and provide feedback. The blending of face-to-face lectures with e-learning tools, such as Mentimeter and Kahoot!, caters for students’ diversified learning needs, which potentially enhances student engagement.

What about Hong Kong?
We are embracing the same challenges in Hong Kong and are working along similar lines. Here at HKU, we strive to cultivate students’ employability skills (e.g. cognitive flexibility, negotiation) and develop cross-disciplinary thinking through events such as Inter-professional Team-based Learning (IPTBL) and Girls4Tech. To enhance student engagement, we are constantly designing new in-class activities, apps and games. To ensure the best learning experience for our students, our efforts in course development is paralleled by research efforts in learning analytics.

More and more teachers are joining the ride in developing MOOCs (on edX and Coursera) and SPOCs to enrich students’ blended learning experience. To further open up learning opportunities to a wider range of learners, we are also exploring the possibilities of unbundling qualifications and MicroMasters and getting ourselves ready for e-portfolios. More initiatives will be in place to shape the T&L landscape in Hong Kong in response to challenges and trends in higher education.

What do you think? How will you respond to these challenges and trends? Share your views with us.

Further reading

  1. “Learning and Teaching Challenges in Higher Education in Australia: A View from the Top”, an Australian academic leadership study conducted by ASCILITE and Blackboard International in 2016


Organised by Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) and Faculty of Education

Details of the workshop:

Date : 20 June, 2017 (Tuesday)
Time : 12:45pm – 2:00pm
Venue : Room 321, 3/F, Run Run Shaw Building (Main Campus), HKU CPD 3.29, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus
Speaker : Dr Caroline Steel, Strategic Educational Consultant, APAC, Blackboard International
ASCILITE Life Member Awardee & Past President Adjunct Academic, The University of Queensland
Facilitators : Dr Susan Bridges, Associate Professor, Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning / Faculty of Education, HKU


Universities of today are fundamentally challenged by the need to educate for both ‘the thinker’ and ‘the worker’ so that current and future students will see value in their university education in a rapidly changing global society. The pressures of a fast-evolving global economy and society mean that we are educating students for highly uncertain work and life futures. Adding significant complexities to this current state-of-play, universities themselves are struggling to transform in the face of digital disruption and globalisation.

In Australia, universities have experienced a decade of increasing massification of higher education that has seen our domestic and international student body grow to 1.4 million, whilst government funding and commitment to higher education have reduced, and the academic workforce has been further casualised. At such a pivotal snapshot in time, we were interested in how Australian university leaders conceived of their key challenges and trends and how they were responding. In 2016, *we conducted a survey and follow up interviews with academic leaders at the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Pro Vice Chancellor level to understand how they prioritised their learning and teaching challenges and influential trends and how they were responding institutionally. This presentation outlines the Australian regional context and reports main findings of the study. The presenter will also ask those attending to consider the challenges in the context of the Hong Kong University Sector.

*The research for this paper was conducted as a collaboration between ASCILITE and Blackboard International.

About the Speaker

Dr Caroline Steel is a Strategic Educational Consultant for Blackboard International. Caroline was Associate Professor and Director of Digital Learning at La Trobe University and President of ASCILITE (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education). She brings a wealth of expertise from a range of academic leadership, faculty and central learning and teaching roles. She has developed institutional digital strategies, designed innovative approaches to academics’ technology and learning spaces adoption, and explored the impact students’ digital learning practices on learning (including mobile learning). Caroline has published extensively and retains an adjunct academic position at The University of Queensland.


For information, please contact:
Ms. Noranda Zhang , CETL
Phone: 3917 4729; Email: noranda@hku.hk​


Organised by Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL)

Details of the workshop:

Date : 6 April, 2017 (Thursday)
Time : 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Venue : Room 321, 3/F, Run Run Shaw Building (Main Campus), HKU
Facilitator : Dr. Cecilia Chan, Head of Professional Development, CETL, HKU


After the highly successful cross-institutional conference held on March 8 where innovations in higher education teaching and learning were shared and celebrated, CETL is planning a series of gatherings. As we go forward with the conversation on driving excellence in the Teaching and Learning agenda, the new “Chit-Chat, Mix and Match for T and L” series will provide an easygoing and stimulating platform for teachers to continue discussing, disseminating and discovering good pedagogies, assessment and issues.

These gatherings require your participation to be successful, come and join us, I guarantee you fun, challenging and rewarding conversation.

Registration will be on a first come, first served basis.


For information, please contact:
Ms. Noranda Zhang , CETL
Phone: 3917 4729; Email: noranda@hku.hk​


Organised by Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL)

Details of the Conference:

Date : 8th March, 2017 (Wednesday)
Time : 10:00am – 4:45pm
Venue : CPD 2.42, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus
Chair : Dr Cecilia Chan, Head of Professional Development, Associate Professor, CETL, HKU
Deputy Chair : Dr Tracy Zou, Assistant Professor, CETL, HKU


The purpose of this one-day conference is to share and celebrate innovative pedagogies in higher education teaching and learning, from their discovery through to their dissemination. Specifically, the event will facilitate the sharing and discussion of innovative practices that have emerged from Teaching Development Grant-funded projects and projects conducted by Teaching Excellence Award Winners across the eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong. Bringing together experienced teachers who have pursued innovations in pedagogy, assessment, curriculum design and flexible learning, the event will provide an opportunity for universities in Hong Kong to learn from each other, and to share their commitment to achieving teaching and learning excellence in an ever-changing educational context. Alongside input sessions, the event will also feature sessions that provide opportunities for future teaching and learning collaboration across universities, including ‘Speed Dating’ Poster Sessions and the Join-the-Conversation Roundtables.



For information, please contact:
Ms. Noranda Zhang , CETL
Phone: 3917 4729; Email: noranda@hku.hk​

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