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Scaling Out Teaching; Scaling Up Learning: Some Thoughts on Innovation in Higher Education

(by Professor Ricky Kwok, Associate Vice-President, the University of Hong Kong)

© Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

Professor Ricky Kwok is Associate Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) at The University of Hong Kong (HKU), assisting the Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) in various projects related to e-learning (e.g., MOOCs, blended learning and gamification). He leads the Technology-Enriched Learning Initiative (TELI) team which consists of e-learning technologists, instructional designers, researchers in learning analytics, specialists in systems development, multimedia talents and collaboration associates. Ricky is also Professor in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department at HKU. A computer engineer and scientist by training, he is now taking an avid interest in scaling out teaching and scaling up learning. His recent research endeavors are also related to incentive, dependability, and security issues in wireless systems and P2P applications.  Ricky is a Fellow of the IEEE, the IET, and the HKIE. 

In the higher education context, innovation encompasses unprecedented novelty in development and application initiatives that matter to student learning. At the University of Hong Kong (HKU), it translates into two exciting trajectories: scaling out teaching, and scaling up learning.

Scaling out teaching

Scaling out teaching means extending the scope of impact of our high quality teaching in local, regional, international and interdisciplinary dimension. As a first step, we aim to make more quality time in the classroom by carefully curating teaching and learning contents, and removing time restrictions in traditional lectures by making teaching and learning available online. More and more teachers are interested in flipping their classes, making online tutorial materials, accelerating the feedback loop through in-class polling, gamifying the learning process, collaborative team-based learning, etc. For instance, since 2013, the Australian Government has been awarding grants to support this new pedagogy in a number of disciplines, including statistics, engineering and health sciences. One award-winning example was led by Carl Reidsema who flipped two large-scale (1200 students) first year engineering classes at The University of Queensland. The project was very well received, and has catalyzed much discussion and research on this innovative approach of teaching nationally and internationally. All these signal that teachers crave for making the face-to-face class time more meaningful and productive. Our world is increasingly Internet-mediated and integrated with an unprecedented socializing and learning virtual environment. As a result, expectations from students and staff are growing. We need to move faster and more systematically to meet their needs in providing more timely (or even instant) feedback, peer-learning and asynchronous learning opportunities. Carr-Chellman (2015) of Penn State University recently challenged us to take a deeper look at how technologies such as interactive screens and gamification might translate between traditional classroom and online settings to create a more powerful learning environment where students are motivated to learn, and that their activities are diverse and aligned with intended learning outcomes. Great potential remains for universities to holistically integrate technology in various dimensions of teaching and learning, hence taking pedagogy, curriculum design and assessment to new heights. More generally speaking, technology can multiply the impact of good teaching (hence, scaling out) and make a positive impact on the equity of access to high quality higher education materials. One often-cited example would be CS50 at Harvard University, an excellent programming course which was once offered on-campus only but is now opened up to a global audience (students in other universities and the general public) for free – thanks to MOOCs. Extending this line of thinking, innovations afforded by technology-enriched learning should not be treated as merely a trend but a strategic resource in the sense that it can help the university to achieve many different goals at the institutional level, including elevating the student learning experience.

Scaling up learning

Pedagogical innovations lead us to the second trajectory, which is to scale up learning – deepen and elevate the impact on each individual student’s learning. This is mainly achieved through research-led learning analytics. It informs us about students’ responses to and engagement with the learning materials.  Detailed research on such behavioral data and the insights generated from such investigations would help teachers to perform just-in-time adjustment to cater for individual differences, hence achieving equity in education, and getting us closer to truly personalized learning. Apart from the fact that we can make high quality learning materials accessible to virtually everyone, innovations such as MOOCs or blended learning also provide many opportunities for teachers to incorporate ideas and examples from a wide range of learners in the global community back into the original teaching package, hence creating value from that diversity to foster the advancement of knowledge (see this article for one example). At HKU, we are developing learning analytics dashboards to help generate insights on direct evidence of learning gains and recommended actions for teachers. We will make further use of behavioral data collected from our learning management systems to improve achievement, anticipate and serve students’ personal needs and curiosity. In addition, we see the potential of aligning learner data that we gathered with intended learning outcomes at course and curriculum levels to generate useful insights for curriculum development.

Regionally speaking, we are also witnessing more initiatives on making better sense of student data with a view to further broadening the access of quality learning materials. For example, the Japan Open Online Education Promotion Council developed the JMOOC portal to connect several MOOC providers with a view to stepping up the promotion of open education across the nation.  In Taiwan, a very well developed K-12 online course platform was gaining popularity and demonstrating to the wider world that the benefits of MOOCs might be translated to K-12 education. Projects around making use of course data and analytics to develop appropriate intervention measures were underway in many Asian universities advocating e-learning.

Collaboration and Impact

To sustain and further excellence in higher education, we need to work side-by-side with teachers and other stakeholders in closely-knitted communities to co-create contents and knowledge, thereby spreading the enthusiasm and cultivating a new teaching and learning culture to make a greater impact. Internally, HKU is expanding our partnership with all faculties to work on small private online courses (SPOCs for short), flipped classroom and gamification. For example, through our development of SPOCs, we are examining the relationship between learning design, online learning behavior and student grades with the input from course teachers through a series of analyses of course structures, production of online learning materials, interviews, ethnographic studies and learning data analytics . We are also learning from our teachers how to better qualify and quantify the impact of e-learning – which carries meaning at three levels:

(i) foundation: that technology-enriched teaching and learning is embedded in the fundamental design of the curricula, cutting through different courses and/ or learning sequences, possibly exemplified as a significant degree of e-learning incorporated in a degree curriculum;

(ii) enhanced: that building on top of the foundation, there are examples of collaborative teaching, co-creation of knowledge, and contents sharing amongst other disciplines, sister institutions and/ or regional partners, industries, etc.

(iii) advanced: that furthering the achievements of the enhanced attainment, teaching and learning is becoming internationalized through bringing in students and collaborators from a global network of institutions, employers, etc.

We see greater potential and impact at the regional level. Thanks to technology, teaching becomes so open and easily accessible that in the near future, it might be possible to incorporate teaching materials from various parties (with permission) to establish databases, or even a “free trading” environment, of learning objects and course materials within and among institutions. This would clearly facilitate collaboration among universities and foster good practices. In 2015, HKU initiated the setting up of a community of practice among seven Hong Kong and Asian universities for the purpose of identifying areas of partnership. The next regional strategic dialogue in May 2016 is expected to focus on consolidated actions in content sharing and co-creation of knowledge.

Way forward

Scaling out leads to better equity. Reaching out to more students with diverse background in turn benefits the original group of students (for example, a HKU class), hence, provide opportunities for scaling up learning. Exciting opportunities notwithstanding, we are working hard on designing a comprehensive framework to assess the effectiveness of pedagogical innovations. We need benchmarks of our performance to prove the value of this new and growing ecosystem of learning. To this end, regional and international agencies (e.g., UNESCO) may have an important role to play in pushing forward more comprehensive and rigorous measures of quality and equity – for the benefit of maximizing the overall value of unprecedented innovations that matter to student learning.



Carr-Chellman, A. 2015. Technologies from Classroom to

Contact info: Ricky Kwok, ricky.kwok[at]

Note: The opinions expressed in the articles included in this newsletter are those of the authors and editors, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of UNESCO, nor of any particular Division or Office.