College emphasises excellence in teaching and learning

Theresa Fox

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It may come as a surprise to readers that CityU's College of Higher Vocational Studies caters to more than one third of the students enrolled at the University. "In terms of FTEs we have 4,600--about 35% of the total," said Professor H K Wong, College Principal. Clearly, the changes the College has made in the past year or so--and will make in the near future--have had a significant effect on a large part of our student body.

The higher diploma programmes offered by the College prior to 2000 were notionally vocationally oriented, terminal programmes, modelled after the UK system. "In reality, though, things are a bit different in Hong Kong because students here are very conscious of personal and professional development," Professor Wong said. In fact, nearly 20% went on to further study, with the UK being the preferred location for topping up qualifications because most are admitted as advanced entry students to the final year of degree programmes. "In Hong Kong, because degree programmes are not tailor-made for these higher diploma graduates, they are admitted as advanced entry students to year two." Other than those higher diploma graduates studying full-time, approximately 20-30% are doing part-time topping up degree programmes in Hong Kong as well, offered by offshore UK universities.

Although Form 5 students were admitted to the higher diploma programmes, the majority of students admitted to the College -- nearly 90%, and higher in some programmes -- had A Level results or experience, according to Professor Wong. In view of this, two years ago, "after a lot of soul-searching, discussion, planning and consultation" with colleagues and stakeholders, the College decided to shorten the programmes from three years full-time to two years full-time.

To better reflect the change of emphasis to more broad-based, lifelong learning, the higher diploma award became history and, in March 2000, the University Senate approved the introduction of the award of associate degree. "Even notionally, these are no longer terminal qualifications--we expect them to be one of the stages of learning and development for the students," Professor Wong said.

Learning to learn
With the College emphasis on excellence in teaching and learning, the shortened programmes mean it is extremely important that its students are taught how to study by themselves--learning to learn, in fact. "We try to integrate the teaching of effective learning skills into our normal teaching of the core disciplines," Professor Wong explained. To achieve this aim, the College is collaborating with the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching in a large action research project. And a consultant from the University of Queensland is contributing her expertise in the teaching of effective learning strategies through normal teaching practice.
"We've been holding a number of workshops for our teaching staff. Each time we have about 20-25 staff participating over about five days and we have periodic review workshops as well." Staff learn how to integrate the imparting of effective learning strategies to the students through their normal lectures. So far, two groups of staff have gone through the workshops series. By adding 20-25 staff each semester, the snowball effect will mean that all the College's full-time staff will participate in the course. "Our ultimate aim is that every graduate of our associate degree programme will be an effective learner," said Professor Wong.

Zhejiang University summer programme
The College has also been active in promoting student exchanges with universities overseas -- for example, the US, UK, Australia and Singapore--and in the mainland. It will hold a summer programme at Zhejiang University, where 100 CityU students will do credit-bearing out-of-discipline courses. "The programmes will have a Chinese element -- business practices in China, for instance--so the students can visit relevant organizations and government departments to gain first-hand experience of the business environment and business policies," Professor Wong explained.

The students will also have the opportunity to learn about Chinese architectural heritage and infrastructure development. Zhejiang University is close to Shanghai, so they will go there too, to compare that city's infrastructure development with that of Hong Kong. Cultural tourism is another summer course: students will look at the type of attractions on offer and how China markets cultural tourism while protecting its cultural heritage.

To ensure College standards are maintained, however, the courses will all be basically CityU courses, Professor Wong emphasized. "But we'll be inviting some guest lecturers from Zhejiang University and some community leaders to speak to the students." And those Zhejiang University courses that are at the same level as CityU courses could be integrated into future summer programmes.

Although the summer programme will be the first such trip to the mainland for our students, 20 students from Zhejiang University recently enjoyed the CityU experience, spending around 10 days at the College. "We ran courses for them in English, economic development, big enterprises and developments like the MTR, the principle of one country, two systems, and other special Hong Kong features, such as the ICAC."

Scholarships and prizes
A further indication of the College's commitment to teaching and learning are the scholarships and book prizes available for students. Student Development Services (SDS) has the primary responsibility for getting scholarships from outside organizations but the College has managed to obtain several on its own behalf. It also makes use of its discretionary fund to set up in-house scholarships and to buy book prizes for students. And in addition to encouraging academic excellence, the College makes a point of rewarding students for services to the community, to their fellow students and for outstanding achievements in sports, arts and culture.

An important support group for students is the Student Advisory Team, which is composed of staff members representing the five divisions. Acting as a "bridge of communication" between the University and students, the team organizes leadership training programmes for student leaders, class representatives and group representatives, Professor Wong said. "They also work closely with SDS to promote whole person development activities and also to source further scholarships."

Professor Wong is enthusiastic about a College first for students this summer: Adventure-based Training and Development, a modified version of the Outward Bound programme. "The programmes run for three days and focus on developing independence, reflecting on students' experiences, and what they want to achieve in the future. It's an adventure-based leadership and personal development type of programme." The College plans to subsidize 50 students on the programme.

Promoting teaching excellence
As far as academic staff are concerned, the College continues to promote excellence in teaching and learning. The introduction of annual Contributions to Teaching and Learning Awards, presented to outstanding teachers elected by their own divisions, encourages "peer recognition of fellow colleagues who have made an outstanding contribution to teaching and learning," Professor Wong said. At the presentation ceremony, awardees share their experiences with other staff members, ensuring the dissemination of good teaching practices throughout the College.

The College is also actively promoting web-based teaching and learning. A principal coordinator has been appointed to work in conjunction with a working group--consisting of representatives from all divisions--to assess the potential and limitations of web-based education.

Another of the College's priorities is to promote the continuing personal and professional development of its 200 or so full-time teaching staff. Of these, 20% have PhDs and a further 30% plus are working towards their PhDs. Professor Wong said the College is fortunate in having the resources to promote staff development activities, including providing the opportunity for staff to attend conferences; professional and study visit programmes (either overseas or in China); and exchange and attachment programmes to other universities or industrial and commercial enterprises, through the University's Professional Secondment Grants Scheme.

Adapting to changes
Looking to the future, Professor Wong said CityU has been "very busy" doing the planning and consultation to find the right model and organizational structure to support the government's policy initiative to have 60% of school leavers go on to tertiary education within the next decade. "Our plan to amalgamate the School of Professional and Continuing Education and the College will have a synergistic effect, combining our resources to offer--and expand-sub-degree, life-long learning and continuous professional development programmes."

With its expanded premises, with non-UGC and self-financed programmes already in place, and with the capacity to provide articulation to mainly self-financed bachelor's degree programmes for associate degree graduates, Professor Wong believes the new entity will be a formidable presence in Hong Kong's changing education environment.

"Our ultimate aim is that every graduate of our associate degree programme will be an effective learner."

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