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SG's speech on "3+3+4" Symposium on "Advanced Teaching and Learning: Evidence, Outcomes and E-learning"

"3+3+4" Symposium - "Advanced Teaching and Learning: Evidence, Outcomes and E-learning"
9:00 am, 4 March 2011 (Friday)

SG, UGC's Speech

Professor Chan (Yuk-shee), distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I am pleased to join colleagues at the symposium today hosted by the Lingnan University. Although this is the second last symposium of the "3+3+4" series sponsored by the UGC, I am glad to see that the enthusiasm of colleagues has not diminished - as demonstrated by the large turnout today - in discussing and sharing ideas on topics in relation to the preparation of our four-year curriculum. We have discussed several key issues, including admission, first-year experience, language, outcome-based learning, general education, and more in the past symposia. And today's topic - e-learning - is equally relevant. And importantly in many of the symposia you have brought in the school sector - our vital partners in this endeavor.

2. The digital revolution is turning our world upside down at an incredible pace. Even Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn (the "fathers of the internet") could not have imagined where their invention would lead. Whether you like it or not, no one would deny the fact that information and communication technologies (ICT) are reshaping our society.

3. On the education front, we are also reaping the benefits from the advent of ICT. Technology provides us with unprecedented means and myriad opportunities to support teaching and learning. E-learning is not that a new concept which over the last decade has promised more than it has delivered. But in recent years it has actually taken off across the education sector. However, what impact has e-learning had - and what will it have - on our teaching and learning? I would like to explore this with the three "Ws" which educators often ask - what motivate students to learn, the way they learn and how well they learn.

4. So what stimulates or prompts our students to learn through e-means? I think that is due primarily to habit - and the fact it is fast, inexpensive and ubiquitous. Youngsters now seem to be physically attached to their communication devices. Using ITC is second nature. Students can look for information through the internet - or from Facebook - in just a few seconds without the hassle of searching through books. Wonderful! Information is available on the web for free. Search engines have become the major sources and tools that help students complete their assignments. And it is more and more common to see students holding a netbook or i-pad, rather than a textbook, to the lecture room. Actually, tapping into them constantly would be a more accurate description.

5. The way students acquire knowledge today is no longer confined to the classroom. Online tutorials and virtual campuses are getting more and more popular. Learning sessions are available around-the-clock, and this gives flexibility to students in arranging their study schedules at their own pace and needs. Through social networks and blogs, students, lecturers and researchers are able to keep in contact and to share their experiences with others instantly.

6. But to quote Bill Gates, "Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting our children working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important." Good teaching is still the main factor that promotes the success of our education system. There is no doubt that the paradigm shift brought by ICT will bring breakthroughs to our prevailing pedagogy. The new "3+3+4" curriculum provides a good opportunity for us to try out new and innovative pedagogy made possible by technology. For instance, teachers can build in more interactive and innovative features in their teaching, so as to enrich the course programme and stimulate student's discussion in the class. I know we need much time, resources and effort to help us to adapt to such transition and perhaps a mindset change among ourselves.

7. While we are enjoying the benefits that ICT offers, we should not ignore the possible drawbacks it brings to our students, especially on language quality. Let me share an observation - most people now prefer typing - tapping would be a better word - rather than writing. Why? Because it is fast, and with the spell and grammar-check functions installed in the computers, we do not need to bother about wrong spelling or grammatical mistakes. But is this good? Probably not. As our society is getting exquisitely dependent on technology, we forget about the basics. I have at an earlier symposium shared with you my personal discouraging experience in chairing a recruitment board and marking papers for the major civil service recruitment examination some years ago, and I am not going to repeat it here. But the problem of the fast deterioration of language mastering among our young generation posed by technology advancement definitely warrants attention. And here comes my third "W" - how well students learn if they are heavily dependent on electronic means? They certainly learn and retain very differently from my generation. Is that good or bad or simply a function of life today? Is it an evolutionary step in Adam Smiths specilisation of skills - or the slippery slope to a mind unclutter by knowledge. I hope that the discussion today may shed some light on it.

8. Talking of which I am sure we all look forward to the speeches and presentations today so probably I should stop here. But before I end, I would like, on behalf of the UGC, to take this opportunity to thank Lingnan University for organising the event today. I also wish you all a fruitful discussion, and the symposium great success! Thank you.