From Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) on Online Learning Q&As

In the past couple of days I’ve had opportunities to discuss online learning with the Associate Deans (T&L) and, when visiting with the President, with colleagues in the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences. In recent weeks I’ve also had many email conversations with colleagues and students. I figure it makes sense to circulate some of the lessons learned in the form of another FAQ list.

Can the assessment weightings for a course be changed?
This issue has already been discussed within Faculties. The answer is yes, but the window for making such changes will soon close. Normally by this point in the semester we would require full class consent (all students). However, until 4:00pm on February 21 we’re in the extended add/drop period, so as yet there’s no fixed class for each course. This means we can make changes more easily. All colleagues need to do is revise the assessment weightings as they see fit, inform all students registered for the class, update the relevant course information on SIS, and send a record of the change to Faculty Board for endorsement. Students who feel disadvantaged by the change will be able to drop the course. While this is not an ideal option, it is still a choice. Note that this must be done before February 21. Thereafter, full class consent will be necessary.

Should the assessment weightings for a course be changed?
If a course taught this semester relies heavily on a proctored final exam, it would be a good idea, where possible, to reduce the weighting for that component and boost the weighting for other assessed tasks. At this stage in the unfolding coronavirus situation, we remain committed to holding in-person exams in examination halls at the end of the semester. However, if the disruption becomes more severe, we may have to revise our assessment arrangements. Were that to happen, it would be good not to be too reliant on final exams, which we know generate issues that are difficult to manage.

Should teachers require students to switch on their camera and microphone for interactive classes?
I discussed this issue at length with the Associate Deans. We agreed that at the level of University policy we should not require this because it could be intrusive in the home environment in which many students study (even though Zoom has a function enabling the background to be blurred or replaced). At the same time, we recognized that teachers may have strong reasons to encourage students to adopt this practice. A colleague in Arts also made the point that in some courses it may be necessary to ask students to do this because of the nature of the learning materials and tasks.

How can students be encouraged to participate in interactive classes held online?
Many teachers report very positive experiences with online interaction. In particular, use of the chat box function in Zoom can trigger participation from students who ordinarily are quite recessive. Others face challenges and problems, however. One way to encourage interaction would be to introduce an assessment component devoted to participation. Even a 10-15% allocation could make a difference. There are also Zoom functions, such as the ‘attendance tracker’, that enable teachers to monitor student participation and intervene with a question or private message.

How can students be encouraged to view online lectures?
One suggestion made by a colleague in Social Sciences is to ask students to complete a weekly assignment consisting of a brief account of the lecture and a short list of questions related to the material covered in it.

How are students currently located in the Mainland connecting with HKU?
For our online exam (OLEX) platform at the end of the first semester, we secure a leased line from Alibaba. This enables students located in the Mainland to connect with HKU as if they were in Hong Kong. The line is not monitored because it uses a point-to-point https protocol, where the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’. All traffic between the two points is encrypted. For online T&L in this semester, we have again secured a leased line from Alibaba.

How can teachers stay in touch with their students during this period of online T&L?
Moodle remains the best way to keep in touch with students. In addition to any uploaded materials, please do post weekly consultation hours for students to schedule individual conversations with you (using, say, WhatsApp or Zoom). Many students have questions, but they no longer have the option of catching hold of a teacher after a lecture or calling by during office hours. This is also a way to keep the academic advising function going.

How can colleagues share good practice and lessons learned from online T&L?
Some Faculties have created online platforms for teachers to post good and bad experiences of online learning. This is also something we could consider doing for HKU as a whole, linked to Faculty pages. In many Faculties informal groups of colleagues are coming together to share experience and provide mutual support. This is clearly a very welcome development.

How can upload speeds on Zoom be enhanced?
We recognize that Zoom is an outstanding T&L platform and we’re keen to ensure it’s fully available to colleagues. At present we’re exploring options for enhancing Zoom functionality at HKU. In the meantime, however, for obvious reasons upload speeds are better at the ends of the day. It’s also possible to download, say, a recorded lecture from Zoom to a desktop computer or laptop and then upload for students to view through Microsoft OneDrive. Details are available here:

How can teachers learn more about online T&L?
We offer support to teachers through:
– TELI training sessions scheduled by some Faculties, and hopefully ultimately by all Faculties since the feedback is uniformly excellent;
– Updates on TELI website: ;
– TELI gadgets and tools: ;
– TELI e-learning quick start guide;
– TELI e-learning demonstration videos;
– TELI individual consultation sessions with Leon Lei (9162 3384) and Tyrone Kwok (5964 8396), who can both be reached via WhatsApp;
– CETL website:;
– CETL designated Faculty liaison persons: visit, then click “Support for online teaching and learning” (the first iconic picture on the left-to-right scrolling banner). 

As before, many thanks to all and please drop me a line with queries.

Best wishes, Ian

Professor Ian Holliday
Vice-President (Teaching and Learning)