Monday, 30 April 2012

Chinese University of Hong Kong - Day 1; Learning Spaces

I was fortunate to spend two days at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) which is located in Sha Tin, in the New Territories, and about 25 minutes drive from the Chinese Mainland.

View from Transport Hub
Arriving at the University, I discovered that CUHK shared something with the University of Birmingham, a train station called “University”

This is much prettier than ours!!
Like the University of Hong Kong, CUHK is built into a mountainside, but unlike HKU it is located over an extremely wide area.  As a result the only real way to travel through the campus is to use one of the many shuttle busses that run throughout the day and into the evening from the very busy transport hub at the base of campus. 

Extremely necessary facility
At this hub, buses, mini buses and taxis await to transport visitors, students and staff to where ever they wish, either on campus or off.

Transport hub serving the university
The campus is notionally split into 3, the upper level, the mid-level and the lower level.

Just to try to put the size into context, this picture (below) shows the view down the mountain from the United Colleges at the top of campus, it also shows one of the fleet of pink buses that take students around campus from building to building and lecture to lecture throughout the day.  Note the tall green building in the background right in the centre of the picture.

View down the mountain
This tall green building is in fact an Hyatt Hotel, built on university land, but working in partnership with the University to provide training for students in all areas of hospitality management.  This building is actually located by the transport hub at the bottom of campus.

Hyatt Hotel and the Business School (white building)
As with all Universities in Hong Kong (there are 8) the University is investing heavily in it’s infrastructure to ensure that it is ready for the double cohort of students that will be arriving in September as a result of structural changes to the Secondary and University Education system in Hong Kong, To facilitate these changes, the University has developed a Campus Master Plan for developments up to and including 2021

The developments include an extension to the Main Library (the University has 7 libraries on campus) and the creation of 100 new classrooms to accommodate approximately 3,000 extra students.

Main Library
The University has an educational research unit, Centre for Learning Enhancement and Research (CLEAR) which identified that there was a need for evidenced based recommendations to guide the University and co-ordinate the developments and strategies regarding new generation learning environments.

This work was undertaken by two CUHK Academics, Professor Bob Fox (who has since returned to HKU) and Professor Paul Lam.  Details of their study and findings can be found in their paper “Balancing Context, Pedagogy and Technology on Learning Space Designs: Opportunities Amidst Infrastructural Developments in Hong Kong”

A number of papers were received by the University which shaped and influenced the decisions for developments in learning spaces, including the need to create many more smaller rooms which were flexible in their design and supported group interaction and the creation of a number of new Learning Commons for personal study.

Learning Spaces

My first day at CUHK was spent with the Manager of the Audio Visual Services Unit.  I had visited this unit in February very briefly with colleagues from HKU and felt that there was much more to see and learn.

The Team is relatively small and currently reports into Registry Services and is separate and distinct to the University’s IT Service.  It has staff who are able to provide comprehensive support to lectern PC’s and even has a full time Crestron Programmer, which is important as every room is Crestron controlled and managed through “RoomView”.

In the reception area of the Unit there is a touch screen monitor delivering information about the team and it’s services, including short training videos  for equipment created by the technical staff

AVSU Interactive Information unit
The day started with chinese tea and a discussion about the facilities in lecture theatres and seminar rooms.  This discussion was held in the unit’s presentation room which is used not only for meetings and general presentations, but can all be used for small group teaching.

Almost all rooms are equipped as standard with data projection (single or dual), PC’s, DVD playback, visualisers,  sound reinforcement and some form of writing board.  Interestingly though, one or two OHP’s still exist and find their way into some of the rooms!!  Echo360 is the lecture capture system here, Echo have an office in Hong Kong, which makes support much easier to manage.

We then left to go on the campus tour, via the unit van (other vehicles used are motor scooters), and on the way to the car, we saw the porters starting to get the exam desks ready for use….

Getting ready for exams, interestingly, these desks can
be used for students to store items

Law Building

The first stop on the tour was the law building, where a new Moot court has been built, providing a sophisticated facility for teaching and mooting. 

Moot Court
Court simulations with a full audience can be undertaken here managed by staff on the room, or by a technician in the control room.

Control within the room
The room has been set up with 5 cameras to give everyone in the room a view of proceedings..

View from one of the many screens and cameras
Caught on camera!
In the technician’s control room, there is a Sony Anycast unit so that any class can be recorded, edited live and a DVD given to the lecturer for uploading to the iVLE.

Control room with sony any cast system
All of the active participants in the court have access to a radio microphone which are independently switched, with no need for intervention by the technician.

space efficiency, radio mic controls on shelf
On the judges bench is a motorized screen on which he/she can not only watch what is happening elsewhere in the room, but can also receive messages from the “lawyers” which cannot be seen by the audience or the opposing teams.

Judges Screen
Motorised Screen

Can select any view of room, or messages
The events in the moot court can also be relayed to a suite of rooms along the corridor and even into foyer spaces when a special event is being held that the college wants to share with a wider audience.

Seminar Room
Pictures relayed into one or more seminar rooms to enable live group discussion, the audio is one way only

Full view of Seminar room
Access to power etc.

In most rooms the tables have been adapted and have a lift out section for access to power, data and data projection

Foyer display
The picture replayed to the foyer area can be with or without sound

Active Learning Classrooms

CUHK have had a suite of Active Learning Classrooms for some time (2-3 years).

They consist of rooms set up for groups of 8 students who can work with or without technology

Group working tables
The centre section of the table (which have been designed in-house) is removable to expose access to power and to the data projector in the room

Removable section
Access to power, data and data projection
The display of images from each group is easily managed by the teacher through the Crestron control system

Control panel, pages designed in-house
The pages on the crestron system have been designed by the Audio Visual Services unit programmer, and as a result they have been able to create something simple and intuitive, and which the academic staff are happy to use.

Simply touch one of the groups represented by the diamonds
to display that group's laptop
Further to this, the rooms are set up in pairs and have movable partitions to enable a larger single room to be used

Movable partitions
When the two rooms are used as one, the control system allows one room to have control of all AV facilities, and the other acts as a slave.

These rooms are going to be upgraded soon, and it is proposed that each group be given access to their own LCD panel for group work, and also for sharing.

Language Laboratories

A number of language laboratories have been set up using three main layout designs.

The first has students in straight rows facing each other

Language labs, face to face rows
but this means that all of the students are “side on” to the teacher, and both students and teachers have said that they are not fond of this layout

Student view of screen, teacher in the corner
The next layout uses a much more organic “s” shape

"S" shaped layout, less space efficient
 but again, over half of the students have their backs to the teacher, also, their desk space is slightly reduced in order to create the curves, and, I am told, this is not a good set up for examinations

Teacher setting up for an exam
The final layout is much more conventional and appears to be the layout of choice for staff and students.

Round tables for groups of 5
Staff have said that this layout works well for both computer based working, but also the students can easily engage in group discussions over the screens without any difficulties.

Spacious layout
All of the rooms are exactly the same size, and each has the same capacity, but the "S" shaped room was the least efficient, giving a crowded real to the room, the layout with the round tables gave the impression of a lot more space being available in the room.  Teachers are able to get the students to come together as a group in the open central space.

Also, all of the desks in the language labs (regardless of shape) have screens which can be raised for privacy when conducting examinations

Screens in place
The screens are simply lifted into place and a small catch locks them into place.

all these rooms are supported by a member of the Audio Visual Services Unit.

Recording Studio

Finally, on the tour we went to look at a small recording studio co-located with the language laboratories and managed by the same technician.

Small recording studio
This small studio is available for staff and students.  Staff are able to record lectures and other course based materials, and can manage the recording independently, or have the support of the technician.

Facilities within the studio
AVSU Service/booking office

We finished the day with a walk around the gardens at the lower level of campus, with pergolas, koi carp and orchids, delightful!


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    Hong Kong Tutor

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