Issuu on Google+

1 Mixed Marriages and the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme

The Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme is a mixed marriage of Fulbright professors from America selected by the Council of International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) to come to Hong Kong to partner up with local universities to work on the development of general education as Hong Kong is reforming the structure and curriculum of its secondary and tertiary systems. The Hosts’ Perceptions of the Guests: Feedback from the Local Universities Where there is yin, there is yang.

On the one hand, there has been

resentment expressed regarding the presumed role and function of Fulbrighters as “consultants,” although the term does not appear anywhere in the MOUs, in the award announcements by the CIES or the HKAC. On the other hand, there has been deep appreciation of their presence, with some even asking for more cohorts to come to set guidelines and platforms for programme assessment, to conduct field experiment, for 2013 - 2014 and 2014 – 2015, to study how GE has impacted 3+3+4, and to teach GE courses. Faculty resistance and apathy were evident. Excuses such as workload, the top-down UGC mandate, distrust of the new pedagogy, and an ignorance of the GE concept and its function were made to justify such resistance. At the same time, hearty appreciation of the Programme (FHKGEP) was also expressed.

The Fulbrighters were perceived as having played the role of

mediators, resolving internal tensions and helping local colleagues to see deeper messages and worthwhile changes with the GE reform, and of ambassadors, bringing the message even to senior administrators. This outside presence was seen as very important especially in the early years because they acted as stimulants and catalysts. Because of the prevailing opinion that there have not been enough colleagues who have ideas and innovative thought, the Fulbrighters have been


2 an intellectual resource while helping local colleagues to visualise what could be done. Equipped with experience and expertise, they knew where and how to help, comment and make suggestions, particularly when the resistance came from senior colleagues in the form of hierarchical bullying.

In the local

environment of resource-grabbing and scanty collegiality, the Fulbrighters were like comrade-in-arms who helped to make the process much less lonely and much less painful for those positively involved in the reform. As individuals, the Fulbrighters are mostly very nice personalities, very sincere, neither condescending nor aggressive, highly adaptable, very ready to help and lend support, extremely conscientious and constructive, as well as proactive. In some cases, it could be an issue of expectations. In general, the contributions of each individual Fulbrighter were enormous and they spent a lot of time on GE with the faculty. Professionally, these cohorts of Fulbrighters have made significant contributions. Their expertise had helped in the review of course proposals, onthe-job training for the local faculty, curriculum design and giving valuable input for implementation of GE courses.

Through them, there was intramural

university collaboration - a rare phenomenon in Hong Kong. An important function of the Fulbrighters was their role as soundingboards to help local colleagues to reflect deeper. This give-and-take experience was perceived as invaluable as the Fulbrighters all came from different disciplines, different institutions and different backgrounds such that the diversity itself offered a range of perspectives. This same value, by contrast, has been seen by some as useless for Hong Kong, since most of the Fulbrighters came from smaller U.S. institutions, grew up in simpler, more rural environments and are unversed in Hong Kong society and academic culture. For this reason, it would be important for the Fulbrighters each to teach a course, that they may learn about Hong Kong students. Oddly, not every one of them was assigned teaching by the host institutions, a decision that contravenes the conditions of the Award and the MOUs.


3 Whether the match between host and guest worked out or not, as has been indicated, depended to a large extent on the senior administration. If the latter made an effort to engage the guest-scholar, much benefit could be reaped; if, however, the engagement was left to the faculty, very little would happen. In some institutions, Cohorts 3 & 4 were not employed effectively, thus leaving the guest-scholars on the fringes. All in all, the prevailing opinion was that none of the institutions had a good administration policy for the guest-scholars. Frequent reference to the Hong Kong-America Centre was made in a positive one, giving it credit for its role as enthusiastic facilitator engaging everyone in all the institutions across the spectrum, and finding its work of building bridges between institutions wonderful. The negative, regrettably, not only did not find the Programme (FHKGEP) useful, but also lamented the institutional resources having been wasted on it and queried the sums that were “downloaded to the HKAC.” This undertone of aversion to America originated from the interpretation of the function of the Programme as a kind of U.S. interference, with America presuming that it has been sending experts in the role of consultants to help Hong Kong to build its GE. Not few local colleagues found the idea of the Programme patronising, hence their sentiment, annoyance. When yin exhausts itself, yang appears. The Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme is hailed, as we have seen, by some as opportune to have brought in scholars from the United States. Yin yang operate simultaneously. The Guests’ Collective Reactions: Overall Comments Across the Four Fulbright GE Cohorts

On the Host Institutions The hospitality of the hosts is vouched with enthusiasm and appreciation, the sophistication of the administrative system of Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions is viewed with awe, and the efficiency and competence are greeted with


4 admiration. Hong Kong, with its colonial history, its current unique situation as a Special Administrative Region in the People’s Republic of China, its privileges of rights and freedom, and its rule of law, is fascinating. Equally is its curious mix of an almost excessive materialist capitalist existence with strong undercurrents of an old world culture of elderly respect, family ties and friendliness to foreigners. But the hosts’ households. Faculty resistance, top-down administration, absence of transparency and openness, uncommunicativeness between senior administration and the rest of the institution, heavy faculty workload, senior administration and faculty ignorance of, indifference to, or inexperience with GE, top-down pedagogy by UGC mandating the Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning methods, the low status of GE as an educational vision, the researchdriven culture versus emphasis on teaching, and a subconscious academic arrogance conscious of high international ranking, are characteristics commonly perceived by all the guest-scholars.

The solutions suggested are more

communication, more transparency, more genuine openness within and without, with policies of faculty development and reward for teaching in place, and a conceptual and not merely practical appreciation of GE.

On the HKAC This match-maker has been commonly lauded for being an excellent facilitator, great coordinator and task master who directed Team Fulbright to visit and consult with faculty and administration in all the tertiary institutions, whose leadership, vision, energy and enthusiasm have been absolutely fabulous. Its Executive Director was regarded as a de facto member of all of the four cohorts of Fulbrighters, and the professionalism of its staff appreciated.

On the Programme (FHKGEP) The rewarding experience echoes across all four cohorts; the opportunity for its learning experience ardently appreciated while a healthy sense of professional fulfilment felt by the Fulbrighters for the help and support they have


5 lent to this momentous GE reform when Hong Kong is perched for unprecedented change in its educational systems.

On the U.S. Consulate It goes without saying that the said Consulate’s support has been delightfully received.

On the Benefactors Educators with visions, the Fulbright scholars’ appreciation of the vision of Mr. and Mrs. Po and Helen Chung makes language an inadequate tool for articulation.

The foresight to connect Hong Kong with American experts on

General Education renders the Programme that lasted for four consecutive years a match unprecedented both in the history of the Fulbright Award and in Hong Kong’s higher education.

Self-Perceived Contributions of Team Fulbright All four Teams perceived themselves as models of cooperation of scholars from different institutions, systems and backgrounds, and as such they were catalysts for inter-institutional connections and conversations between the local institutions.

They therefore brought universities together to face common

challenges through collaboration.

By acting as a team to go around all the

institutions, they enabled some institutions to share resources with the rest. It was an atmosphere of positive intramural support that they were helping to foster.

Moreover, they helped break barriers between faculty by sowing the

efficiency of collaboration and inspired constructive management, thereby not only improving communication but helping to move things forward.

Through

collaborative workshops, luncheon meetings, they helped institutions to see what it takes to make institutional changes successful, that is, consensus-building, transparency and active communication. More specifically, Team Fulbright also acted as GE specialists academically, administratively and strategically. They clarified goals, designed


6 courses, articulated administrative structures such as for procedures and committees for vetting course and programme proposals, and improved review processes.

They participated in faculty development workshops, acted as

instructors, informed coaches and trainers of the new pedagogy, stressing interdisciplinarity and team teaching while underscoring the basic principles of Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning, and best practices. They were also heavily involved in reviewing course proposals.

Chronological Sketch of Individual Fulbright Contribution to Institutional Development of GE Each sketch is put together from the Fulbright reports screened chronologically.

To protect their identity, individuals and institutions remain

anonymous.

Institution A GE leadership existed upon the Fulbrighter 1’s arrival, whose presence facilitated more campus involvement and information sharing, more engagement from senior administrator, putting Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning in order and moving things forward. A few difficulties were identified: staffing, programme planning, budgeting, the need for GE policy and procedures to be in place and the existence of internal strife. Two suggestions were proposed: that of setting the budget for the next year and deliberating on rewarding teaching. Fulbrighter 2 quotes rationale for GE, graduate attributes, PILOs and CILOs from the website, thus reflecting the progress made.

Two stages of

development were reported, with 2006 - 2008 as the Experimental Stage and 2009 - 2012 as the Gearing-up Stage. Fulbrighter 2A came with the last cohort to find her host institution making major changes. A niche was found to emphasise discovery in student learning. GE was rebranded as Gateway Education. Fulbrighter 2A found herself a voting member of two committees, the Gateway Education Programme Committee (GEPC) and the General Education Evaluation Programme (GEEP), where she


7 played an active role in meetings, discussions and drafting of PILO 10. The institution of GEPC ensures a firm step towards faculty ownership and sustainability of GE as reflected by strong representation of colleges and schools on the committee. Fulbrighter 2A assisted over thirty faculty in the development of GE courses for science and engineering. The reluctance by these disciplines to offer interdisciplinary courses was expressed to the guest-scholar as a form of reticence to overstep themselves in another field. Her experience at her home institution with Discovery Learning was brought to bear when she helped faculty at Institution A to embrace its discovery-enriched curriculum. Fulbrighter 2A was further engaged in vetting applicants for the post of Senior Education Development Officer to enhance EDGE support of discovery learning as well as vetting the Fulbright applicants.

She was included in reviewing Teaching

Development Grant proposals in addition to having conducted a number of workshops either singularly or with other Fulbrighters at the host university, its community

college,

other

universities

and

community

colleges

on

interdisciplinarity, undergraduate research, or her own specialty of book design, the latter of which she did so also in Seoul, Osaka and Indonesia. As her host institution actually hosted the International GE Conference in June 2012, Fulbrighter 2A supported it by sitting on the Advisory and Programme Committees while designing the logo and conference identity.

Institution B Fulbrighter 3 arrived finding the host institution resentful of the guest’s presence, with consultancy being a major issue. Efforts were made to divert Fulbrighter 3’s attention on GE with the result that a new role was recast in the administration of GE. Workshops were offered on PILOs while services were rendered to other local institutions, which worked out well. Institutional top-down approach to Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning caused much faculty resistance.

Suggestion was made to the host institution to devise a reward

system for teaching GE.


8 Fulbrighter 4 saw the predecessor’s role in curriculum design the year before which should be completed in the current year along with the need for vetting the courses. A conceptual problem facing GE is the balance that should be maintained between content and engagement although, given Hong Kong’s situation, the emphasis might have to be placed on a student-centred pedagogy. The greatest obstacles at the host institution at the time were: a faculty who would not buy-in GE; a culture of parents’ pragmatic expectations complemented by students’ expediency towards course work; and requirements which were often perceived as an unavoidable part of a sentence that has to be endured. A distinction was pointed out between University GE and College GE by Fulbrighter 5.

While the former is well-established with staff, curriculum,

assessment in place, the latter urgently needs improvement in course design, course content and assessment, staffing and best practice. The senior seminar awaits major improvement given its no-credit, project-based final year design. Implicit is the need to recognise and reward faculty workload and its effect on the quality of teaching and morale.

Department GE similarly requires reform.

Seeing the four cohorts as a continuum, Fulbrighter 5 was the third in line, with Fulbrighter 3’s contribution lying in the alignment of learning outcomes, defining breadth areas and articulating GE terms and goals, while Fulbrighter 4 offering services in writing-intensive workshops and capstone experiences, and serving in the second stage of the pilot programme; suggestion was made to his successor to work for reform of CGE. Meanwhile a self-evaluation and review process was taking place during this second stage of the pilot programme;

Fulbrighter 5

foresees final decisions having to be made in the next year on tutorial pedagogy, team-teaching, assessment and assignment. A possible option for addressing the problem of staffing is the hiring of post-doctoral scholars from overseas to teach part-time and to do research. A further consideration on the problem of staffing is granting GE teachers equal faculty status. This kind of separatism exists beyond the circle of GE teachers vis-à-vis other faculty and is evident in the non-communication between the UGE and the Centre for Learning Enhancement and Research, a phenomenon not so constructive for the teaching


9 of GE. A few suggestions were made to celebrate, continue, change, collaborate and connect. The sequence of development is not evident in the successor’s role. Fulbrighter 6 did not see value or worth in the presence of any Fulbrighter at the host institution. Instead, it is strongly suggested that the host institution should be advising American universities on GE, given the superiority of the former’s programme. A common point reiterated is the need for rewarding GE teachers.

Institution C A member of the first cohort, Fulbrighter 7 presents a description of the goals, objectives, values and attributes from the host institution’s website. A list of broad areas, a chart on Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning and a description of GE regulations for 2010 – 2012 are also included.

Institution D Faculty leadership with a careful and thoughtful approach was evident at this host institution and a system of vetting course proposals was beginning when Fulbrighter 8 arrived. Insightful, Fulbrighter 8 perceived that internal rivalry was a problem as was an incoherent and fragmentary core curriculum. Faculty resistance

pervaded

from

the

Pro-Vice-Chancellor’s

Office

while

the

extraordinary lack of transparency and openness were institutional aspects that had to be addressed.

A conceptual question was thrown up for reflection:

Could the vision of GE really be achieved by one course or a set of courses? Fulbrighter 9 found his role auxiliary and tangential. His host institution’s urgent need was to reconfigure GE by redefining concepts because new terms imply new approaches which require new mentality. For example, Fulbrighter 9 pointed out that “rigour” in GE actually means interconnectivity, “research” in GE is done through interdisciplinarity which should be organised around a disciplinary formation of knowledge, while the first year experience should be formalised for new students to adapt to university life and to prepare for major


10 study. Urgency for faculty participation through reward and faculty development and reaching out to parents and society was underscored. In a spirit of collegiality, ten “commonplace recommendations� were offered: (1) active pedagogies with a range of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary GE faculty should be used; (2) since Hong Kong’s system needs to be more student centred, high impact interactive practices which include experiential and community-based education should be adopted; (3) more focussed attention should be given to Business, Law and Engineering for their insufficient engagement with GE; (4)

a core teaching faculty devoted to GE should be

developed to complement departmentally based faculty; (5) more role for Fulbrighters as trainers, instructors and coaches; (6) more support for the development of academic support services and the need for more experienced English Language instructors; (7) similar systematic training for secondary schools in liberal studies; (8) develop student and parent ambassadors to articulate connections between the pragmatics of successful workforce and those of GE; (9) develop workshops for university administrators about cross- and interdisciplinarity; and (10) continue exchange of ideas, practices and capabilities from overseas universities. Fulbrighter 10 provided a brief, descriptive account of the graduate attributes, intended learning outcomes and a concise account of the evolvement of the Common Core Curriculum from two broadening courses to each CCC course consisting of two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial per week. Armed with advice from his predecessor, Fulbrighter 11 knew beforehand that his services would not be employed for what the Award stipulated, so that he pitched in wherever he could, even designing grading rubrics for class participation. A sounding-board especially for the Director of GE at his host institution, he saw his contribution the most important in this respect. It was regrettable that conceptual discussions were not carried out in that institution. The value of liberal education is perceived as important for the workforce rather than for its own sake should, in the first place, not be a bone of contention for a university which is the seat of intellectual exchange. The exaggerated hopes


11 placed on GE were cautioned against. There was moreover little reflection on the necessity to distinguish between a broadening course and an introductory course, to appreciate the meaning and significance of interdisciplinarity and how such courses ought to be designed, to deliberate on the meaning of General Education such that clarity of purpose could be exercised with respect the collaborative, group social skills, and experiential components of a course. The meaning of active learning, too, requires more careful reconsideration.

Institution E The first Fulbright hosted by this institution only arrived with Cohort 3. Fulbrighter 12 utilises the institution’s website to describe briefly its GE programme, graduate attributes, core curriculum, the five clusters of courses and the five points for the programme intended learning outcomes. Fulbrighter 13 joined the last cohort but was hosted for only the first term of the academic year. Impressed with the thoughtful, well-conceived, innovative, state of the art programmes at all the local institutions, his job as a member of the last cohort lay in pedagogy. Hong Kong is found to be neither more nor less traditional than the U.S. in this respect, with enough faculty doing exciting things. Impediments, such as typical faculty inertia exacerbated by institutional obsession with publications reinforced by the attendant rewards that are tied in with government funding policies, could be overcome by a system that rewards teaching development activities driven by the University Grants Council. This sensible solution suggested by Fulbrighter 13 is complemented with the insightful distinction made between Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning approaches as a teaching development matter and OBTL used for quality assurance to assess programmes, not individual courses.

A measure to ease faculty

resentment is to recognise this distinction, which has the important consequence of protecting faculty creativity and autonomy in their course design and execution.

Detached in his macro survey of how the land might lie for Hong

Kong’s higher education, Fulbrighter 13 foresees a phenomenon possibly neither intended nor desirable, that of a homogeneous picture with all these institutions


12 sporting General Education with similar vision and programmes, learning assessments and outcomes and, above all, the new pedagogy. Suggestion is made with respect the importance of diversity and pluralism in tertiary education for cultural, economic and political vibrancy of an international metropolis like Hong Kong.

Institution F Fulbrighter 14 arrived with Cohort 2. His quarter-of-a-century experience in GE helped him little at his host institution where faculty resistance against GE and resentment against Fulbright presence rivalled each other. Self-reflection, cultural awareness, eagerness to adapt, readiness to alter teaching styles amounted to little in opening the arms and minds of the local colleagues. His contributions are negative lessons to be learnt by an inward-looking faculty, teachers themselves in the city’s school system bearing the sombre task of educating generations of children and adolescents. Fulbrighter 15 was a surrogate at Institution F although he belonged to another host institution.

A member of Cohort 3, he was better received, a

feature that was a positive reflection of institutional improvement.

Months,

however, slipped by when attention zeroed in on “Terms of Reference” and similar matters of accuracy. The Fulbrighter’s suggestion that they should be seeing themselves as a Task Force rather than a Governance Committee was not only immediately dismissed but the appropriateness of his membership on the said committee was also disputed.

While the overall approach was

thoughtful and the programme with three broadening courses from three areas is respectable, the purpose of the foundation course was unclear.

This was

worsened by the structure of the lecture series whereby chair professors lecture with no meaningful thematic connections with each other.

Another potential

problem detected by Fulbrighter 15 was the unusual role played by faculty in these courses:

while they would be entrusted with responsibilities to direct

tutorials, they are not required to go to the chair professors’ lectures. While the Director of the GE Office was committed, there was little support from the top


13 administration. It was regrettable that Teams Fulbright’s variety of skills and experiences had not been utilised for the progress necessary. Fulbrighter 15’s contributions, therefore, derived from his clarity of thought in sifting the weaknesses of a programme in the process of reform.

Institution G A member of Cohort 2, Fulbrighter 16 arrived to find that the development of GE at the host institution was well underway, with a structured plan and in the process of reviewing courses. Suggestion was made to render Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning less rigid in order to leave room for faculty creativity in the design and assessment of their courses.

To local colleagues, it was

recommended that a good GE course could be conceived as the first and last course that a non-major would ever take. External review that was carried out would not be efficacious as that deprived faculty of a sense of ownership, which would be detrimental to faculty morale. Team teaching would only be a good idea if the workload of each of the two members of the team would still be regarded as a full-course workload and not a half-course workload;

this is

because good teaching in a team is equally demanding. A further, rather urgent, need of the host institution was a director for GE. Like some fellow Fulbrighters, this one perceived JUPAS hindrance to students’ choice and interest, not to mention, contradictory in its practice to the vision of GE. For the Fulbrighters themselves, teaching was strongly recommended, an agreement oddly not often lived up to by the host institutions.

Looking at education from beyond turf

concerns, Fulbrighter 16 proposed that universities should reach out to the federation of community colleges and that the next cohort should take that up. Since her predecessor’s contributions were more in the area of structural changes, Fulbrighter 17 perceived that hers lay more in acting as mediator between the GE Office and the disciplines, as ambassador to encourage departments to decide on the GE courses they would offer, and as reviewer of new GE interdisciplinary courses. Hands-on help with pilot courses, feedback for course proposals and sharing of views comprised some of the services rendered.


14

Institution H At this host institution, GE was in an undesirable state of low status and low morale.

The institution’s mission as deliverer of technicians for the job

market and a legacy that a technical institution had no use for analytical or creative thinking made institutional resistance to UGC’s mandate to develop GE almost an expectation. There was little awareness of GE’s importance and little consensus building due to a culture of top-down management reinforced by insufficient communication and lack of transparency that are prevalent in all Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions. A commercial style client-patron culture that heeds student evaluation and enrolment inadvertently encouraged students to be dictators, not partners, of education.

Changing the course credit from three to

two and the grading system to Pass/Fail greatly diminished the credibility of GE courses among colleagues and students. Students’ attitude towards GE is part of a local student culture where pragmatism and expediency override the importance of learning, a culture that is handed down from their parents. JUPAS, which places students according to a merit order list compiled by admissions tutors of the nine participating institutions over students’ own choice of interest, further diminishes interest in knowledge and constrict learning opportunities. Fulbrighter 18’s contributions lay not only in these conceptual, structural and administrative perceptions, but also in strategic planning and ambassadorial roles given the marginalised position of the GE Centre. Suggestion was given on the need to develop a Quality Assurance System that will incorporate OBTL, a move that was necessary to make the latter effective. Recommendation was offered to set up a new teaching staff whole-heartedly dedicated to GE and with no research expectations. A contribution Team Fulbright made in one of their workshops on the ways to make institutional changes more successful was reiterated:

consensus-building, transparency and active communication are

crucial. To his amazement, when Fulbrighter 19 came onto the scene, the host institution had taken a drastic, upward progression. The new Vice President for


15 Academic Development’s devotion to GE had resulted in a great leap forward in GE’s improvement despite faculty resistance. The inadequacy of the institution’s GE Programme was admitted, the necessity of curriculum reform affirmed, the critical importance of language skills underscored, and an administrative structure was in place with the Committee on General and Language Education with

its

five

committees

overseeing

the

modified

General

University

Requirements under which was a Task Force to review foundational programmes in Chinese and English. A challenge the institution must address was staffing: the need for qualified staff with training and expertise in GE to teach. GE staff should be given a role in course management as stake-holders is equally important. It was not surprising that Fulbrighter 20 found herself amidst fast progress upon her arrival at the host institution. GE was refocused into seven high-impact practices with leadership training, freshmen seminar, service learning and strong focus on reading and writing. Several important aspects of the GE programme were deliberated on.

Fulbrighter 20 shared similar experiences that had

occurred in the United States, led focus groups with students and faculty, observed tutorials, interviewed tutors and instructors, designed and administered pre- and post-course surveys, and put the committee in touch with American institutions that have been successful with common reading programmes. Suggestions were made to convey educational expectations to students upon their entry while GE advising should be implemented and should partner up with advising in the major. Meanwhile reaching out to students and parents to explain the value of GE is no less important than the creation of a learning community and the revival of a learning-to-learn programme. Fulbrighter 21 thus arrived to tell a positive story of a sound structure that was already in place.

This sound structure was moreover backed by a

philosophy of developing the whole student.

The unique features of service

learning and the leadership course were exemplified by the emphasis on selfdiscovery and interpersonal relationship. A mature GE administrative structure was firmly in place with the Director of Undergraduate Studies reporting to the


16 Vice President of Academic Development and an Office of Academic Advising materialising in the summer. Fulbrighter 21 had the fulfilling opportunity to be granted teaching at his host university. His contributions to pedagogy were in the form of offering workshops. To assist in enhancing the service learning aspect of the programme, he helped the host institution to join an international community outreach programme between Duta Wacona Christian University in Indonesia and the Australian National University. Another function served by Fulbrighter 21 was his workshop on grant writing for the local colleagues. He also assisted the Faculty of Humanities to apply for a grant from the European Union Commission to fund a few European-themed issue courses and to support GE type outreaches to the Hong Kong public. All in all, he had worked with the GE Centre, the Education Development Centre and the Division of Student Affairs. A subdued voice of academic politics that preceded his arrival was echoed along with the sound of insufficient transparency in matters of funding and staffing. His words of caution to community colleges, if heeded, would help them to avoid the hindrances experienced by the UGC-funded institutions in the past four years. Programme and Curriculum Description of General Education at Hong Kong’s Universities1

Administrative Structure Despite a variety of nomenclature used, GE is essentially overseen by middle to senior management, often with the former also reporting to the latter.

Funding Models These vary from greater transparency to greater opaqueness with similar variation of smaller to considerable budget.

Learning Outcomes

1

The following section relies on data supplied by GE Fulbright Cohort, 2011-2012, “General Education at Hong Kong’s Universities Program and Curriculum Descriptions,” Hong Kong, June 2012.


17 On the whole, learning outcomes are clearly defined across the spectrum by all the institutions with the GE course content aligning with GE learning outcomes. Appropriate processes exist for their legitimisation. Formally in place and often quite elaborate in content and procedure, Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning, as some Fulbright scholars have reiterated, are devised for accreditation purposes to assess the quality of programmes. To apply OBTL rigidly, therefore, constrict intellectual creativity of the professors and is one of the causes of faculty resentment.

Assessment Plan Some institutions employ external consultants or reviewers of academic calibre, some use both internal and external assessors, while others prefer solely internal means. For the latter, student course surveys, programme level exit survey, alumni focus group study and/or annual reports are some of the choice methods.

Staff Perception of Signature Aspects At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the three complementary components of College GE, GE Foundation and University GE are unique. The two foundation courses, “In Dialogue with Humanity” and “In Dialogue with Nature,” that form university requirement cover major texts and milestones in humanistic and scientific achievements. City University of Hong Kong prides itself on its Discovery-enriched Curriculum which emphasises discovery and innovation. Its three-credit core course on Chinese Civilisation, - history and philosophy, - aims at helping students to discover their self-identity in the unique environment of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Baptist University stands out with its core course on public speaking and its one distribution course requirement. At the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a service learning experience is required of all students while a course on “Leadership and Intrapersonal Development” is mandatory for all.

A pioneer attempt in Hong Kong is the


18 establishment of an Office of Advisement to lend student guidance on the choice of GE courses. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is distinguished by its broad-based design of seven areas from which students can choose one course in each area. These areas are science and technology, social analysis, humanities,

quantitative

reasoning,

English

communication,

Chinese

communication and healthy lifestyle. The provision of hands-on art courses and the introduction of interdisciplinary school-sponsored courses in the Common Core Programme form part of its outstanding features. A liberal arts college, Lingnan University has built into its undergraduate curriculum a strong general education emphasis. Its eighteen credit hours of language with six in Putonghua and twelve in English, plus thirty-three credit hours of general education stand the institution in good stead as a genuine liberal arts university in Hong Kong. An unusual course, “Making of Hong Kong,” is a common core that still faces “difficulties in defining the scope of the course and in integrating the topics from multiple disciplines.” The University of Hong Kong seems to hold the view that the philosophy and educational values of the Common Core are its commitment to a nontraditional thematic approach that rises above disciplinary boundaries. This is what makes the Common Core coherent and distinctive. Relation between Teaching and Learning and General Education2 Institution M: So far there has been little collaboration between the two sectors due to personality conflict, although the situation is likely going to improve when there is personnel change. Institution N:

An office with rather different nomenclature is set up to

strengthen the teaching and learning environment. Staff development towards the adoption of OBTL and the promotion of the effective use of e-learning technologies form part and parcel of this new office.

2

To protect institutional and individual reputation, a different set of letters of the alphabet are used.


19 Institution O: Both the GE and T&L offices offer workshops for faculty development. The former has also been offering GE Dialogue workshops with up to eleven of them being offered this academic year. Institution P:

The two sectors are separate and report to different

administrators while the educational development centre and the university requirement programme both report to the provost.

Senior administration is

supportive. Institution Q: The two sectors work closely to support faculty teaching and development.

Workshops on course design based on OBTL and technical

support are offered.

The two sectors also collect data for quality assurance

purposes. Institution R:

On paper, the two sectors are separate, each under a

different Associate Vice President.

In practice, however, the teaching and

learning sector have a director active in both teaching and learning and GE. Institution S: The director of Common Core is an affiliate member of the teaching and learning sector and has at least one associate professor from the latter working with him, although the latter is not directly involved with the business of the former.

A variety of programmes and services are offered to

strengthen teaching in general, which includes GE.

Classroom Modalities for GE Courses The Foundation Programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong offers the weekly course in the manner of one lecture and two tutorials. Department GE courses run the gamut, some incorporating learner-centred activities while others are lecture-based.

Institutional preference may be

reflected in the teaching awards being granted to courses with an array of modalities with online components and out-of-class activities. City University, for its part, has been fine-tuning its GE curriculum into Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning approach. It has adopted a studentcentred approach for delivering education programmes. This can be exemplified


20 by the institution’s online student guide, which provides information on the concept of OBTL. Hong Kong Baptist University will use lecture-tutorial sessions with a class size of fifty. Where appropriate, field trips, class visits, outside speakers, plays and performances form part of the learning experience. Hong Kong Polytechnic University will also use the lecture-tutorial style. During the double-cohort year, classes may be large, upwards of one hundred. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology allows instructors discretion to choose the mode of teaching they deem appropriate. Lectures are supported by tutorials. As a science and technology institution, laboratory and demonstration sessions are used, just as field trips and visits or outdoor activities may be included. Lingnan University uses a variety of modalities, depending on the professor’s preference. Some foundation courses may be lecture-tutorial style while others, section-based. The size of lectures tend to be large, upwards of one hundred to hundred and fifty; tutorials are about two dozen students each; sectional courses are composed of some three dozen students; and cluster courses have forty. The University of Hong Kong will have its common core courses offered in lecture-tutorial style of over one hundred students each. What’s more to be done at this stage? Institution T: There is some urgency to engage in faculty training. It is moreover necessary to staff its humanities and science courses. Institution U: Everything seems to be under control. Only a handful of nuts and bolts need addressing, such as having to fine-tune a few courses. Institution V: Apart from having to improve the existing insufficient budget, simplifying and rendering efficient some bureaucratic procedures will economise time for the faculty. Entrusting the Director of GE the authority to approve minor changes in course content is a simple move that reaps great benefits.


21 Institution W: Since it looks ahead, it anticipates taking a few more steps. A longitudinal study of student enrolment will help to better project supply and demand in this new era of 3+3+4. The new school-sponsored courses that are interdisciplinary in nature will have to have their course attributes better defined for course review and quality assurance.

A quality assurance process for

reviewing the implementation quality of courses and another for programme review are in the planning process. Institution X:

Assessment will be a serious challenge.

Much more

consideration has to be given to assessing student learning outcomes. There is urgency for the appointment of a full-time director to provide leadership, especially in devising a high-quality assessment process. An unfortunate history of implementing OBTL has soured faculty to its value. Faculty autonomy and academic freedom are important values that need not be compromised by an appropriate approach to OBTL. Institutional Y: Logistical concerns, such as classroom availability, timetabling, and office space have to be worked out. Other administrative challenges exist. Institution Z:

Effective time-tabling has also to be addressed.

Correspondingly, first-year programming for students, the embedding of Discovery-enriched Curricular (DEC) into an increased number of GE interdisciplinary courses, and curricula mapping of the GE Programme with DEC and graduate outcomes are steps awaiting attention.

Given the complexity

stated, student advising about GE is crucial and must be institutionalised.

The Teachers With respect to its University General Education, the Chinese University of Hong Kong boasts of full-time instructors all with a doctorate although they are not tenured.

The picture of College GE, however, is fuzzier and it seems

unclear as to the number of part-time, temporary or visiting hands that are employed by the different colleges.


22 Instead of hiring locally, City University of Hong Kong is proposing the CItyU International Transition Team Scheme of appointing Graduate Teaching Assistants from overseas on short-term basis to provide intensive help to CityU’s students with their English. A category of Postdoctoral Fellows for foreigners will exist also to undertake language support duties in addition to research collaboration with CityU’s faculty. A third category of a one-year renewable fulltime English teachers with a bachelor’s or master’s degree forms part of the new scheme. There is no indication that apart from their job as English teaching assistants, they will have any role at all in GE teaching despite the substantial academic training received by those who fall within the first two categories. At Hong Kong Baptist University, the decision on who is to teach GE courses rests with the individual departments, with those which offer core courses such as language also engaging temporary help.

It is possible for

visiting or part-time teachers to apply to the Director of GE for a full-time post and the application will be reviewed and approved by the Vice President for Academic Affairs. There is encouragement for the departments to involve senior members to teach GE. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University relies on the departments or disciplines to offer GE courses. Given the double cohort, additional temporary faculty will be hired while some instructional duties will be assumed by graduate teaching assistants. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology equally relies on the regular faculty to teach the common core courses while occasionally engaging visiting academics to co-teach. The arts courses will be taught by practitioners on part-time basis. Lingnan University is a liberal arts institution set up without any mathematics or science faculty. Since the new core curriculum includes a cluster requirement called Science, Technology and Society, it will have to engage parttime, temporary or visiting faculty to teach some of the courses while other courses are taught by existing faculty in the departments.


23 The University of Hong Kong only uses full-time, permanent staff. The large lectures are offered by them while the tutorial sections are held by teaching assistants.

Distinguished visiting professors may be allowed to teach, but a

regular faculty has to be the official course supervisor.

To the Manor or Manger Born? The Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme can be said to have been most successful on the American side. The agreement to assist and support the General Education curriculum reform has been more than fulfilled by every cohort so long as these guest-scholars had been allowed to participate. In reality, most of the Fulbright GE scholars had been directed, more often than not, into many duties other than those stipulated in the Award or MOUs.

Their

teaching responsibility, for example, was too often not arranged by the host institutions in Hong Kong. Upon their return, they have all been putting their experience to good use within their home institution, spreading what they have observed, learnt and experienced to other institutions within the United States and abroad either through direct invitations or conferences, as well as through publication. By doing so, they continue to contribute to Hong Kong’s General Education reform and to their host institutions by being their ambassadors and, above all, by putting Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions on the world map. On the Hong Kong side, concrete benefits have obviously been reaped by the participating institutions. A degree of professional incivility shown by the host institutions made the guest-scholars’ visits awkward. Non-attendance at workshops, seminars, and any such services offered by the guest-scholars was a form of collective boycott. Most institutions boast of tens of hundreds of professors of all sorts of levels, lecturers, instructors, demonstrators and teaching assistants full time and part time. Over the four years of the FHKGEP, attendance by twenty-five percent of them would have more than filled up a room each time. Professional discourtesy aside, the curious absence of the intellectual desire to learn from and share with fellow, albeit overseas, colleagues is the least flattering disposition of any scholar, whose inclination is to enquire. Workload


24 could only provide a lame pretext when one to two hours could not be spared within a space of four years. Above all, institutional pride and identity should be sufficient for collegiate participation.

Looking Ahead (A) Teaching Not few institutions adopt the method of engaging senior professors to teach while using tutors or teaching assistants for the tutorials. This seems to be the traditional, colonial way of teaching large lecture courses which, in turn, seems to be a modified version of Oxford University’s university lectures delivered by university lecturers and professors with tutorials being taught by college tutors who are themselves learned fellows and scholars. That is to say, the term, “tutors,” refers to those on equal footing with lecturers and professors. Smaller Classes Taught by the Professors Themselves: The question to reflect upon is the grounds for adopting the professor lecturing and the tutor/teaching assistant tutoring system for general education courses. Apart from logistical reasons, is it also due to the concern for providing a “common experience” for every student? If so, what does “common” mean? Everyone taking one particular core course will have attended the lectures of the same professor, and yet being tutored by different tutors of more junior intellectual calibre? Is it necessary that one voice be given to the course content and texts, especially when the whole range of reading can never be covered by the lectures? In short, what is learnt in the lectures is quantitatively restricted by the number of lecture hours, which means that the common experience is not so substantial. That being the case, could it not be an option to split the large lectures into smaller classes so that there can be more personalised and interactive teaching and learning, with the professors marking the course work themselves? The success of GE relies on the quality of the courses which, in turn, depends on quality marking assuming, no doubt, that professors take their job seriously. Use of Overseas Postdoctoral Scholars and ABDs (All-but-Dissertation):


25 A proposal exists to employ these two categories to perform part-time English language duties while engaging them as research collaborators or allowing them to do their own research.

This idea is beneath respectable

academic institutions to implement given the inherent cynicism and exploitative approach. A postdoctoral scholar is a junior member in the republic of scholars and should be engaged to teach her/his subject or specialty, and not used as an English teaching assistant. Instead, these junior scholars could be used more effectively as tutors for the professor in the field s/he has come to do research with.

A policy could be set up such that any faculty granted the use of a

postdoctoral scholar for research collaboration is required to teach a GE course utilising the same junior scholar as tutor for the said course.

This type of

collaborative teaching often benefits both the senior and junior members alike in terms of team creativity, not to mention the value students would reap from it. From the perspective of the institution, it will be offering quality, innovative GE courses of an enviable variety. A practical advantage of this approach over that which utilises these junior scholars as English teaching assistants is the attraction it has to the top-calibre junior scholars in the world. An advanced graduate student who is writing her/his dissertation (ABD) can be similarly employed, though with more guidance and less responsibility. Giving them the opportunity to tutor courses relevant to their training will encourage the best of them to apply to the post and to dedicate themselves to the tutoring. Graduate Teaching Assistants: Junior graduate students before their completion of the third year in science and fourth year in the humanities and social sciences should not be used to teach except for the exceptional ones, given their unsubstantial training. An interesting course requires the deliverer to be on top of the material, and such command of breadth is rare among junior graduate students. Marking should not be entrusted to them except for multiple choice questions.

This is in part

because proper GE courses by their nature actually require broader knowledge.


26 The narrower in knowledge the marker is, the less capable s/he is of doing a fair job. Small Group of GE Professors: There exist enough renaissance scholars in the world to make up a small pool of high-morale, dedicated GE professors to give quality and status to the core courses while leaving the departments or disciplines to offer theirs. The stability their permanent role and function will lend to GE will be significant. The quality of their courses can be used to measure against those that have much room for improvement. An astute administrative decision is to invest resources in carefully selecting, then supporting this group.

The long term value is

immeasurable as Hong Kong’s higher education is just at the beginning of a major change. Unforeseeable changes will come in the next decade or two. The institution that is able to set this GE cornerstone aright has a head start and will likely earn the laurel of the near future. Rewarding GE Teaching: When the status of GE courses are properly established, and the core courses are challenging academically, and offered by a group of professors respected for their best practice, the departmental GE offerings will follow suit in terms of quality and status. This will avoid the gray area of remuneration for teaching

specific

courses

and

any attending ethical and

professional

complexities. (B) Student Advising Institutions that have made the decision to set up a system of student advising for GE are likely going to have fewer lost or disgruntled students and faculty.

Those institutions that will have GE student advisors coordinating with

departmental student advisors will be providing very effective guidance to student learning, postgraduate studies and career prospects. (C) Assessment Neither the compliant filling in of forms nor the motion of carrying out the avowed methods fulfils the Outcomes-Based Teaching and Learning criteria. The fact that OBTL is designed for the appraisal of programmes rather than for


27 individual course evaluation serves as a reminder that OBTL ought to be used flexibly by the administration in order to encourage faculty creativity and autonomy. Much of the resentment towards GE with its attendant adoption of OBTL, issued from faculty’s sense of the loss of ownership of the courses they teach.

At the same time, assessment in the form of marking essay tests and

papers ought to be done principally by the professor: the use of post-doctoral scholars as tutors for courses they are versed in work out well in this respect as they can be entrusted with two-thirds of the marking, while ABDs can be given fifty percent of the marking. The smaller core courses taught by GE professors ought to have the assessments done by the professors themselves. The benefit of this policy is that not only will it raise the profile and standard of the core courses, but it will enable the administration to have a more accurate overview of students’ standards across the spectrum of the disciplines and schools so that resource allocation can also be done more fairly. For the humanities and social science courses, the traditional in-class essay type of assessment ought to be encouraged as this is still one of the best methods of assessing fast-thinking, speedy and efficient selection, application of data from memory under pressure for critical analysis, and logical and coherent presentation. The skills trained through this process remain useful for life. In some institutions there exists the practice of pulling curves and adjusting marks, lowering the scale of the pass mark by forty-percent and a variety of other means of fiddling with raw marks. When such practices become routine, it defeats the purpose of assessment and makes a mockery of the professionalism of educators. Worse still, it demoralises those who stand by best practice. When words get round to students, which they usually do, a dangerous message is instilled in them, which will become a part of their graduate attributes. Institutions slap themselves on the face when they do not approach students’ marks with the gravity that they deserve. (D) Course Content and Texts Universities are institutions where ideas are taught, shared, deliberated on, discussed, argued for or against, in short, bandied back and forth. They are


28 where, first and foremost, the training of the intellect takes place.

General

Education was conceived of to broaden the intellectual horizons of students in a world where knowledge has been increasingly compartmentalised, although one practical objective has been to enable students to adapt to an ever-changing world, to find or change jobs. The approach, nevertheless, remains intellectual, at least for the top-tier universities in the world. Hence their emphasis on texts, on great books, on the classics. It is the reading of the same text that constitutes the “common experience.”

“Common experience” in the context of the vision of general

education transcends spatial temporal confines. It means an individual reading of a common text under the guidance of the same professor for some students or of different professors for others.

It can be extended across generations,

cultures, nations and oceans. It is the recognition of this common participation of an activity that is experiential individually. This experience that is more than merely intellectual since all reading requires the senses and so is also affective. It is also a collective experience that is transcendent of time and space crowning the great books courses as the jewels of GE. The quality of teaching is therefore of utmost importance, from the perspective of the education provider. Hence the teaching assistant system should be used with circumspection, as aid for students, not substitute for the professor’s teaching. (E) Pedagogy The theory of learning is complicated.

In simplistic term, “pedagogy,”

when refers to GE is often, in Hong Kong, taken to mean interactivity, experiential learning, out-of-the-classroom activities, excursions, advanced IT support and the like. No doubt these are different ways of teaching and learning. The unbelievers question the appropriateness of such learning for college students, in their late teens and older, while maintaining that these are more appropriate for secondary school. The missionaries vouch for their inspirational value. Traditionalists hold that while tutorials have always been interactive for their emphasis on discussion, reading of texts is experiential.


29 Two major disagreements can be identified. One is whether GE courses are defined by, and so must comprise, such characteristics. The other is whether the inclusion of such features increase or decrease the value and quality of a GE course.

First, General Education is conceived of as a way to broaden the

intellectual horizons of students and does not necessarily have to include such components as out-of-classroom activities, film-showing, etc. to validate its existence.

Institutions which recognise this allows space for faculty choice.

Those which come down on the believers’ side apply OBTL more rigidly on GE courses, thereby causing more faculty resentment.

Appreciating that those

features are not necessary conditions for a valid GE course will not only ease faculty discontent but will allow for greater diversity of teaching methods for GE courses. Second, the increase or decrease of the value of GE courses when those features are incorporated into the courses depends on the intellectual calibre and creativity of the professors offering the courses. In Hong Kong, it will take some years before high calibre GE courses with new teaching methods will be offered.

Until then, the non-believers will be generally right about their

scepticism especially when scope and content are compromised for the sake of experience and activities, the application of which can be abused. It is worth noting that top-tier universities are cautious in adopting the new methods for the teaching of GE while opting for an emphasis on texts and great books. Meanwhile the courses utilising creatively the new methods that have been cropping up in the top-notch institutions are testimony to such possibility of teaching and learning. Creativity, it goes without saying, enjoys an equally wide spectrum of quality. Employing a variety of teaching methods does not make a course better than a lecture course that is intellectually stimulating. Similarly, a lecture course with a long list of reading assignment may not benefit students as much as another utilising the various new methods. For the academic institution and the senior administration that sets its policy and direction, it is a choice between accommodating mass consumption and raising popular standards. The choice will set the guideline for the quality of the courses, whatsoever the teaching and learning methods.


30 Interdisciplinarity: Not few Hong Kong’s institutions see this as a solution to their extremely specialised faculty. A good interdisciplinary course, however, is more than the delivery of two different ways of looking at the same thing with two different sets of jargon. In the words of a Fulbrighter, interconnectivity between the disciplines and disciplinary formation of knowledge has to be worked out carefully. Conceptually, such a course is more difficult for the student in terms of intellectual content because s/he is actually learning the technical languages, the ways of thinking and analysis of two disciplines, which can be very confusing for the novice. In Hong Kong, the reason for designing an interdisciplinary course team taught by two or more professors is due to their focussed specialisation. The interconnectivity that requires a good grasp of the essentials of each other’s discipline may be harder to acquire.

Team teaching, moreover, is no less

energy-consuming and, if done well, requires collaboration that may involve significant investment of time. All these factors must be taken into consideration when designing interdisciplinary courses.

Reaching Out A few Fulbrighters have suggested the need for the institutions to reach out to the public. Students, parents and society in general ought to be informed of this radical, forward-looking movement in higher education in the city. The vision of this fundamental reform has to be explained to society.

Publically-

funded, all these institutions are duty bound to inform society of how tax-payers’ money is used for a major change in higher education that can reap tremendous consequences for society.

When parents often still support their children in

higher education, the vision of the reform, which may run counter to the more expedient, short-term interests of students and parents, must be communicated and shared with society. For the GE reform to have a firm start, a general atmosphere of positive attitude in society towards this momentous reform has to be fostered.


31 The nurturing of the mind is a daunting and difficult task. The nurturing of exceptional minds is even more humbling for the educator. But the collective effort to start nourishing future generations of intellectual calibre, whose presence in society will in turn raise the quality of thought of its youth, is a vision a first world global city must embrace. For a materialist, capitalist city like Hong Kong, the juggling act between accommodating mass expectation of expediency and pragmatism from education and increasing popular wisdom and intelligence is far from easy. The new methods of teaching and learning, with out-of-class activities, IT support, etc., are increasingly popular on school levels. Given that trend, is it still necessary for tertiary institutions to teach their GE courses similarly? Or should they provide college students with more intellectual content and input, in the form of the learning of ideas, humanistic or scientific? Short of the creative quality combination of the two, that choice between high level intellectual content in the world of ideas and experiential, activity oriented learning will define the calibre of universities one from the other.


32 Postscript

For all the accomplishments and set-back during the last four years of the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme, the one undeniable fact is the foresight and magnanimity of Mr. and Mrs. Po and Helen Chung, supported by the open-mindedness of the University Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Council of International Exchange of Scholars in America. Out of this collaboration between private donations and public-funding, the east and west, Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions can boast of impeccable hardware and state-of-the-art, sophisticated software for the momentous change that will affect not only the future of Hong Kong, but also the Mainland. Other cities and nations in the region, observing the success of this collaborative effort, and appreciating the vision and generosity of Hong Kong’s benefactors, are following suit. The future of the region will look very different.


Mixed Marriages and the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme