Innovative - Impactful - Inclusive: teaching and learning enhancement at Lingnan

In the office of Prof Peter Duffy, Director of Teaching and Learning Centre, a sign on the wall reads ‘Preserve the past and forge the future’. “I talk about it as stop, keep or rethink. Stop doing some things because they aren’t working or are not longer relevant, keep on doing some things because they are working really well, and rethink some things because they need to be refined in order to meet the needs of the University,” he says.

Photo: Prof Peter Duffy poses with Furhat, an AI-based conversational robot which LU adopts to enrich students' learning experience in the classroom.


Since he joined LU seven months ago, Prof Duffy has been talking to senior management, faculty members, students and different departments, trying to understand their needs and challenges. “We’ve quite deliberately approached the challenges of hybrid learning, but also just teaching and learning change in general.”


The University has a long history of leveraging technology to enhance teaching and learning. Of course, recent endeavours have had to be reframed due to social unrest and COVID-19. This has meant that the University has built on these experiences and forged ahead in new ways to meet the challenges of these exceptional circumstances. For example, LU has adopted e-learning for most of its classes since late 2019, and for the new term that started in September by using hybrid learning – a combination of face-to-face classes and online – offering maximum learning flexibility for students.


“It’s a rethink -- a paradigm shift -- for a lot of people. The challenge for me is how to make sure that the support and initiatives that the Teaching and Learning Centre offers are used and useful. Use is about impact, useful is about a vision and fit for purpose.”


On the one hand, teachers may struggle to adopt e-learning and hybrid teaching due to time constraints, lack of technical knowledge or a move to incorporate new pedagogy that involve a rethink of the way he or she has practised for decades. Students, on the other hand, face challenges presented by technology used for learning.


“People make an assumption that students are good at technology, and in my experience they’re good at technology for social purposes, but not necessarily for academic purposes. That’s a very core difference. Also, the technology skills students need for University and beyond into the workplace are different,” he says. “So it is a change in the teacher’s role to bring about that skillset -- digital literacy or digital fluency -- the ability to move in and out of technology as needed for different purposes.”

Prof Peter Duffy

As an advocate of innovative pedagogy, Prof Duffy adopts a “Learning Led and Technology Enabled” approach.


To align with the University Strategic Plan and to develop smart teaching and learning and other cutting-edge pedagogies with the help of technologies to meet students’ needs, Prof Duffy and his team have set up a series of initiatives to help teachers -- and students -- improve their digital literacy, and so they are able to equip students with the skillsets that the real world needs.


Four areas of strategic priority will be implemented: Learning Enhancement, Learning Innovation, Learning Analytics and Learning Design. The overarching principle of Learning Enhancement is to develop academic staff as leaders in the provision of innovative pedagogy via a comprehensive framework and implementation strategy; Learning Innovation is to align LU’s learning spaces – both virtual and physical -- and expand flexible learning arrangements; Learning Analytics is to leverage data, and an evidence-based approach to support learning and teaching change; and Learning Design is to deliver an engaging, personalised and digitally enriched outcome-based education curriculum in the context of liberal arts education.


“Under Learning Enhancement, for instance, we are developing an iPortfolio which builds a learning relationship with students through the life of their learning experience and hopefully beyond. With it, a student will be able to summarise all the assignments, experiential learning, service learning, extra-curricular and all other added value activities to the end of the four years or somewhere in between, and send it forward like a CV on steroids instead of a dry paper CV,” Prof Duffy explains.


According to Prof Duffy, big data or Learning Analytics is useful for developing an evidence-based approach to both teaching and learning change. “A major initiate in this area is the development of a Learning Enhancement Analytics Portal (LEAP). This online resource would allow, for example, a single teacher to review their average Course Teaching and Learning Evaluation (CTLE) scores and a summary of their students’ experience in achieving various graduate attributes, he says.


“At the university level, this would allow mapping of all students experiences, irrespective of programme, across the achievement of the LU graduate attributes. During their studies, they can log in and say “I’m doing really well in a graduate attribute in a certain space, but not so well on this, and next semester this elective would help me fill that gap.” This would have great power for the students learning at LU. And I think the data’s there – it’s just a case of putting it all together in interesting ways.”


Prof Duffy, who taught in secondary school before taking up senior roles in higher education institutions in Hong Kong and Australia, is an advocate of innovative pedagogy. He does believe though that it is humans -- the teachers -- who are most important.


“The role of a teacher has changed, but teachers will always be needed. In a way teaching is an art form. It’s a creative endeavour, but there’s science behind it as well. We know how people learn, the physiology of it. We know the sociology of it. We know that people are better in groups rather than individually. We know moving something from short-term to long-term memory requires a chemical push within a certain timeframe: that’s why you have repeated scaffolded tasks. So we know these things; it’s just a matter of building in these practices in ways that make sense for liberal arts education.”


“Students’ learning is social, but the impact of education can be personalised. Where I think technology can help is, it can take some tedious tasks away from the teacher to give them more time, but also help students in ways that bring together parts of the big picture and the things that are personal for the students’ learning. We have the potential of enormous data on students learning now, and the challenge is to identify personal ways to help enhance the students’ learning experience. These connections are where I think Lingnan has a great advantage over the other universities.”


“What we’re doing in TLC is aligned to the end result of all of our work. It is the students’ learning experience,” Prof Duffy says. “Someone once asked me whom I work for ultimately, and I said, ‘the students”. We spend almost 90 per cent of our time in TLC with staff, but if we’re doing our job well, the students’ learning journey is enhanced”.