The University of Hong Kong becomes first Hong Kong university to resume face-to-face classes

By TANG Wai Yin, Antonia

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) resumed partial face-to-face classes on Tuesday. As the first education institution to adopt dual learning mode, the school is implementing different policies to secure safety and learning quality.

Students and Staff of the University of Hong Kong walk through temperature screening cameras on the university’s campus in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. The University of Hong Kong is the first University among Hong Kong’s 8 universities to resume face-to-face teaching. Photo by Harvey Kong.

Unlike the usual first day of class, at 9:30 am, HKU MTR station is not packed with students lining up at elevators to access the campus. Instead, students are lining up to go through temperature screening before entering the campus.

The University of Hong Kong is the first among Hong Kong’s eight universities to resume face-to-face classes, with several universities aiming to resume face-to-face classes in the coming weeks. Secondary schools, primary schools and Kindergarten in Hong Kong have gradually resumed face-to-face classes since September 23, with more students expected to resume face-to-face classes after September 29. 

Screenshot of the University of Hong Kong’s COVID-19 resource hub. Photo by HKU.

Ian Holliday, HKU Vice-President of Teaching and Learning, announced that all HKU courses and exams will be available online throughout semester 1 (September to December 2020), despite the face to face option starting from 22 September. Although there are exams and courses with exceptions, students mostly have the option to study entirely online.

HKU’s Task Force on Infectious Diseases (TFID) and the newly set up Working Group on Campus Infection Control (WGCIC) under the TFID are responsible for coordinating COVID-19 related matters and making sure the campus is safe. Guidelines for crowd management, environmental hygiene, and other areas are set and monitored in order to reduce the overall risk of infection.

Screenshot of the University of Hong Kong’s E-learning Resource Hub website. Photo by HKU.

Despite the university’s efforts to reduce safety concerns, these efforts have raised concerns about the impact on teaching quality. The university has built up an e-learning resource hub and orientation events are going online, but students have different thoughts towards the shift.

Freshman arts student Otilie Leung studies with electronic gadgets at Chi Wah Learning Commons at the University of Hong Kong campus in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong on Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Otilie prefers online learning due to efficiency. Photo by Harvey Kong

Otilie Leung, a freshman art student, prefers online learning. She thinks online learning is more efficient, as it saves time costs such as transportation and dressing up. After almost a year of social distancing, Otilie does not find online learning an unusual practice, “I am already getting used to online learning mode anyway.” says Otilie. 

There are also supporters for face to face learning. Both Cheng, a freshman social science student, and Yu, a final year Chinese major student agree that face to face lessons allow for better and more direct interactions between the lecturer and students.

The shift to partial face-to-face teaching has also affected areas outside academics. Freshman social science student Cheng believes a face to face environment fosters the chance of meeting new friends. However, a freshman architecture student who declined to give her name, thinks she is more comfortable making friends through online or mixed learning. “Online interaction has a less aggressive interaction pace and I have less fear to speak up as a shy person”, she said. She added that the learning mode allows her to break the barrier and familiarise herself with new people beforehand, making it easier to form relationships with other students when she returns for face-to-face classes.

(Featured image by Harvey Kong)

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