Today the use of information technology (IT) is an integral part of our daily lives. Logging on in the office, catching up on emails at home, getting updates via mobiles – it is almost impossible to imagine Hong Kong without all of this. However, perhaps less noticed by the general public, technology is also having a major impact on the field of education.
"Instead of just teaching students how to use IT, we have been extending its application in our daily activities for the last five or six years," says Yu Jer-tsang, the first chief information officer (CIO) at City University of Hong Kong (CityU). The post, also a first of its kind among local educational institutions, was established in 2000 and Dr Yu's mission is to create a campus where IT supports all activities, including teaching and research work and the administration of the university. Leading a number of strategic initiatives, he is responsible for the coordination and expansion of all CityU's information services. That currently means running projects for the university library and computer service centre, as well as overseeing an enterprise solutions unit which is developing and implementing new systems for administrative and educational purposes.
Dr Yu cites the course management system as a particularly successful initiative. Launched about four years ago, it provides teachers with updated student lists, giving their names, photos and relevant background information before each semester starts and during the "add-drop" period for courses. This can help in the design and arrangement of course material and, knowing about students beforehand, teachers can contact them regarding necessary preparation for classes.
According to Dr Yu, the most obvious advantage has been in facilitating information exchange, which is crucial in the learning process. He says teachers and students now communicate more easily and quickly by email, resulting in better interaction. Besides that, the use of IT has been able to promote teamwork and informal online discussion groups among students.
The ultimate goal of IT in education is to improve learning, says Dr Yu. He points out that students can now download information from the Web, which helps to eliminate some of the more repetitive aspects of studying. "It may also help to improve the communication skills, independent thinking and analytical abilities of students, who will have more opportunity for discussion and collaboration," he adds.
The development of e-Learning is a central part of CityU's strategic plan. It will require evolving from traditional classroom teaching to a student-centred environment supported by the extensive use of technology. Dr Yu emphasises that it would not mean cutting down on face-to-face interaction between students and teachers, but would be based on a model which combined lectures, small group discussions and private study.
A prerequisite for such a model is the application of IT in the area of administration. Therefore, the university is committed to integrating all administrative systems and creating a paperless environment. A Web-based interface is already in place for course registration, student record updates and leave applications.