By: Catalina Sanchez Montoya

Hong Kong SAR, China

Andrew Chiu, Educational Technology Coordinator, is leading a series of digital and structural changes at American International School Hong Kong (AIS HK). The target is to transform teaching and learning, so that the education process can be more efficient and relevant -more fun, even. E-Learn Magazine talked with him to find out more.

In Hong Kong, the local and/or British-inspired school system rules. Part of American International School Hong Kong’s success is therefore due to the fact that its method is very similar to the American system, being divided into Elementary, Middle School and High School, with graduation from the latter depending on the student getting a certain number of credits.

The student profile is extremely varied, but there can be no doubt that all students have certain things in common. They want a different approach to education, one that goes beyond the traditional natural and social sciences courses and mathematics. They also aim to gain admission to top universities around the world, and the individual assistance the school offers in this respect is therefore particularly valuable. That promise, in fact, is part of its success. And it is why, faced with an imminent need to introduce new academic resources and educational tactics, the school has set new targets for providing its students with a practical, innovative, opportune, valuable and, above all, comprehensive education.

We talked about this major change process directly with one of its leaders, Andrew Chiu, the Educational Technology Coordinator at the school. He explains the challenges, objectives and spirit behind the initiative.

E-Learn Magazine: What does this transformation phase consist of?

Andrew Chiu: We have what might be referred to as a series of objectives based on the internal changes we want to make. And it’s not because we’re following a worldwide trend, rather because we can see that learning can be more effective, more fun. The most important thing for us is to alter the way people teach and learn. How? By reinforcing networking, breaking down communication barriers between teachers and learners, and becoming more student-centered than teacher-centered. Another key issue is changing from ‘consuming’ meanings and concepts to ‘building’ meanings and concepts. And finally, one of the most important points of all is succeeding in moving from an individual to a group approach.

E.L.M: Why is this last point so important?

A.C: It has been shown that group work is a skill that is key to being successful and achieving personal and professional satisfaction. Under the ‘Old School’ method, a student can get the best grades on his course through individual effort. But I believe this is changing. The idea that we can be successful because we work together means we can learn to fail and to get support from our colleagues. In a culture like ours today, it’s important to be able to talk about our challenges and to be more open to the possibility of learning from others.

E.L.M: Are virtual tools essential if students are to get into the world’s top universities?

Andrew_ChiuA.C: They’re important. In fact, it’s only this year that we have really started to look into the question of technological platforms. In 2015 we didn’t even have unlimited WiFi access for Middle School and High School. Now we do. And most students in any given class are working on their computers. We saw the need, and we recognized that there are new approaches that have to be taken on board. Thanks to this, our students now answer tests faster, go to Google for support, and spend more time and energy on group work. We don’t have to remind them to do their homework any more because they’re more responsible, they have a greater sense of belonging, and something very important: they have an audience. Their work no longer goes to the teacher on a ‘private’ sheet of paper, because it’s available for their colleagues, and even their parents, to see. This is motivating, and it makes a difference in learning terms. Now it’s more relevant and, at the same time, implies bigger challenges for schools.

E.L.M: How important are digital tools and online environments at AIS HK?

A.C: They have opened up a world of opportunities. In the past, each student would do a project and would have access to off-line information, and it was impossible for the teacher to support and supervise search methods and sources. Now there’s much more help, greater access to correct information. Something else that’s important is that students can choose from various projects, which means that learning can be meaningful for them. Before, if they had to explain an opinion, the one who adored writing ‘stood out’ by handing in the essay. Nowadays there are other ways that debates and concepts can be presented, based on each understanding process, be it video, webpage, animation, or even a song.

E.L.M: What role has Moodlerooms played in this transformation phase?

A.C: We use Moodlerooms in grades 6 to 12. Each group has access to a Course, and can see their work and the teachers feedback. The most visible changes we’ve noticed from using Moodlerooms, together with Google tools, are that a student can get immediate feedback, can actively participate in the group work, has access at all times to dialogue with everyone, can show his work and his essays, and can express his doubts and comments. We’ve been so successful that we’ve shared our Moodle experience with other schools in the region. I think it’s even been important insofar as we’ve challenged Moodlerooms: we’ve had to innovate in the way we use the platform due to the internal needs of each course, in order to bring it into line with our learning processes.

E.L.M: What’s the next step?

A.C: I’m excited when I see the way the school is heading. The changes are being taken on board very professionally, and the fact that teachers feel empowered to make a difference is essential. I think their attitude and seriousness fit in perfectly with the objectives. But the most exciting thing is not just the virtual question. Yes, we have Moodlerooms, our system, Google tools, but the transformation is the result of a combination of physical (infrastructure) and virtual changes and a change in teachers mentality. They go hand in hand.

*Andrew Chiu, Educational Technology Coordinator, American International School Hong Kong.

Photo by: AFP Isaac Lawrence

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