Tutorials launched on Internet
By BENSON CHAO
HONG KONG Polytechnic University has made its first attempt to conduct tutorials on the Internet.
A two-week pilot project, involving business majors, was conducted before this month's official launch.
In the pilot project, the students were required to answer questions on the Internet homepage, which was developed by the Educational Development Unit.
From this semester, 30 undergraduates from the degree programme in shipping technology and management have been required to conduct part of their maritime law module via the homepage titled 'Electronic Education Development Centre'.
Once students gained access to the homepage - either through their on-line home computers or those in the university's Office of Information Technology Services - they could read the tutorials and send in their answers to the tutor.
Lisa Rodrigues, assistant professor in the Department of Business Studies who supervised the pilot project and was also in charge of the maritime module, said half of the required two-hour tutorial would be conducted on the Internet network.
'In a conventional tutorial, often students come in tired or hungry. When one student answers the tutor's question, the other students' minds are somewhere else. This only benefits a small group of people,' she said. 'But with tutorials on the Internet, teachers have private tutorials with individual students. Teachers are able to tell whether each student fully understands the materials.' Douglas McCabe, the unit's senior officer (education development) who developed the Internet homepage, said many Chinese students found normal tutorials put too much pressure on them. Students were often reluctant to give answers in front of classmates.
'Many Chinese students don't feel comfortable answering questions face-to-face. The high pressure of normal tutorials is unnatural for those students,' he said.
'The Internet tutorials provide a much more natural learning environment for students, and are more challenging than conventional ones. Students can respond to tutorial questions whenever it suits them.' Kennex Lee Yuk-mei, a first year business major who participated in the pilot project, said she thought it would be difficult to assess students' performance.
'It's possible for students to read other students' tutorial answers on the homepage. So it would be pretty unfair for students who give original answers,' she said.
'But it is really a good way to learn. I learned so much more through the detailed answers the tutor provided. I could print them out and review them as notes.' Ms Rodrigues said the Internet tutorials involved more work for the tutors, but gave them a better idea of how each student was progressing.
'I personally would like to see more tutorials conducted this way - mainly because students like it. Students are able to print a hard copy of all the answers and teachers' feedback for later reference. In normal tutorials, they go away without any record of what's been discussed.
Mr McCabe said that after Lunar New Year the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology would also implement a pilot Internet tutorial on chemical safety in which students would have to read through case studies and offer solutions.
He said Internet's hypertext capacity could accommodate images such as graphics and charts, which could be used for fashion design and architectural students.
He did not believe Internet tutorials would replace conventional ones overnight, though things would move in that direction. 'I believe students still need face-to-face interaction with teachers. But technology in higher education is leading us away from the great investment in physical things such as buildings and desks.
'Learning basically occurs with interaction between two people.'