Teacher: Prof. Ben Chan, Director
Department: Center for Engineering Education Innovation (E2I), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)
Center for Engineering Education Innovation (E2I) of Hong Kong University of Sciences and Technology (HKUST), together with the Sungkyunkwan University Hub Center for Innovative Engineering Education (SKKU Hub Center), has been organising a one-week Intercultural Peer Learning Programme (IPLP) for selected engineering peer mentors since 2014. However, Prof. Ben Chan (the director of E2I) has dedicated to convert it into a virtual programme in the recent two years due to the travelling restriction of COVID-19 while maintaining a high standard of the student learning experience.
The IPLP aims to foster students’ international perspectives and design thinking mindsets via cultural exchange and training workshops. High-quality live-streaming technologies, such as drone campus tours, and real-time streaming of local cuisine tasting, are utilized to maintain the interaction of activities. As the main part of the programme, students from Hong Kong and South Korea teamed up and worked collaboratively on an engineering design project targeting real-life problems in the societies, especially in the cultural exchange sections, by taking advantage of 3D modelling software to illustrate their designs.
Prof. Chan also remarked that attracting and retaining students' attention is challenging, especially for virtual and non-credit-bearing programmes like the IPLP. To this, he shared two key factors for maintaining students’ engagement. First, team-building exercises were held to facilitate collaboration afterwards where students from the two cities could exchange their values and working styles to build mutual understanding and strengthen their bonding. For instance, students created their avatars and posed them to form a group photo using the 3D modelling software. Besides, a visual collaboration platform called “Miro” is adopted in the ideation process, which allows synchronized co-creation, witnessing observable contributions and visual outcomes by themselves and peers.
Another key to success is by building students’ virtual identities. A metaverse platform namely “Gather Town” is employed in which students can customise their avatars and move freely across different venues to mingle with others as well as to participate in the group activities. The visualized virtual identity simulated the physical presence and boosted the sense of co-creation among students. With the abovementioned strategies, IPLP received positive comments from students. Also, students from the two cities who participated in this programme maintain good friendships and they even return to the programme as facilitators proactively.
Prof. Chan commented that IPLP is still preferred in the physical version with direct interactions. Meanwhile, he would also like to utilize the strength and explore more possibilities of the virtual IPLP as it can allow more students to participate and run at a lower cost. He also looks forward to the self-developing virtual platforms to offer more authentic and immersive IPLP experiences in the coming future.