Interaction Is The Key Word In iClass

Interaction is the Key Word in iClass

The project team (from left) Eric Au Yeung, Ken Law, Dr Wilton Fok and Alan Chiang, at the Awards Presentation Ceremony of the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2012, where iClass and its derivatives won 2 silver awards

A teacher asks her students to name the causes of global warming and 10 hands shoot up into the air. Who will be chosen to answer the question?

That situation faces teachers every day. Sometimes teachers face silence after asking a question. Students have knowledge, but the traditional classroom format does not always allow all of them to share it. Now, a new tool developed by students in the Faculty of Engineering offers a way to promote simultaneous participation and interaction across the whole class.

The iClass is a mobile platform in which students input text and multimedia to share immediately with their teacher and fellow classmates. In the example cited above, students would be able to use the technology to submit different answers all at the same time, for all to see, thus extending the classroom discussion quickly and interactively.

"This is more than just a website where students collect information," said Dr Wilton Fok of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, who mentored the project. "They also contribute information and share knowledge in two-way, real-time interaction that wasn't there before."

iClass began humbly enough as a final-year undergraduate project of Eric Au-yeung Hoi-hang and his classmates. It was adopted in certain lecture rooms at HKU, but the students and Dr Fok soon realised it had wider potential and they developed it into a mobile platform. A newspaper story on their work attracted attention that enabled them to bring their innovation to schools.

"After that article appeared, book publishers and schools saw that this programme could enhance interactive projects in schools. So we were asked to develop some pilot projects for them to test," said Eric, who graduated in 2011.

The pilot projects enabled them to fine-tune their system. For example, they established a learning management system so teachers could organise teaching materials more easily, limited the number of times students could hit the response button (previously they hit it repeatedly), and introduced a peer-review function for classmates to feedback to each other.

"Our students learned knowledge from teachers. They contributed their knowledge back to us and develop such a useful system for teachers to enhance teaching and learning. It is a good example of exchange of knowledge between teachers and students of our University," said Dr Fok.

Apple subsequently made the refined iClass available at its apps store, where it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, indicating its wide appeal. The Cyberport Creative Micro Fund has also provided funds to the iClass spin-off, IT Wake Ltd, to further commercialise the system.

iClass has also been extended to Macau and undergone a trial in Shanghai, and a corporate training version has been developed, taking this student-led innovation into the wider community.

The iClass website is at http://elearning.eee.hku.hk/.