Our PolyU - Maryland joint virtual classroom was having our final project presentation for the term this morning. We divided the students into 6 teams, each comprising of a sub-team of 2-3 students from PolyU, and another sub-team of 2-3 students from U Maryland. Each team was asked to design a project for the community learning centre - made from a converted, used cargo container - that we are going to build for the village in Kampong Speu in Cambodia, in June.
Some teams designed a mural for the outside wall of the centre. Some designed a facility for the playground outside there centre. Some designed furniture inside. Today, each team presented their design. For each team, the sub-team from each university took turns to present the part that it is responsible for. On this day, it just happened that the video stream on the Maryland side didn’t work for us; fortunately, their voices came over clearly. On the other hand, Maryland complained that our voices were breaking up but they could see us. So we were even, in a way.
This technical glitch illustrated vividly some of the difficulties in working together, remotely, across the Pacific. In the debriefing afterwards, the students share some of the other pros and cons, and what they learned. One common sentiment was that the Americans tend to voice their thoughts directly and immediately, while the Asians tend to seek some form of consensus among themselves before voting an opinion. The other was that there are free riders among the Americans, just like in Asia; except that the Americans seem even more blatant - not showing up at all, while the Asians would still be there, even though they are doing nothing.
One thing our students learned from the exercise is that playgrounds are rare over there. Play is not given a very high priority in Hong Kong, given the cut-throat examination-crazy culture; yet playgrounds are abundant. Why does that say about the quality of education over there? What lessons are we supposed to draw from that observation, for our students’ education?
Our students learned that they have to take the initiate to drive the project, because they have to go over to Cambodia in June to actually implement it, while some of the Americans participate only in the design phrase. While finding the cooperation with the Americans over the ocean troublesome, some of our students appreciate the opportunity to learn how to work with other people.
We found that this group of students have grown more confident, asking more questions, expressing more opinions, and are generally more positive in handling challenges over the 13 weeks of the semester. It bodes well for the continuation into the second semester and the test of the actual implementation in Cambodia.
This is just one of the 3 groups in our subject. A second group is going to build solar panel electrical systems in Cambodia. A third group is going to build solar panel electrical systems in Rwanda. Then we have 3 teams going to community engagement internships in U Maryland, Brown U, and UCLA. And we have to attend a conference in New Orleans on service-learning research. … We look forward to another exciting summer.