Research and sharing the latest knowledge are indispensable elements for providing quality education. The university engages in a wide range of activities and exchanges that benefit its students and society as a whole.

University Research Centre

The Centre for Research in Distance and Adult Learning (CRIDAL) was renamed the University Research Centre (URC) and took on a greatly extended responsibility in November 2012. The new title reflects the changes that have taken place in the Centre’s role in the University’s development in recent years. Originally, its research focused exclusively on open and distance education. As our full-time programmes have continued to expand and our educational delivery modes have diversified, the scope of its work has gradually been extended to include full-time and other instructional modes such as blended learning.

The Centre’s new name reflects its dual role as a centre for research into educational modes and a centralised unit that promotes research and coordinates and administers research and development. It will support discipline research as well. The University is committed to promoting and enhancing the standard of academic research, which we regard as an important means for providing quality education. Besides creating knowledge for academics in their own areas of study, research reflects their scholarly status and allows them to pass on the latest knowledge to their students.

A number of plans are currently in the pipeline for the URC. They include hosting an international conference on open and flexible education, and publishing an academic journal.

Responding to the Government’s decision to start providing research funding to the academic staff of self-financing institutions on a competitive basis, the URC has begun to organise seminars and workshops to help academics leverage on coming research funding opportunities and conduct their research projects more effectively.

Research centre established in Shenzhen

The School of Science and Technology and the Shenzhen Jawkai Bioengineering Research and Development Centre have jointly established a research and development centre for the industrialisation of microalgae technology in Shenzhen. A listing ceremony for this was held in July 2012. The centre focuses on developing water treatment with microalgae technology, with the aim of improving water quality in Hong Kong and its surrounding areas.

The Hong Kong SAR Government’s Drainage Services Department has been taking a keen interest in the project. Last June, it sent a five-member delegation to visit the centre. Led by Assistant Director Mr She Siu-kuen, its members took a first-hand look at the microalgae cultivation and collection process, and gained a better understanding of the feasibility of combining microalgae breeding and sewage treatment.

Water quality research

In November 2012, the Earthwatch Institute approved a proposal by the School of Science and Technology entitled ‘The Study of Phytoplankton Diversity in Relation to the Water Quality of Rivers in Hong Kong’. The Institute also decided to collaborate with the OUHK on the Hong Kong component of its global FreshwaterWatch Programme, and it will fund the partnership with a grant of HK$1,069,700, as part of the HSBC Water Programme.

Examples of completed research projects

Intelligent clothing

Wearable biomedical sensors have gained recognition as a valuable way to monitor the health of individuals — especially the elderly — on a continuous basis. However, many mobile health monitoring systems that have been developed suffer from the problem of bulky design and vulnerability to electromagnetic interference.

The project, ‘Development of a Novel Biosensor-Integrated Shirt for Mobile Health’, explored ways to overcome such problems. Its working prototype of a smart shirt that incorporates a number of innovative features has attracted highly positive feedback at major international conferences, and it is used to teach engineering courses at the University.

Power savings in telecom networks

Extensive research is devoted to finding ways to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in the operations of telecommunication networks. Measurements of traffic in these networks indicate that less than 10% of their capacity is used during non-peak hours.

This project developed an optimisation model to maximise power saving in a backbone network during non-peak hours. Such a model is difficult to develop because many non-data packets are continuously routed through backbone networks, even when no data are being transmitted. Thus, powering off some links and routing protocols during non-peak periods can result in blocked connections, and a suitable re-routing procedure has to be employed. Based on the optimisation model, the project explored new heuristics methods that could save up to 50% of the power used in backbone networks during non-peak periods by shutting down some links and routers in a network without reducing its performance.

Academic exchanges and scholarly activities

ICT in Teaching and Learning

The OUHK and Hong Kong Web Symposium Consortium cohosted the 2012 International Conference on ICT in Teaching and Learning last July. With the theme ‘Engaging Learners through Emerging Technologies’, the three-day conclave explored the use of technology to improve teaching and learning methods.

Apart from inspiring speeches, informative papers and a number of hands-on workshops conducted by renowned international scholars and administrators and local and overseas teachers, the Conference featured a competition and several exchange sessions for primary and secondary school teachers.

Open education assembly

An OUHK delegation led by our President, Prof. John C Y Leong, took part in the 26th Annual Conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU) in Japan last October. Its members also included Dr Li Kam-cheong, Director of the University Research Centre; Dr Yuen Kin-sun, Head of the Educational Technology and Publishing Unit; and Mr Christopher Tsui, Lecturer of the Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administration.

Dr Li presented a paper entitled ‘Student Engagement in the Course of Study: An Investigation of Behavioural, Emotional and Cognitive Involvement in Distance Learning’. Dr Yuen spoke on ‘A Hong Kong Open Textbook Initiative’, and Mr Tsui delivered two papers on blended learning topics. Prof. Leong, joined by Dr Li, also attended the Association’s Executive Board and General Board meetings and paid a visit to the Open University of Japan.

Open educational resources

Open educational resources (OERs) have become a key area in open learning during recent years. The Regional Symposium on Open Educational Resources: An Asian Perspective on Policy and Practices, organised by Wawasan Open University, was held in Penang, Malaysia, last September. The symposium focused on the use of OERs in higher education and related issues of access and equity.

The OUHK was represented by the Head of the Educational Technology and Publishing Unit Dr Yuen Kin-sun, and the Director of the University Research Centre Dr Li Kam-cheong. They presented two papers entitled ‘Development of OER in Hong Kong: A Status Analysis’ and ‘An Open Textbook System to Tackle Hong Kong’s Textbook Problems’.

Applying Oracle

The OUHK and Asia Higher Education User Group (Asia HEUG) co-organised the Group’s regional conference in Hong Kong during November 2012. Established in 2011, Asia HEUG is a community of higher education institutions in Asia that have either implemented or are currently implementing Oracle applications.

During its five plenary sessions and 24 breakout sessions, 270 delegates from Asia, the US, and Australia covered student management, finance and human capital management, as well as technical and general interest topics. Our Vice President Prof. Leung Chun-ming gave the opening speech in which he called for greater networking, communication and collaboration among peer institutions and business partners.

New ways to evaluate performance of universities

University rankings have been creating a number of challenges for higher education institutions. During its Conference of Executive Heads held in Jamaica last November, the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) responded to these by adopting a broad perspective for discussing performance measures and benchmarking. In addition, it examined other factors, such as economic policies, changing political and social agenda, staff recruitment and retention and student aspirations. The Conference also marked the start of the ACU’s Centenary celebrations.

The OUHK is one of three universities in Hong Kong that are members of the ACU, and it was represented at the Conference by our President, Prof. John C Y Leong, who also represents Southeast Asia and the South Pacific on its Council.

Forum tackles environmental challenges

Amid growing public concerns about the environment, the School of Science and Technology and Tien Dao Worldwide Christian Media Association jointly organised a major forum entitled ‘How Eco-friendly Does Hong Kong Want to Be, and Can It Be?’ on the OUHK campus last June.

Nearly 40 prominent guest speakers, including leaders of environmental groups, local experts, legislators, academics, and community and religious representatives exchanged their views on relevant issues during the forum. Mr Wong Kam-sing, who was to assume the post as the Secretary for the Environment at that time, was among the more than 350 people who attended.

The Dean of the School of Science and Technology, Prof. Ho Kin-chung, opened the forum by announcing the results of an online public opinion survey conducted several weeks earlier. It revealed strong support for solid and food waste recycling, improving water quality in Victoria Harbour and typhoon shelters, enhancing the protection of country and marine parks and geoparks, and the establishment of a ‘Green Fund’.

Green initiative in Macau

The School of Science and Technology and Green Environment Protection Association of Macau jointly organised the Green Leaders’ Summit and International Forum in Macau in March. The event aimed to promote the sustainable development of green education by sharing practical experience and discussing the challenges encountered during the process of establishing green schools. More than 150 environmental leaders, scholars, experts and representatives of green schools attended the event.