A tale of two cities

by Paul Maharg on 21/07/2007

In May I spent two weeks in Hong Kong and Brisbane, working with staff at the U. of HK Law School and Griffith U. Law School on e-learning stuff.  Jet lag and culture shock apart it was an absorbing experience to spend a week with staff in another institution, to work in detail with them on aspects of web-based learning in law, and then do the same with another law school in a completely different jurisdiction. 

At the first session on Monday in HK it was clear there was considerable diversity of knowledge & experience re e-learning among staff there.  Managing that diversity was a central issue for the week’s activities, and it led to fascinating explorations of web 2.0 applications and legal learning, staff experience and training, student expectations, uncertainties about the future of legal education, and much else.  Good to air those topics because they reminded me of how much I took for granted in the culture and setup of the law school at Strathclyde; and having a ‘chiel amang them’ enabled staff at HK law school to discuss just those issues with each other. 

HK is such a technological urban environment — it’s so shameless about its wildly urban feel. High-rise built upon vertiginous slopes, the road to the airport built out of the sea — the intensely-built environment reminded me of the Netherlands in a weird way.  Sitting in a taxi at road lights I saw a construction worker, during his break, take out an e-game device from his back pocket, like a small book.  He opened it, played it for a few moments, then got out his mobile phone, rang someone, and was still playing the game with one hand while talking on the phone.  Cdn’t hear of course, and even if I cd have, I have not a word of Cantonese; but I got the impression he was talking to the person with whom he was wirelessly gaming…  There were lots of moments like that — I wanted to wander around the city with an ethnographic notebook, noting how technology was used in ways I’d never seen it used in Glasgow. 

Brisbane was entirely different, low-rise buildings for the most part, except for the city centre (HK had no delineated centre — fascinating contrast in urban design); and as well as giving workshops on e-learning I gave a paper on John Dewey and the realists at Columbia in the 1920s, which is a chapter in a book I’ve just finished on legal education (more of which anon). Griffith staff were aware of key literature in e-learning, so it was good to engage with that and develop ideas for local implementations.  Which is what the two visits were about, really — raising awareness, developing ideas, talking to staff about possible uses of technology in their courses.   

I also carried out an experiment of my own.  With a time difference of 8-10 hours, Scotland started work every day just as HK & Brisbane was finishing; so when I could, I’d retreat somewhere with a broadband connection and answer email.  Actually, I think that with a phone connection (tried a skype phone, but cdn’t get it networking) and a webcam link to key personnel back at the ranch, it wd be pretty much possible to do the majority of the day job from thousands of miles away…

Many thanks to Chris Sherrin at HKU and Jeff Giddings at Griffith for their kind invitations — I hope to return the favours some day! 

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