A computer science PhD graduate from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has won the Best Software Award at the “Third International Competition of the Non-Commercial Software Systems, Tools and Products for Web-Based Education”.
This award demonstrates the University’s devotion to excellence in applied research.
Dr Apple Fok Wai-ping, now working as a research fellow and project consultant at CityU’s AIMtech Centre, outperformed other competitors with the Web-based English Learning System (WELS), a tool designed for both students and teachers in primary schools.
“I was really happy to learn that WELS had won,” Dr Fok said. “It is just like watching my own baby grows and flourish.”
WELS started life as Dr Fok’s final-year undergraduate project in the Department of Computer Science. The project received a massive boost when the Quality Education Fund of the HKSAR Government offered sponsorship in 2004 which led to collaborations with local schools.
“WELS enables students to learn at their own pace and helps teachers design and assign homework according to the learning pattern of individual students,” said Dr Fok, who was once a school teacher and knows the relevant concerns about effective learning.
The goal of the competition, which was held in France in March this year, is to identify the best of the most recently developed non-commercial innovative software systems, tools or products for web-based education. This year a panel of international referees assessed the overall qualities of more than 30 entries from Australia, Taiwan, the US, Greece and Hong Kong. Only seven were short-listed for the final session, with WELS as the only representative from Hong Kong.
What makes WELS so attractive are its unique multi-dimensional learning activities, its sharing platforms for teachers and students, and its carefully designed capacity for checking the progress of learning.
“When using WELS, students have been really motivated to learn,” said Ms Michelle Kwan Sin-ki, an English teacher from the Good Counsel Catholic Primary School. “They enjoy getting to know the language, using it and using it well.”
Ms Stella Law Kong-fung, a teacher from Shek Chung Shan Memorial Catholic Primary School, said her students’ English was improving thanks to WELS, especially when using activities for learning grammar and vocabulary.
To date, 11 primary schools are using the programme, a number expected to rise to 40 by September 2007.
Professor (Chair) Horace Ip Ho-shing of CityU’s Department of Computer Science said WELS was in tune with current trends in education: to find better ways to exploit information technology.
“We need to make effective pedagogical use of IT e-learning tools for in-class teaching and self-regulated learning,” said Professor Ip, who was Dr Fok’s PhD supervisor and is the Director of the AIMtech Centre. “Dr Fok’s teaching experience gives her the necessary interdisciplinary knowledge to design such an e-learning platform.”
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