A Steep Online Learning Curve
A Steep Online Learning Curve

Virtual meetings and working from home are now an accepted part of daily life for office workers. But how do you maintain an interactive programme that brings engineers and secondary school students together during a pandemic? CLP managed it, but learned some tough lessons along the way.


When the pandemic struck in 2020, changes to people’s everyday lives were swift, dramatic, and essential. For children, schools closed and lessons moved online. For adults, offices closed and employees did their work online.


Extracurricular activities in schools came to an abrupt halt – including CLP’s Engineer in School (EIS) programme, which for five years has given junior secondary school students across Hong Kong hands-on experience of power engineering.


But Sunny Chan, CLP Community Relations and Programmes Manager, had different ideas. “When the government announced the suspension of face-to-face classes after the Chinese New Year holiday, we wanted to continue the programme for the participating schools in the second semester of 2019-2020 academic year, and going virtual seemed to be the solution,” he recalls.


Chan reached out to different schools as soon as online teaching began, and at first met a skeptical reception from teachers struggling just to keep up with regular schooling. 


“They were understandably worried that moving extracurricular activities online as well as lessons would lead to online fatigue and get a poor response from students,” he says.


Leap of faith

There were technical headaches too. How could a physical talk be transformed into a virtual one, particularly when some schools lacked the appropriate software and hardware systems? And how do you deliver lessons to large groups of students online?

Delivering virtual school talk
Delivering talks to students in multiple schools with different computer systems was difficult, but it wasn’t mission impossible.

“Online classes were new to both CLP and the schools back then,” Chan explains. "We had to learn on the job."


“One of the most challenging aspects was that each school used different online class software, and some of them requested live broadcasts on their own premises.”


Outlining the scale of the challenges, he says: “The EIS programme was designed on a model that involved physical interaction between 200 junior secondary school students and a CLP engineer, with a focus on the speaker rather than the presentation.”

Lessons were quickly learned and it was clear more radical changes to the format were required. “After receiving the feedback from schools, we redesigned the presentation for the 2020-21 school year from the ground up,” Chan says.


Generating debate

For the new academic year, the EIS presentations were focused on animation and video with the aim of holding the attention and interest of a young audience in situations where the speaker is not physically present. 

Take a look at this short clip to see how animation is used to introduce the concept of the different fuel mixes used in power generation.

The CLP team introduced new video conferencing applications, allowing direct interaction between speakers and the audience. 


It also added a “discussion topics” feature to the programme which allows students to debate – for instance – the potential for renewable energy development potential in Hong Kong in a chatroom where CLP engineers providing instant feedback.


“We believe letting students brainstorm on energy topics is more beneficial than a traditional question and answer model, and we can draw insights from their thinking too,” Chan explains.


The online sessions have been so popular that, even as schools gradually resume physical classes, more than half have opted for virtual schools talks for the EIS programme this year.


“We are happy that our efforts have paid off, and that the new programme has been warmly received by both teachers and students,” Chan says with a smile.

Expanding young horizons

The school talks are just one element of the EIS programme CLP has managed to maintain despite the huge obstacles presented by COVID-19.


The programme also provides “Power Journey” learning sessions, a one-day STEM workshop for selected students, and an “Engineer Experience Tour” – a job-shadowing experience for prospective students. 


Some elements have been restricted because of the pandemic. “Not everything can be switched online,” says Chan. “The experience of visiting a turbine hall or inspecting high voltage overhead lines cannot be replicated for instance.” 

Power Journey
“Power Journey” sessions for students have resumed this academic year with social distancing and limited participation.

There are always new ways to deliver the messages, however, and Chan’s team now plans to incorporate the STEM workshop into an education kit that students can engage with at home during class suspension. 


Before 2020, few people would believe school talks could be successfully conducted online. But the pandemic has seen ingenuity flourish to create a stimulating and imaginative digital world for students and teachers to explore together.