Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

Hong Kong Polytechnic University

PolyU viewed from the MTR station Hung Hom

On the morning of Thursday 28th March 2019, I visited the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This university, opened on its current site in 1965 in its original carnation as the Hong Kong Technical College. It became a university in 1994 and is situated in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. Boasting an impressively housed Design school, as well as its own 5 star hotel, PolyU is an impressive university. Students benefit from two years guaranteed accommodation 10 minutes walk from campus. In these halls generally two or three students share one room. There is a Swimming pool and Sports Centre on site.

During my tour of the Hong Kong Universities it was the only one that organized time for me to visit three different departments in the space of the morning. Like the other universities I visited this is a campus university with students housed in halls of residence within walking distance of the main academic buildings. I was first taken to see the Department of Humanities, The Design School and The School of Hotel Management. Like other universities in Hong Kong, students apply to specific programs and admission decisions are made at the program level by professors teaching the courses that students apply to.

During my tour of the Humanities Department I was shown the work of their linguistics laboratory where research is focused on understanding the processing and development of language in the Human Brain. Personally it was really interesting to see how the study of language and biology interact and gave me some new insights to bring back to my classroom. The faculty delivering the courses in communication were keen to stress the relevance of their degrees. Many of their graduates go on to work as interpreters and communications specialists. Two thirds of court interpreters in Hong Kong, for example, graduate from their programs. Students get exposure to hands on visual and verbal translation and they aim to produce students who are trilingual in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. The Design school covers a whole suit of programs from photography and digital media, through to interior and environmental design. A tour round the school which also houses an exhibition space, give a good insight into all main areas of Design and is truly a world class facility. Finally the Hotel School is attached to Hong Kong’s 5* Hotel Icon which is owned in full by HK PolyU and offers the leading Hotel Management courses in Asia.

Hotel Icon and PolyU’s Hotel School

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

View from HKUST campus overlooking Clear Water Bay and student housing.

My final visit of the week was to HKUST. This is another campus university but unlike the others it is located in Clear Water Bay in the east of the city. It does not have an MTR line and is connected to the nearest station Hang Hau by a 10 minute taxi or bus ride. It’s lack of connectivity to the city can be definitely seen as a plus. Surrounded by beautiful green hills and with commanding views over the bay, the campus feels very much like you are out of the city. Living here students can be cloistered away in their own community but are able to dive into the city relatively easily for the day if they wish. HKUST has four schools: Science, Engineering, Business; and Social Sciences. The Interdisciplinary Programs office allows students to study courses from different schools should they wish. Once again students apply directly to programs for admission, although HKUST allows students to apply to a school if they are undecided on exactly what program they wish to take. In this way HKUST, offers a combination of specialization or flexibility of study, different routes that will appeal to different students. All students take a Common Core of 36 credits that allow them to  develop their Professional and general knowledge in other areas. HKUST also operates a undergraduate research opportunities program, UROP, which gives students access to international networking and conferences. HKUST stressed that they are results orientated in their applications and IBDP students should be looking to score 38+ points.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHUK) and The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

CHUK as viewed from the MTR station “university”

On the morning of Wednesday 27th March 2019, I visited the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). With around 16000 undergraduate students and about the same post graduates, this is a large  campus university founded in 1963 and is located in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The setting is very much sub urban, and stepping off the dedicated MTR (Hong Kong’s metro) station “University” you find yourself pleasantly outside the pace bustle of the pulsing metropolis. The University is nested in a series of green hills with views of the sea.

Despite the name, the language of instruction for the majority of courses is English and degree programs last for 4 years in the main although there are some exceptions (Medicine and Education courses being two examples). Bilingualism is encouraged, and international students may be required to take courses in Mandarin or Cantonese but ability to speak either of these languages is not a requirement of entry. Instead applicants need to have a minimum of a C in GCSE English or, for IB students, be on target to score a 4 in either English A or English B. For most programs these are the minimum language requirements to be able to study here, although some programs may have slightly more rigorous requirements. As always check the program requirements. Students can select three programs on application and IB applicants will need at least 30 points and significantly more than this for some programs.

They claim that they use student performance data at the university to work out comparisons between applicants with different educational backgrounds. The university develops new programs regularly for example they have introduced AI this year. IBDP Student can get up to a year advanced standing although many opt to take less. Admission selection decisions are made by the program faculties and not centrally. CHUK runs summer programs for Yr12/Grade 11 students in their summer holidays. This is currently a 2 week residential program where students take 2 courses each with 15 hours of instructional time. Very interestingly, the university has a collegial system. The collegial system allows students from different programs to live together, and runs in similar lines to UK universities with a similar system. In these colleges students take some general education courses and have a range of social and sporting events that they can take part in from formal dining to teams sport competitions against other colleges. They can indicate preference for colleges after they have been accepted. It is the only university in Hong Kong with this structure. Non-local students are guaranteed residence for 3 out of 4 years and can apply for it in their 4th year. Housing is only 1500USD per year.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

HKU’s “main building”

In the afternoon of Wednesday 27th March I visited the campus of the University of Hong Kong or HKU for short. HKU is a campus university located in the heart of Hong Kong Island and is the oldest of the nine universities in Hong Kong. So old in fact that it’s imaginatively named “main building” is in fact listed and persevered from being demolished to allow the construction of yet another sky scraper. HKU is a campus university, again served by its own MTR station “HKU” but it is stuck right in the cut and thrust of a thriving modern metropolis and therefore has a very different feel to either CUHK or HKUST. It is a large research-based university with academic focused undergraduate programs. The University campus is spread out East to West facing the bay. Students apply directly to the programs that are of interest to them and the offers of admission are made by the program faculty. In an unusual move for a Hong Kong university, HKU has recently published its entrance criteria for its programs although they are keen to stress that the figures represent the grades attained by the lowest performing students, as measured by examination data, admitted to their programs. Interestingly students can take degrees at HKU combined with other universities in the UK, France and the US. Students on these courses have the ability to graduate with degrees awarded from both partner institutions.

Both these universities, considered by many to be the best universities in Hong Kong, offer very different living experiences for students. Both are well connected to the city via the MTR but CHUK is greener and possesses a more open sub-urban environment, with the possibility for students to get outdoors for hikes from its doorsteps. HKU being located in the heart of the city is surrounded and hemmed in by skyscrapers giving students easy access to the heart of the city.

Cialfo: Review

In May I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning and published a review of this platform in June.

Since then I have been looking Cialfo and speaking to their team and I share my review of their platform below.

Cialfo intro

Cialfo is a university guidance platform that is headquartered in Singapore and one that I first came across earlier this year in conversation with counsellors based in China. The platform is positioned to cover global university applications and is unique amongst the other platforms I have reviewed as it was founded by professionals formerly working in university guidance and with students directly. The platform grew from a team of counsellors who were initially building it for their own use. The platform was launched in 2016.

Cialfo is a contraction for “Citius, Altius, Fortius” the Olympic motto that means “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. The founders wanted a name that reflected their philosophy that university guidance has to be about more than just university applications but aspiring students to push further with their futures.

The founders also wanted to solve the problem that, according to UNESCO, 100 million students will apply to university every year by 2025, but there are relatively few counsellors, and so they wanted to enable counsellors to have a deeper impact on more students.

The student side

Both students and counsellors are presented with a fully customisable dashboard when they log in. This feature allows users to fully tweak and change their user experience and is a very nice touch – I am a big fan of flexibility and usability – allowing users to have what they consider essential features highlighted immediately on their landing page.

The platform is very clean and uncluttered, with menus laid out both along the top and down the left-hand side of the page. The left-hand menu is the main menu and from it, students can access their profile, a list of running tasks, meetings, their inbox and can complete their university/college research and complete three profiler type assessments.

The dashboard is accessible under the profile menu along with an overview of the student’s applications, contact people, grades and test scores and lists of extracurricular activities.

Students can select plans that their adviser has created in the counsellor section. This allows students to be grouped by plans (if the counsellor is working with very large cohorts) but also allows the relevant information a student needs to be organised for that student appropriately.

The platform handles a range of applications to 25 different countries and allows students to manage the various parts of these different application processes. For the US applications, the platform uses a machine learning algorithm to help students and counsellors to identify, reach, target and likely schools, although the counsellor has the option to amend and change this recommendation – another nice touch.

Students can enter their grades from high school and this data will also be synced from the school’s student information system if this has been set up.

Finally, students can also undertake three different profiling assessments from Human eSources through Cialfo and these aim to help students understand their own learning styles and personalities better.

The counsellor side

The system has a left-hand main menu with each of these menu items having sub-menus that are displayed along the top when you click on the left-hand menu.

When logging in you are taken directly to students left-hand tab and a default view of all your students on the system. From here you can fully customise your view by setting several different filters: “Application Region”, “Application Type” “Current grade”. You can add more than one filter so that the student data can be presented in any way you wish. For example, you can filter by “gender” and “application region” plus others at the same time.

From this view, you are able to click directly into student accounts and can click through to the student’s pages. Here you can see all the information that the student sees and are able to edit student data directly, including setting tasks and adding in student grades and test scores. The counsellor can set meetings, add tasks, add universities along with a range of other options.

On the left hand, main menu counsellors also have the ability to send out communications to students, parents and other counsellors via the broadcast tab. This feature allows counsellors to communicate with students via text without having to give out their own personal number – a nice touch.

From the main menu, counsellors can also edit the account information and the plans that students can select as described above.

Finally, the “schools” tab on the main menu allows you to view information on all the schools in the database. Again, the filtering allows you to select the specific schools you want. Many of these schools have admissions information, presented in scattergram charts that allow you to see the range and types of applications that have been selected. This data can be shared across the entire Cialfo network, anonymously, allowing smaller schools to see what the bigger playing field may look like.

Cialfo can integrate data directly from a variety of student information systems. Once in, the student data can be synced directly between both systems.

Counsellors can use the platform to help manage student university applications; they can add and then submit documents these processes are provided by Parchment and Common Application (CommonApp) – both of these platforms are or will be integrated with Cialfo. The CommonApp clarified to the community at IACAC this year that there will be a simple integration in 2018 but the document submissions through all companies (Cialfo, Maia, BridgeU, Unifrog) will only happen for the 2019 cycle. Parchment though is seamlessly integrated into Cialfo for the 2018 cycle.

At the time of writing Cialfo have released the course information and richer college profiles for Germany, Netherlands and Canada, alongside the many other countries that they already support applications to. 

Finally, Cialfo is currently the only platform that I know of that has a regional HQ in Delhi, New Jersey and in Shanghai, and therefore has access to Chinese servers. This means that users in China do not need a VPN to access the platform and users can switch the language of the platform into Chinese. The platform also works on WeChat! Of course.

Conclusion

I really like Cialfo. Although I have not used it myself professionally, it would be a strong contender if I were choosing which platform to go with. It is clean, intuitive and really does put the counsellor in control (from what I can see). Update September 2019: I have now used Cialfo professionally for the last year.

The fact that the team who have built the platform have extensive experience working as guidance counsellors is implicit in the way the platform looks, feels and operates. This platform is really focussed with the counsellor in mind and enabling the counsellor to impact their students positively.

The platform has a peer-2-peer aspect to is aswell; data from different schools in the Cialfo network is anonymised and visible (if the school allows it to be) which means counsellors are no longer isolated in small silos but can get a handle on what the “market” is doing. The team also have a public roadmap, allowing their users to add ideas for development, comment and discuss what features need to be prioritised. In this way they are really modelling what counsellors do – collaborate. I have been surprised in my work at how collegial and helpful colleagues from different schools are and it is lovely to see this spirit of collaboration being used in this way.

Cialfo have also developed a Chrome extension for essay prompts, used by hundreds of students, parents, and counselor is a completely free Google Chrome extension that allows anyone to look up—and search—supplements from over 300 schools in the U.S and courses for colleges in US, UK, Germany, Canada, Netherlands.

Cialfo really appears to be made by guidance counsellors for guidance counsellors!

MaiaLearning: review

Last month I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I have had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning. I haven’t used the platform with students myself, but have spent some time playing around with the platform and being guided around it by the MaiaLearning team.

Update: 25th June 2018: MaiaLearning’s CEO informed me that a major European school system has already asked for the ability to collect various teacher comments to serve as the basis for a counselor’s recommendation (see my conclusion where I write about this). He has spec’d it out and the engineers are building it. MaiaLearning should have it as part of their production software within a month.

MaiaLearning intro

Maia is the Roman Goddess of growth and this explains MaiaLearning’s name. As they told me, the companies vision is to engage and empower students so that they become excited by their opportunities and drive the process of career and college discovery themselves.

The company is based in California has been founded and funded by private individuals with a lot of experience in the technology industry and startups. They have also been very involved in education as volunteers for a number of years. The idea for MaiaLearning grew out of dissatisfaction with other products on the market.

Founded originally in 2008, their first product, CollegeonTrack was launched in 2012. The product was subsequently completely rewritten and remarketed in 2015 as MaiaLearning, the program went under a major update in 2017 and recently won the state of California contract.

The student side

On the student landing page, users can access a variety of menus along the top and I will explain some of their functions here. Students can also access a list of tasks and activities by type – these tasks are set by the counsellor. In terms of menus, students can access an explore, search and plan menus. The explore menu gives assess to the following activity types:

  • Interest Profiler: based on John Holland’s Occupational Themes (RIASEC)
  • Personality Profiler: based on a Myers-Briggs type of assessment
  • Intelligence Profiler: based on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • Learning & Productivity Profiler: a learning style assessment.

The first three of these activities will give students a report that feeds into the careers advice that the platform provides. The Learning & Productivity profiler aims to help students understand the way that they work and develop strategies to help them succeed. When completed students various profiles will be matched against particular career types. In this way, students are exposed to career options they may not have heard of or considered before.

Careers data on the platform comes from US Department of Labor’s O*NET. From the career information, students can click through to information on majors that lead to those careers and universities that cater to those majors.

The interest profiler can be taken an unlimited time by students with access to the platform while the other profilers are limited to being taken three times. Some of these can also be used with middle schoolers – the platform offers a complete careers program solution for secondary schools.

In addition, to explore, students have access to a search function for careers, colleges and scholarships. MaiaLearning have just added information on around 18,000 institutions from around the world using data from World Higher Education Database. College data is also supplied by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), produced by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics; and Wintergreen Orchard House, which surveys U.S. college admissions offices annually. Scholarship data is supplied by SuperCollege.

Based on the all the information given to and selected by the student, the plan menu allows students to begin to put the reflection into place. In this section, students can work out their roadmap for applying to college and getting into the careers they are interested in. This section houses the application support area.

The student side also allows kids to sign up to visits from colleges set up through MaiaVisits. This service also allows the counsellor to see an attendance list. In addition, students can also save documents to Document Lockers, where they can also see documents shared with them by the counsellor, and they can request recommendations.

Finally, the student side contains a portfolio. In the logbook here they can record experiences; everything that they have done and a resume builder which allows kids to input information into a resume and export it pre-formatted. Students can also add journals, goals and galleries of finished work to their portfolios.

The counsellor side

The counsellor’s side allows the counsellor access to all of the students’ accounts. Here counsellors can keep notes of meetings and set the level of visibility of these as necessary. There is a document locker where information and guides that students need can be stored so that students can view them. The counsellor side also has administrative functions for setting up student accounts, managing passwords and messaging including via text. Counsellors are also able to build lesson plans on the dashboard, which function as custom built pages where students can be given tasks to complete.

In terms of managing students, counsellors are able to assign tasks for students to complete (e.g. complete your interest profile) as well as manage the application process. MaiaLearning has document sending functionality, organised via Parchment. The team also claim that soon the platform will be able to integrate seamlessly with the CommonApp.

Currently, the platform does not allow the collection of predicted grades and actual scores but I was told that this functionality will be arriving soon. There also isn’t a way for a counsellor to acquire confidential comments in the building of a reference.

Conclusion

I was really impressed with how far the platform has come in such a short time. When compared to other products on the market who have been around for a similar length of time this platform really does pack a punch; the sheer volume of profiling possibilities and career data is really quite staggering. This, I guess, is a testament to the founding teams experience in tech. The team behind it have Silicon Valley experience in computer science and product design. It is evident that the developers can really get things done and this makes me confident that when they say they are adding features, the will be adding those features.

In some ways it has features that mark it out from other products – the note keeper and document lockers would be some examples of this but also the MaiaVisits feature which could useful serve to take much administrative work out of the counsellor’s hands in terms of liaising and communicating with universities to arrange visits, as well as keeping data on attendance by students of those visits.

That said, it is clear that this product has been developed for the American market and for schools that service American universities. While the platform has added international universities to its database there are currently no features that allow a more UK (for example) model of application administration. For example, there is no space for the student to write their personal statements or even see scaffolded examples of what makes a good or a bad personal statement. There is also no way to build a UCAS reference – in my context, I rely on teachers to supply comments so that we can write a reference that covers all of the student’s academic strengths. This cannot be done through the platform.

That being said, I think MaiaLearning is going to be a platform to watch over the coming years, particularly if serving non-US focussed international schools becomes a priority for them. As it was put to me via email:

As technologists, we can make the software do just about anything. We need counselors to tell us what those things should be. We love our customers, listen to them, and heed their advice. Since we’re committed to Europe and Asia, we will add capabilities as needed to meet the special needs of those users.

BridgeU: review

This is the third and final post of three. You can see the first here and the second here.

BridgeU intro

BridgeU was set up with the international student in mind. Their founder noticed that there was a gap for supporting students from outside the US to apply to the US, and from the outset of working with them, it has been obvious to me that the platform has been set up with the student user experience in mind. In fact, BridgeU began selling its products directly to students before it moved on to targeting schools and this was probably due to the fact that their founder ran an educational consultancy focusing on supporting students in their university applications before founding BridgeU.

As well as supporting the application process, BridgeU’s philosophical approach has been to try to help match students to potential universities by using an algorithm that takes data that the student inputs and producing matched results based on that student entered data. This is the defining part of BridgeU. Note this is more than just a database, BridgeU’s algorithm will make recommendations to a user about the fit of a university for that user. With the international student in mind, BridgeU currently matches applications to US, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and we are promised that matching will be available to Australia soon. Recently BridgeU announced global shortlisting and users can now add any university from any country in the world, although they can’t match to all these universities. This free-form shortlisting is a new feature and adds a huge amount of flexibility to the platform.

The student side

Once set up and logged in, students input data into the profile builder; this ranges from personal preferences to the countries and locations that they want to study in, as well as the type of university experience that they would like to have and the courses that they wish to study.

When this is completed they can view university matches on the appropriate tab. These matches are presented nine at a time grouped into three categories, reach, match and safety. Each choice is presented as a card on which students can click to gain more information about the university as well as the matching scores.

In each category, to be able to see more choices, students have to either “shortlist” or “discard” each choice before more are shown. This feature has caused some issues with student users I have worked with, either thinking these nine options are all they have or not liking the feeling of commitment in “discarding” or “shortlisting”. To get around these issues, each of the categories now states how many options there are underneath the category label and students are able to find any courses that have been discarded again via a link on the top right of this page.

Once students have completed the matching they can view all of the options they have shortlisted under the shortlist tab. On the shortlist tab students can also directly add in any courses that they know about that they are considering, bypassing the matching tab. It is this feature that allows students to add any university on the planet – quite a powerful feature. After populating the shortlist tab, students then decide where they will apply by clicking on the “apply here” feature next to each shortlist.

When a student selects a university to apply to BridgeU will give them information about deadlines as well as the documentation that they need to submit as part of their application. The system will also alert the advisor to any required documentation that the school will need to submit. Another really nice feature, just released but still needing some development is application tracking. If you have used UCAS adviser track then you will get a sense of why this is such a good feature for a counsellor. Essentially this simple feature provides a space for students to mark when they have finished preparing and sending their application, as well as mark when they have received an offer and any decisions that they make. This means that the advisor is easily able to keep track of all the application statuses of all their students.

In addition to these research, matching and application tools, BridgeU also offers a “writing builder” to support students in writing a personal statement, or college essays for the US. These tools are still a little basic and I am not convinced that the functionality is any better than google docs, in fact, google docs may be a better place to write if students want to receive comments and input from teachers – I will be testing this out more in a couple of months. To support students in this process there are also annotated exemplars available for the students to view but these don’t provide the level of scaffolding that as a teacher I would like to see and the annotations are a little weak.

Finally, BridgeU has recently developed a careers tool that students can view but unfortunately, teachers can’t at present. The careers tool is ambitious and adopts BridgeU’s global approach by aggregating data on careers from many different countries. The data is supplied by burning glass. The careers tool works a little like the matching program and allows students to view data from job groups and select jobs they are interested in, before viewing a career report that gives some data about earning power, monthly demands for the job and its sector.

The teacher side

BridgeU’s teacher side is still under development, it is obvious that the platform was originally designed with the student user in mind, and BridgeU has had to work hard to make the platform fit into the school ecosystem. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all, we are all here to support the student applicant. I just believe that one of the best ways to do that is to support the work of teachers and schools.

BridgeU is aware of the issues from the teacher side and is working to address them. They have recently partnered with iSAMs and ManageBac which, to my mind at least, gives them the potential to hugely improve some of the issues that they have. Because of this integration, it is now very easy to add students and advisors to the platform if you use either of these systems. If you don’t, adding advisors and students is a little bit cumbersome, but no more or less than any of their competitors.

The reference writing tool is currently undergoing user testing in BridgeU’s beacon schools and allows advisors to easily assign report writers to an individual student. A little like the students writing builder; there are no exemplars of completed comments or references for teachers to view and the writing functionality itself is minimal in its current state.

BridgeU has worked hard recently to allow document sending as a function, giving schools the ability to send transcripts and other documents directly to US and Canadian universities. The document sending function is powered by Parchment and is built directly into the system. This is a much-needed function for many schools, particularly those with many applicants to North America. When a student selects to apply to the relevant country, the documents that need to be sent are added to the advisor’s task list. From here the advisor can upload the necessary documents and send with just a few clicks.

Finally, BridgeU has recently provided a reporting function for advisors under the analytics tab. From here advisors can easily see which universities are shortlisted and applied to most frequently by their student body. The analytics function will also provide reporting on student offers, rejections, predicted scores, final scores, document sending and an analysis of historical data.

Conclusion

The platform has come some way since I last wrote about them but not as far as I would have imagined in that time, indeed some of the functionality that they were keen to point out they were working on in their response to that article, is still not visible within the system. Added to that they have developed a slight reputation for aggressive marketing, particularly amongst the schools that I communicate with, which is a shame because they are a lovely team (I know, I’ve met them).

That said they have a powerful product that will be ideal for schools that manage a very diverse student body, whose students apply to many different HE systems each year. It’s matching algorithm, global or free-form shortlisting, document sending and its application tracking and reporting are it’s greatest assets currently, and ones that set it apart from competitors.

Areas for development on the platform include the careers tool which is still in their infancy. It is promising that this is being developed but I would like to see more from this section, perhaps even a CV builder or some form of personality assessment.

Personally, I still have some reservations about the platform, as I do about all platforms of its ilk. When working with a product that is being developed, you have to be prepared to work with it and understand that certain aspects may not be delivered in the timescales that are promised all the time. Having said this, this platform does the heavy lifting when it comes to helping students make sense of all university the data that is out there.