Service Learning

I am a strong believer in the transformative power of education and service. To that end, I have been active in service learning since 2006. Together with my students, we have served diverse peoples, from refugees and migrant workers, special needs children, at-risk youths, Band 3 students, new immigrants, etc in Hong Kong. Some of our projects also take place abroad. We started with Hubei in 2005, Gansu in 2007, and then Cambodia in 2010. In 2013 we added a new continent: Africa (Rwanda). 

On a Personal Level:

Most of our projects revolve around computing and technology (unsurprisingly). My own interest is in projects that are able to involve students from multiple disciplines, not just computing and engineering (though engineering and computing students are very welcome!) To that end, most of our projects use computing technology as a vehicle to introduce other themes, such as STEM education, language learning, even health promotion. We do, of course, have some projects that are very computing/engineering, such as robotics, though! The common themes throughout all of our projects are the digital/information divide and information ethics. This means that our projects are designed to highlight these themes, which are the learning component for our students. 

Since 2012, I have been teaching two courses in service learning:

  • COMP2S01: Technology Beyond Borders: Service Learning across Cultural, Ethnic and Community Lines
  • COMP3911: Service Learning and Civic Engagement in the Information Age

At the University Level:

In addition to my own projects, I also sit on the university committee that oversees all the service learning subjects. At PolyU, all students have to take a 3-credit subject in service learning as a requirement for graduation. Since we have 2800 first-year students and another 1200 articulation (read: advanced standing) students, we estimate that we will need around 70 subjects to accommdate them all. Our committee approves new subject proposals as they come in, and we also receive their end-of-semester grades and their student feedback statistics. We are now in the process of conducting a full-scale assessment on service learning and its effectiveness in helping students achieve the stated outcomes.

Since March 2020 (hey COVID!), I have been partially seconded away to the University’s Service-Learning and Leadership Office, where I am the current head.

Some of my own projects: (photos will be uploaded as I figure how how to use Sandvox)

Rwanda 2015-19

Building solar electricity installations for rural villages in the mountains. Since 2015, we have managed to successfully wire up two entire valleys with solar power. These villages are very remote, in very rugged terrain far from any paved roads.


Rwanda 2014

Building a “Lab in a Suitcase” for two primary schools, installing photovoltaic systems, designing e-Learning resources for primary schools, teaching computing to vocational students.

Farewell at Kinyana Primary SchoolOur Lab in a Suitcase. Inside that suitcase is a fully-functioning lab (without the power infrastructure), including server, wifi, Internet access (3G), and devices.Testing out the photovoltaic system for the lab.Powering up the Lab in a SuitcaseInstalling the solar panels. These 5 panels don’t look like much, but they’ll fully charge the suitcase in one morning in Rwanda.The e-Microscope in action. That’s a live butterfly under the lens.50x e-MicroscopeDemonstrating pulleys and force ratioTeaching programming to vocational studentsSTEM education via e-Learning — Teacher training

Cambodia 2010-14

IT training for children and youths, STEM education through computing, surveys and analysis, IT infrastructure construction.

(Since its inception as a Computing project in 2010, this has turned into an “umbrella” project that involves subjects and projects from different disciplines. 2014 was our largest project to date — over 90 students and teachers participated in 4 projects: Computing, Hospitality, Optometry, and Development. We even had a staff development team on site — teachers who are interested in SL coming along to observe.)

Digital Storytelling — StoryboardingDigital StorytellingFlooded siteIT literacy — Web Programming for Associate Degree studentsRobotics — with our own $9.99 robotRoboticsOur “Lab in a Suitcase on a Tuktuk"Robots, computers and solar-powered lights

Rwanda 2013

Digital documentation and archiving for an NGO, building a computing lab for a vocational school, IT training.

IT training for NGO staffIT training for NGO staffInterviewing self-help groupsDigital documentationInterviewsDigital Literacy training for vocational school teachersDigital literacy training for vocational school teachersDistributing solar lights to villagersSolar lights come in handy during blackouts

Hong Kong 2005-14

Workshops in robotics, digital storytelling, animation programing, wearable computing for children; IT literacy and web authoring for refugees

Gansu 2008-10  

Building computing infrastructure for a boarding primary school/orphanage, developing IT curriculum for primary students, IT training for teachers, robotics/digital storytelling classes for children.

Leaving for Gansu at the height of the H5N1 flu outbreak, 2009Computer lab installationComputer Lab InstallationComputer Lab InstallationFiber-optic installationFiber-optic installationLibrary management system — setting upLibrary management system — setting upRoboticsDigital StorytellingVideo-conferencing with sponsorsVideo conferencing with HK students

Hubei 2005-08

The project that started it all — robotics, moviemaking, mapmaking for rural primary students

© Grace Ngai 2013