Teaching Excellence awardees keep abreast of students’ needs and technology
Good teachers certainly know all about their own fields, but excellent teachers are true educators, who keep abreast of their students’ needs, and are willing to adopt new pedagogies and technology.
“My use of lecture time has changed over the years, and differs across courses as a function of the subject material and the availability of online resources,” says Prof Gregory Whitten, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Department of Economics, recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award 2021/22.
Photo: Prof Paulina Wong Pui-yun, recipient of the Outstanding Teaching Award for Early Career Faculty and member of the Service-Learning team.
“In early years, I created detailed lecture slides for all classes, but released, prior to lectures, an edited slide file where key conclusions and definitions were missing. I omitted such material deliberately to incentivise students to read material on their own and/or to pay attention in lecture when I would reveal the full slides,” he says.
Prof Gregory Whitten
However Prof Whitten has moved away from slide-focused lectures as he has noted that an overwhelming-majority of students use only notes to study and have stopped reading primary material and even textbooks. Hence, these students do not develop the ability to synthesise information on their own. At the same time, the development of teaching technology such as e-books and video-making software has given students fewer excuses not to buy and read textbooks and made flipped classrooms easier to implement.
“Lecture recordings now ensure that students have a complete file of information presented in lectures, comparable to lecture slides. Though notes are printed while recordings are audiovisual, the latter format can, arguably, help students more in the long run as recordings require them to develop listening comprehension skills in English,” he explains.
Prof Whitten now delivers classes almost exclusively in a flipped-classroom manner, where he records lecture videos for students to watch in their own time, and spends class time playing radio news stories and asking students to reflect and discuss the story vis-à-vis that week’s lecture content. “Even if I do not conduct a class primarily in a flipped classroom mode, I still incorporate contemporary news stories and current events whenever possible. This practice not only makes abstract subject content easier to understand with practical examples, it also encourages students to learn about the world outside Hong Kong or even the Mainland,” he says.
To Prof Cui Geng, Professor, Department of Marketing and International Business, and winner of the inaugural Postgraduate category in this year’s Awards, technology plays a crucial role both in his research and his teaching.
Prof Cui Geng
“Even long before the advent of Moodle and Zoom, I adopted the Internet and interactive technologies for teaching,” Prof Cui says. “I have maintained a course website for each course I have taught to share and update information with the students, and employed various blended learning tools in conducting the classes, including videos, online learning tools, and live interactions with guest speakers to exchange thoughts on issues facing the new digital economy. These practices of blended learning and exchanges with industry leaders brought the real-world contexts to the classroom.”
A prominent researcher on e-commerce and social media, Prof Cui has adopted innovative methods such as artificial intelligence and machine learning in his research; as a scholar-teacher, he not only shares his research findings with students, but also works with them as colleagues. “I strive to be a participative leader, involving students in my own research and getting involved in theirs as a colleague and collaborator, so that I can show them the process of rigorous scientific research as we work on these topics together,” he says.
In his 22 years at Lingnan, he has co-authored 19 publications with his research postgraduate students, and inspired many to become scholars, researchers or executives at multinational corporations. “Actually there are a lot of things you can’t learn from textbooks or by reading. A lot of learning is informal -- learning outside the classroom, outside office hours -- based on informal conversation.” Prof Cui always makes himself available, and spends time with his students at lunch, on outings, and communicating through social media.
“My research helps me and the students, making us not just users of the technology, but thinkers and managers of fast-changing technology. I cannot take credit for the success of my students, but I have played an instrumental role in their career development,” he says.
“Infusing technology with liberal arts context, design thinking into a non-technology curriculum, creativity training into non-STEAM programmes, is important, not only to liberal arts universities like Lingnan, but all other local universities in Hong Kong and beyond,” observes Prof Albert Ko, Director, Office of Service-Learning, and leader of the Service-Learning team which received the team category award with members Prof Paulina Wong Pui-yun, Dr Aloysius Wilfred Raj Arokiaraj, Dr Jasper Van Holsteijn and Ng Aik-min.
Since joining Lingnan in 2017, Prof Ko and his team have revamped the University’s Service-Learning programme to be more student-centred, internationalised, and focused on long-term positive impact on students and communities, and he places problem-solving and entrepreneurial spirit for students at the core of this.
Prof Albert Ko in his team's invention '12° Masks'.
“Humanitarian Technology seeks to apply low-cost mature technology to solve social problems,” Prof Ko says. “It is one of the key elements of our programmes, as it fits Lingnan’s liberal arts education setting and its motto ‘Education for Service’ very well.”
There are around 10 universities in the world dedicated to humanitarian technology, and Lingnan is one of them.
Referring to some of the latest projects conducted by the team and students, including Project Ultra Violite – disinfection units to combat COVID-19 in subdivided flats, Asaqua – water storage tanks to tackle drought in rural Uganda, and 12° Masks – transparent face masks for the hearing-impaired, Prof Ko says “In these projects, students develop creative confidence as they gain the relevant technological skills in turning their ideas into functioning solutions. The successful commercialisation of projects is a testament to the efficacy of the team’s teaching philosophy,” he adds.
Of all his team’s projects and programmes, the Joint Humanitarian Entrepreneurship Summer Academy is Prof Ko’s favourite in terms of impact on students. The Academy consists of two weeks learning in class, followed by two weeks of active field work, where students work with local communities on challenges and co-design solutions. In the past, the programme has benefitted communities in Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Uganda, and Mainland China.
“The Summer Academy has created a new landscape for Service-Learning. Until now, summer programmes usually sent students to other universities or institutions for exchanges and experience, but there was no well-designed, structured programme for students to address social problems, introduce humanitarian technology and adopt an inclusive business approach in other countries and regions. This promotes and achieves United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals directly too,” Prof Ko, an engineer by training, explains.
“I am often asked by students about the reasons for studying science in a liberal arts university,” recipient of Outstanding Teaching Award for Early Career Faculty Dr Helen Geng Hongyan from the Science Unit says. “My answer is that science teaches us a way of understanding our world. When studying science, besides a body of knowledge, it is more important students should be able to reason scientifically and think critically.”
Dr Helen Geng Hongyan
To put her teaching philosophy into practice, Dr Geng developed a four-step process, that is, to bring science into the classroom, to equip students with scientific reasoning and literacy, to apply what they have learned by studying and through life, and to serve and contribute to our society. “Science is one way, rather than the only way, to understand our world. By sharing this with students, I echo the critical thinking and the whole-person development that the university strives to achieve.”
To Prof Paulina Wong Pui-yun, another recipient of the Outstanding Teaching Award for Early Career Faculty who was also in Prof Albert Ko’s winning team, her mission as a teacher in the Science Unit is to engage students with a non-science background to be fearless about science, and excited about coming here to learn, which is “challenging but rewarding”, as Prof Wong puts it.
For her two courses, Mapping Our Changing World, and Climate Change and Human Health, Prof Wong has adopted the latest technologies, such as web-based mapping,
GPS, and GIS, as well as data analysis tools for students to manoeuvre if not master technology while addressing key environmental and social issues facing the world. For innovation and teaching outcomes, Prof Wong was awarded the Teaching Development Grant entitled “The Application of Web Geographic Information System (Web GIS) in Students’ Smart Learning on a Smart Green Campus”.
“In terms of the impact, I believe each student is unique, and as students grow, my own worldviews and values will also be influenced. The teaching award solidifies my beliefs and inspires me to work even harder, and to look forward to exploring more innovative teaching tools and opportunities, including Metaverse and Game-based Learning, to foster smart and sustainable education on campus and in the community,” Prof Wong says.
The LU Teaching Excellence Awards Scheme Selection Panel, comprised of staff and student representatives from each faculty, reviews and selects shortlisted candidates and teams in recognition of their teaching quality, innovativeness and outcomes.