Academics rewarded for passion and dedication

by Christy Liu

Academia at its best – HKUST 10 best lecturers series

(from left to right) John Hulpke, adjunct professor
Emily Nason and Riki Takeuchi, assistant professors
Department of Management of Organizations
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Wallace Chan

Flexible teaching strategies meet diverse learning needs

In February this year, HKUST held a ceremony to recognise its 10 best lecturers as voted by more than 4,000 eligible undergraduate students, with three of the awardees — adjunct professor John Hulpke, and assistant professors Emily Nason and Riki Takeuchi — coming from the university's Department of Management of Organizations.

Professor Hulpke says that it is gratifying to be recognised by students in this way and notes the challenging nature of teaching students from different backgrounds. "Every student is different but this is even more pronounced when they come from different cultures," he remarks. As more non-local students attend Hong Kong's universities, it is important for instructors to adapt their teaching styles to suit the different cultures. "Very often, a class will have a mix of Chinese and international students and the two groups come with different expectations," he notes. "International students are used to an interactive teaching mode and they enjoy being able to ask questions and have discussions. Local students, however, typically prefer the traditional, more passive way of learning."

This increased diversity is representative of a larger trend. "Teaching is a dynamic profession and as the education sector changes, we must use flexible teaching strategies to meet the needs of today's students," Professor Hulpke adds. "Ideally, we can encourage both groups of students — local and international — to work together so that they can learn from each other."

Dr Takeuchi says that he, too, aims to tailor his teaching style to the situation. For example, when faced with this kind of mixed group, he encourages his students to interact with classmates from different backgrounds. "When we are doing pair or group work I try to partner students with someone they wouldn't normally sit with or talk to. Learning through diversity has many benefits and the lessons learned often go beyond the course content," he emphasises.

Through group learning, all participants have the opportunity to effectively learn from each other's thoughts. Professor Hulpke says that actual participation and interaction in class, as opposed to simply attending, is a vital and integral part of the learning process.

Dr Nason agrees and says that she continuously aims to enhance interaction in her classes and makes herself available for discussions with students. "I always try to get feedback from students so I can understand what their needs and expectations are, and subsequently adapt my teaching to make it more effective." One example of this is the recording of her lectures. "Students today are so busy with their classes, part-time jobs and social lives and I understand that sometimes they just can't make it to class. Last semester I tried out a new remote video capture technology to record my lectures so that students who couldn't find time to attend lectures can have a chance to review what they've missed out on," she says.

Defined expectations

According to the three awardees, another important aspect of enhanced teaching is a clear student assessment scheme. Dr Takeuchi says that a transparent system allows students to see how they are performing and how they can improve. "When students understand exactly what is expected of them they can determine where they went off course in an essay, or what they need to do to get an "A" in a test. They are then able to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and aim for better results." Dr Nason adds, "They appreciate this open system as it lets them know where they stand."

Professor Hulpke believes that in some cases the stereotype of the academic with little affinity for students is accurate. However, he says that most academics value their students highly and hope to help them become successful in their future careers. "Most instructors devote long hours to developing and nurturing their students and, while we three are delighted and grateful to have received this award, there are many other instructors who are equally deserving."

Teachers' tips

  • Flexible teaching strategies meet students' needs
  • Learning through diversity has many benefits
  • Interaction in and out of the classroom vital

Taken from Career Times 28 March 2008
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