Right teaching approach changes learning attitude

by Maggie Tang

Academia at its best – HKUST best 10 lecturers series

Mike So, associate professor, Department of Information and Systems Management
School of Business and Management
Photo: Wallace Chan

Effective teachers do more than standing in front of a class and delivering a lecture. Rather than simply transferring textbook knowledge, a teacher's job includes motivating students to achieve success on their own, both in university and their future lives.

Mike So, associate professor, Department of Information and Systems Management, School of Business and Management, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) adopts a progressive and problem-based learning (PBL) approach to do just that. "PBL has a number of advantages over the traditional approach to teaching," he says. "It increases retention of information; develops an integrated, rather than discipline-bound, knowledge base; encourages lifelong learning; and generates more peer and student-teacher interaction.

PBL involves presenting students with a problem from the real world and challenging them to solve it. To do so students are typically required to use knowledge they have already learned and uncover new knowledge in the process.

One of the toughest aspects an instructor faces when using PBL is the amount of time it takes to prepare the right teaching materials. Dr So says, "I like to use current events and issues in my teaching materials because textbooks quickly become out of date, if they are even relevant to begin with. All of the materials I use I have created myself and it is not often that I can use the same things in two consecutive semesters. Therefore, I pay constant attention to current affairs and my own research results which match my teaching plan."

Despite the increased workload, Dr So believes PBL is the correct approach. "PBL is effective in the scaffolding of knowledge and problem solving skills," he says. "Students can use what they already know and learn new things at the same time. And there is usually more than one way to approach and solve a problem so they can learn which works best for them. This is a valuable skill that they can transfer to any number of different fields. Moreover, since the PBL learning environment is more authentic, students become more motivated and engaged."

Dr So's students appear to approve of his teaching. For nine academic years HKUST undergraduates have voted him one of the university's best 10 lecturers. Among the first instructors at HKUST to use PBL in his classes, these awards suggest that the pedagogy has been well received by learners. Dr So was also recently bestowed with the university's Teaching Innovation Awards in recognition of his tireless efforts to enhance his students' learning.

The orthodox spoon-feeding and examination oriented approach creates passive learners who are unable to compete in today's ever changing environment. Dr So remarks, "I hope to equip my students with the proper methods to decode information and solve problems of any nature. The problem solving skills that are acquired in my classes come in use every day of our lives." His dedication to the education of young people in Hong Kong clearly illustrates this. He adds, "The most rewarding part of my job is not the awards but seeing students' attitude towards learning change for the better."

Taken from Career Times 04 April 2008
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