Courses Combining Tradition and Innovation

Dr Melody Chong
Instructor, Department of Asian and International Studies

The guest speakers from Japan demonstrated how to wear the tradi onal Japanese clothing - kimono.

Students had a chance to use the bamboo tea whisk to prepare a perfect bowl of powder tea.

Amid fast-paced IT developments and an increasingly complex business landscape, employers need recruits with both traditional skills and a high level of creativity. That's why Dr Melody CHONG, recipient of the Teaching Innovation Award 2017, aims to nurture new ways of thinking about problems throughout her courses.

“Innovative teaching involves holistic curriculum design and regular new elements to engage students and appeal to their curiosity,” says Chong, who is in the Department of Asian and International Studies. “For example, in one of the popular Gateway Education courses titled “The Japanese Way of Tea: History, Arts, Architecture and Philosophy”, we include experiential learning elements such as how to make a bowl of powder tea, wear a kimono, as well as explaining the history and aesthetics of the tea ceremony and the correct etiquette.”

Some teaching takes place in CityU's on-campus Japanese tea room, built by artisans flown in from Japan. Noted tea masters are invited to share their expertise, accumulated over decades, on everything from how to walk on the tatami in the tea room to the philosophy behind the designs, décor and correct etiquette for guests.

“The course requires intensive study of the theory, history and philosophy of tea ceremony for group projects,” Chong says.

Through their assignments, students also gain the type of experience needed to complete projects in a genuine workplace. They must propose topics, conduct initial research, and consult with supervisors. Every step in the process is in line with what modern enterprises expect in terms of standards and quality.

“I want the students to adopt a professional attitude towards their assignments,” Chong says. “My courses give them hands-on experience plus practical training in things like email etiquette and presenting their ideas in a concise, organised way. This will benefit them in their future careers.”

Besides that, Chong also aims to inspire students to develop innovative solutions. She believes creativity and academic requirements can go hand in hand. It is important, for instance, to cite references correctly, but every project or paper should also include something distinctly original.

“When presenting core ideas, students can choose different formats and have plenty of scope to express their creativity,” she says. “For instance, some groups have used drama and 'talk shows' to explain the influence of Japanese tea around the world. Others used the concept of a simulated guided tour. A key objective is to encourage diversity and unconventional approaches. I remind them too that presentations should view core ideas from the audience's perspective and that interaction always helps.”

I try to teach students how to transform knowledge from textbooks into innovative ideas
Dr Melody Chong

In designing programmes, including another Gateway Education course on “Asian Values and Managerial Practices”, Chong makes use of her previous management experience with Japanese enterprises. This means she can share real-life practices and interpret the latest trends in corporate management.

The course helps students understand what employers now expect of new recruits. The course covers aspects of human resources management and the characteristics of leadership in the different corporate cultures found in China, Japan and Korea.

Here, Chong likens her role to that of a business consultant providing information and guidance. In her 'three-phase consultation mechanism', students select topics for their group projects, discuss how to go about the research, and communicate as necessary with Chong via CityU's Canvas and face-to-face meetings.

“I expect students to understand my requirements,” she says. “For example, they should know that an excellent project always rely on good quality of references and articles from suspected sources shall never be used. We discuss each group's topic and references before they proceed to develop the outline. As in any workplace, they must demonstrate professional work attitude by following procedures, sticking to the agreed outline, and meeting the deadline.”

When assessing projects, Chong looks for original ideas and how well coursework has been understood and incorporated.

“I try to teach students how to transform knowledge from textbooks into innovative ideas,” she says. “I also encourage reflection and self-evaluation for which extra marks may be given.”

To assess individual creativity, Chong asks students to read Chinese classics such as the Analects of Confucius and to comment in class or online on how certain ideas found there relate to modern-day management practices. Such methods, she notes, have enhanced the overall quality of student projects, with marks going up by two grades on average.

“Going forward, I aim to keep refreshing my courses, making adjustments and adding new elements,” Chong says.