Teaching Students the Skills to Cope with Life’s Challenges

The College’s annual Teaching Innovation Award highlights the most creative and successful pedagogies among staff. The winners of this year’s team and individual awards share their effective strategies

Dr Oliver Chan Heng-choon, Dr Sylvia Kwok Lai Yuk-ching, Dr Julian Lai Chuk-ling developed a six-level teaching approach.

Dr Ho Wing-chung developed a six-level teaching approach.

Dr Hsieh Chih-wei, winner of the individual category in this year's Teaching Innovation Award, has helped bring an Asian focus to the subject of managing human resources in the public and private sectors.

The world we live in is rapidly changing. Whether it is the workplace, our everyday lives or at society level, we are thrust into contact with problems we have never encountered before.

To navigate this constantly changing world, young people need to develop a keen motivation to learn, the curiosity to discover, and be problem-solvers who can think critically and innovatively. They should be confident in themselves and able to thrive on challenges. To develop the qualities they need to succeed beyond the classroom, they need a great deal of support and guidance from their teachers.

Educators at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) are fully aware of their responsibility to nurture future leaders and have been busy evolving their teaching practices for the purpose. To encourage and recognise innovative, effective and well-implemented practices in teaching and learning, CLASS gives the annual Teaching Innovation Award, which also seeks to promote the sharing of outstanding teaching pedagogies among faculty members. The award is presented to a team as well as an individual.

Award-winning projects should be unique in design, inspiring in approach, and display synergy with CityU’s Discovery-enriched Curriculum, the guiding principle of teaching and learning at the university. Applicants are required to submit evidence of how the project has helped students learn more effectively, and explain ways that the quality of teaching is to be monitored and maintained, among other criteria. Meanwhile, the winner of the team category should demonstrate the impact of collaborative work.

Winners of the team and individual categories in this year’s Teaching Innovation Award share the mission to help students connect text-book knowledge with real-life situations. This has been achieved through ingenious curriculum design and enhancement - including the incorporation of practical components into the curriculum - which brings relevance to what the students are learning and thereby engages them more effectively. Applying theories and analytical frameworks in real life will enable students to sharpen their problem-solving and communication skills and develop a more positive mindset.

The teaching team which won this year’s team category comprises four Associate Professors from the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences: team leader Dr Sylvia KWOK LAI Yukching who teaches social work subjects, Dr Oliver CHAN Hengchoon who specialises in criminology, sociologist Dr HO Wing-chung, and Dr Julian LAI Chuk-ling whose expertise is in psychology. They have designed and applied a new teaching approach to the course “Discovering the Mystery of Applied Social Sciences”.

The approach, a six-level pedagogy, is derived from integrating two existing education and learning theories. The six stages of the team’s teaching framework are: “learn it”, “live it”, “reflect it”, “conceptualise it”, “apply it” and “embed it”.

“Students are guided at every step to discover their strengths and potentials, while acquiring knowledge and skills in applied social sciences,” says Kwok. “They then tap into their creativity and apply the concepts and theories in real life, including a local primary school attended by ethnic minority children. Many students have shown personal growth during the process.”

Students are guided at every step to discover their strengths and potentials, while acquiring knowledge and skills in applied social sciences
Dr Sylvia KWOK LAI Yuk-ching

The team is determined to make learning engaging at every level of the teaching framework to help students internalise what they have learnt. At the “learn it” stage, for example, rather than being spoon-fed the information, students learn through debates and discussions, games, videos and experiential exercises in class.

For Chan, one of the intended learning outcomes of this stage is for students to develop the ability to think from different perspectives.

“When I teach the concept of school bullying, for instance, I ask my students to put themselves in the shoes of both the victim and the offender. We want to help students learn to reflect deeply on an issue from multiple angles,” he says.

Among the tasks undertaken at the “live it” stage are writing letters of appreciation to significant others (applying the concept of gratitude), setting and pursuing a goal and responding to others more constructively (putting positive psychology to use), and re-examining their own points of view in everyday conversations (recalling what they learn about biases in psychology).

Meanwhile, “apply it” requires students to form small groups and design an activity for ethnic minority children. Starting from the concepts and learning frameworks taken from psychology, sociology, criminology and social work, such as self-esteem, ethnic minority, discrimination, hierarchy of needs, and programme design, students have put in place a number of thoughtful programmes with the aims of building trust, increasing self-esteem and strengthening communication skills of the ethnic minority children.

Lai believes that by integrating the theories from different disciplines and applying them in a project, students can see the impact of what they learn in a real-life setting.

“This is very useful for knowledge retention. Hopefully the knowledge they have acquired will stay with them not only after graduation but many years after,” he says.

Helping his students connect the dots between theories and the real world is also what Dr HSIEH Chih-wei, winner of the individual category in this year’s Teaching Innovation Award, has been working tirelessly to achieve.

Since 2018, the Assistant Professor of CityU’s Department of Public Policy has revamped two courses, “Managing Human Resources in Public and Private Sectors” and “Managing Human Resources in the Public Sector”. As part of the new teaching practice, Hsieh illustrates concepts and theories with case studies - real or fictional - that shed light on the problems faced by human resources professionals in Hong Kong.

“The course content used to be excessively Western-centric and the delivery method primarily theory-oriented. We have brought in cases with a focus on Hong Kong and the Greater China region to address local issues,” says Hsieh.

Hsieh’s students are no strangers to the analytical challenges he poses in lectures, which touch upon controversial issues from the use of company property versus right to privacy, to overtime work and discrimination. In going over a case, students become the decision-maker and try to come up with a solution with a reasonable justification.

“This method relies on the students to explore a topic and think critically before reaching a solution or decision. Instructors no longer explain the problem to them or divulge the answer directly,” says Hsieh.

Also as a requirement of the courses, students have to investigate real-life problems in small teams. After coming up with a topic in consultation with Hsieh, they carry out research as well as interviews with stakeholders before making a recommendation. The topics they have investigated include breast-feeding in the workplace, inclement weather policy for street cleaners and strike prevention. Hsieh hopes to eventually develop a “case bank”, consisting of selected and modified case studies written by his students, to facilitate further learning and knowledge sharing within the Department of Public Policy as well as CLASS.

“Most students find the case study approach challenging initially,” says Hsieh. There are many possible solutions to each case and students find it difficult to embrace the idea that there is no absolute right or wrong. And of course it is no small feat having to justify their decision legally and meanwhile being reasonable to the parties involved.

Despite the challenges, helping his students improve their problem-solving capacity has certainly been the right thing to do. “In human resources you need to be sensitive to people’s needs. You need to put your books down, go outside the classroom, talk to the people affected and solve a problem,” Hsieh says.

Benjamin FRANKLIN, one of the founding fathers of the US, once said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Through involving their students in real-life problem-solving activities, Hsieh, Kwok and her team have brought enthusiasm back into the classroom and helped their students develop essential skills for the future.