Encouraging students to apply their knowledge to society is the key teaching philosophy shared among this year’s Teaching Excellence Award (TEA) winners at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).
The TEA winners this year are Dr Kannie Chan Wai-yan, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME); Professor Daniel Ho Wing-cheong in the Department of Mathematics; and the IT Professional Placement Team led by Dr Raymond Wong Hau-san, Associate Head in the Department of Computer Science. Dr Wong’s team comprises Dr Jacky Keung Wai and Dr Kwok Lam-for, both Associate Professors, and Dr Chan Mang-tang, University Lecturer.
Readiness to try
Dr Kannie Chan said she endeavoured to discover the real causes behind any failure and then to seek to improve, an attitude that she encouraged her students to adopt. Her field, biomedical engineering, stresses applications and requires students to apply knowledge learned in class to improve medical tests and devices. But obstacles are par for the course when conducting research.
“It is not uncommon to experience problems during the research process, and success is unlikely at the first stage. However, we can always learn from failure,” she said.
Dr Chan values the importance of communication with her students. She strives to understand their interests and aspirations, thereby helping them to identify and achieve their goals. She also encourages them to take part in international competitions, an experience that broadens their horizons and enhances their confidence. Under her guidance, one of her students won the Young Investigator Award at the 7th International Workshop on Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer Imaging.
“Helping others by applying their knowledge is not an unreachable dream. They just need to have confidence in their capabilities,” Dr Chan observed.
She is currently planning a creative workshop on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a means of expanding her students’ learning experience. She hopes that the workshop will provide students with more opportunities to apply the theories they have learned. In addition, she wants to encourage them to think how to use AI to improve MRI technology for earlier and more accurate diagnoses for patients.
Encouraging cross-disciplinary learning and community services
“I try to understand students’ needs with empathy, build mutual trust with them, and lead them to seek breakthroughs. I’m filled with great satisfaction to see them making continuous improvement,” said Professor Ho, who has served the Department of Mathematics for around 30 years and has been proactively looking for opportunities to foster cross-disciplinary learning for students.
In 2008, CityU was the first university in the Greater China Region to join the Grand Challenges Scholars Programme organised by the National Academy of Engineering in the US. Professor Ho was the director of this programme until 2018. He said the programme encouraged students to think out of the box and incorporate knowledge from various disciplines to find ways to deal with problems such as sustainability, medicine, security, and quality of life, shedding off the stereotype that mathematics students only know how to calculate.
Professor Ho also encourages students to participate in community service works in underdeveloped regions like Myanmar through activities organised by Engineers Without Borders. In addition, he has collaborated with corporations, arranging for students to work as interns in banks and insurance companies where they make use of their strengths in data mining. The scheme has significantly boosted the employment rate of his students in the financial sector.
Practicing knowledge in the workplace
Uniquely, since the establishment of the programme in 1987, all BSc Computer Science students at CityU have to participate in a placement scheme for about nine months. The IT Professional Placement Team led by Dr Wong is committed to providing students with opportunities to apply their knowledge in the workplace.
“In response to the rapid advancement of IT, we need to keep students abreast of the latest knowledge and skills required by the industry,” Dr Wong said.
To ensure students receive timely support about their progress during their placement, the team developed a one-stop online platform that offers the latest information about job vacancies and industry development. Students can use this platform to arrange job interviews and access evaluation and feedback from their employers.
Students who complete their placements tend to be more focused and prudent, and better equipped to analyse issues from multiple angles and solve problems, according to Dr Chan Mang-tang.
Dr Kwok, coordinator of the mentorship programme, said, “Thanks to the industry and CityU, many veteran executives serve as mentors while students get to understand the development of the industry and explore career opportunities at meetings with potential employers.”
Dr Keung added that they would work with more corporations in the industry to create more internship opportunities and scholarships for outstanding students.
The TEA has been honouring outstanding teachers and promoting their exceptional teaching methods since 1993. Each awardee receives a cash prize of HK$15,000 for staff development and related purposes, and a grant of HK$150,000 to undertake a teaching development project of their choice. Winners are also nominated for the Award for Teaching Excellence granted by the University Grants Committee.