• My teaching philosophy
I firmly believe that the most important thing about teaching is not what the teacher has taught, but what the students have learnt. Examination is not the ultimate goal of learning. Instead, I concentrate on reviewing whether students have mastered key elements in the learning process and are able to apply what they have learnt.
Courses taught at HKUST:
“Structures and Defects in Materials”(PHYS351, 4 hr lecture per week)
“Experimental Physics”, (PHYS211, 1h lecture+3hr lab+2hr tutorial per week)
“Introduction to Materials Science”, (PHYS250, 3hr lecture per week)
“Diffraction and Imaging Techniques in Materials Science”, (PHYS582, 3hr lecture+1hrLab+1hur tutorial per week)
“Nano Beam Technology”, (PHYS525, 3hr lecture+1hrLab+1hur tutorial per week)
“Advanced Materials”, (MATL515, MSc course, 3hr lecture per week)
Effort to improve my teaching
For me teaching is great fun and hard work. What I have learnt from my first teaching experience in the spring semester of 1997 is that not all students learn most effectively the same way I learn. For example, for the courses involving atomic structures, imaging or diffraction of microstructures (can not been seen with the naked eye) in organism and solid materials, many students faced difficulties in grasping challenging concepts during study. For traditional teaching, the exciting microscopic world the students learnt is out of reach and relies on the textbook images only. I used a variety of teaching approaches to teach students and found that students have different learning styles. Most students learnt best from visual presentations such as models, diagrams and multimedia and some from verbal explanation. Through a survey carried out in my classes, I knew that almost all students responded best to what was seen, heard and touched – the real experiment. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to vary my teaching techniques to "attract" as many students as possible using multimedia teaching tools, software, internet resources and real experiments. Here are some of my successful examples:
Introducing teaching software. In recent years, personal computers have become very popular. My first experience of introducing multimedia tools for my teaching was in 2000 when I taught a UG course (Phys351). I chose “Materials Science on CD-ROM”, a software from MATTER to combine my conventional teaching of this materials science course. I found that this software helped students to grasp and understand many complicated concepts by visualizing 3D models/structures/symmetries and doing quizzes on their PCs using the interactive learning modules. The feedback from students was very positive on the use of teaching software.
Developing my E-Class System. Because commercial software did not perfectly fit my courses, I spent several years (2001-2005) to develop an interactive platform – E-Class System for my teaching. This system consists of hardware (an advanced web server which is maintained in my research lab, video capture systems and broadcasting systems, and software (database systems, many interactive teaching and learning components, such as crystal structure builders and visualization, on-line assessments, simulated instruments, virtual experiments and on-line labs). I have integrated the course websites I taught into this system. According to my experience and teaching evaluation, the E-Class System has greatly enhanced the teaching and learning involving material structures, crystallography, diffraction and electron microscopy. Students benefited by using the interactive software through the internet to review subject matters, work examples, and obtain help on difficult points such as in visualizing 3D crystal structures and defects, real and reciprocal spaces, point and space groups, etc. Students can even operate on-line equipment or virtual equipment through the E-Class System. In addition, I have built up a “Movies Theater” in this system in which students can access many video files about electron diffraction technique, scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, ultra microscopy nano world, experiments of nanowires to show the quantum effect, etc. The students’ overall feedback on the E-Class System has been very positive. Most students felt that this interactive teaching platform dedicated for the courses was convenient, useful and very exciting.
Motivating students. I motivated students by a combination of push and pull. The pull is that I show enthusiasm not only for teaching but also for the course materials. I uploaded lecture notes into the E-Class System so that students reviewed the class any time at any where. Each student has an individual account in the E-Class System. They can easily manage their studies, homework, on-line exercise, projects, etc. Using the E-Class System, I and TAs can monitor the study process of each individual student. I believe that enthusiasm is most important in motivating some students with poor grades because enthusiasm is contagious, and the students end up wanting to learn and succeed. In addition, I tried hard to study Cantonese and found this was very useful in helping some students with poor English skill. The push comes from additional or optional challenging assignments and projects. After doing these assignments and projects, the students can gain additional marks for their final grades. For those students who feel their midterm grades are low, then I offer them another chance by doing additional exercise, re-exam and projects. All these students are willing to restudy the course materials and treasure the chances I offered. These students finally find that they learn a great deal and achieve more than they thought possible.
Enhancing teaching & learning via experiment. Traditionally, students often do not have access to modern large equipment, such as X-Ray diffractometers, electron diffractometers and electron microscopes in their courses involving material science, diffraction physics and microscopy. The conventional teaching has to rely on textbook pictures only. Even if there is an electron microscope for teaching purpose, it is not practical to have more than four students crowded into the microscope room. In 2004, I obtained a teaching development grant and started a project with my colleague Dr. K.K. Fung (Physics) for developing a system for real-time remote access to a scanning electron microscope (SEM) for science education. This is a sub-project of "Continuous Learning and Improvement (CLI) through teaching innovation" (Center for Enhanced Teaching and Learning of HKUST) financially supported by the Teaching Development Grant (TDG) of the University Grants Committee. In 2005, we completed this novel remote access to SEM system based on Flash Communication Server co-operated with a server with a Java program in order to enhance the performance of the remote control SEM by controlling and adjusting the image quality and data flow rate. The internet SEM system has been incorporated into the following course websites: Phys351 (UG), Phys250 (UG), Phys582 (PG) and MATL515 (PG course). Via this system, an instructor can demonstrate and operate the SEM in real-time via the internet connection in a classroom. Via a video project, over 300 students in a large lecture theatre can be taught each time. With the management tools designed for our remote control SEM, students can learn (through a virtual SEM) and operate the SEM through a course website by themselves, and do SEM experiment even after class any time at any where.
For some UG courses, the course syllabuses do not required the instructor to offer labs or lab demonstration. However, from student questions, I learnt that many students are very curious about the experiment. Therefore, I offered opportunities of lab demonstration and experiment to some of the students in these UG classes. I set criteria for selecting the students for real experiment. Students with good performance in the midterm or those have good ideas for the experiments were selected. Students showed great interests and prepared their own specimens such hairs, ants, concrete, fossil, etc. and did the electron microscopy and structure observation experiment through the remote controlled SEM system in real-time via the internet connection. Because there is only one SEM in the Physics Department for research, I arranged the experiment for the UG courses at the evening time or weekends because no research students used the equipment in that periods. The remote access of the SEM largely extends the use of this extremely costly resource to my teaching. In addition to SEM, I also developed virtual X-Ray diffractometers which was connected to a database. Students chose an unknown sample and performed virtual diffraction experiment and got results for further analysis. According to my observation, virtual and real time experiments led to improvements in student learning efficiency. In the past years, the internet SEM system has also been used for other teaching activities, such as the summer projects for the Sixth Form students organized jointly by the Hong Kong Physical Society and the Education and Manpower Bureau of the SAR Government in 2005. The successful project of the real time online SEM was also demonstrated in the Conference on Research and Practices in Science Education (CRPSE 2005).
Learn more about my E-Class System....