Pauline Luk, Department of Communications and New Media
I enjoyed very much my first year of being a graduate teaching assistant at NUS. It was challenging but rewarding. In the first few tutorials, I was frustrated. It seemed no one was interested in the module. I saw from the students’ eyes that they were puzzled at how the research methods they learned could be applied in real life. I felt like a failure, but I thought I needed to come up with a new trick to encourage them to participate in the learning.
I decided to set as my primary goal for the semester to use my training in communication and my research experience in qualitative research to emphasize integration of theories with practice. I realized it took a lot of time and experience to gather a complete bag of tricks and skills in teaching. I needed to make the teaching and learning interesting.
During tutorials, I associated theories with real situations I encountered while doing research. On some days, students would stay behind after tutorial to ask questions about their projects and how they could practice what they learnt. And when this happened, I would think: “This is a great day”. I saw students smile when they could associate what they did in their research projects with what they learnt in the lectures. I imagined that they would have tried their best to associate what they learnt in their projects and would be wondering if those same lessons could be applied to their work in future.
Learning is never-ending. I was lucky to have had an opportunity to help carry out a project of a group of students after their module was over. This came from a challenging invitation given to me by Professor Jeffery Peterson, the lecturer of the module, who suggested that I help put up the students’ project in a public exhibition organized by the Department of Communication and New Media to be housed at the ArtScience Museum in March 2014. I was worried if this could happen because the semester was already over by the time we got the invitation. This meant students would have to continue working on the project without any academic rewards.
I hesitated at first because I knew most NUS students were very concerned about their academic results. They would prefer to study hard to get a higher CAP or participate in a CCA to get CCA points. The project we planned to do could bring no such benefit. It also required a lot of time and commitment.
When I sent an email to recruit volunteers to participate in the project, the response was good. We formed a team of seven students from different tutorial groups, including a few from tutorial groups taught by another tutor. We had meetings to apply what we learnt in class to prepare for an exhibition from data collected. The volunteer team coordinated the photo selection for the installation within a week using social media. The volunteer students showed increasing confidence and reflectivity when we defined the purpose of the exhibition. They came up with creative ideas to attract more people to support the project. In the latter stage of the preparation, we collected original files of photos from selected assignments from the module. Luckily, we got 100% response rate within 24 hours. Most of the students were excited to present their coursework to the public and showed their eagerness to share.
The D-day came. The installation was showcased at the ArtScience Museum which attracted members of the public. I learned to call on students and get their help in presenting their ideas to the public. At the beginning, students were not familiar with sharing their ideas proactively. I encouraged them to approach
and engage visitors. Slowly, their confidence grew and by the end of the day, I could see a change in their level of engagement. This reinforced the meaning this project held for both me and the students.
From this experience, I learned to take up challenges for students. As a teacher, we ought to learn to trust students’ ability and offer them guidance so they can learn by themselves. Pushing the boundaries for both myself and the students is difficult but it is a way to learn. We can be a role model or we can just be a catalyst for learning. If there is a learning opportunity, give the students some hands-on practice. They would come to love and enjoy it. The outcome can be more than we expect.
Learning can be go beyond the curriculum. If it is meaningful, there would always be a way to make things work.
I hope that in the future I can create a more “Lively, Encouraging, Analytical, Responsible, Navigated, Interactive, Novel and Grateful” learning experience for my students. I hope my students can make a difference and can transform theory into practice in an enjoyable way.
Pauline Luk is a recipient of the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award (GSTA) for teaching undertaken in Semester 1, 2013-2014.