May. 18, 2018
Written By: Rosemary Chen (陳昱安)
Photo Credit: Vader Lin (林書玄)
On May 18, The International College Provisional Office of National Taiwan University (NTU) invited Professor Hsiou-Wei Lin (林修葳) to speak at the monthly “NTU English Teaching Community” workshop. He shared his many years of experience delivering English lectures at the College of Management in finance and accounting subjects.
“The change in the school’s learning environment and teaching atmosphere is critical for professors to deliver high-quality English courses,” says Professor Kang Shih-Chung (康仕仲), the Deputy Vice President for Academic Affairs in his welcome speech. The “NTU English Teaching Community” strives to create a community of professors that are interested or are already delivering their courses in English. With monthly experience sharing workshops, the peer-to-peer approach emphasizes resource sharing and mutual support.
“I’m very touched by the turnout today,” he continued, the workshop was originally designed to be by invitation only but when Office of Academic Affairs sent out a school-wide invitation they received far more replies than was expected. To help everyone get to know one another, the workshop kicked-off with an introduction around the room.
In attendance were professors from many different departments, including the College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Bio-resources and Agriculture, Life Science, Medicine, Engineering, Science and the Graduate Institute of Applied Mechanics and Art History.
Armed with many years of experience teaching finance and accounting classes in English, Professor Hsiou-Wei Lin (林修葳) from the Department of International Business was invited to be the keynote speaker of the month.
Professor Lin’s presentation centered around four main themes, “creating, editing, directing and acting, (製、編、導、演)” which he believes are the four key stages of teaching.
However, he has taught many different types of students throughout the years and not all of them adapt very well to English delivered lectures. There are three main types of students: those with excellent English, those with poor English and exchange students with poor work ethics. The latter two types of students have often approached him after class or during office hours, students with poor English comprehension may ask the professor to re-explain key concepts in Chinese and the exchange student may ask very basic questions that can become rather time-consuming.
To solve this problem, Professor Lin then outlined “Five highly effective teaching practices,” namely: teacher clarity, classroom discussion, feedback, formative assessment, and self-reflect strategies.
“Teacher clarity” refers to clarifying the learning objectives at the beginning of the semesters so students know exactly what is expected and how to be successful. He thinks that it is especially important to clearly state in the syllabus and explain to students the commitment level required for the course.
“Classroom discussion” needs to be actively facilitated by the professor because a wide range of student composition may affect the depth of discussion — especially when the class is mixed with both local and international students. One method to encourage classroom discussion is to list student names underneath the discussion questions on the PowerPoint slide and strategically pick a few well-performing students to act as role models for the rest of the class. It is also important to create a comfortable environment for students to ask questions and interact with their classmates in English, he noted.
Professor Lin believes that “feedbacks” should go both ways, given by the instructor to the student and vice versa, so that the instructor can adjust the learning process and materials accordingly. And along with individual feedback, he also noted that “collective feedback” from the entire class is equally important, whether in the form of written or verbal feedback, it can help the instructor notice areas for improvement.
“Formative assessments” should be made frequently in order to evaluate where students are in relation to the unit of study and learning goals. A “summative assessment” should also be made at the end of the semester. He also recommends that instructors spend the same amount of time on formative evaluation as they do on summative assessment.
Lastly, “self-reflect strategies” is to give students an opportunity to plan, organize, and monitor their own work, direct their own learning and self-reflect along the way.
The professor also provided a few tips on keeping students focused in class. Students that want to use their laptops in his class must sit in the last two rows so they do not distract people behind them with their screens. He also makes nameplates for every student which not only helps with classroom discussion but also improves attendance.
In terms of lecture delivery, he advised using short sentences in English, using the word “we” instead of “you” to create a sense of community and conjunctive adverbs such as “therefore, however, namely, unexpectedly and furthermore,” which can be helpful for students to follow the lecture more smoothly. He also makes statements like “What is …?” and “Which is…?” to encourage students to speak in the class by finishing the sentence for him.
He suggested other professors rehearse the lectures before class by going over PowerPoint slides, practicing the first few sentences and preparing transition sentences in the lecture. He also recommended creating a lecture schedule to control the pace and speed of the lecture and inserting a question every 15 minutes for students to answer. Creating a “board plan” can also be effective in utilizing the blackboard and to better explain complex concepts.
He has often received student feedback that says they don’t understand the English or that the professor spoke too fast, so it’s important to assign pre-lecture readings and use transitions words, Lin concluded.
“Try to spend 50 percent of your time on the bottom 5 percent of students,” said Professor Lin. It is important to notice their attendance, attention span, and academic performance and to intervene timely. “After all, they are the ones that really need us,” he said.
After Professor Lin’s experience sharing, the floor was open to questions and discussions.
A professor from the College of Management said, “My courses are more focused on real-world practices so I have noticed that it is very challenging to translate Taiwanese practices into English and vice versa,” she then asked for Professor Lin’s advice on translating lecture contents for different cultural context. Professor Lin says he usually uses the glossary list and index in the textbook for keyword translation and assign reading to help students develop a better understanding of different cultural practices.
One professor from the Department of Dentistry pointed out that their textbooks and slides are already in English, “So is it still necessary to deliver the lecture in English and how will the students benefit?” “It’s essential to think about the motivation and goals of English teaching,” Professor Lin replied, it can be very helpful for students who wish to go abroad and to “connect internationally” either academically or career-wise.
“But it can also depend on their field of study,” he admitted. As for students at the College of Management, English is an essential skill in the workplace, especially for those working for foreign firms or dealing with international clients. “I have had students who came back to thank me after they started working,” said Lin, “but current students are usually less aware of the importance of English learning.”
A foreign professor from the Department of Art History commented on English-only lectures, “Many students have a difficult time completing English assignments and essays. Correcting their papers can also be very time-consuming for the professor because of poor sentence structure and improper word choice.” He thinks that it may be unfair for local students as it affects their academic performance and international students may also miss an opportunity to learn Chinese. But another professor pointed out that many exchange students are only at NTU for a few months so they don’t usually understand enough Chinese to enroll in Chinese lectures.
“If my English level isn’t good enough, would it not affect the student’s learning outcomes?” asked one professor. Professor Lin replied that English lectures can help students become more familiar and comfortable with communicating in English.
Another professor said, “I always tell my class that my English isn’t perfect so I invite them to correct me and we all learn together,” his courses are mainly for international students but he believes that the English learning environment also gives local students an opportunity to practice their verbal skills, “It can really bring out their potential,” he said.
Near the end of the session, a professor from the department of foreign languages mentioned a few classes at her department that professors can take to improve their English, such phonetics.
The Deputy Vice President for Academic Affairs then immediately shared the link to the “NTU English Teaching Community” Facebook and Line groups — truly a community in making.
The “NTU English Teaching Community” has continued to meet monthly after the May workshop and invited Professor Lin Yu-Chen (林郁真) from the Graduate Institute of Environmental Engineering as the keynote speaker in the June workshop. The office will continue to host monthly workshops in the coming semester and looks to invite more professors to share their valuable experiences.