May 7, 2018
Written By: Rosemary Chen (陳昱安)
Photo Credit: Vader Lin (林書玄)
The International College Provisional Office of National Taiwan University (NTU) held the first “Breakfast for English Teaching” workshop last month. The intent was to build a community for professors interested in delivering their lectures in English. The workshop took place early in the morning of May 7. It was attended by professors from different departments and sat-in by both the Vice President and Deputy Vice President for Academic Affairs.
The “Breakfast for English Teaching” workshop was called for in response to NTU’s continuous efforts to become more internationalized. Although enrolling more foreign students and hiring more foreign professors is part of the plan, the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Kuo Hung Chi’s (郭鴻基) vision for NTU is beyond meeting quotas.
“Our goal is for NTU to have both Chinese and English courses delivered at a quality on par with other top universities around the world,” he said, as he hopes for NTU to attract top-performing students both in Taiwan and abroad.
“This is why we want to first invite a small group of professors to network, and by focusing on a small sample, we can help them reach their maximum potential and accumulate experience as we go, then, we can scale up,” he explained to the small group of audience.
“Currently, NTU has approximately 900 courses that are taught in English each year which accounts for about 10 percent of all courses at NTU. The goal is to increase to 2000 courses, 20 percent, and eventually reach 50 percent,” added Kang Shih-Chung (康仕仲), the Deputy Vice President for Academic Affairs.
For the first “Breakfast for English Teaching” workshop, the International College Provisional Office invited Professor Joseph Wang (王道ㄧ) from the Department of Economics to share his English teaching experience at NTU for the past 10 years.
As the first professor to share, Professor Wang talked about why he began to teach his economics classes in English, the obstacles he faced on the way and some advice for both professors and policymakers.
Professor Wang returned to Taiwan after completing his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and began to teach at NTU’s Department of Economics in 2007. In 2008, he started to teach his graduate-level economics classes in English and in 2009 he was invited by the department of economics to teach the first-year Introduction to Economics in English as well, which by last year, he had 149 students enrolled.
He found that students enrolled in these English-taught lectures have certain distinct characteristics. As for Taiwanese students, they usually have a good comprehension of spoken English, perform well academically and have chosen the class voluntarily. But for international students, their academic performance may vary. Some may not even meet the threshold while others perform on par with local students.
He also noticed that it was harder to engage students in class discussions as many are hesitant to converse in English. To solve this problem, he designed in-class experiments on topics such as free-market and pricing models, using playing cards to involve the entire lecture room of students and to help them understand complex economic concepts by taking part in mock scenarios. He later showed a short video documentary captured by his teaching assistant demonstrating what these in-class experiments looked like.
Professor Wang then shared an old Chinese proverb with his audience, “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand,” which has been a guiding principle for him in his own teaching philosophy.
Other ways of engaging students in class include: by the count of hands and asking for different opinions based on the raised hands, voting devices such as Clicker and Zuvio, simply uploading videos before class or dividing students into small groups to complete worksheets in class.
Professor Wang thought that many professors might be hesitant to teach their lectures in English for several reasons. English teaching requires preparing lessons from scratch as professors need to look for more international examples to use in class and rethink their lecture content. Student enrollment is also often halved by number and has an effect on the outcomes of the Excellent Teaching Award — which is based on the Online Course Evaluation Survey System filled out by students at the middle and end of each term.
“Invest in students, invest in yourself,” Professor Wang encouraged. English teaching not only helps students adapt abroad but can also sharpen the teacher’s English communication skills, an asset for their own research-delivery as well.
Professor Wang is looking to teach an experimental economics class next term with a foreign professor in his department. They plan to sit-in to each other’s class to evaluate the level of difficulty, especially in spoken English for the students, and discuss methods of improvements together.
During Wang’s presentation, Kuo Hung-Chi, the Vice President for Academic Affairs made a few comments on how to make it easier for professors to teach in English at NTU.
Policy-wise, Kuo said that allowing undergraduate-level students to become teaching assistants (TAs) could make it easier for professors to recruit TAs. As with English taught courses, professors can invite top-performing students from previous classes to the teaching team.
The school will also consider separating the Excellent Teaching Award for English and Chinese lectures so teachers are not affected by lower enrollment rates.
In terms of finding incentives for students to enroll in English lectures, the school will consider substituting “Advanced English”, a graduation requirement, with English lectures. It will also consider English lectures mandatory for students that wish to go on exchange.
As for students with poorer comprehension of spoken English, the school is already installing filming equipment in classrooms so lectures can be uploaded after class for students to review.
After Wang’s presentation, the audience of professor joined in for a discussion about their own experiences or foreseeable challenges.
One professor identified incentive and systemization as key issues going forward. He explained that perhaps a certification system could give students more incentive to enroll. Others commented that a more systemized course module will be required so students don’t become confused by language as they advance in their studies.
Some also believed that on the student’s part, many have not yet realized the benefits of learning their subjects in English. “Students are so used to learning English as a subject itself in their education experience so few things about learning their specialization in English,” one professor commented.
Aside from adapting easier abroad academically, it will also help students in the workplace, another professor concluded.
The Breakfast for English Teaching workshops will be held monthly and the next workshop will be held on May 18, inviting Professor Lin Hsiou-Wei (林修葳) from the Department of International Business to share his experience.