Teaching showcase promotes learning across boundaries

Duke Kunshan University hosted a Teaching and Learning Showcase to highlight the innovative practices developed by faculty, staff and students in 2022.

Themed “learning communities across boundaries”, the event organized by Duke Kunshan’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) championed the forging of connections at DKU regardless of academic field, geographical location and cultural perspective.

During a day-long conference of talks, workshops and panels, leading university figures spoke of the need for DKU to adapt to a fast-changing world as new technology and demographic shifts conspire to reshape the pre-pandemic orthodoxy in global education.

A highlight from the Dec. 9 showcase was a faculty and student panel in which speakers shared their ideas on teaching and learning approaches in front of a live audience. The student panelists were Lunji Zhu, Yutong Shi and William Trowbridge.

Some of the participants on the student-faculty panel

In a series of presentations held throughout the day, DKU scholars shared some of the experimental techniques they were implementing or piloting, such as unconventional forms of grading and open educational resources.

Delivering the keynote speech, Dr. Yakut Gazi, vice provost for learning innovation and digital education at Duke University, said technological advances and ageing populations were two important factors why Duke and DKU could not rest on their laurels.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning make some jobs obsolete and dramatically change the skillsets required for other jobs,” she said.

“This churn of knowledge results in a skills gap in the workforce. The graduates we send out to the world will be in need of updating their knowledge as rapidly as within a year of graduating.”

She added that curricular innovation must extend to how humans broaden their skills to make themselves “robot proof” as automation takes place.

Longer lives and careers also means that people will have to upskill and reskill, according to Gazi, requiring a shift from seeing education as chiefly a young person’s pursuit to one that is a lifetime commitment.

“We are all facing the reality that our populations are going to be increasingly 50-plus, 65-plus,” she said.

“The world of learning is going to have to adjust itself to this reality.”

Students made key contributions to the showcase event

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Scott MacEachern said DKU must now “thread the needle” between an implausible return to 2019-style education and the misguided assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything.

“What we need to do is think about how we productively absorb the experiences and capabilities that we’ve gathered during this pandemic over the past three years into how we work going forward,” he told the conference.

Over the course of the conference, held in person and online on the DKU campus, faculty and staff shared their research into teaching and learning practices, as well their personal experiences.

Dr. Ben Van Overmeire, assistant professor of religious studies at Duke Kunshan, described a system he had introduced for his classes in which students assign their own grades, subject to his final review.

Ben Van Overmeire

He was inspired to adopt the method after noticing that some students were narrowing their reading in order to score well on multiple choice assessments.

His grading system is designed to encourage students to pursue learning rather than just grades.

“My core conviction is that if we are serious about these goals, which I am, then we should be rethinking grading altogether,” the professor said.

Under the system, students submit arguments to Van Overmeire on why they deserve the grade they have awarded themselves.

“I reserve the right to change a grade,” he added. “But I’ve only had to do this very rarely, both up and down.”

Dr. Luyao (Sunshine) Zhang, assistant professor of economics at DKU, has been leading a project, with the support of Duke Learning Innovation and CTL, to develop an open educational resources (OER) model, a way of sharing learning and research materials including raw data with a wide audience.

Introducing the “Industry 4.0 Open Education Resource Publication Initiatives” project, Zhang said, “The software, data tools and code are all open source, not just the articles, papers and textbooks.

“So the students have hands-on technologies to practice machine learning, algorithms and also have open source data to generate results that are replicable.”

She said the OER also hosted multimedia beyond simply recorded lectures.

“The students host workshops to get ideas from professors, and they interview professors and have an open dialogue to figure out how to do joint research together. That all makes education more immersive.”

Discussions on teaching and learning methods continued during lunch

Zesen Zhuang, from the Class of 2023, said he believes the OER will serve as a bridge between computer engineering and other disciplines, by offering those without specialist knowledge clear explanations on how to use some of the shared resources.

“I am very confident that this will definitely promote the infrastructure of interdisciplinary research, and will engage many new and young scholars,” the data science student said.

This year’s conference theme encompassed bridging different cultures, integrating research into practice and interdisciplinary knowledge collaboration, as well as crossing the barriers of convention and innovation.

It also incorporated the question of how to foster learning and collaboration when people are in different parts of the world.

For her talk, Dr. Annemieke van den Dool, assistant professor of environmental policy, reflected on her experience of teaching in China, the U.S. and Spain during the pandemic. The presentation looked at community building, flexibility and goal setting for both students and faculty.

Dr. Kai Huang, associate professor of physics, gave a presentation on post-pandemic teaching and learning, exploring concepts of resilience, innovation and integration.

In one workshop, designed and facilitated by CTL student partner Sebastián Portilla, four international students — Krishna Thiagarajan, Kamila Mejia Ley, Marriam Chishti and Mentemir Nooruzbaev – shared findings from their research into the pandemic’s impact on learning.

The group, which was based last semester in Barcelona, put forward recommendations on how to improve the remote experience, such as providing more interactive opportunities between geographically separated peers, teachers and their environments.

Haiyan Zhou introduces the keynote speaker

Haiyan Zhou, director at CTL, said the showcase was about “reflecting, sharing and discussing the DKU vision on teaching and learning”.

“The event is one of the chances we have to be intentional about our identity and our uniqueness,” she said.

“Wherever we come from, or whatever brings us to DKU, we all belong here together. A learning community across boundaries.”

Giving the closing remarks, Dr. Marcia France, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate studies and the Language and Culture Center, praised the high-level exchange of ideas toward breaking down barriers and pushing boundaries in the learning context.

“One of the things that most attracted me to DKU was this idea that we can create this community of people from all over the world who want to break down these boundaries — to really come together and create this rich new community of different perspectives and shared vision of what we can be.”

France added, “If the pandemic has taught as anything, it’s how important it is that we all come together as a community to solve global problems because they’re not solvable by a single discipline or a single country or a single viewpoint.”

Words: Gareth McPherson

Pictures: Chungli Lin

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Gareth McPherson

Email: gareth.mcpherson@dukekunshan.edu.cn

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