Leveraging the diversity throughout my global political economy undergraduate tutorials
17th May 2022
Author: Mr. Adrian LAM Man-Ho, Course Tutor at the Department of Politics and Public Administration in the Faculty of Social Sciences, a Guest Lecturer at the Academic Unit of Social Contexts and Policies of Education in the Faculty of Education, and a Research Group Member for the Common Core Curriculum at the University of Hong Kong.
This semester I have come across perhaps the most ‘diverse’ political science class. In terms of content, we are examining a wide range of theories and concepts as well as traditional and special issue areas of global political economy. In terms of background, they are coming from various disciplines, nationalities, years of study, and student status. Therefore, to allow students to fully embrace and appreciate such ‘diversity’, I have decided to frame my tutorials with a series of case studies, such that they can engage with various real-world issues every week. Although we are having all our tutorials online via Zoom due to the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, I still utilised the following strategies to recognise, value, and engage the ‘diverse’ classroom to enhance student learning:
Kickstart by understanding students’ individual profiles
In our first housekeeping tutorial, I asked all my students to introduce themselves one by one. I usually just ask students to talk about their names as well as expectations and concerns for the course however this time I particularly asked them to share their cultural profile. This allows me to have a concrete reference on how to leverage their unique background with prior understanding to co-construct better learning opportunities and environment. Meanwhile, there are often cultural differences in students’ perceptions and expectations, which can easily hinder their subsequent exchange and collaboration. Therefore, I did this early to understand and anticipate potential cultural gaps and issues that I should be mindful of throughout my class. Most importantly, I really want to allow this ‘diverse’ group of students to learn in the way that is the most aligned with their own interests, styles, and dispositions.
Share different perspectives for understanding & analysis
In each tutorial, I have chosen an issue that I think is remaining the most important and relevant around the world, as well as aligning with the weekly lecture theme. I hope this can be a common ground to ensure students have some basic and shared knowledge, which can then pave the way for further engagement. To further widen their intellectual exposure, I have also deliberately selected a wide range of readings and materials with frameworks, cases, examples, and evidence coming from different countries and regions. These perspectives are multiple, competing, or even contradicting, as I want them to realise that there are various equally viable approaches to look at the same issue. In particular, I will focus on the tensions and controversies embedded into these issues. I believe that these are ideal entry points for them to compare and contrast the materials, and understand and articulate how the ‘diversity’ is influencing the debate at large and their own take on the issue.
Utilise students as valuable learning resources
To me, the most valuable learning resource is always the students themselves. Therefore, throughout the tutorials, I have been offering them a lot of time and space to share their personal insight and first-hand experiences with their peers - in pairs, in groups, or in front of the class. I think such a reciprocal process of exchange and communication allows them to develop new knowledge and understanding by learning from and with each other. As students in each tutorial group have gradually built up their rapport and mutual trust, they can have deeper and more quality engagement. As time goes by, they are naturally revealing themselves without feeling uneasy and awkward when compared to the very beginning. They are also learning to embrace and respect the ‘diversity’. That said, my role is to facilitate and moderate these ongoing dialogues, and to keep them open and safe.
Reveal the emerging & evolving processes of students’ ideas
To allow students to make sense of how knowledge is socially co-constructed by them, I like to use many online collaborative learning tools, such as Zoom chat boxes, Google Document, and Google Jamboard. Students can easily add on or build upon, or even question and challenge each other’s ideas. Meanwhile, these tangible and transparent written records with the flow and progression of conversation shown can allow students to understand knowledge is also provisional and context-sensitive, given that it is subject to change and re-interpretation. Even quiet, shy, and passive students can benefit from tracing these student-initiated dialogues. After all, students need to capitalise on the ‘diversity’ to progress and improve rather than suppress and dominate. I hope they can acquire good personal thinking through thinking together with others, which involves constantly examining, testing, refining, and improving their ideas in the class.
Bring in a series of general & broad questions
One of the ways for me to start each tutorial is by asking students some general and broad questions. As they are coming from very different backgrounds, they often have different ways of understanding and interpreting these questions. I think this can help them to recognise and draw out knowledge that they already have relating to the weekly issue. Meanwhile, this can allow explicit and clear links to be made between the issue as well as the authentic lives and experiences of students. I eventually found that these questions can often induce a chain reaction of natural and spontaneous interaction among the students, and present them with opportunities to metacognitively discover what their own and others’ ideas and reactions are, which is a good way to make sense of the ‘diversity’.
Facilitate critical reflection & assimilation
One of the biggest challenges confronting many teachers is how to facilitate their students critical reflection of themselves, others, and their surroundings. What I did in my class this time was frame all the cases on the dark and vulnerable side of humanity. I hope my students can start their thinking from all these marginalised and underprivileged groups which often undermine or even normalise their predicaments. I first draw students’ attention to the series of interrelated causes and impacts of the challenges impacting them, followed by inviting them to come up with solutions and approaches to tackle these challenges. Or most concern is not whether their solutions are the ‘right’ or ‘best’ ones, but instead I want them to explore and discover their unique roles and responsibilities and become empowered to unleash their potential and synergies by contributing. This is how the ‘diversity’ comes into the discussion.
About the author
Mr. Adrian LAM Man-Ho hold degrees of Bachelor of Arts, English Studies as well as Politics and Public Administration (First-Class Honours); Master of Education, Curriculum and Pedagogy (Distinction); as well as a Postgraduate Diploma in Education in Secondary English, all from the University of Hong Kong.
He is currently a Course Tutor at the Department of Politics and Public Administration in the Faculty of Social Sciences, a Guest Lecturer at the Academic Unit of Social Contexts and Policies of Education in the Faculty of Education, and a Research Group Member for the Common Core Curriculum at the University of Hong Kong.
His most recent academic publications include a series of peer-reviewed journal articles and book articles in the areas of interdisciplinary learning and teaching, higher education, high-performing learning systems, curriculum studies, and educational policies.
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