Dr Christopher Gan - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Christopher Gan (Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Lincoln University) - a Sustained Excellence Award winner 2003
Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Lincoln University
Christopher Gan's teaching style in the fields of Economics and Finance is drawn from his belief that learning is an individualistic process. This is achieved through his objective to challenge and inspire students' perception of the subject matter as relevant and applicable through their participation in a financial course that links theoretical concepts with current financial news. Christopher has received an Excellence in Teaching Award in 1997 and a Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award in 2002 from Lincoln University. Christopher's philosophy for curriculum development and teaching is governed by his statement that, "Rather than passive recipients of information, learning requires active engagement by students, as well as a teacher."
My goal in teaching is to directly affect the learning of students. I believe all students should learn to solve problems, find the answers to their inquiries and think creatively. If students learn to apply theory to become better human beings or to improve the quality of life for others, my teaching is successful. My teaching/learning philosophies are intertwined with my belief that students are individuals and that they learn in different ways. As a teacher it is my responsibility to vary teaching approaches to ‘hit the learning buttons' of students. I change the behaviour of students with my expectations of them. Quality, excellence and depth are expected in all students' work.
As a teacher, I have a responsibility to treat students as human beings. I will not ridicule or belittle them. Effective learning occurs when I can understand the world of a student. Students have different motives for education and, as their teacher, I strive to adjust to individuals' motives in order to maximise learning. Throughout the time I have been at Lincoln University I have exhibited a total commitment to teaching. I am often in my office in the evenings and weekends marking projects, developing curriculum, revising notes, setting assignments, writing research articles or reading/marking theses. In fact, before 9pm, it is probably easier to reach me in my office than at home. During the day, there is a constant stream of students that take advantage of my ‘open door' policy, asking questions and revising their work. For example, in my Research Method class, I encourage my 30+ students to meet with me individually every fortnight to track the progress of their research proposals.
Bringing real life into the classroom
As a teacher, my primary objective is to challenge and inspire students to perceive the subject matter as relevant and applicable by their participation in a financial economic course I am teaching. I always seek to provide students with real-world examples, so that students can link theoretical concepts with the current financial news. For example, I ask students how the US-Iraq war affects the financial markets and the price volatility in petrol. I find this stimulating and students are eager to learn more about the impact of the war on the New Zealand economy since New Zealand has substantial exports (agriculture products) to the Middle East.
Education should be directed at the development of understanding. Teaching straight from the textbook is cut and dried, and ineffective. I believe in supplementing textbook theories and concepts with current applicable examples. My ‘wish' for students (both undergraduate and graduate) is that they internalise the concepts and relationships discussed and be able to apply them to understand a variety of situations. In this sense, financial crises, environmental issues, resolutions to particular problems, and current techniques can be viewed as contextual information to develop explanatory frameworks.
An effective teacher must also be a good listener and learner. Students have different modes and styles of learning. Each student brings with them a unique set of expectations and needs to class. The teacher must try and understand the different levels of talent and character of each student. This includes developing synergies with and between students from diverse backgrounds. I challenge my students with the following words of wisdom: "You determine your attitude. You determine how you go about your day. It's not an alarm clock; it's an opportunity clock."
My teaching method is to structure a class in an interactive manner. The more a student participates in class, the more they should learn from the class. Each class (or topic) generally begins with a synopsis of the topic followed by class discussion about current events and/or news. It is imperative that my students complete all assigned readings and assignments before coming to class. By signing up for my class, a student has accepted the responsibility of being an active learner and of participating in the classroom discussion. Most importantly, the student is expected to be committed to learning the subject matter. Equally important, however, is to promote an environment conducive to independent learning among students. To accomplish this, I spend the first lecture day defining clear goals, objectives and types of assessment and expectations of the subject to students. I encourage students to be proactive in class because the best learning classrooms are those with active participation between the teacher and students.
Since I study lecture notes and related readings prior to each class, my delivery style is characterised by my movement between the whiteboard and students rather than by standing at a podium. My movement about the classroom allows me to capture eye contact and encourages student alertness. During each lecture, I ask questions of the class that require interpretation and application of lecture materials. Besides monitoring student learning, the discussion questions serve to ‘draw out' different perspectives from the diversity of backgrounds and cultures represented by students.
Students' comprehension of the subject matter often comes from their ability to apply theories and concepts in the real world. For example, in my commercial banking course, to facilitate students' learning and comprehension, I introduced the ‘currency trading game'. The objective of the game is to help students understand how banks and firms hedge against foreign exchange rate risks using hedging instruments such as options, futures and forward selling. Resources available to the students include the library, internet and TV news.
"Eefective learning occurs when I can understand the world of a student"
Humour and compassion as important as research and scholarship
Learning should be fun and have no age barriers. I add humour into my teaching to generate a relaxed environment between the students and teacher. Students are not unmotivated learners; they just need encouragement and like to be treated as adults. They want to be challenged, not criticised. Criticism generates negative learning behaviours. Instead, I bridge the gap between student and teacher by providing constructive feedback.
Two or three times each semester in my undergraduate classes, an entire lecture period is devoted to class discussion, which occurs in tandem with a written homework assignment or case. These discussions are based on the reading of a recent opinion article or trade magazines and are meant to provide and apply conceptual material. Questions are provided, in the form of a written homework assignment that enables students to distil critical elements from a complex issue. I find such exercises reinforce positive learning behaviours among students.
Besides teaching, I also monitor students' performance and achievement to ensure struggling students are dealt with appropriately. Early detection of problems minimises frustrations and failures. I encourage students to see me personally if they encounter difficulties. I help them by directing them to additional resources that could improve their understanding of the subject. I am willing to work and spend time with any student who is willing to work to improve. As long as a student puts in the effort, time and commitment to my class, I feel I have a moral obligation to help them achieve their desired learning objectives and grade. I also believe in giving students a second chance. Sometimes things can be rough and go against a student during an exam or assignment (I have to give students some benefit of the doubt), and I usually allow students to drop one of the lowest grades in an exam or an assignment. To be fair and consistent I make this allowance for all students. I do not prescribe short routes like dropping the class when students are not performing well. I always encourage them to hang in there and continue working with me. As a result, I have a low failure rate in my subjects.
A critical element of being an effective teacher is the understanding of the subject, including the underlying theories and conceptual framework. My responsibility is to keep up with what has taken place and is taking place in a field. I strongly believe teaching and research complement each other. An individual can be a good researcher without having to be a good teacher. However, to be an effective teacher, you must be actively involved in research to bring fresh ideas and knowledge to class. Research and conference attendance has provided me with new avenues and ideas to improve and revise my teaching materials each year. I do not believe in recycling notes. I am committed to research and scholarship, and sharing my research works by publishing in peer-reviewed journals.
Learning is a personal process. In varying degrees, teaching requires sensitivity to the idiosyncratic nature of learning. Rather than passive recipients of information, learning requires active engagement by students, as well as the teacher. I find such engagement serves to negotiate the process by which information is most effectively conveyed. In an effort to improve teaching, I have and will continue to refine my teaching skills and strategies based upon feedback from an ongoing evaluation process. This includes results from student and peer evaluation, including classroom observation and consultation with instructional specialists in the university's ITLS.
The future holds many possibilities for my teaching career and philosophy. An overall goal is to continue to develop, update and revise instructional strategies and subject matter to keep pace with the ever-changing world. Specifically, my goals are to
- revise the currency trading game for my commercial banking course to include forward markets and currency options. This makes speculation or triangle arbitrage more challenging.
- complete a follow-up study of FINC307 (International Finance) students. How is financial theory used in their lives? What impact does this course have on the students?
Peer and Student Comments
Dr Gan has been responsible for developing important areas of the Commerce curriculum at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. His outstanding qualities as a teacher have been recognised by invitations to lead a workshop on university teaching in Malaysia, and to provide economics training to public sector officials in Thailand sponsored by the Australian and New Zealand governments.
Professor Paul Dalziel, Professor of Economics, and Deputy Director of the Commerce Division, 2002
Christopher works hard at preparation for teaching, and has willingly tackled a range of subjects, many of which required substantial new preparation. Students quickly learn about Christopher's classes and student numbers invariably increase when he becomes an examiner of a subject. Student evaluations indicate that Christopher's classes significantly aid their learning, and his teaching evaluations are frequently listed in the top ten percent of evaluations on campus.
Dr Ross Cullen, Associate Professor in Economics, Chair Commerce Postgraduate Committee, 2002
Thanks for the opportunity to learn how the banking industry works. I found it really informative, in terms of the relationships between participants and the methods of credit analysis. Of note is that I've already applied those methods to companies on the NZSE for investment purposes.
Christopher Stevens, Honours student in Commerce
Christopher's dedication to his students is unquestioned. He maintains a well-planned open-door service and is particularly helpful to international students - especially those who are recent arrivals and may be struggling with their new environment.
Dr Patrick Aldwell, Director Commerce Division, 2002
Christopher understands the importance of communication between lecturer and students, and the value of class participation. He is adept at illustrating his theoretical points with real world examples, and teaching analytical and problem-solving skills. I find that Christopher is very dedicated, shows genuine concern for his students and has the ability to bring humour and enjoyment to any topic.
Emma Moran, candidate for Master Applied Science in Resource Economics, 2002
In terms of Dr Gan's teaching techniques, he is always creative and innovative in his subject material that he never failed to trigger students' interest and initiative to learn in any courses taught by him. For example, his Currency Games as part of the course assessment in
Commercial Banking paper has successfully prompted students' awareness in the current domestic and international economic development. He always incorporates the latest development in the banking industry as well as global events in his lively and interesting course material.
Andrea Koh, former MCM Finance student, 2002