Dr Steven Lim - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Steven Lim (Economics Department, Waikato Management School, University of Waikato) - a Sustained Excellence Award winner 2006
Economics Department, Waikato Management School, University of Waikato
Steven has carefully developed the ability to interact with students in large class situations in ways that enhance their learning. Steven also places considerable emphasis on the pace of his verbal delivery and the effective use of repetition. Students have commented, through course evaluations, on his ability to make difficult concepts both interesting and easy to understand. Steven has played a significant role in teaching related mentoring for both new and established colleagues. He has also helped to promote better teaching practice through numerous conference presentations and staff teaching workshops. His work on teaching and pedagogy has been published in a number of areas and he has pioneered his own AIM model of teaching with Audience, Information and Motivation being at the heart of his teaching.
My aim as a teacher is to motivate students to learn, to challenge and to gain insights into the world around them. If students can think more critically and creatively, continually adding value to themselves and others, then as teachers we have been successful.
I have always wanted to be a teacher, and this desire has led me over the years to think at length about how to continually improve, innovate and contribute more to my students. The fondest memories of my student days come not from the formal things I was taught, but from the ways in which I was taught. In leading by example, my teachers demonstrated the joy and excitement of learning, that through learning we could make a contribution to others around us, and that learning had no end. I hope that these lessons have in some way permeated my own approach to teaching.
Becoming a successful or effective teacher is never easy. Early mistakes can lead to self-doubt; the loss of confidence restrains our willingness to try new and better approaches to teaching. But with a bit of effort and determination, we can move on from the inevitable mistakes to become better teachers. Our colleagues can make a valuable contribution to our development, but continually improving is ultimately up to us.
To a large extent, any success that I may have achieved has its seed in the good advice and support of colleagues, and the latitude they have given me to work on my teaching over the years. I acknowledge their contributions to my development as a teacher. They have given me the chance to think more clearly about what it means to be a teacher, to recognise the important impact that we have on our students, and to develop highly effective teaching methods that meet our responsibilities to our students. I also acknowledge the large number of diverse students I have had the opportunity to teach and to learn from.
Over many years I have taught a wide variety of economics courses at the University of Waikato. They range from 100-level principles economics, where up to half the students enter with no prior formal education in economics, to graduate research methods, where I help prepare highly-trained students for Masters and PhD degrees. Given that economics is often perceived to be dry, abstract and complicated, my approach is to engage with students, to apply economics to everyday situations, and to personalise the learning experience to heighten student motivation to learn.
The choice of content, learning strategies and teaching methods that suit the subject matter and the learners' needs lies at the heart of my approach to teaching. The AIM model that I apply in all my courses emphasises three important issues: Audience, Information and Motivation. Students (or the audience) expect to learn things that are relevant to their interests and concerns. In devising new courses or fine-tuning existing ones, my first task is to gain insights into students' learning needs. This I do from discussions with them at formal and informal levels (including focus groups), by analysing student evaluations of previous courses and by increasing my familiarity with the current and future development needs of the professions that the students will eventually be entering.
The approval that my courses gain from the students also depends on my familiarity with the information or course material that I present. My knowledge of the subject matter is crucial to how students perceive and rate my performance. This should come as no surprise. In academic environments teachers typically have a very high level of expertise in their own discipline. However, teachers who make the effort to understand the environment, aspirations and constraints facing graduates once they leave the institution are best able to tailor their information to meet the needs of their audience.
By meeting the needs of my audience, I hope to enhance their motivation to learn. The lecture material, especially theory, has to be relevant in solving real world problems, otherwise there is little point in students investing effort to learn it. Illustrating theory with many examples reinforces the underlying message, signals the importance of what students are learning, and raises student interest levels significantly. What might otherwise be a tedious lecture becomes a constant springboard for debate, discussion and ongoing thought.
In designing new courses, it has been reasonably straightforward to incorporate the AIM approach. From my experience with employers, practical, business or policy-oriented abilities are most in demand in terms of job offers for our graduates. Knowledge of theory is useful primarily for what it can contribute to practical solutions. Student evaluations suggest that students appreciate course material that is relevant to their needs and interests. And my own experience, working with the private sector, provides a view into the kinds of topics and case studies that students would benefit from in their future working life. Over time I have moved to much more practice in realistic problem-solving.
Problem-solving skills build confidence in students in anticipating economic outcomes.
The Price of Food in Japan
Students are amazed at the price of this basket of fruit, on sale in a fashionable shopping district in Tokyo. Given the exchange rate at the time the photo was taken, the fruit cost about NZ$130. Students are asked to comment on why the price should be so high, when in New Zealand such fruit is so cheap. The photo prompts a discussion of the role of trade restrictions, price competition and barriers to entry, as well as the fundamental costs of interfering in efficient markets.
Prediction and problem solution require practice, experience and an intuitive feeling for economic relationships and institutions. The elevation of the role of examples and applications in class is central. By emphasising the importance of business and policy applications, I hope not only to raise students' perceptions of the value of theory, but also contribute to the sum of experiences that will guide their future business and policy intuition in a world of uncertainty.
In developing students' ability to learn, I am particularly keen to foster on-going learning. Learning doesn't stop when students complete their degree. In my view, at least, the really serious learning begins once the students have left university and start their careers. I've found action learning principles to be very helpful in learning how to learn. Graduates must be able to ‘ask the right questions', locate people to help answer the questions, and analyse the available information to come up with the best solution. My contribution to this process involves devoting class time to practicing these techniques. I often refer to newspaper articles involving a topical or controversial economic problem, summarising its contents to the class. In groups, students formulate questions that probe the issue in more analytical depth (i.e., students practice ‘asking the right questions', including a process of questioning the question). Once a group of students has reported back to the class, both the group and the rest of the class are in a better position to combine the information to come up with an answer to the problem. My role is to elicit information, guide the thought processes logically and analytically, and help the class come up with appropriate answers.
I place great emphasis on engaging with learners and promoting careful thinking. This starts in the very first class of any of my courses, and typically begins with the presentation of economic puzzles for students to consider. Students are often shown photos and given a commentary, such as the one shown above.
During courses I continually challenge students with economic puzzles - situations that they might see on a daily basis, but haven't thought deeply about before. The puzzles are then directly related to economic principles that are being presented in class. The examples that I present in class contribute to my engagement with students.
My teaching is grounded in experiential learning, encapsulated in the AIM approach that I use in every class. At the cognitive level, students are exposed to economic concepts and processes that emphasise both breadth and depth. At the affective level, there is significant emotional engagement between my students and me. The class learning activities are part of a socialisation process in which the class may be viewed as a community. Students put their own ideas forward, consider the views of others, and undertake cooperative learning activities in response to economic problems that are posed to them. In the process I hope they develop greater self-awareness and motivation to learn. Lastly, action learning skills provide my students with a capacity for on-going learning and the ability to navigate through the business and policy issues that they will face daily in their future careers.
Peer and Student Comments
Steven is widely recognised as one of the most outstanding teachers that has taught in the Waikato Management School. His contribution to teaching excellence over his entire career at Waikato has resulted from a personal commitment to study effective teaching and learning, and a continual effort to improve. He has shown how economics can be made relevant, and motivates students using examples drawn from his research and from current economic events.
John Tressler, Executive Director Academic, Waikato Management School
He has a talent for clear and insightful thinking, including the ability to constantly challenge his students to broaden their minds and approaches in understanding lecture materials.
Evelyn Saw, economics tutor, University of Waikato
Steven Lim shows an excellent grasp of the material presented in the lecture and has an excellent rapport with his students. Every student is very excited in his class, highly motivated to participate, and also encouraged to think and speak out our own opinion. We all like and respect him very much. He is the best teacher in the university.
Xiaoman Cui, student
Steven talks from first-hand experience which brings the subject alive and makes it more convincing, and we can see Steven's enthusiasm for the class coming through strongly.
Jason Dubbeldam, student