On Thursday, September 9, 2016, our team (Dr. Grace Ngai and myself) was given the University Grants Committee Teaching Award.
Here is what our team said in the ceremony:
Dear ladies and gentlemen, fellow colleagues, good evening. It is an honor to be sharing the stage with such role models as Prof Leung and her team. Likewise, we are proud to share the stage tonight with our own colleague Shirley.
We want to start by thanking lots of people who have helped us along the way. This award really belongs to all of us. PolyU gave us this opportunity, and their trust. Our colleagues and NGO partners supported us, collaborated with us, and critiqued us. Our students were co-learners and co-travelers along the journey. Our donors, some of whom gave millions, some gave hundreds, but all are equally important. Our families, for their unconditional support, even when they did not always understand.
Our teaching philosophy is actually rather simple. We firmly believe that we should have faith in the younger generation. We believe that they matter. That they have a role. That they can make a difference in the community and in the world.
Our own journey in service-learning started before 2005, when we started doing community service projects in Hong Kong. In 2006, we took one step further and brought a team of students to mainland China.
In 2010, we decided to really dream big and designed a complementary studies service-learning subject. This subject had a syllabus and assessment and lectures and everything, it just did not carry course credit. We also noted that global competency and cultural sensitivity would become more critical in the coming years. So we organised one of PolyU’s first large-scale international service-learning projects, to Cambodia.
We believe that much of this experience helped to convince PolyU that service-learning should be a core component of the new 334 curriculum – that all students should be given a chance to learn from it. From our experiences, we developed PolyU’s first service-learning subject in 2011. That subject has evolved to become one of PolyU’s flagship service-learning subjects. In 2016, that subject enrolled 150 students, working in projects in Hong Kong, Cambodia, Myanmar, Rwanda and Kyrgyzstan.
We have been very blessed and rewarded by our work in service-learning and we want to share what we have experienced and learned with others. Therefore, very early on, we started taking on an advocacy role. We want to convince colleagues that “if even Grace and Stephen can do it, so can I”. We organised workshops, helped colleagues to plan and design their own subjects and programs, and opened up our course and invited observers into our class, to shadow us and see how service-learning could be taught and managed. All this has helped to build up PolyU’s service-learning program — from 5 courses and 200 students in 2011, we reached full implementation in 2016. We are also seeing the formation of a core of colleagues with a diversity of expertise and experience in various aspects of service-learning.
It is well known that reflection is an important part of service-learning for students. Some people would even go as far as to say “without reflection, there is no learning.” As teachers, it is even more important that we take a reflective approach to our teaching. To know what worked, what did not, and to understand why. Therefore, we pioneered research into service-learning pedagogy, and we also try to motivate and facilitate colleagues to do the same. We are very grateful to PolyU and UGC for funding our collaborative projects, forums, research salons and conferences. We have learned much from these activities, which have resulted in many publications in international journals and conferences. We are also being invited to share our experiences all over the world, in Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, even as far away as the US, Argentina and South Africa. PolyU is making a name for itself in service-learning, and we are proud to be a part of it.
We started out learning to serve. Then we found that there is so much to learn from serving others. We have come full circle. Each cycle feeds on the last, and the snowball grows bigger and bigger. From our own little efforts back in 2005, PolyU has over 60 courses enrolling over 4000 students in 2016. It is our privilege, and blessing, to be part of something that is far, far bigger than we are.