Lecturer's surprising approach to education

STUDENTS attending one of Dr Joseph Lian Yi-zheng's classes can never be sure what to expect.

Dr Lian, winner of the University of Science and Technology's Michael Gale Medal for teaching excellence, likes to surprise and shock his students.

'I want my students to come to my class with a fresh mind and expect something new and surprising every day,' said the economics lecturer, who never distributes notes or asks students to prepare in advance.

'There wouldn't be any novelty if they knew beforehand what they were going to learn in the class. Students should be interactive rather than receptive during classes.' Dr Lian likes to stimulate students' intellectual curiosity by raising unexpected questions. He tries to arouse their desire to think and explore.

'I like to quote examples of daily life to illustrate problems and let my pupils enjoy the excitement of exploring the knowledge in macro-economics,' he said.

Having finished his secondary studies at Kowloon Wah Yan College and pursuing his mathematics first degree and economics doctorate in the United States, Dr Lian admits that his secondary teachers and the US education style had a great impact on his teaching philosophy.

'My teachers influenced me a lot. My mathematics teacher in secondary school was stimulating. He made me think of problems at a deeper level,' he said.

'The time in the States gave me an insight into their education philosophy - they train students to think and trigger their desire to explore.' Dr Lian's approach to teaching has generally led students to a deeper level of learning.

However, those used to the conventional spoon-feeding way of learning can find his methods bizarre.

'Some of them are not accustomed to the open-ended model of learning. They prefer something cut and dried,' he said.

However, with the solid educational foundation which Hong Kong pupils have, Dr Lian believes that local students can benefit a lot from his stimulating approach.

'Once their fear of the unconventional approach is obliterated, their aptitude is found to be on a level with their counterparts in the United States,' he added.

Dr Lian thinks a devoted teacher can play a significant role in stimulating students' interest to learn and explore.

'Students are most receptive to stimuli at their age. Just like doctors who prescribe medicine to patients, teachers input messages and material to students which exert tremendous impact on them,' he said.

Dr Lian said that an inspiring teacher should not only possess good teaching technique - which helps brush up dry and boring material into interesting and enthralling subjects - but he should also have rich life experience and a positive personality.

'A teacher has direct influence on students through his own behaviour.' Engaging in the teaching profession, I hope to exert positive influence on my pupils and make the world a better place,' he said.