Monday, May 31, 2010

IMU Learning Series 01 - That is Soooooo Mr. Alex!

My name is Alexius Cheang and I am a Psychology lecturer at IMU. I also work part-time as a Sport Psychology consultant to the national athletes at the National Sports Institute. I find these two (2) jobs to be very rewarding for me as I can guide students and athletes alike in becoming better people and assisting them in reaching their true potential.

In all honesty, I don’t like to teach. Neither do I like to lecture. In fact, I resist doing these 2 things. What I do instead is to try to make every class session a learning opportunity that challenges the mindset of the students. Sometimes it works (Hooray!) and sometimes I end up with egg on my face (Aaargh!). But I keep on trying with the aim of achieving at least one “A-ha!” moment in each class. By the way, an ‘A-ha’ moment is best described as when a light bulb goes on in your head, where an insight into a previously murky concept suddenly becomes crystal clear. This is quite difficult to achieve all the time but when it does happen, it feels so rewarding.

What then do I do in class, you may ask? Well, my educational philosophy has been to create a safe environment in the classroom in order to encourage interaction and sharing of experiences. It can either be from my perspective (fortunately I have a lot of life experiences) or from among the students providing their own unique take on life. My goal is to make whatever material I have to cover for that day come to life, so that its not just some theory or fact that we have to learn (or memorise!), but instead an opus of discovery that we journey on together.

How do I do that? First and foremost, I use a variety of audio-visual aids to attract (and hopefully sustain) the attention of the students. I have been known to use video clips, music videos, various graphics, and even subliminal message audio clips playing in the background! Don’t worry, I was just trying to demonstrate that they don’t work ;-)

I then use my PowerPoint slides to focus their attention by incorporating at least 1 picture per slide that figuratively sums up the information on that slide. For example, if I am talking about Freud’s concept of the unconscious, I will incorporate a picture of an iceberg as it sums up the idea that we are only aware of the top 10% that is above water while the remaining 90% below water level represents our unconscious desires that are hidden from view. This visual representation really helps the students to understand concepts better. In fact, some pictures may generate discussion on their own among the students which is great for class interaction, especially since I do not limit myself to using only ‘safe’ pictures.

In order to reinforce the aspect that the material covered can be applied to everyday life and is therefore relevant, I may assign students to answer questionnaires, both paper and pencil and online versions (they love to discover a bit more about themselves), do presentations that allow them to express their creativity and understand others (such as acting that they have a personality disorder like Monk), or challenge them to write in-depth analyses about themselves after priming them with movies that for the lack of a better word are ‘weird’. This last strategy has even led to students to comment, “That is soooooo Mr. Alex!” when describing the types of movies I show them. That of course just makes me happier and reinforces in me that I am on the right track in challenging them and getting them out of their comfort zones.

However, if I were asked which one strategy I have found to be the most effective, I would have to say that treating students as equals works best. When due respect is accorded to them, being open minded and non-judgmental to their thoughts and sharing becomes second nature. In this environment, I believe real learning takes place where equality is not just a concept but a reality. There is much to learn from students. After all, I don’t have all the answers… I just guide them on their journey.

All in all, I really do find meaning in what I do. I find that the students sustain me and keep me going. Despite the hours of preparation involved for each class, I thoroughly enjoy the process of continually challenging myself to reach greater heights and try out new ways of doing things for the students. Incorporating technology into my classes has always been my style. In fact, I have been saving all sorts of odd and funny e-mail attachments for years now in the hope that one day I can spring it on my unsuspecting students and hear them cry out, “That is soooooo Mr. Alex!

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