Recognising innovative teachers

Written by Ho Koi Foong, SMU School of Social Sciences


At SMU, our instructors are always on the hunt for ways to add value to the curriculum. This year’s Teaching Excellence Awards saw brilliant ideas being recognized across the six different schools and the Innovative Teacher Award went to Associate Professor Gary Pan (School of Accountancy) and Associate Professor Tan Seow Hon (School of Law)!

The Innovative Teacher Award recognizes faculty members who have made significant contributions in promoting new ways of teaching that have had an impact on enhancing learning for their students.

Associate Professor Gary Pan

Associate Professor Gary Pan - for blog

We spoke to Professor Gary Pan and he gave us a detailed explanation of what innovative teaching is, from his perspective. He believes that every instructor has his/her own uniqueapproach to innovation, and every instructor is trying to improve the current practices in theclassroom. When it comes to innovation, Professor Pan does not think about just definition ofthe word itself, but about how he can help his students to learn better. His approach to innovative teaching includes refining current methods used in teaching and utilising newtools to enhance the whole learning experience.

“I teach interdisciplinary courses and I’m currently developing a new one. It’s a cross between the accounting discipline and information systems discipline. There are many considerations you have to put in mind when you teach a new course. Things like having an integrated project team and the interdisciplinary vision you want it to be, as the integration between the two disciplines is crucial”, said the award-winner. Professor Pan is also putting in place tools and software so that students from both disciplines do not need to fulfil any prerequisites and they will be able to learn comfortably in this new environment. The audience for this new course will largely be from the School of Accountancy and School of Information Systems.

Professor Pan teaches Accounting Information Systems to undergraduates and has won numerous other awards such as the Most Outstanding Faculty Award (Research) and Student Life Recognition Award earlier this year. He enjoys analysing cases, and constantly tries to challenge himself on how the same business problem can be viewed from the angle of another discipline.

Associate Professor Tan Seow Hon

Associate Professor Tan Seow Hon - for blog

When it comes to innovative teaching, Professor Tan Seow Hon actively engages her students by bringing academic materials to life. She often employs culturally-current tools such asYouTube clips, movie excerpts, examples from pop culture, and current issues. In her classes, she encourages debate over hot-button “culture war” issues—things that people steer clear of during dinner conversations if they don’t want to pick a fight with their friends. Often, her students are surprised by how much curiosity they have innately, when it comes to exploring a subject which they might have thought was too highfalutin.

“As a teacher of philosophy in law school, I sometimes get a sense that Harvey Specter, the suave lawyer of the hit American TV series Suits who lives life in the fast lane, is the man my male students want to become and my female students want to marry. But they probably think I want them to become Socrates, who advocated living the examined life. Put the two characters beside each other and you will get a sense of the disjunction between the world some of my students aspire to be part of and the perceived world of my classroom. I start from the belief that all humans actually want their lives to count for something. I aim to give my students the space to find out who they are and what they believe in, in order that they may go on to live the examined life. I seek to make my classes thought-provoking, fun, and practical,” shared the seven-time award winner. Professor Tan is a specialist in jurisprudence and she has taught a wide range of courses at the National University of Singapore prior joining SMU in 2010.

When asked about what her future students can expect, Professor Tan shared that a good classroom is less about methods and more about relationships.  She hopes to continue to build relationships and provide a congenial environment in her classes. This would help her students grow to become thinking lawyers who lead examined lives and understand the ideals of law they are serving, as well as good citizens with valuable legal expertise who take an interest in the social and moral issues of the public square and contribute positively in a deliberative democracy.

Professor Ann Florini

We also had the opportunity to speak to Innovative Teaching Award 2013 Nominee Professor Ann Florini (School of Social Science).

Student reporter Koi interviewing Professor Ann Florini

Student reporter Koi interviewing Professor Ann Florini

“One of the things I do a lot is I don’t teach, I let the students teach. This is an approach that usually terrifies students until they have done it and they realize how much they had actually learnt. It’s a secret that all professors know—the best way to master a subject is to have to explain it to someone else. And I think most study groups know that too. If you can explain it to others and you can interest them with it, then you have mastered that topic. This is one of the reasons why many courses in SMU require a fair amount of student presentations. It’s not a case where the professors are lazy—it’s actually more work for them to create the enabling conditions for students to be able to do that. For some of my courses, I don’t speak until the last part where my job is to help the students piece everything together. It’s very effective. I’m always experimenting”, said Professor Florini.

The expert in public policy then unveiled two new exciting classroom approaches that are coming up.

First, flip teaching, or flipped classroom, was introduced in Singapore particularly to the DUKE-NUS Graduate Medical School and the students have their entire curriculum running that way. Professor Florini visited DUKE-NUS and Dean Ranga Krishnan, M.D., gave her a guided tour about how flip teaching works.

The second area which Professor Florini is keen to introduce is something called blended learning. The plan is still under wraps but she will be getting involved with the Centre of Teaching Excellence on the experimentation and we will be sure to bring to you more news on that in the future.