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Timely student communication and sharing the recipe for a great teacher

The pandemic forced teachers, professors, lecturers and other pedagogues to adapt their courses and their teaching to online education. Someone doing this with a top result is Assistant professor Dong Yan who has been awarded SSE’s diploma for Outstanding Pedagogical Achievement for autumn 2020.

“I am honored to receive the award. It means that the hard work I put in redesigning the course was recognized, and the experience can be useful to others and future teaching. The past semester took a hit and left a very short window for courses to transit online. It was tough for both students and instructors to adapt. I am very happy that my course went well,” says Dong Yan, who teaches at the Master program in Finance.

To succeed in transferring her case-based course, Dong Yan took charge early on in the process. Immediately after being informed that her course was moving online, she spent 24 hours learning the techniques, redesigning the course, seeking feedback from colleagues, and rehearsing at home with multiple devices. And soon after this she reached out to her students with detailed teaching plans, Zoom etiquettes, and explained why the course structure needed to change.

“Timely communication enabled students to form an expectation of how we would carry out the course online and how they should prepare for it. It allowed them to concentrate on the course contents rather than the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic brought,” explains Dong Yan.

Inspiration and challenges when engaging students

In Dong Yan’s experience, a good learning environment can stimulate effective discussions from students. She has always been impressed with the depth the students can pull out of each case when classes were held physically. It was hard to imagine how a case-based course could be taken online, as it is difficult to carry out open discussions when students sit remotely and the barrier for speaking up increases. If we keep the same teaching plans and tools as usual, it can destroy the atmosphere of the class and the trust instructors have built with the students. So, Dong Yan re-designed the participation format to suit online teaching.

“I assigned different roles to each group of students in different classes and brought more structure to class discussion. This format gave everyone a chance to participate and encouraged students to share knowledge with teammates before and after class”, says Dong Yan. “Exploring tools provided by the virtual platform also helps to engage students. We used polling to reflect students’ opinions. Breakout rooms were also effective in helping students prepare group strategies for an in-class auction game. We had quantitative analysis, guest lectures, students’ presentations, and more. With some effort, we can re-create most of the features we had in a physical classroom.”

Dong Yan also benefited a lot from discussing with colleagues, sharing tips and participating in tutorials organized by SSE. In this time of uncertainty, it is important to learn from each other what works best.

Jury's motivation

Dong Yan is responsible for a course on Mergers & Acquisitions at the MSc in Finance. Dong has continually developed the course over the last four years, and it is now very popular with students. She has been particularly successful in creating a positive learning climate, which engages students in an interactive way, despite having to deliver a case-based course online. This highlights Dong's dedication to her students and commitment to teaching.

SSE Education Award