Time to rethink and transform teaching and learning | Duke Kunshan University

Time to rethink and transform teaching and learning


The 2020 Teaching and Learning Showcase saw students and faculty share their experiences from the fall semester

By Xiaoxi Zhu ’22
Student Media Center

Covid-19 brought unprecedented challenges to schools and universities in 2020, with arguably the biggest being the need to adapt quickly to online teaching and learning. At Duke Kunshan, although many faculty and students returned to campus after the summer break, most based overseas were unable to do so, resulting in the introduction of a hybrid strategy that integrated remote and in-person classes.

To recognize the university-wide effort to adapt and innovate in these exceptional circumstances, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) hosted a showcase at the end of the fall semester to hear directly from faculty, students and staff about their experiences.

Under the theme “Time to Rethink and Transform Teaching and Learning,” the event included a keynote speech from Matthew Rascoff, associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at Duke University, and one of the chief architects of the online learning strategy introduced at Duke Kunshan last spring in response to the Covid-19 emergency.

The showcase also invited 13 faculty members from Duke Kunshan and Duke to present lightning talks on their experiences with hybrid teaching, and featured a panel discussion with sophomore and junior students. Opening and closing remarks were provided by Chancellor Youmei Feng and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Scott MacEachern.

In addition, the teaching team for China in the World, the first-year common core course, were presented with their certificates for winning a teaching innovation award at the 2020 Apereo Teaching and Learning Awards.

About 150 people attended the showcase, with about 50 more participating via Zoom.

“2020 will be remembered at DKU and Duke as a year of shared commitment and collective strength,” said Haiyan Zhou, associate director of the CTL. “All the speakers and panelists showcased their empathy, resilience, grace and adaptability throughout this challenging year. We were inspired by hearing their experiences and look forward to many more innovations in 2021 and beyond.”


 Students based overseas joined the discussion via Zoom

Compared with last spring, when Duke Kunshan moved classes online in just three weeks, faculty, students and staff had more time to prepare for the fall semester and learn about the variety of tools and approaches at their disposal. However, while there were common challenges, many faced issues specific to their course or class dynamics.

The faculty lightning talks covered a range of issues across multiple subject areas, with speakers including Duke Kunshan professors Mark Spaller (chemistry), Kristin Hiller (English language), Chenkai Wu (global health) and Daniel Weissglass (philosophy), and Nicole Barnes (history) and Charlotte Clark (sustainability) from Duke.

Kai Huang, chair of the Natural and Applied Sciences Division at Duke Kunshan, said a major challenge for faculty teaching science classes in 2020 was involving the students studying remotely in experiments as much as possible.

To address the issue, Huang, associate professor of physics, worked with several students to prepare lab videos in the summer for their classmates overseas to review and get up to speed. Huang also grouped remote students with one or two students on campus to conduct experiments together over Zoom. In this way, he said, students were able to get involved in experiments and digest the theory.

A physics student on campus told this reporter that the solution wasn’t ideal. “When I focused on the experiment, I couldn’t adjust the camera in time to show my online partner exactly what was going on,” she said. Huang said he had noticed this problem, too, and had been working on a more systematic and optimized solution for the spring semester.

Gergely Horvath, assistant professor of economics, talked on his use of an online game platform to simulate the necessary interaction among students in his behavior science course. The game required students to make collective decisions, after which they evaluated their choices in the context of the theoretical models they were learning, such as the prisoner’s dilemma, or altruism and ultimatum.


Chancellor Youmei Feng (far left) presents the China in the World teaching team with their certificates for winning an Apereo award

For some, the pandemic required a complete rethink of their course structure. Media and arts professors Benjamin Bacon and Vivian Xu decided to scrap their original plan and instead encouraged their students to create the Covid-19 Memory Archive project, which combined rich media and geospatial data in an interactive map. Students and faculty also contributed their personal narratives of the lockdowns and travel restrictions introduced to combat the virus.

“This technical platform created more affordances for students to actually engage with the subject better from a very humanitarian and nuanced perspective,” said Xu, assistant professor of media and arts. “Students not only reflected on what’s happening but also actively participated in remembering this event.”

Despite various obstacles, the separation of students and in-class engagement were the two main challenges for hybrid teaching and learning. Having reflected on the response to the pandemic, the faculty are focusing on modifying and advancing teaching methods.

“This special period got us all to collaborate and work together,” said Zaiying Yang ’23, who was among eight undergraduates invited to take part in a student panel discussion after the lightning talks. The students shared their appreciation for the faculty’s efforts in creating a bonded learning community in 2020, as well as spoke on how the experience had helped them develop their skills in time management and self-paced learning.

“The new methods and tools adopted in this dynamic, special period can inspire us to think more about our future teaching and learning,” said Yang.