Surprised by the great opportunities to create supportive teaching

03 March 2015

”I can offer the students a much better service and a higher presence compared to my teaching in Denmark. It is unique what the SDC students are offered"

This is what Associate Professor Jakob Kjøbsted Huusom from Technical University of Denmark (DTU) says. He teaches the students at the Master's programme in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. Soon he will be off to Beijing again to teach the course Proces Design.

"When I teach the SDC students in Beijing I do not have any other responsibilities. I have no meetings, no master's students to supervise and no other classes to teach. I can focus on these students," he explains.

He is aware that two intensive weeks are waiting him. The difference of time means that Denmark wake up at the time Jakob ends the teaching in Beijing. Therefore all evenings are used for coordination with colleagues at DTU and other tasks.

At the moment Jakob has no research collaboration with The Institute of Process Engineering, the collaboration partner related to the programme in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. Instead he takes the opportunity to find out whether there are possibilities to develop a future collaboration, and therefore both meetings and dinners with Chinese researchers and tours at the institute are at the programme when the daily teaching has ended.

Students with a different logic

In 2014 Jakob went to Beijing for the first time to teach. He had no experience with China, neither as researcher nor teacher nor tourist. His experience was limited to the Chinese students he had taught at DTU, but it is completely different to be in China and teach a class with a majority of students with a different nationality than Danish. However he has experience with teaching abroad, as he some years ago was involved in the start-up of a new four-year bachelor programme in Trinidad and Tobago.

"Teaching abroad is an exciting challenge, and it motivates me to interact with a group of students with a different logic than I am used to. The Chinese students are a much more inhomogeneous group than Danish students are, and I quickly found out that there is a big difference in the way Chinese respectively boys and girls act towards me," says Jakob.

He tells that it is often more difficult to figure out the girls academic level, as they are more reserved and instead of asking the teacher questions, they wait until he asks them.

"Fortunately we can take our time and compared to Denmark I soon get a feeling about the students. The great opportunities to concentrate on one course and to conduct supportive teaching have surprised me," he says.

The greatest challenge is found in Denmark

Actually he believes that the greatest challenge about teaching in China is found in Denmark. A lot of things have to be organised when he leaves his usual teaching for two weeks. Substitutes need to be found, and when he gets back he knows for sure that a ton of work will be waiting for him at the desk in Lyngby. Therefore it is not without costs to teach abroad, especially if the period gets longer than 14 days.

When a colleague from Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at DTU has returned to Denmark after teaching in Beijing they have a tradition of arranging a small session with the purpose to share experiences and learn from each other. In that way they keep preparing each other for the challenges they will be facing.

Navigate different teaching forms

The course Jakob teaches in Beijing addresses how to consider a fabric as a whole. From the raw material to the final product. The course focuses on methodology, analysis and creative problem solving. He has noticed that the Chinese students have to get used to the fact that the course is very different from the usual courses. However, it is very much the same reaction he experiences when teaching Danish students at DTU.

There are a lot of differences between the Chinese teaching method and the Danish, and the SDC students are met by both teaching forms from day one since they are taught by both Danish and Chinese researchers. Jakob is very aware that he is a visitor in China and he respects their culture of learning and working. However he looks upon the meeting with different cultures and teaching methods as a significant part of an international Master's programme, and therefore he does not try to teach different than what he does in Denmark.

"It is obvious that the Chinese students find it difficult to figure out what they are expected to deliver. In Denmark we have an ongoing interaction with the students and therefore we are able to do an overall evaluation. It is a way to prepare the students for the real world. The Chinese system is more transparent. They have to deliver at the examinations. The examination is decisive," says Jakob.

Within a few weeks he will pack his suitcase again as he in March will go to Beijing to teach the classes of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.