Working with a diverse student body is one of the most important experiences afforded to me in my time teaching in Hong Kong. An international city, Hong Kong is home to large populations of people from all over the world and I have learned a lot about teaching young adults in such an environment.
The University of Hong Kong boasts the most diverse student body in Asia. In addition to local students, my classrooms have included students from all parts of China, Indonesia, Cambodia, South Korea, Italy, Germany, Chile, Spain, and the US among other countries. Additionally, general education courses are comprised of students from all majors within the university, increasing the range of baseline knowledge and competencies. While it can be challenging to manage the learning environment that comes with such diverse groups of learners, it is also an incredible opportunity for learning—particularly in journalism and public relations education, as concepts such as the social construction of institutions and professional practices of audience targeting become much more interesting when different world views are presented in discussion.
Active listening is perhaps the most important skill in being able to steward learning among diverse learners. In addition to listening for signs of understanding from students, I find it useful to get to know a bit about students in order to ensure their unique and specific needs are addressed. It is also useful to be able to share unique experiences and backgrounds of students with the class. For example, when teaching about the value of mass communication, it helps to consider the media climate in each student’s home country and how the authority of media is valued. Encouraging discussions around differences helps us all understand better the social nature of media and culture.
Almost every student at the University of Hong Kong is multilingual and for most, English is not their native language. I have found it helpful to offer students the ability to express themselves in more creative ways in addition to typical written assignments. Because some students are more comfortable expressing their thoughts verbally, I sometimes allow assignments that involve making arguments to be submitted in video form. The process of organizing their thoughts and speaking about them in an online video has helped students build a stronger and more logical argument that ultimately tends to strengthen their writing as well.
That being said, it is essential for communications professionals to write well. I encourage the use of resources that can help students with language and grammar, such as campus writing centers, and I take special care in copy editing written work, whether or not writing is an objective of the course.
My philosophy on teaching includes the idea that every learner is unique and that educators have a responsibility to make learning as personal as possible. Inviting students to participate in decisions about their learning experience ensures they maintain interest and are receiving valuable
information to their goals.