When Ideas Meet Expertise: Synergy in the Teaching and Learning Community – Interview with Dr. Michael Botelho

Interview with Dr. Michael Botelho

(The University Grants Committee (UGC) Teaching Excellence Award Winner, 2015)

Tracy: What is your inspiration for teaching? What are some of the factors that contribute to your great achievement?

Michael: Good question! I have to think on that. I suppose it is a range of inspirations mixed in with some internal motivation. Students inspire me with their industrious work and ability to outperform my expectations. Also, they have great capacity to do conscientious and focused groupwork which really changed the way I started my teaching at HKU 20 years ago. When I first arrived I have to say I was used to the role of the sage on the stage during lecturing. However, I realised that when lecturing you never know if the students have understood what you have told them, also when asking students questions during these sessions I found this type of interaction did not suit our students’ learning style. Fortunately, from attendance at the then equivalent CETL workshops, I was exposed to new teaching and learning ideas. This inspired me to try these out in my teaching. They worked well. Now, I structure all my learning activities around small groupwork with questions or problem scenarios that require students to collaboratively derive an answer that they feedback to the class for clarification. This makes the level of their understanding transparent. I suppose the other inspirations or motivations I have been influenced by are the opportunity to use the Teaching Development Grants to explore teaching innovations, to attend CETL and the Sciences of Learning workshops for new ideas, and to collect feedback from evaluation questionnaires from students and advice from colleagues.

Tracy: Would you please share with us some of your recent teaching and learning approaches?

Michael: The course I oversee is in our simulation laboratory and it prepares students with skills for patient care. I always think how to bridge the gap between the theoretical learning in classroom and their practice in clinic. From this, I design worksheet activities that reflect and provide solutions to common problems they may encounter in the simulation laboratory or on their patients when performing these skills. In addition, I ask students to bring in their clinical case materials to treatment plan their patient care. I have also been training students to discriminate features of quality in their work so they can judge their performances better, which I think will improve their future performances. Recently, I have been telling students explicitly the pedagogical approach that I am using in the learning environment, why I am using it, and how they can benefit from it. In addition I have been asking students to put their phones on ‘education mode’ so that there is no temptation to be distracted during active learning and teaching moments. This classroom management is important to set the scene for focused and meaningful learning. I think I can be quite the task master in this sense but have received feedback from students that they appreciate this!

Tracy: What do you see the role of a community of practice (CoP) in promoting teaching and learning?

Michael: The CoP has great potential to provide a support network for new and established staff as well as team and course leaders. The CoP will of course need relevance and have the ability to evolve overtime to suit these. This would be a great way to disseminate some of the many great teaching practices that happen in the University that are perhaps currently not shown to their full potential. This would open up the silos of great teaching and help inspire others to try new initiatives.

What I am personally doing now is that I am reaching out to people who have expertise in various areas that can enhance and extend my teaching ideas outside of dentistry and to improve their scholarship. I am liaising with people from different backgrounds such as education, psychology, medicine, learning science, and computer science. There is a synergy when discussing ideas with collaborators or experts who know their domain well and can enhance the ideas into better practice, validation or scholarship.

Collaboration with others enables me to take the ideas forward and apply them in different environments to see if they are transferrable. One idea that I want to explore more is that I have been videotaping student consultations when they come to my office to ask questions. I post these videos on Moodle so that other students can share, watch and learn from the one-on-one interaction. I have called these the Communal Consultation. I have analysed when these videos were watched and what was interesting was students were watching these as a learning resource before taking their competency skills tests. I had not anticipated this so it was fascinating to see they were using these videos in this way.

I am now trying to spread the ideas I have gained from my analysis of the video resources I have for my course and I hope to see how it might be applied both inside and outside my faculty. It would be great if the CoP could connect people sharing similar ideas or interests to work together and offer wider support to them.

Tracy: What is your opinion about the future of a teaching and learning CoP at HKU?

Michael: It would be great to see a stronger and broader sense of community on scholarship of teaching and learning in HKU to support teaching enhancements. This will benefit students, staff, Faculties and ultimately the wider community. However, we need to have recognition for these outcomes and endeavours as good teaching innovation and scholarship takes as much time and effort as good research. If you reward good teaching and scholarship like good research you will inspire and motivate more staff to a higher level. This disparity needs to be addressed. To foster the teaching and learning CoP across the University, funding would be necessary to support potential initiatives and it would be exciting to focus on ones that are cross-disciplinary so as to explore transferability and how they may have wider impact.

Alice Lee
Interviewee – Dr. Michael Botelho

Clinical Associate Professor
Faculty of Dentistry
The University of Hong Kong


Alice Lee
Interviewer – Dr. Tracy Zou

Assistant Professor
Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
The University of Hong Kong


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