Assistant Professor, Social Sciences (Political Science)
What is special about teaching at Yale-NUS?
Huang: The students at Yale-NUS are of a very high caliber. They consistently come prepared having done the readings and raise thoughtful and thought-provoking questions in class. It is a great pleasure to interact and engage with such highly motivated and inquisitive young minds. Not only have I learned an enormous amount from my students, but I have enjoyed getting to know them better at the same time, especially in regards to their research interests, passions, and aspirations.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Huang: My teaching style is influenced by a strong liberal arts ethos of teaching students how to think, as opposed to what to think. At the beginning of the semester, I share with my students the single-most important goal in class: I’d like them to be reflective, analytical and open-minded thinkers. I keep my lectures concise to allow for ample time for the students to debate and discuss, to challenge and identify gaps in the assigned readings, and fundamentally to embolden them to think for themselves and to disagree without being disagreeable.
It’s important to encourage these emerging scholars and future public intellectuals to develop their own point of view, one that is well-informed and reflects logical consistency in their reasoning. At the end of the day, such intellectual openness and critical thinking are valuable skill sets transferrable across a variety of disciplines and careers going forward.
Can you recall a moment when you knew the class is going well?
Huang: I find Powerpoint to be a great visual-learning tool. Often times, an image, graph, or table can speak volumes and drive the point home with efficiency and impact. Most of the time, however, Powerpoint is a crutch and handicap for the instructor. I fall victim to that many a times in the past by putting more words than necessary or turning my head toward the screen to read what’s on it only to be drowned by the mountain of texts on the slide.
For my lecture in “Comparative Social Inquiry,” I decided on a different strategy. I stripped away the number of words per slide to a bare minimum, inserted graphics that are relevant and illustrative of key points, and most important, blacked out the screen after introducing a new slide so that the students’ attention naturally shifted and focused on what I was saying and explaining. It was a high-risk strategy, testing both the students’ attention span and my ability to explain difficult concepts in a cogent, deliberative way without the bells and whistles of superfluous slides. And, it worked! When you’re on stage in front of 200 students (and colleagues), it’s amazing how clearly you can actually see them, their facial expressions, and whether their eyes are glued to their phones and laptops or focusing on you as the speaker. And, you know the class dynamic is going well when you see the lecture hall humming with activity, everything from nods of approval, inquisitive as well as puzzled looks indicating they’re processing and thinking about what’s being explained and jotting down notes, all happening without slides to copy from or distract them in the background. It was a great experience, one that taught me how to use Powerpoint slides more strategically (and sparingly) and an innovative way to leave a deeper impact on our students, one well-executed lecture at a time.