HKBU Enews Eyes on HKBU
Mar 2012 | Issue 18

Dr. Alex Lau: Teachers convey truth, impart knowledge, resolve doubts

Recipient of the President’s Award for Outstanding Performance in Teaching 2002
Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology 2003
Award for the Highest Teaching Evaluation, College of International Education 2004

To remind himself of his responsibilities as a teacher, and also to motivate him, Dr. Alex Lau, Associate Professor of HKBU’s Department of Accountancy and Law, likes to quote the famous saying of Han Yu, a Tang dynasty essayist and poet: “A teacher is one who conveys truth, imparts knowledge, and resolves doubts.” It is this wise aphorism that has helped him become such an effective teacher, one who constantly refines his techniques to seek out the best method to help his students.

At the same time, Dr. Lau pokes fun at himself, saying he is “a rooster who repeatedly loses”. But the setbacks he has suffered have also been a plus for him, as they have enabled him to better understand the difficulties students face during the learning process and help him guide them successfully in their development.

Devotion and belief
Dr. Lau finds that he is more passionate about his teaching career, which stretches back 17 years, than he is about his work as a lawyer. “When you wake up and open your eyes every day, and you are happy about your job, that is what we call passion.” He truly believes that it is God’s blessings that have found him a job that have made him so happy that he devotes his heart and soul to it. For him it is a richly rewarding experience.

Referring to the setbacks in his long career, Dr. Lau recalls that when he was young, he failed to gain admission to a university. He felt like he had been abandoned. However he did manage to attend the then Baptist College, and drew great encouragement and inspiration from the words of then President Dr. Daniel Tse, who said: “Once you are in Baptist, you will regain your self-confidence.” These words were a turning point, motivating him to study hard. They still drive him now.

As a teacher he is willing to listen as well as to teach, and also serve as a figure of reassurance for his students.

The loser rooster
The failure to gain admission to university, despite studying in an elite secondary school, was a depressing experience. But Dr. Lau drew strength from it. “Because I was a failure and a left-behind student, I can now understand the problems students have in their studies, and I also know the kind of theories they find difficult to grasp, so I can explain them.” With a nine-year experience as a practising lawyer, Dr. Lau believes that to quote more real-life examples will help students understand the complexities of legal theory and enable them to apply legal statutes in the real world.

One of his regular teaching practices is to review with students the material they learnt in earlier classes. He insists on questioning students about the content in the previous lesson, and if their answers are incorrect after a few attempts, he will patiently elaborate further on those sections that are still unclear and find out why they proved so difficult to follow.

Effective learning techniques
Although Dr. Lau recognises that the concepts of law are profound and difficult to grasp, he knows that he must ensure that the lesson timetable remains on schedule. To help achieve this, ten years ago he started recording his lessons and uploading the files on to the Moodle e-learning software platform so that students could download them as they wished. He realises that some teachers worry that students may release the recorded material to the public, especially if the teacher makes mistakes. This issue has caused much debate. But Dr. Lau is not concerned. "It’s normal and unavoidable to say things that are wrong. But once you are willing to admit your mistakes and correct them, then it’s no big deal.” In case the students are still unable to understand the content of the lesson after revisiting the recording, he will explain it again. His students find this a very effective technique.

Dr. Lau’s dedication to improving the quality of teaching and learning has earned him recognition. In 2003, he received the Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology at the 14th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning held in the United States.

Treats students as his children
While fully understanding the importance of family support for a student, Dr. Lau also recognises that not all parents are capable of providing adequate resources to look after their children. Therefore, he is happy to treat his students as if they were his own children, and to share the good things of life with them. He also realises that they may lack the information they need for furthering their studies to an advanced level. To address this problem, he collects information on affordable courses from a variety of sources, for example from local institutions and certificate programmes. He then makes recommendations to students, always encouraging them to add value to themselves.

Guiding students to learn how to respect
According to Dr. Lau, laws and regulations must of course be formulated, implemented and obeyed in order to ensure the viability of a civilized society. Now, our society is becoming freer, and people have a better understanding of their rights. However, in certain circumstances they may not appreciate how to make full use of these rights. For instance, a student once said: “I have only three years as a student. Let me enjoy my freedom while I can!” Dr. Lau’s response was: “To indulge yourself like this means you are giving no respect to yourself, or to others.”

In his early years in teaching, Dr. Lau would easily get annoyed. For example, if students chatted during his class, he would yell at them. Later, with increasing experience, he realises that he cannot just assume that students understand everything he is teaching, and anyway yelling at them is no help. Therefore, it is necessary to make clear why they need to be considerate and give respect to others. For example, he stresses the importance of punctuality. After the first 15 minutes of a class, late-comers are barred from the classroom. “Have they ever considered that every time people go in and out of the classroom, it distracts others and disrupts the lesson?”

Dr. Lau agrees that inexperienced students may find theories of law as well as the principles of life difficult to grasp. However, “When we’re growing up, become more mature and taste what life has to offer, and at the same time suffer setbacks, then our mind will open up by itself.” He emphasises that HKBU students are pleasant people who are clever and have great potential, and what teachers need to do is to dispel any doubts they have and enlighten them.

Achieving best results by constant improvement
In addition to teaching, Dr. Lau devotes much time to research, which gives him an opportunity to update his already in-depth knowledge of the latest developments in society. He is also proud of his time at Baptist. “So far I’ve studied in 13 higher institutions* and the first one was Baptist!”

As well as teaching he is also planning to study another six programmes in the next ten years. He says: “If we can dedicate more effort to study, and contribute the fruitful results of academic research to our community, we are not only able to benefit mankind, we can also further promote HKBU’s ranking in the international arena and help our university to be listed some day as among the 200 best universities in the world.”

City of London Polytechnic
Hong Kong Baptist University
The University of Hong Kong
University College London
Southern Methodist University
Peking University
City University of Hong Kong
Beijing Normal University
University of Aberdeen
University of Oxford
Harvard University
University of Western Ontario
University of Washington