HKBU Enews Eyes on HKBU
Apr 2012 | Issue 19

Professor Steve Guo: Cultivating critical thinkers

Recipient of the First President’s Award for Outstanding Performance in Teaching 2000

"I am a natural born teacher; I’m very talkative," says Professor Steve Guo, Head of HKBU’s Department of Journalism, in heavily-accented Cantonese. The difference between a career and a job, he adds, is that a career is usually built on passion while a job is built on need.

"The purpose of journalistic education, or all other education for that matter, is not to train a group of robots who simply follow orders and 'produce news', but to cultivate journalists who are capable of independent thinking. This will help society in the long run," he says.

Stress-free environment
In recent years, Professor Guo has been teaching communication theory and research methods. He says: "Students are typically not that interested in theoretical subjects. Making such subjects stimulating is a daunting task for instructors. On the other hand, students should also be given more choices in what they would like to read."

"Learning without the pressure of examinations is becoming increasingly rare, which is a sad thing,” he adds. Believing that students learn best in a stress-free environment, he hopes to turn the classroom into a “reading club”.

In an ideal learning environment, according to Professor Guo, there would be a two-hour exam-free reading session at least once a week, during which students and the teacher would read something together followed by discussions. He suggests that teachers and students could exchange ideas on the reading material during these sessions.

"It’s not abnormal for students to like to do some things more than others but it’s a problem if they like to do nothing,” Professor Guo says. “Being indifferent to their studies would definitely hamper their education.”

Professor Guo and his colleagues at the Department of Journalism work hard to extend the Department’s network in the industry, to invite experienced journalists from around the globe to HKBU to share their insights, as well as to enhance students’ understanding of news and expand their interests through activities such as the Pulitzer Prize Winners Workshop and the International Media Salon.

Journalistic traits
According to Professor Guo, not everyone is suited to being a journalist. Students need to be both empathetic and rational to excel in the field. “Journalists must be extremely dedicated with a sense of responsibility to the community and a social conscience. Enthusiasm is always a prerequisite, but it’s difficult to cultivate it through teaching alone.”

He adds, “News reporters must be critical thinkers. Learning to practice routines is always easier than taking the initiative.” To that end, teachers in the Department of Journalism have worked together to emphasise critical thinking and to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. They also insist on retaining the tradition of student internship as one of the graduation requirements. This gives students opportunities to apply what they have learnt in the classroom out in the professional field.

Experience is the cornerstone of research
In addition to teaching, Professor Guo has been devoting a substantial amount of time to his research on political communication, specifically the political effects of mass media news. He regards research as the process of generating theories and says theoretical ideas have deep roots in one’s knowledge pool, life experiences, and the ability to connect the two. He sees research as “part of life,” adding that all the things we encounter every day and the interaction between people are raw material and fodder for research.”

He says that the best theoretical discoveries of social patterns are those that are not obvious but make a lot of sense at the same time. Although Professor Guo says he’s still far away from that ideal state, he was the two-time winner of the Elizabeth Nelson Prize in public opinion research from the World Association for Public Opinion Research, a leading international organisation in the field, receiving the award in 2002 and 2003.

Professor Guo’s childhood in various parts of Mainland China and his seven-year working experience as a journalist with China Daily honed his observation skills and bolstered his research interest in the media landscape in Mainland China. He experienced the transitions and social unrest of the 1970s and 1980s, including the Cultural Revolution, two mass protest movements in the Tiananmen Square and the ongoing social reform. Though those were challenging times, in retrospect, he says they gave him an in-depth understanding of the relationship between people and society as well as people and the government. “For a scholar, these are experiences that money cannot buy,” he says.