Education Is the Lighting of a Fire, Not the Filling of a Pail
Prof Wang Ruibing on the Heuristic Teaching Method

Chinese & English:UM Reporter Lyra Qian │ Photo:UM Reporter Ted Yang

In today’s digital world where students have all sorts of information at their fingertips, the traditional way of teaching is faced with a massive challenge of change. ‘In the current situation, it is like students come to a well-stocked library only to look at their mobile phones. In a digital era, the heuristic method of teaching is more important than the traditional model,’ says Wang Ruibing, an associate professor in the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences (ICMS) at the University of Macau (UM) and the recipient of the UM Teaching Excellence Award for the 2018/2019 academic year. 

Wang Ruibing, an associate professor in the ICMS at UM

Connecting Classroom to the Real World

An expert in supramolecular pharmacy and supramolecular medicine, Prof Wang received a third prize in the Natural Science Award category at the 2018 Macao Science and Technology Awards and the China Macrocyclic Arenes and Supramolecular Chemistry Rising Star Award in 2019. He has published more than 130 peer-reviewed papers in SCI-indexed journals such as Nature Communications.

Prof Wang shares his experience of how to show students the fun and real-life value of an otherwise mundane and potentially boring subject. ‘Education is about making students active learners and connecting knowledge to real-world scenarios, instead of being a one-way process of giving knowledge,’ he says.

Prof Wang is an expert on supramolecular pharmacy and supramolecular medicine

Showing Liver Cancer Treatments with Videos and Aids

According to Prof Wang, an educator’s job in a digital era is not spoon-feeding the students, but stimulating their interest in learning. ‘Students don’t come to the class to hear the teacher repeat bits and pieces of boring information they could easily find on the internet. They want to learn, but they also want to have fun and get inspiration,’ says Prof Wang. To make his class more interactive and interesting, Prof Wang uses round-table discussions and videos. For instance, when introducing minimally invasive therapies for liver cancer, Prof Wang played a short video to show students how microspheres are carried to blood vessels.

Prof Wang (left) receives the UM Teaching Excellence Award for the 2018/2019 academic year

Once, he also brought a model of a catheter (a medical device) to the classroom so that students could take an up-close look at it. He says this is a more fun and effective way to teach the relevant concepts than only using text or graphic descriptions.

Prof Wang (left) hopes students recognise the close links between textbook knowledge and real-world applications

Teaching about Patchouli and Bitter Drugs

How do we improve the stability of patchouli (a species of plant from the family Lamiaceae, commonly known as the ‘mint’ or ‘deadnettle’ family)? How can we mask the bitter taste of drugs? At the UM Teaching Excellence Award Seminar, Prof Wang left his audience with these questions which are closely related to our daily life. In the classroom, he asks his students these same questions and answered them from a scientific perspective. He says, ‘We must not give our students the impression that what they learn has nothing to do with the real world. Our discussions help them realise that knowledge is closely connected to the real world. I tend to explore the value of a subject in a practical context to encourage students to think deeper.”

Prof Wang believes that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire

Lighting a Fire Through Education

On receiving the Teaching Excellence Award, Prof Wang says, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’ He sees the award as a new beginning rather than a finishing line, because when it comes to education, there is no one best way; there are only better ways to teach.