Instructor Spotlight – Chin Sun

Photo source: Chin Sun

Chin Sun is a lecturer at the Department of Zoology. Chin received his M.Sc. in Ecology and Behavioral Biology from the University of Minnesota and his Ph.D. in Botany and Zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also worked as a teaching post-doc for a couple of years before coming to Canada.

Aside from having briefly taught BIOL 111, and more recently BIOL 121, Chin has mostly been involved in BIOL 140, a first-year ecology lab course, since he began teaching at UBC almost two decades ago.  Chin has also served as a faculty fellow at the Jumpstart program, helping incoming first year students better prepare for their academic lives at UBC.

What do you most enjoy about being an Instructor?

What I enjoy the most is helping open up students’ minds. How do I, or students themselves, know that this has happened? When students are able to see our world with a new appreciation of its beauty and a deeper understanding of its complexity. While I most definitely love interacting with students and the process of teaching, what I ultimately care about most is that their minds be challenged and expanded, and their perspectives changed.

How would you describe your teaching style?

When I was a teaching post-doc, I read a lot of literature on how learning occurs in human minds. To this day, constructivism has had the most profound impact on how I teach. I like to use questioning to guide student thinking and to help them connect seemingly independent ideas and concepts to come to new understanding. It is easier said than done, obviously. Not only do I need to fully understand the concepts, but I also need to identify and anticipate the usual pitfalls and road blocks that students likely encounter as they struggle to learn. In a large lecture based class, this teaching approach is challenging at best and more often unfeasible; a colleague who observed my teaching commented I asked a lot of rhetorical questions, a testimony of my not-so-successful attempt in this endeavour. However, I am convinced that the best way to empower people to learn is helping them construct their own understanding.

What is something that you are currently doing in your courses that you are excited about?

How do I encourage students who are shy or marginalized due to their personal circumstances to actively participate in classroom discussion and activities that are essential for their learning? This is not something that I am necessarily excited about, but it is a challenge that has been in my mind for a long time. Now, with online learning due to COVID, I feel that this has become an even more urgent and important challenge we must address.

What opportunities relating to teaching and learning have you been a part of?

I have been involved in BioTAP, an initiative to help graduate students enhance their confidence and competence in teaching.

What is a memorable anecdote from your own undergraduate experience?

It has been so long since my undergraduate years, I cannot remember much of it, except for that my buddies and I, 3 to 5 of us, very often studied together to prepare for the finals. Unknown to us at the time, a few motivated students studying together, or group learning, has been found to be a very effective way of learning compatible with the theory of social constructivism.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I spend my spare time with my family, a lot of time with my son, reading to him and playing with him outside, teaching him about plants and nature.

What is a fun fact about you that people may not know?

I am still learning to play the piano. I took piano lessons for several months when I was young. While in graduate school, I often went to a local church asking to use their piano to practice playing some pieces. Now, I am still working on it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Spam prevention powered by Akismet