UIC ICON United International College

Short-term collaboration programme at UIC is a success

BIOL 1322 (The Ecology and Bio-conservation of China) is a credit-bearing short-term study abroad collaboration programme between Trinity University in Texas, USA as well as UIC in Zhuhai, China. UIC Environmental Science Programme and Whole Person Education Office provided major academic and technical supports to this short-term programme.

group 1
This was the second time to run the BIOL 1322 short-term summer programme

The course was held on the UIC campus in China and was taught in English. This short-term programme was organized by the International Development Office (IDO) and the Environmental Science (ENVS) programme at UIC. IDO arranged the student support, accommodation as well as all the logistics work for this programme.This is the second time that UIC has run the programme.

About the Programme

The theme of the summer programme was to focus on the Ecology and Bio-conservation of China. In the three weeks of intensive programme of lectures, field works and observation from 5 to 23 June 2017, sixteen young adults from Trinity University, Southwestern University, and UIC learnt and worked together. The lecturers for this short-term programme were Dr Kelly Lyons of Trinity University, USA; Dr Carl Robertson of Southwestern University, USA; and Dr Siu-tai Tsim of UIC, China.

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In this course, students learnt fundamental principles of ecology as they apply to contemporary distributions and abundances of plants and animals in China. Students also examined current human impacts on native biodiversity in China and the conservation practices and efforts that are in place. The summer programme also included broad instruction in Chinese language and culture, in particular the elements that pertain to the Chinese relationship with nature, resource extraction, and food. Students engaged in regular in-class and field-based exercises, exams, and a collaborative group project utilizing biodiversity data collected near the UIC campus in and around Zhuhai. Plus the participating students were taught how to apply scientific concepts to the natural world in particular for environmental problem-solving, in addition to effective background communication, hypothesis development, experimental methods, data collection procedures, and results of scientific studies.

fish market
The students got to see and experience the real China during this programme

Altogether the students spent a total of 171 hours, which included class time, field research, pre-class readings, group projects and preparation of posters, as well as preparation for quizzes and final examination. Students earned 3 units (credits) if they passed the course.

Classroom topics included an introduction to the Basic Principles of Ecology, which spoke about the “Abiotic Factors, Including Physical Geography” and “Biotic Factors, including Competition and Predation”, “Principles of Biogeography”, “Major Habitats of China and Associated Flora and Fauna”, “Threats to Biodiversity of China,” as well as “Principles of Species Conservation” were other topics that were discussed during this short-term programme.

For the first presentations that were held on 8 June, the students were divided into pairs. The students were partnered with another student who also lived in the same or surrounding area. The students introduced the wildlife and habitat where they live. The presentations covered the local wildlife as well as species that had invaded the region. Areas that were talked about by the students from the USA were Texas, New Hampshire, and Louisiana, while Chinese students talked about the Shandong, Anhui, Shanxi, Sichuan, and Guangdong region.

first presentation 1
first presentation 2
For their first presentations the students spoke about the wildlife and habitat where they live

From 10 to 11 June, the students and professors ventured for a weekend trip to Hong Kong. For the first day they went to Lantau Island where they visited the Tai O Fishing Village. The fishing village is on the Western coast of Lantau Island and is a quaint and picturesque village, with the traditional stilt houses predominant in old Southern Chinese fishing villages. One of the few remaining places where you can still see them is Hong Kong. On the second day, they went to the Peak of Taiping Mountain and The History Museum of HK.

Trip 1
Trip 2
The students went to Hong Kong to Tai O Fishing Village and got to see the pink dolphins

Most of the classes the students engaged in were Environmental Science lectures, while other classes were more focused on Chinese language as well as classes related to Chinese culture such as taichi and calligraphy. Associate Professor and Programme Director of Applied Psychology, Dr Ghee Wee Ho, along with WPEO Facilitator Andy Boyu Lin taught the students taichi while Dr Hockming Lee taught the students calligraphy. Overall, the students gained a broad comprehension of the fundamentals of Chinese language, culture, art, and food, particularly as it relates to ecological civilization, human sustenance and material wealth.

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taichi 2
Dr Ghee Wee Ho and Andy Boyu Lin taught the students taichi

The students went on the following field trips: Seagrass community survey in Zhuhai to learn the skills in performing scientific, ecological study and nature conservation. They also went to Tai O Fishing Village and Chinese White Dolphin Watch in Hong Kong to learn marine ecosystem and Chinese diet culture. In Hong Kong, they visited the Golden Fish Street to learn marine ecosystem and international trading, plus they went to Kaiping Diaolou in Jiangmen to learn Chinese culture and wetland habitats. In Zhuhai they went to the Lychee Orchard, and Fengshui woods and landscape to learn woodland habitats and ecological civilization, as well as visiting the Chinese White Dolphin National Nature Reserve (in Zhuhai) to learn species conservation. On Qi’ao Island, the students went to the Bird survey and Qiao mangrove nature reserve to learn the skills in performing scientific and ecological study as well as wetland habitats and culture in addition to visiting the Tianhou Temple on Baishi Street to learn land formation and Chinese culture. When it came to learning about food production and ecological civilization, the students went to an Organic rice paddy field, as well as visiting Doumen Old Street to learn about southern Chinese culture. The group also got a chance to visit the Conventional Chinese Fish Market in Zhuhai to learn marine ecosystem and Chinese diet culture. They even made a trip to Macao to do see some of the historic sites from the Portuguese colonial days.

Trip 4
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The students went on many field trips during this programme

For the final assignment, students were put into groups and given environmentally related projects to work on and then present on the last day. Group 1 talked about traditional vs modern farming as well as the history of the soybean. Group 2 focused on “Fengshui” also known as wind and water. They spoke about the importance of fengshui forests that create high humidity, lower temperatures and can provide increased shading. Group 3 talked about marine and aquaculture, so they spoke about the demand for seafood that is increasing, and also spoke about over-fishing, decline in natural water quality as well as highlighting problems such as antibiotic usage, species invasion and pollution. Group 4 had been studying the birds on Qi’ao Island. To do this they divided the area they were monitoring into 4 transects and then viewed the amount of species in each transect; they discovered the barn swallow was most popular. Group 5 focused on the seagrass on the coast of Zhuhai and discovered that seagrass preferred looser, sandier soil rather than soil that had mixtures of clay in it.

final project 2
On the last day, the students presented their research and findings

Feedback from the students

Abigail Lipe, a student from Trinity University, said that “I was a little afraid of culture shock before I came here, and I thought China was going to be a totally different world to me. But honestly, the people here are pretty similar to the people I know back home, which was fun.” She went on to say “I liked the full utilization of the environment around us the most. You're fully immersing yourself into the ecosystem here, which is really cool. Also the people here, especially the UIC students, are really awesome people” when asked what she liked most about the programme.

final project 1
Abigail Lipe enjoyed her time during this programme

Another Trinity University student, Grace Holt, explained that she was thinking about majoring in Chinese prior to this trip so she had some knowledge and understanding of China and the culture. “Going on this trip made me even more interested in studying Chinese culture and language. I now want to learn Cantonese as well as Mandarin.” Grace was impressed by UIC's commitment to whole-person education and her favourite part of the programme was the weekend trip to Hong Kong. When asked about the programme, Grace said “It offers a unique ecological lens to understanding China that not many people get to see.”

The students were taught calligraphy by Dr Hockming Lee

Wang Haoyu, a year 3 Environmental Science student at UIC, enjoyed the programme between Trinity University, Southwestern University and UIC, especially with the knowledges and skills in class. He says that he was impressed that two cultures were getting along well with each other. Haoyu believed it provided a chance for American students and Chinese students to study in groups, and discuss the topics that we are all interested in such as the natural world as well as ecological views. He liked the in-class discussions the best during the programme as he could feel the differences in ways of thoughts between American and Chinese students. “For me, it is really amazing to understand different views from a different culture,” he said. Haoyu also mentioned that the different diets were very obvious but it was during the classes when he saw an interesting difference as American students preferred to speak out their ideas directly, while Chinese usually share their views afterwards.

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Four UIC students have since gone to the USA to study in the research laboratories in the Department of Biology at Trinity University. They will participate in summer research and then pair with Trinity undergraduate students to give a poster presentation on their research results at the end of the exchange programme. The topics were given by the professors.

WANG Xiaomao (Maureen), an ENVS student at UIC, spent three weeks in Trinity University last year when the programme first started.  She did her research project on seed germination rate. After the three weeks, she presented her findings on the last day. During the weekends, her professor took her and other students to the surrounding places to visit.

As Maureen joined the programme in 2016 and performed excellent in the research at UIC and Trinity University, Dr Kelly Lyons suggested that Maureen should be appointed as a voluntary Teaching Assistant for this year’s programme. Maureen accepted the role of Teaching Assistant for this short term programme and said “The duration of this programme was much longer than last year’s so there were more assessments, which allowed for the students to have more communication with each other”.

Feedback from the Professors

Dr Kelly Lyons, Associate Professor of the Department of Biology at Trinity University, said her favourite part of the programme was the people she had easily engaged. “We had a smart and dedicated group of American and Chinese students and I could not have asked for a better group of colleagues to work with,” she mentioned. Dr Lyons expressed how UIC is very lucky to have highly skilled professors like Dr Tsim, as well as exceptional support in the IDO team and the lab technicians. Also as Dr Lyons is a botanist and an avid cook, so she really enjoyed the cooking exercise with some of Guangdong’s vegetables and fruits, claiming it was her second favourite experience of the programme.

The students and professors even had a go at cooking with locally found vegetables

“This is a highly unique study abroad experience for Trinity students,” explained Dr Lyons. “They are asked to step far out of their comfort zone in two significant ways.” She explained that firstly the Trinity University students were taking a science-based course as mostly non-science majors and they were doing so in a foreign country. Dr Lyons mentioned that the real strength of the programme for Trinity students is that they were required to engage in the study of environmental science, using the Chinese landscape and culture as a background, while engaging with Chinese environmental science students to learn the material and conduct the field studies.

Dr Carl Robertson, an Associate Professor of Chinese at Southwestern University, explained how for him that co-teaching is the most rewarding kind of teaching, but it is usually also the most demanding. “Co-teaching makes a strong community of shared learners, in which students become more like peers and teachers,” he said.

chinese class
Dr Robertson taught the students Chinese Language during the short-term programme

Dr Robertson believes that this programme provides a huge benefit to Southwestern University students and claims there is no comparable programme in China.  He says that the students have the privilege of experiencing the issues in the science of sustainability personally and directly.  His favourite part of the programme was the field trips, especially the visit to the organic farm.

Dr Tsim of UIC explained that Dr Kelly Lyons, Dr Carl Robertson and the UIC teaching team (including Dr Siu-tai Tsim, Ms Veronica GONG and Dr Deborah Ballantine in Environmental Science Programme; Ms Flora LI and Ms Sara MO in WPEO-Environmental Development Centre). Each of the parties have very clear roles and make different contributions in the programme. The UIC teaching team was composed of several teachers with different expertise in order to maximize the professional input into the programme.  For instance, Dr Lyons and Dr Ballantine gave lectures on basic ecological principles, Dr Tsim, Veronica, Flora and Sara gave lectures and organized field research work and observation to present the intersections of nature conservation and Chinese culture. “We had excellent collaboration in teaching in particularly during field observation, instructors discussed and elaborated the same observation from various perspectives, hence students were inspired to have deep learning by knowing the multiple elements of a thing,” said Dr Tsim.

envo science class
Dr Tsim taught Environment Science to the students

Co-learning was encouraged as students were assigned to form small groups comprised of members from different universities, different educational backgrounds as well as different cultural backgrounds. This arrangement provided students more opportunities in discussion and peer learning as well as teamwork; more importantly, the programme provided an opportunity for friendship development between the future leaders from two leading nations.

When asked if the collaboration programme can help UIC students, the feedback was definitely positive. The programme had been designed to help UIC students with critical thinking and asking questions, performing intensive discussion in English, reflection on Chinese cultural identity, and thinking about sustainable development in China.

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The differences between this year's programme and last year’s programme was that this year’s programme had participants from one more university (i.e. Southwestern University, Texas in US) as well as more elements in scientific research and experiential learning was incorporated.  For instance, students were involved in studying the environmental functions of Fengshui Woods, and students also experienced some daily works in organic rice farming.  One of the innovative teaching activities this time was to learn about wetland plants and Chinese diet culture through cooking lessons.  While cooking, students learned about the biology of wetland plants, ecological functions of wetlands, and the culture and values of eating wetland plants in China.

In the 20 days of intensive learning, most students were noted to have various kinds of development, for instance, enhanced understanding of ecosystem, ecological civilization as well as language and communication skills.

Reporter: Samuel Burgess (MPRO)
Photographers: Dr Kelly Lyons (Trinity University) , Dr Siu-tai Tsim (UIC), Sara Mo (UIC), Veronica Gong (UIC), Henry Wang (UIC), Maureen Wang (UIC), Yang Qihui (AE, Year 1) 
Editor: Deen He (MPRO)
(from MPRO, with speical thanks to the ELC)

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