CityU educator receives UGC teaching award for promoting positive education

Dr Sylvia Kwok Lai Yuk-ching (centre) is the Principal Investigator of the Joint University Mental-wellness Project. The Co-Investigators of the project are Dr Pan Jiayan (first from left), Dr To Siu-ming (second from left), Ms Lorette Leung Mee-kuen (second from right) and Professor Daniel Wong Fu-keung (first from right).

A City University of Hong Kong (CityU)-led inter-institutional project team promoting positive education among university students won the 2021 University Grants Committee (UGC) Teaching Award (the Award).

Dr Sylvia Kwok Lai Yuk-ching, Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at CityU is the Principal Investigator of the Joint University Mental-wellness Project (JUMP), which aims to enhance university students’ well-being, increase their resilience to face adversity and challenges, and nurture them to contribute to society.

Since its launch in 2017, the project has benefitted around 7,000 staff, professionals and students, and many more in the community.

This is the fifth time that CityU faculty members have been honoured with a UGC teaching award since the inception of the Award in 2011.

Professor Way Kuo, President of CityU, congratulated Dr Kwok for winning the prestigious award. “CityU is committed to providing students with the best professional education. Our aim is to infuse the campus with the spirit of discovery, innovation, creative thinking and entrepreneurship in response to the fast-changing economic and technological landscape,” said President Kuo.

“Dr Kwok is an exemplar of CityU teachers and the embodiment of our emphasis on students’ well-being and positive learning experiences,” he added.

President Kuo (left) and Dr Kwok
President Kuo (left) and Dr Kwok

Dr Kwok said she felt overwhelmed at receiving the award. “As an academic, my mission is to prevent mental health problems and promote the well-being of people. As I realised my students’ needs, I invited other experts to join the project, and together we advocated a paradigm shift from the deficit model, focusing on students’ weaknesses, to a model that emphasises their strengths,” she said.

She is also the Regional Representative Lead of the Positive Education Division of the International Positive Psychology Association.

To achieve the project’s aims, the team employed a strength-based, process-oriented approach to maximise students’ potential and capacity.

“We adopted a positive transformational learning pedagogy, integrating ‘positive education’ and ‘transformational learning’,” said Dr Kwok. Through a six-step transformational learning pedagogy – to learn, live, reflect, conceptualise, apply, and embed – the team aimed to establish a positive culture in the university and the community.

Six elements critical for long-term well-being were adopted in positive education – character strengths, positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

“The impact of positive education will be more significant when university staff incorporate the concepts and pedagogy in their teaching and daily interaction with the students,” explained Dr Kwok. “Therefore, a key feature of the project was to provide a wide variety of creative capacity-building activities designed for both staff and students.”

The project has benefitted over 1,350 staff and other professionals, and about 4,000 university students. Moreover, the university students have carried out community projects of their own design, benefitting an additional 1,500 members of the wider community.

A longitudinal survey the team conducted provides evidence that the participants experienced an increase in meaning in life and coping flexibility, and a decrease in anxiety and stress after joining the project.

The team will use the award to expand the positive transformational learning model and the unique features of JUMP to engage more students and academics. It is hoped that this model will be implemented in a long-term, sustainable manner and that all eight UGC-funded universities will become involved.

The Co-Investigators of the project are Professor Daniel Wong Fu-keung from The University of Hong Kong, Dr To Siu-ming from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Ms Lorette Leung Mee-kuen from The Education University of Hong Kong, and Dr Pan Jiayan from Hong Kong Baptist University.

The UGC Teaching Award was set up to honour teachers who have made a real and sustained impact in promoting teaching excellence in higher institutions.