"Teaching is a lifelong learning process"

Bart Gaens, Docent of Japanese Studies, received the prize for the Best International Teacher of the Year 2012 at yesterday's International Evening.

Bart Gaens, Docent of Japanese Studies, received the prize for the Best International Teacher of the Year 2012 at yesterday's International Evening.

Every year, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) honours one international university teacher who has supported the learning of their students in an exceptional way. Belgian-born Bart Gaens was granted the prize at yesterday's International Evening, an annual university event for international students and alumni.

Gaens studied and worked in Japan, focusing on Japanese language, history, culture and society. Since he started working at the University of Helsinki in 2001, Gaens's field of study has gradually shifted towards inter-regional relations between Europe and Asia, and international relations within East Asia.

"At the Global Security Research Programme of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, I currently examine how the growing importance and presence of China is affecting East Asia as a region," Gaens explains.

Whilst his research examines economic and political power-relations in East Asia, Gaens's teaching focuses on contemporary Japanese culture and society.

"Teaching at the University of Helsinki during those eleven years has been a long process of learning, and of consciously trying to improve my teaching skills," Gaens sums up.

In his opinion, teaching is synonymous with promoting active learning.

"A good lecture should not only be about conveying information, but it should also provide vivid and visual illustrations of the material and it should actively aim to involve the students. The challenge is to find the right mix between lecturing, interactivity and discussion, visual material, and the development of academic skills."

Since his students specialize in various fields of studies, Gaens's challenge is to find the right balance between taking a particular, Japanese studies approach, and keeping the topic accessible and relevant for everyone:

"I try to create an informal atmosphere, so that students feel comfortable to discuss, give comments or approach the teacher with any questions they may have about the course."

Gaens ponders that it is not the students alone, who learn:

"Improving one's teaching is a lifelong learning process. It allows the teacher to keep on learning and seeing things from different angles. I would like to understand this prize as a sign that I am on the right track and slowly making progress as a teacher."

At the international evening, Rector Thomas Wilhelmsson emphasised the importance of internationalisation in times of globalization and changing societies.

"Internationalisation is crucial for consolidating the university's position among the best in the world," Wilhelmsson said.

"We thank all our international students and staff for their valuable impact on the university's excellence, and we want them to play an even bigger role in our university community."

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: Ari Aalto
14.11.2012
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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