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Hoi Kong: Using feedback

Hoi Kong

"... I ask questions to get students actively learning, actively trying to process the information; to help them develop analytic skills."

Hoi Kong teaches courses in public law generally, including recent courses in administrative process, Canadian constitutional law, and a comparative seminar in constitutional federalism.

An alumnus of the Faculty, Hoi returned to McGill in 2009 from a position at Queen's University, where he was the recipient in 2008 of the Law Students Society Teaching Excellence Award. In 2013, Hoi was also awarded the John Durnford Award for Teaching Excellence by the McGill Law Student Association.

How do you know that your students are learning?

I would rephrase that as "How do I think I know that my students are learning?"! I believe that’s a question of course design, where there are feedback mechanisms for the students and for me. Every class, every quiz, every assignment and group project is designed to get feedback to them or to me. For example, I like to start my classes with a recap of what happened in the previous class. Then I’ll pause and let them ask questions. That gives them an opportunity to think about what they learned last class and discuss it. It also gives me a chance to see what and how they are learning.

As well, in my Constitutional Law class – before the lecture has even begun – three or four designated students (of 60 or so) will have posted online about the readings. As I deliver the lecture I discuss these posts specifically, which is another form of gauging student understanding and providing individualized feedback. This way, they can see how they’re doing relative to their peers – there’s a lot of peer-to-peer learning going on. If someone’s comment is way off, I’ll do a correction, without humiliating anyone, to move the learning forward.

A large part of my approach to teaching involves questions. Rather than just delivering content, I ask questions to get students actively learning, actively trying to process the information, to help them develop analytic skills. To support that, I often stop my lectures, say 20 or 40 minutes in, do a recap and then ask "Is everything clear? Do you need two minutes to talk among yourselves?" At the end, I’ll summarize what they should have learned, using active verbs, such as "You should be able to state the ruling. . . . You should be able to apply the case in. . . ."  This is a way of being transparent about my expectations and of providing students with opportunities to assess their own learning.

After each class, I sit in the Atrium for around 20 minutes so that interested students can ask more questions. This provides an additional forum that carries the discussion forward, clarifying things, especially for people who perhaps were too shy to raise their hands in class. These sessions are well attended and the questions the students ask further allow me to assess what they’ve understood or not, which is great feedback for me and often becomes part of my recap in the next class.