Professors from Vietnam learn teaching methods

More than 20 engineering professors from Vietnam are putting together an apple, mirrors, lenses and papers that they can use to project a hologram.

Twenty minutes later, they are laughing and humbled, most of them unable to create something that works. Lesson learned. 

The professors are part of an Arizona State University program President Barack Obama put on the international stage this week during his trip to Vietnam.

Obama praised ASU’s Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program as a boon to Vietnamese education.

“American academic and technology leaders, including Intel, Oracle, Arizona State University, and others, will help Vietnamese universities boost training in science, technology, engineering, and math,” Obama said.

David Benson, the academic director of the program, said it shows visiting professors from Vietnamese universities new ways to teach and explain material to their students.

The program, called HEEAP, shows professors from Vietnam the value of teaching hands-on techniques, such as with the hologram model. The goal is to help students learn in diverse ways rather than relying mainly on memorization.

ASU and Intel joined forces to launch the program more than five years ago, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“When HEEAP was launched, it was because Intel envisioned a transformation of engineering education in Vietnam,” said Jeffrey Goss, executive director. The ultimate goal was to help “prepare Vietnamese engineers to compete in a global economy.” 

Benson said the program is to help professors when they return to their university classrooms in Vietnam.

“We want them to really dive in as students and then step back later on, ‘What did I learn? How did I learn it? How can I then apply this to my class so my students can have this experience?’ ” Benson said.

Minh Lam, a professor at the Industrial University of Ho Chi Minh City, said the six-week summer session will change the way she teaches.

“The program did inspire me to change my existing course,” Lam said. “After that program, I hoped that I can inspire my students, too.”

“I’ve learned that everything is possible – even for a first-year student,” Lam said. “The good thing is that if we change the course, the student can learn more. Finally, they can create some new things.”

The professors in the program not only learn in Arizona. They teach others.

“When you do something across cultures, you’re looking to understand them as much as they’re looking to understand you,” Benson said.