Chinese Professor With Global Reach
Peter Chan Blesses Lives Through Research
It was a day like any other for Peter Chan, who began sifting through emails shortly after arriving at his office:
Thank you for what you have done for our people. What you have done has saved lives.
“It’s very special for me as an educator to hear these things,” Chan says, remembering the day he received this email from a medical doctor in remote Mongolia. “They definitely stay with you.” How Chan, an IP&T adjunct associate professor from China, began working with Mongolian doctors is another story.
As a young student Chan worked in a television studio while attending school at BYU-Hawaii. “The medium became very interesting to me,” says Chan, who produced several award-winning student films. “You can show things with video you wouldn’t be able to show otherwise,” he explains. This realization became an important tool for Chan later in his academic career.
As a graduate student in the McKay School of Education, Chan began thinking about how to better approach problems with learning. As Chan explains, “I wanted to make learning more effective and powerful. I wanted to figure out a way to help students obtain a deeper understanding of complex concepts.” At a TEDx conference last May, Chan explained the challenge further. “The problem with learners is that they naturally tend to oversimplify things. This is fine for doing well on a test, but real life settings go much deeper than that.”
When Chan’s graduate school mentor Carl Harris introduced him to Harris’s work developing video training programs, Chan was intrigued. “I saw a lot of possibilities,” remembers Chan. “And it dealt with things I was very interested in.” Already experienced with using video, Chan believed that innovative uses of video could make learning a deeper and more effective process. Chan describes the result as a “multi-perspective training tool.”
The strategy, as Chan discusses it, is presenting students with real life problems from the perspective of multiple individuals. In a program developed for training doctors in Mongolia, learners are challenged to diagnose illnesses in real-life individuals. After being presented with a patient, students can select videos enabling them to hear the opinion of medical professionals from Asia and North America. These programs have been especially helpful to doctors in remote areas of the world, giving them the necessary training to perform life-saving procedures.
Chan’s programs have been effective in training teachers as well, particularly in his native China. After presenting his programs to several universities, Chan was asked by Beijing Normal University (BNU) to help develop a program specific to their needs. “They were looking for ways to better train their teachers,” recalls Chan. “When we introduced our programs to them, they were very impressed.” Chan worked closely with teacher educators from BNU, which boasts one of the nation’s top teacher education programs. “We worked extensively with them, and before we knew it, we were working with the Ministry of Education.” This experience became very meaningful for Chan, who identifies this as part of his life mission. “I knew when I came to the US that I wanted to do something professionally that would bless the Chinese people,” he explains.
Although his work has been widely recognized academically, Chan says his greatest reward is making a difference. “Whatever research I do, I don’t want to develop something and let it sit on the shelf; I want to do something that can be used and applied,” Chan notes. “The most rewarding thing for me is when I see the things I do change lives for the better.”
13 February 2012