Kai-Yu Wang is certain that before 2011, his marketing research students weren’t always all that interested in what he was teaching them.
But then a colleague mentioned integrating experiential learning into his classes and Wang’s world — and that of his students — started to change.
Wang, Chair of the Goodman School of Business Marketing, International Business and Strategy department, connected his students with businesses from the community. Together, they would tackle real-world challenges faced by those companies, and the results would reinforce to students the concepts Wang taught while helping organizations move forward successfully.
Except it didn’t happen that way. For the first few years, students’ timelines for completing Wang’s service-learning projects competed with the pressures of other course work. Businesses had their own deadlines to meet, and the two sides never seemed to mesh.
“To be honest, I almost gave up,” Wang recalled. “They were so much work to co-ordinate.”
Still, Wang persevered and hit his stride with experiential learning in the classroom when he started teaching Goodman’s Internet and Social Media Marketing course in 2016.
He treated the working relationship between businesses and students more as a partnership. Then he applied for a teaching and innovation grant, netting $2,700 to be divided between nine student teams.
The students would create social media marketing proposals for their business partners and then be paid $300 to implement it for two weeks to see if it worked.
The approach was a success. So much so that four years later, Wang has upwards of 30 businesses reaching out to him each semester to work with his class.
Even better, many of them are willing to pay about $400 for students to carry out two-week search engine marketing and social media campaigns, despite being asked to contribute a minimum of only $100. At the end of the two weeks, students provide them with instructions to continue the online marketing strategy after the project finishes.
Wang’s ingenuity and tenacity in providing relevant and rewarding learning experiences has earned him the Brock University Award for Distinguished Teaching for 2020.
The award is presented at Fall Convocation to a faculty member chosen by their peers for making an outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning environment at Brock.
Wang is the second business professor to win the award since 1998.
“I’m really honoured to be the second person at Goodman receiving this award,” Wang said. “I take teaching very seriously. I enjoy teaching and spending time with students, and I enjoy teaching all the subjects I teach in the classroom.”
Much like the uncertainty he felt those first few years of trying service learning in the classroom, however, Wang wasn’t convinced he could earn such an honour for his teaching. He wasn’t sure his in-class approach measured up to others who’d won previously.
“Prof. Wang’s dossier demonstrated his extensive educational leadership with a focus on engaging community business partners and students for experiential opportunities related to real-world topics and projects,” wrote Madelyn Law, Associate Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning, in her announcement of Wang as the award recipient. “Also, his dedication to his own teaching and learning professional development to enhance student learning experiences was a major strength of his application.”
These days Wang is so sold on integrating service learning in his classes that he’s the one who talks it up to his colleagues, much like one did with him all those years ago.
“It makes courses more practical and students can apply these concepts,” he said.
And as rewarding as the accolades are, so too are the job offers he sees students get from some of the business partners they meet thanks to him. Ditto for the notes students send him thanking Wang for the impact his teaching style has had on them.
“When I see these notes, I feel all the time I spent and the hard work has paid off,” he said.