:: Dialogue with a Professor Series ::

“Teaching is an emotional endeavour.”

Dr Ashley Yoon Mooi Ng AMN, Associate Professor in Education at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

Featuring Dr Ashley Yoon Mooi Ng AMN, Associate Professor in Education at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China, where she coordinates the post graduate research programmes.  Her expertise is in Educational Leadership and Management and taught it in the University of Nottingham Malaysia and now she teaches International Higher Education in the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China.  She supervises on both the EdD and PhD programmes, specifically on Educational Leadership and Management. She started her career teaching Geography in secondary schools and rose ranks to Head of Department to Principal in Malaysia. His Majesty the King of Malaysia conferred her the AMN (Ahli Mangku Negara) award in 2009 for her contribution to education in Malaysia. Among her other achievements are the Excellent Awards for Performance Beyond Expectation by the Malaysian MoE (2010) and UNM (2017 and 2018) and was nominated as Inspirational Woman in conjunction with International Women’s Day (2019).

You have a long journey in education starting with teaching Geography in secondary schools to now teaching in a Masters Programme in International Higher Education and supervise postgraduate research students. What continues to drive you to be a professor today?

I like teaching.  I started out not having any plan to teach in a university but my quest for knowledge leads me to further my studies.  I realised that there was so much knowledge out there and I did not understand much of it.  So it triggered my interest in doing research on things that matter to me.   I realised that having such knowledge enabled me to be a better practitioner and that fired my passion further.  Being a principal, I realised that such knowledge empowered me to be a better leader and more confident in what I did and knew what I was doing was right.  I learnt how to analyse data and decisions were made based on them.  So teaching in a university now enable me to transfer my experience and knowledge to others and help them to be good principals/leaders.  That is the motivation and it provides the drive for me to pursue this career in the university.  At this level, students are looking for specific skills and I have the skills, knowledge, and experience accumulated throughout the years to help develop them.  For this, like all good teachers, I am a great storyteller and during my lessons, theories become alive.

What’s the best/worst thing to happen since you started working as a professor?

The best thing to happen to me since I started working in the university is a change from working in schools to working in an institution of higher learning.  It is a different job with different responsibilities and most interesting is I get to carry out real research with grants that I obtained successfully.  I am also in a very good position to see what I did and implemented while in schools were related to the theories that I read and teach now.  In other words, the links between theories and professional practice are clear. 

The worst thing was at the initial stage, the learning curve was steep.  Work in schools was very different from the work of an academia. However, the qualities I had as a principal such as resilience and persistence paid off and I managed to learn to fit into the world of an academia.

Who are some of the mentors/people you look up to and why?

Success does not come to people who work alone.  Even when I was working in schools, I worked closely with the community, parents and teachers as well as the various education offices. It is the interaction and communications among the various agencies that bring success to the school and inevitably to myself and every individual. When I start working in the university, I have a very good mentor. Professor Tony Bush, who guided me through the learning curve and to what I know now. He is knowledgeable, kind, patient and very generous with his time. He is there for me whenever I need his help or advice. We also work together, supervising and co-supervising post-graduate students, carrying out research and writing papers together, so we are a great team. There are others such as colleagues and friends who provided opportunities by giving advice, share their work and gave their time to me when I approached them. There is always something to learn from everyone.

What is a common misconception of a professor that you want to change and how do you feel about it?

The most common misconception of a professor is that students think eminent professor are unapproachable and ego-centric. They are also considered to be experts and so must know everything from A to Z. This stereotype professor is something that I want to change. In an age when nothing is constant and everything changes so fast, there is always the need to learn new things to keep up with the changes. For example, teaching and learning is no longer in the confines of the traditional classroom. I need to learn how to record my lectures using the various software and to teach online, to use the latest technologies and go live in my teaching. So I would like to change the idea of the stereotype professor to someone who is also learning together with the students we teach. Learning never stops.  Professors might be stressed for time but they are human too and students should not be intimidated by their status.

How are you and the faculty preparing to face the current and evolving changes in education during this pandemic?

My colleagues and I are facing unprecedented issues caused by the pandemic. We need to attend numerous training programmes to learn the various ways we can use to teach online, face-to-face with live recording and also how to provide support to our students.  We also need to look into the needs of the students (emotionally, academically and mentally) so that they can learn in a conducive environment. For us, it takes much more time than usual in preparing our lessons and to think of ways to deliver our lessons creatively and innovatively.  This is something that we have not anticipated but here we are very well supported by our IT staff and e-learning technologies departments. Countless trainings and workshops have been and are still being organised to support the academia and students here. They work round the clock to make sure learning and teaching is not disrupted.  I think the all-round support from the top level of the university to the support staff at the ground level is crucial to help us during this period when we have to address the ‘new normal’.  I can feel it here, this atmosphere of everyone working together for the benefit of the students and the university.

As a professor and a co-ordinator of post graduate research programmes, what would you share to an aspiring professor related to  educational leadership and management

I would advise the person to learn as much as possible from colleagues. Learning happens whenever and wherever the opportunities arise.  Most important, get a good mentor to guide you like I have. I am most lucky and blessed to have a very good mentor early in my career in the university. He is Professor Tony Bush and everyone will know who he is if you are in this field. He is so experienced that he teaches me the nuances and the skills in supervising post-graduate students. The opportunity to co-supervise and write papers with him is the best way to learn from him. I learnt and am still learning from him and that makes me better as days go by. So my advice to aspiring professors is to get a good mentor whom you trust and can work with.

What is the most memorable moment you had with a student?

Teaching is an emotional endeavour.  You need to engage with your students if learning is to happen.  I always have a close relationship with each of my student (both when I was in school and now in the university).  In school the relationship with students is different from students in the university.  In schools, they are in their teens and their needs are more to providing care and love to them so that they find meaning in coming to school to get an education.  In the university, students are young adults and relationships with them are more of friendship and respect.  They know they are here for an education and they need skills and knowledge to address specific needs, such as critical thinking, research skills, and connecting theories to professional practice.  My most memorable moment would be when I was teaching a masters student some years back.  He was a well-established teacher in a famous school back in his own country, teaching statistics.  When he sent me his first draft of his first assignment, I made so much comments that he demanded why and what he wrote was not accepted. I could feel his ego was dashed. My reply was that, I recognised his potential and that I wanted to help him to reach the standard he was capable of and that the ‘harsh’ comments were not aimed at him personally but to help raise the quality of his work.  I told him I would be walking his journey with him and that he should have faith in himself and open for learning.  He took my advice, and he worked very hard and he scored distinction in almost all of his assignments and graduated with a distinction.  And now, we are friends.  He even invited me to his wedding.  I even have one of my former students sending me a good morning message through a social media app every morning and it has been 14 years now.  I think having students who appreciate your efforts and having their trust is most memorable about teaching for me.

What do you enjoy most when you are not working?

When I am not working, I watch a movie or two (usually horror stuff or Hallmark Romance). I like baking so I try out various recipes and I find it therapeutic.  Most important is spending time with family members whenever there is an opportunity.

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