The Outstanding Educator Award (OEA) is one of five accolades presented at the University Awards, the highest recognition of excellence for faculty members in NUS. The awards honour faculty members who have distinguished themselves in the areas of education, research, and service. A total of seven awards were given out this year, with Dr Soo being one of two recipients to receive the OEA, for his outstanding performance, dedication and commitment to teaching.
An NUS Computing alumnus, Dr Soo completed his undergraduate, Masters, and PhD studies in NUS and began his career as a teaching assistant in 2000. In the course of his 18-year career, Dr Soo won the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award (FTEA) four times and the university-level Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) thrice. He was inducted into both the FTEA and ATEA Honour Rolls for winning the respective awards three times or more.
Having taught a large array of technical modules over the years, Dr Soo developed a flair for turning complex, technical concepts into interesting learning experiences as well as incorporating his humour into the content. “I found that I enjoy crafting teaching materials and approaches. Figuring out how to package a course with a right mix of fun and rigour is always fun. Also, looking for the right pitch for the course is part of the challenge. Every semester’s cohort is different; finding out how to achieve your learning outcomes for the majority of the students is not a trivial task,” said Dr Soo.
Dr Soo also combined his passion for technology and teaching by creating a classroom response system named Archipelago. Since its launch in 2015, the web application has supported hundreds of live interaction systems and interacted with thousands of NUS students. Archipelago has also served lecturers from 11 faculties in NUS.
“I hope my students will feel proud to be a geek who finds any in-depth knowledge interesting, and that they enjoy learning and will continue to do so after the course ends,” Dr Soo added.
With information readily available on the internet, Dr Soo believes that teachers should focus on the human aspect of learning, whether it is building a mental structure to assimilate information, walking through the thinking process, or designing interesting assignments that challenge students.
“I have to thank my PhD supervisor Professor Yuen Chung Kwong for opening my eyes to higher order learning. I got the first shock in my undergraduate days when I flunked his first course assignment. The assignment was deceptively simple and similar to the lecture materials, so I copied the content over and expected a passable grade. To my horror, I learnt that my answers were nowhere near the expected solution. Prof Yuen expected not just an understanding of the materials, but the ability to connect existing ideas and create new ones. The experience left a mark on my teaching,” said Dr Soo.
Dr Soo added that teaching is not a one way street but a reciprocal process. Seeing students understand their content and appreciate his teaching methods, as well as receiving student feedback, have motivated Dr Soo to continually improve. He expressed appreciation for the school’s emphasis on teaching quality and its safe teaching environment for helping him grow as an educator.
“I am grateful to my many co-lecturers through the years from whom I have learnt a thing or two from to enhance my own teaching, like Mr Aaron Tan, A/P Damith Rajapakse, A/P Tan Sun Teck, Dr Colin Tan, and many more, as well as A/P Ben Leong for opening many doors, and more work, for me. Last but not least, I am also thankful for my two sons, who have allowed me to stay a child at heart and taught me to find anything and everything interesting,” said Dr Soo.