Rosie Ching is a Senior Lecturer of Statistics, in the School of Economics at Singapore Management University
Pinball machines. Roulette wheels. Slot machines. These are just some of the innovative classroom tools that Rosie uses to teach fundamental statistical concepts to first-year students. “Instinctively, I knew that just pure numbers on paper wasn’t going to cut it, so I decided to bring in real miniature toys that can actually show statistics in action,” explains Rosie.
Her novel use of roulette wheels, for example, are as engaging for students as they are instructive. “We were already spinning those roulette wheels and analyzing the chances and probabilities and expected values and standard deviations. Then when the IRs came, of course, everything fell into place.” Rosie’s use of games proved to be so popular that she decided to take it a step further, spending 18 months developing an online game centered on the Customer Service Index (CSI). The game covers five to six weeks of the term’s work, and each stage has a specific hypothesis test attached to it. “The students love it. It brings them through the intricacies of every single hypothesis test,” Rosie says of the fruit of her labor, which is in the process of being adapted for the iPad.
Rosie’s many teaching excellence awards can be attributed to the fact that her classes are highly interactive because she arrives at solutions to problems in real-time with her students’ input. But it is perhaps Rosie’s unwavering dedication to her students that they treasure her most for. She makes it a point to get to know all of her students by name—all 180 of them per term—and cherishes every moment that she gets to spend with them. More about Rosie can be found at www.rosieching.com.
Host: Welcome to today’s podcast. For our guest today, we have Rosie Ching who is a senior lecturer at Singapore Management University. We’re very excited to have her as she has been showcased before in one of our Virtually Inspired stories, CSI: Agent on a mission. which is customer service index. Rosie teaches statistics to undergraduates.
Today, we have some questions for you. Welcome Rosie.
Rosie: Thank You Marci, great pleasure to be here.
Host: Thank you! So, one of the things that we are very interested in is, what motivated you to seek to teach differently?
Rosie: Well, as with I guess a lot of teachers, it comes from my experience as a student with my own teachers. There have been a handful of very inspiring ones, one of whom I remember very clearly. And how he took tradition out of the classroom completely and everything that came from him was completely personal with a very caring touch. It was completely customized to all of us. And when I began teaching, I unconsciously took everything that was already me from him and from the other teachers including those of my parents were both teachers, into the classroom with my students. It became like that. I can’t explain it in so many words. It became natural for me to do things differently and not to conform to the traditional way of classroom teaching.
Host: So, you created a game to really engage your students. That was one of your methodologies that you used for teaching. After you decided to use gamification to engage your students, how did you proceed?
Rosie: Well, I’d drew out the game on paper and it was a very messily outlined initial draft. I then brought it to the Center for Teaching Excellence here at University. When they heard it, they were open to the idea of me developing it further. And I knew someone very well, but it with whom I hadn’t been in touch with for at least one or two decades. And I knew that she had her own graphic design company. She’s not a game designer but she can design very well.
So, with all the pictures in my head, I sat down with her and together we fleshed out the whole design of the game, the idea, and all the statistics behind it that I needed in the form of an animation movie, kind of. And together we worked with, we spent the better part of one and a half years working on it until it rolled out the very first draft of the game on flash. Yeah, so that’s how I began. And, I was blessed to have the support of the CTE monetarily and as well as for future versions of the game which I’m currently working on.
Now there is a current version that I’m working on now with the same designer with brand-new countries. As you know the original version has seven countries, seven stops in which the students have to complete with their own passports. And this new one has been in the works for the last one and a half years again, so it’s due to roll next August and it’s going to include three new countries with brand new statistics and randomization of options and more on a brand-new platform.
Host: Nice. So, you did not have any expertise in game design yourself?
Rosie: No, not prior to that no. Yes, so it was a great learning experience for all of us.
Host: And the Center for Teaching Excellence is the group that… did they provide a game designer?
Rosie: I sought one myself, but they supported me in this.
Host: You’ve had a tremendous response to making your game available for free download throughout the world. Besides CSI: Agent on a Mission, what other ways are you engaging your students through online learning?
Rosie: Well, I began this video menu of my teaching back in 2013 when inadvertently there was a last-minute meeting called at the same time as a slot in which I had promised to be with my students. And I couldn’t get in two places at the same time. So, I decided to cut myself into two. What I did was I made a bargain with the office that I’ll be there for the first half and I wouldn’t be there for the second half.
But, for the first half in which I was there in the meeting, I had to be virtually present with the students somehow. So, I whipped out my camera and I recorded myself as though I were in the class with them. And I could be edited it and formatted it such that it would be watchable online. And I uploaded it to my domain online and I sent the link to them that very day and I told them so this is for the first half and I will come down for the second half. And when I did at the end of the particular session, they one and all told me that the link to which I had sent to them was fantastic because it covered everything that I wanted to tell them in the first half. And they asked for more as time went on, that’s how I gradually developed the whole video menu.
So regardless of whether a student is or isn’t in class for the first, at least the first, hour of class they can easily catch up or prepare for the lesson beforehand. And that has led to what the students call a flipped classroom. To be a very honest and I had never heard of that term before that but, they had you see. So, with this video learning movement that began quite out of the blue, it’s something that the students can be in tandem with the course even though they may not be physically present in class. And that’s something I think I’ve been constantly working on and renewing and revamping. I do it solo so, it’s a massive effort every single time but it’s worthwhile for the students. That’s one.
Another one is where I send the students out on projects with real companies and well, their results are captured online as well so they’re able to follow graphically at least the results of the data analysis. So, this is some form of online learning because it’s they who create the statistics and using software, we create webpages in certain tabs online and then I buy the domain and then it’s there. So, so far, we’ve had the links toiletstatistics.com which quantifies toilet cleanliness around the whole of Singapore. And we’ve also had despatchstatistics.com which is all about the end-of-life index the attitudes for Singaporeans towards end of life preparations as compared to preparations for birth of children and preparations for marriage.
So, this was done only this year. Those are very sensitive topics. They made a very hostile receptions when they sought respondents but, we captured almost 8,000 of them. And all this is done outside of the classroom, so they don’t have to be physically present when they do it. And it’s like they call this journey of self-learning and self-discovery. And this is all on top of the game itself, the CSI game, which also have.
Just recently from August till early this month, it was all about breast cancer screening. Breast cancer is the top cancer killer of women in Singapore. It is not the top cancer killer for women worldwide but, it is cause for women. And the puzzler here is women are not taking up screening as much as they should, and that’s a puzzling and worrying trend.
And I worked with Cancer Center here, with the deputy medical director who’s a specialist and oncologist in women cancers especially breast cancer. And the students were, oh well, they went stomping around pounding the streets in Singapore targeting women especially. And we went by the population demographics, by race, by age, by religion as well. And all the statistics were captured and analyzed over the months outside of class. And it was all visualized at screeningstatistics.com.
So, if you visit those links, one for the toilets, toiletstatistics.com was done in the later part of 2016, and the end-of-life index which was done this year from January through April at despatchstatistics.com, the dispatch is spelled de not di, and lastly, the newest one which is screeningstatistics.com. And they have received interest from the media especially the toilet one and end-of-life one. The breast cancer one is in the works still because it’s still very new. So, we’re still working on the media fact sheet. And all this is for the benefit of students learning, because they see for themselves how connected they are to society and what good, how much good, can be affected by the use of their data on to society and raise awareness of breast cancer screening. So, we have both video learning and we have this real-life tracking outside of the classroom. And we have the CSI that they do with their passports and an even more that’s coming.
It’s so much that sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit of an overkill but that’s the way it goes in Singapore when we operate under very high-pressure environments. Ultimately it is stressful but it is very rewarding and extremely fulfilling for everyone as can be read from the students comments, their letters, their cards, and official SMU feedback as well.
Host: Wonderful. So, Rosie what do you recommend to fellow educators who want to innovate into their teaching practice?
Rosie: For innovation, I use my imagination a lot. And no matter how crazy an idea may seem when actually uttered or spoken, I the crazier it is and the more outlandish, the more I will pursue it. For example, when I had the idea of approaching a funeral company in September last year to quantify end-of-life attitudes. Because Singapore is one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world and our total fertility rate is well below what’s needed to sustain ourselves. We run the risk of, if we don’t look after ourselves and we don’t reproduce.
And, therefore, the government is looking strongly into end-of-life preparations. And we have this problem of lack of land, so we are planning on exhumations and so on. We don’t have room for cemeteries anymore and therefore the main mode of seeing someone off is through cremation. And even so there’s limited space for niches in columbarium. So now, they are proposing scattering of ashes. And in the past, it was difficult to do so. You had to rent a boat and go way out, but now they’re proposing having specific places where you can go and you scatter the ashes conveniently. You know all this was flooding the top prime news in Singapore.
I had the idea of approaching a well-known funeral company in Singapore. And when I did, they invited me down to the premises and so I went. And I asked them if it was, you know proper, you know, if they were open to innovating the scene. You know to raise awareness of the necessity of preparing for one’s end-of-life. And they say yes, definitely, but there is taboo linked to it in conservative societies and we lean towards that, and the timing wasn’t right. So when I approached the university, because they said that the new year was coming and well Chinese New Year was coming that it wasn’t that appropriate a time for us to go out and ask people about such sensitive topics and that the support would not be there so to speak.
I did it anyway, so I did on my own this time with the students, 174 of them. So, together we did it on our own. Of course, we had to caution them to be well tactful and not to push it if they met with hostility and resistance. This was this was proven by the statistics because they analyzed the respondents’ attitudes going from the beginning to the middle to the end of the survey. And how open they were and was like a downward trend from the beginning to the end, you know, they became more closed up as the interview progressed. But we did it and you see, and the statistics really spoke.
So, this is some form of innovation where you go against, you buck the trend, you just do what you believe in and you just do it. That sounds like the Nike slogan. Use the imagination. Dream. Keep dreaming. If you don’t have the support, it’s going to be a little challenging especially when there are costs involved. So many a times, I’ve had to dig into my own pockets but considerate it well spent because it’s all for the students benefits, ultimately. The goal is there. It is not doing a project for the sake of doing it. It is for the sake of the students’ learning to benefit the world at large. And, well, our world in Singapore is pretty small but that’s where we begin in small and then we gradually grow from there. And if the students in their first year, freshman year because I teach primarily freshies, 80% and then the other 20% are sophomores all the way up to the seniors.
They find that it is there, in them, that they are able to do it with a little bit of you know cajoling and pushing and encouragement. They find it in themselves, that they are able to go the distance and do what they could not have imagined them doing say a few weeks before the start of the project. So, a lot of innovation goes into the project where they exert their creativity, they exert their communication skills, their interpersonal skills, their independence in learning because all everything is exercised and it’s very rewarding for them in the end and it’s pretty unforgettable every single time.
Innovation is something that’s very well deep seeded. It involves having well needing some courage to fly in the face of tradition and social norms sometimes. And some people may regard you as a little wacky and someone who doesn’t conform, but I consider it worthwhile. The imagination is truly an instrument that defies anything. The imagination and dreams, yeah.
Host: It sounds like your innovation has really had a tremendous effect on your students and on their lives and personal growth. Has it had an impact on your professional life?
Rosie: Yes, it has! My professional life where the world look has multiplied gazillion times and I go at full force. Some professors who do this kind of project with an external company. We have it here in SMU. It is called SMU X. The X stands for many things. It stands for experimental, exciting, extraordinary. To me and the students it stands for extreme and a lot of extra. But it also stands for the unknown.
So, there’s a lot of unknowns that goes on for me professionally but that’s exciting. You see, because you never know what to expect when you teach such a course. It’s very gray and often there are no black and white answers especially when you deal with an external third-party company who often have their own, well, they have their own agenda, their own desires, their own goals. And you try to meet them, and they get to meet the students as well. So, professionally is not just with the students but with, of course, SMU as well as with external companies too.
So, I’ll deal with, I’ve dealt with, I’m dealing with the CEO of the World Toilet Organization for the toilet cleanliness index. That is big. It was founded in Singapore, the WTO. And the CEO is a very passionate person who highlights two areas in Singapore that are still in need of attention where toilets are concerned. Those are the coffee shops and Hawker centers.
So, helping the students through this course involves dealing with those others and involves me having to exert myself professionally in different ways. Because they need students as well, so it’s a third, sorry, it’s a three-party collaboration where in the past it wasn’t so. There were big scale projects, yes, but it was mainly just the students and myself, but now is it’s grown to include other people too. And I say full-strength because it’s so great the scope and magnitude and the depth that sometimes an instructor will ask for say a half load of students to teach however I’ve always gone for a full load. So, the full load means 45 students per class, which is times four per term, which is a maximum 180 students per term for me, which leads to at least or most 260. Sometimes I’ve taken four classes in one term, which means 225 of them in one term across 15 weeks. That is something I draw a lot of energy from as well because the students are fantastic. They come with a lot of energy and they are raring to go. And, of course, not all are but, so it’s my responsibility to well get them excited and ready to explore the unknown. So, professionally a lot of time eats into my personal time, a lot of sacrifice.
Now I’m going into the personal sphere. A lot of sacrifice… you don’t see as much of your family as you wish you could… A lot of time outside of the office is needed. Days into nights, nights into days… You have all-nighter sometimes. And, well, let’s just say I’m still recovering from this term. The exams were only last week and the project still ongoing in the background because now, it seems like some medical paper might be written on this and I’ll have to do more research on the breast cancer and screening attitudes.
Host: Very nice. So, have you had any of your students come back later, like upon graduation to share with you the impact that your teaching style had on them similar to what your mentors, teachers, or your favorite teachers previously had on you?
Rosie: Yes, yes. Quite a number have gone into teaching themselves and they’ve come back to me saying that, you know, the first thing they did was to apply to teach, regardless of their discipline. Not everyone was accepted into the teaching profession though, here at the Ministry of Education. So those who entered, they told me about how they were going to do things differently and to have the student as the main focus and not anything else. Those who did not sadly manage to make the grade, they went into ministry work. And they said as long as they dealt with people and they had any positive maybe they could make a difference in lives of people, they were happy with it.
There were others, there are others who let’s say they attend job interviews and they are faced, they are given a spreadsheet to analyze and interpret on the spot. And they say it is such a charm to be able to look at it and be reminded of what they did in class. When you were faced with thousands of lines of data and to be able to interpret it on the spot, and they so impressed the interviewers, that often they were offered a job in a spot.
Just a few days ago another wrote to me they’re saying that he’s won the trust of his supervisor in sales in analyzing the spreadsheet, a sales spreadsheet, and coming up with ideas and recommendations. This only his first year of university.
Yeah and for the graduates, I’m still in touch with them. They work in banks. Some fly the skies. A lot are in the financial industry. Some are teaching and others set up their own businesses in baking and in their own passions. Across the board, they tell me that when they see some trends or pictures it reminds them of the statistics and the things that they learned and that they could apply. For example, as mundane as sorting t-shirts, the sizes of t-shirts. When they were sorting, they knew how to sort them in terms of, well, in terms of a graph, graphically speaking, that was the shape of the graph. What it should be like and so on, the sizes of the shirts, etc. It doesn’t sound like much perhaps to a layman, but when they link it to what they experienced it in class, back what they did, what they learned in class, and what they were able to do in class, it makes sense for them. And then they come back, and they tell me hey Ms. Ching, I was able to do this. It is fantastic because had it not been for what I had with you in class, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. And they have this skill of data analysis and we are a management university.
So, I often tell them that you can’t go through a management university education without learning how to manage yourselves and manage data which is a skill that, well, many desire that they have, but maybe didn’t have the chance or make the most of when they were a university. So, when they hear this, you know, and they hear that it’s a management university you have to be able to manage yourselves and manage data, it gets into them and it lasts. It stays with them. It sticks. That’s absolutely something that nothing can match in terms of fulfillment, when I hear from them, yeah.
Host: That’s wonderful. So, I do you have this final question. What do you have on the horizon, anything exciting? Are you going to keep doing the breast cancer and take it to the next level?
Rosie: Well the next phase, there are many topics in my head. It’s just a matter of getting and getting them out after enough rumination. Yeah, the toilet project was done in 2016. It was meant to be done yearly, however I decided more time needed to be allowed in between to allow the toilet operators to clean the clean up their act. And now it’s coming to 2019 so the next phase will be in 2019. That’s exciting because it could involve the National Environment Agency this time as well as the ministry in charge of all this. We’ve been having meetings. The World Health Organization will be in on it as well. It will involve a relook at all the toilets in the same locations and it will be very eye-opening to be able to compare the past toilet cleanliness index with the current when we do it next year, soon. That’s exciting.
And let’s see, besides the toilet cleanliness index, the breast cancer one will go on in the background. I’m not a fan of repeating themes so, I always revamp and we just destroy everything and just build everything from the ground up, all over again. That will evolve new themes. The new CSI, the themes were voted on by the current students across the past three years. They wanted confidence intervals before hypothesis test. Hypothesis test is the main feature of the current CSI across six or seven weeks of work, but the new one will involve confidence intervals, which comes before hypothesis tests. Therefore, I call it the CSI Prequel because confidence intervals are taught before hypothesis tests.
This is going to be really exciting because it will involve photographs from my own travels to those lands. And the countries will remain confidential until I tell the students, the first batch of students in 2019 what they are. It’s going to be really something, the CSI Prequel, yes. It’s going to be more mobile-friendly as well, plus the new toilet project phase two and the breast cancer work in the background. I’ve got other things going on in my head right now, which are a little too crazy too talk about.
Host: That sounds exciting, Rosie and I can’t wait to hear what’s going to happen and to see the new CSI Agent on a Mission game, the Prequel when it comes to August. That’s very exciting. Thank you for being with us today and for just taking the time to share with fellow educators and hopefully inspire them to be a more creative in their own teaching style.
Rosie: Thank you, Marci. It’s been my pleasure. It’s been my honor to share with you and everyone. Thank you.