Delivering quality teaching at Jiangnan University

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Senior Lecturer Dr Charles Diako recently returned to Aotearoa New Zealand after three weeks of teaching at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.

Dr Charles Diako (centre) with students from Jiangnan University

Dr Diako taught food product development and food characterisation, as part of the joint programme in food technology with Jiangnan University. Students enrolled in the programme study at Jiangnan University until the end of their third year, Massey delivers the equivalent of one year of courses, over their second and third years of study in China. The students then travel to New Zealand for their fourth-year courses. Part of the agreement involves lectures being delivered in-person in China, and this semester Dr Diako got the chance to do just that.

The food product development course he taught is a second-year course in which students identify market opportunities and develop product concepts for a food company. They work in groups to identify opportunities in a specific product category through market research, and identify a company in China that would benefit from a product concept based on the opportunity found.

Dr Diako says the concept creation process draws heavily on design thinking, where the consumer is at the centre of the process.

“I teach them specific techniques that they can use to engage with consumers to determine unmet needs or pain points in a product category and translate these needs into a concept that can then be prototyped.”

The food characterisation class focuses on the various approaches used to describe the properties of food.

“My teaching focused on the sensory aspects where a sensory panel consisting of selected individuals is the instrument used to describe the properties of food such as appearance, aroma, taste, flavour, texture and aftertaste.”

Dr Diako says he had great support from the teaching team while working at Jiangnan University.

“I had tremendous support when teaching and running the labs, and the Chinese hospitality was amazing. Jiangnan University is one of the top universities in China, and they are number one ranked in the world for food technology, and well-situated for food research. It is great to be able to partner with them in this way.”

He adds that the opportunity to live and teach in China for three weeks was an unforgettable experience.

“Being able to take content and teach it in a way that resonates with students from all backgrounds and with various levels of English proficiency is very important to me. This trip adds to my experience of delivering content to students whose first language is not English. As a sensory scientist, ethnic foods are always on my radar whenever I travel. So, this trip was a good time to try authentic Chinese cuisine, from Xiaolongbao to Sichuan hot pot. It was great to discuss the sensory properties of these foods with the students who took me out for lunches and dinners.”

Dr Diako trying authentic Chinese cuisine with his students

This was the first time Dr Diako had travelled to China, so his trip was filled with memorable experiences.

“From the moment I left New Zealand, I didn’t know what to expect. On the last day of lectures, many of the students asked to take selfies with me after class. I was filled with a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to be part of their journey. It takes courage to step out of one's comfort zone and push the boundaries in one’s quest to acquire new skills and knowledge or experiences. Here I was in China, trying to use chopsticks for the first time. In a sense, this was no different from the students in class or at lunch trying to find the right word in English to answer a question or finish a conversation.”

“It was heart-warming to see students make the effort to take classes in English to receive a degree from Massey and also from Jiangnan. I was glad that my classes not only piqued their intellectual curiosity but that they also had a positive emotional experience in the classroom.”

The Jiangnan-Massey programme has been in place since 2020, and the first cohort of students arrived at Massey to study the fourth year of their programme in 2023. Massey Food Technology staff teach core food technology courses there each year in year’s two and three of the programme.

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Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas and representatives from Jiangnan University.