Every semester, professor Kim’s lecture, better known as “Hyunmulin” in abbreviated Korean, is packed with nearly 300 passionate students, all gathered to take one of the most popular lectures at Ewha. As the lecture title implies, the course mainly deals with the two pillars of modern physics: theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and their impacts on human life.
Professor Kim is well known for the dedicated efforts he puts in to actively communicate and interact with students. He checks and answers each and every question students post on cyber campus and his personal homepage, which amounts to nearly 1,500 to 3,000 questions in one semester. Also, there hangs a white board in front of his office where students can write memos to the professor as freely as they want.
“I greatly sympathize with shy students who are afraid of raising their hands to ask questions in class,” professor Kim said. “I myself was a very shy student who did not have the courage to ask about anything. Actually, I had never asked a single question during my university life. This is why I try to open all possibilities that could work as a means of communication for students.”
Although it may seem the students majoring in humanities are at a disadvantage in taking professor Kim’s physics class, they actually outnumber the students majoring in the science field. Professor Kim teaches physics in a way that could be more familiar and easier for students to understand. For example, he elaborates on his explanations by actually drawing pictures and using animation effects in class.
“I teach students, assuming that they do not know anything about physics,” professor Kim said. “Rather than explaining through a mathematical process, I try to utilize various audiovisual aids such as illustrations, pictures and videos to enhance students’ understanding.”
Although Hyunmulin now stands as one of the most popular liberal arts courses among Ewha students, it did not happen overnight. When professor Kim was first assigned the lecture, he had to endeavor in various ways to encourage students to take the class.
“Before the course registration period, I opened up a question and answer board on my homepage for students who were hesitant to take the class, encouraging them to register for my class,” professor Kim said. “As Hyunmulin had not been open for two years and the title of the lecture itself does not seem totally interesting for students, I thought I had to try my best to introduce my lecture thoroughly to students before the course registration.”
Despite his efforts, professor Kim had to face a crisis: cancelling the class due to an insufficient number of students.
“The lecture was on the verge of being cancelled,” professor Kim said. “On the very first day of the class, only 24 students showed up. As the minimum number of 30 students was required to open a course, I needed to draw some more students. So, I even told the students to persuade their friends to take the class with them.”
Eventually, the lecture started off with 33 students, narrowly passing the requirement. From then on, professor Kim poured all his energy and effort into making his lecture stimulating. He even strived to put forth exciting and interesting assignments such as a hands-on experiment of observing weight change using a scale in a moving elevator.
“I tried to teach students the principle of physics in an intriguing and memorable way,” professor Kim said. “I am aiming to instill a long-lasting understanding in students.”
After the first semester, all his efforts paid off with fruitful outcomes as his lecture began to make strides in attracting students. The number of students enrolled skyrocketed to 133 students in the second semester.
Since then, the course has maintained its popularity, and the number of students increased to 275, 290 and 306 in the following years. In May 2012, his lecture was selected as an excellent lecture in the nomination of 100 Greatest University Lecture.
As for Ewha, professor Kim says that it is a place full of possibility for female students to garner invaluable experiences which cannot be obtained in other places.
“When I just started to work at Ewha in 2002, I encountered a student who was sawing something on her own,” professor Kim recalled. “I predict it was probably something she needed in the lab, but I was surprised. This is a very uncommon scene in coeducation universities, where male students are usually the ones holding the saw. This student presents us with a very important fact: the importance of accumulating knowledge from experiencing it firsthand.”
Professor Kim wishes to be a professor with whom students can feel comfortable with and communicate freely.
“In Korean society, teacher and student relationship can be defined as ‘vertical,’” professor Kim said. “However, I hope to be a professor who forms a horizontal relationship with students, maintaining equal positions with them.”