The Center for Project-Based Learning at WPI welcomed its first visiting fellow, Anny Chang, to campus for four weeks in late 2018. During this time she immersed herself in WPI’s project-based curriculum from the perspective of both students and faculty, with the goal of ultimately advancing project-based learning in her home country of Taiwan. As her visit concluded, she sat down with The Daily Herd to discuss her goals, experiences, and what she hopes is next for project-based learning in Taiwan.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and some background about the work you do in Taiwan?
I’m a social entrepreneur, and I work with high school and college students and faculty. In a class I took during my senior year of college, we were asked to do a group project, and while we were thinking about topic ideas, my classmates and I realized there were two big issues happening in Taiwan.
First, lots of students are stuck in the traditional education system. They’re forced to go to college when they might not necessarily want to, but they don’t have enough time to explore the world and their own interests. We easily see students skipping classes or just feeling nothing, no inspiration or curiosity.
We also realized, as sociology majors, that our passion for society is unique. Most students don’t think social issues are something they should pay attention to. We tackled both of these problems in City Wanderer, a program where students are empowered through 30 different missions that can be team-based (providing meals to the homeless) or more personal (creating a bucket list and sharing it with friends and family).
The first time we organized the program, it lasted for three weeks, and almost 200 students participated. We got over 800 stories on what they had done, and were surprised at how much impact the students could create in such a short time. I decided to continue the program and make it a legal entity; we’re now a nonprofit organization, and have served over 10,000 students in almost 100 events around the world.
We’re trying to share our methodology with educators. We organize workshops and write books and articles to share what we’ve done and show how these programs are useful to students, how they can inspire them to be more passionate and have more curiosity about society and themselves.
How were you selected for the fellowship?
Good question, I don’t know [laughs] ... 300 fellows from 60 countries were chosen, all from nonprofit organizations. Other applicants focused on environmental issues, human rights, gender equality—I was the only applicant who focused on higher education. I was also selected as a Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneur in Asia.
We spend too much time preparing for exams, on our personal academic performance, instead of engaging with the real world and figuring out what we can do for others. I really want to influence the system to build up a new educational ecosystem for the younger generation, with the input of many different stakeholders, and I think they appreciated that.
Why did you choose to come to WPI?
I googled project-based learning and experiential learning, and I found WPI and the Center for Project-Based Learning, as well as explanations, curriculum templates, evidence of how project-based learning works, and other stories.
I knew no one at WPI, but was really excited, and I still am. I never had an opportunity to go back to school to study education or spend time focused on researching how to create and design a better educational program with a theory I agree with. It’s a gift that I could get the chance to come here and see and learn firsthand.
"I’m so excited about everything I’ve learned and everyone I’ve met here, it’s hard to explain through words. It might just seem like your daily life, but to me it’s not normal at all. Don’t take all this work for granted—this is special and important." -Anny Chang
How has your experience been so far?
I was actually writing my weekly report just before this, and I think what I was going to write there can answer this well. I just came back from the Worcester Project Center, where 12 students are working on their IQP, and I asked them a simple question—does this project matter to you?
They immediately told me they’ve started feeling connected to their community and that they’re dealing with real-world issues through daily work and their study. I was so amazed by what they said because even though they’re only in the middle of the project, it’s so easy to tell that they really want to make something happen and assist the sponsors in creating a solution for the difficulties they’re facing.
I’ve been so impressed by the passion I’ve found so far, not just from the students, but from the faculty too. Faculty members often talk about their experiences and what they’ve learned from their students; that’s not common in Taiwan at all. I’m so excited about everything I’ve learned and everyone I’ve met here, it’s hard to explain through words. It might just seem like your daily life, but to me it’s not normal at all. Don’t take all this work for granted—this is special and important.
What kind of work do you think you’ll have to do to get that same kind of passion you’ve found here back to Taiwan?
As the youth advisor of Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, I’ll have many opportunities to collaborate and share my findings with faculty, educators, students, and educational centers. We’ll organize seminars, maybe partner with WPI for a project in Taipei—that could be a really inspiring step—or organize a return visit.
What are you expected to deliver at the end of your fellowship?
There will be a conference I’ll attend with the other fellows. I won’t have a personal presentation to everyone there, but we do have some opportunities to share what we’ve learned with smaller groups. We’ll also be sending press releases to the media; I want to ensure project-based learning and WPI become more popular and well-known throughout Taiwan.
What are some signs that you’ll have made progress in changing the attitude toward project-based learning in Taiwan?
The Ministry of Education is now assisting over 100 universities in Taiwan with organizing more courses involving social engagement by collaborating with local communities to make changes. Increasing that number would be a big sign, and I’d like to start by working with my alma mater, National Taiwan University. We could host conferences and workshops, and maybe have some involvement with or participation in the Institute on Project-Based Learning in the future.
- By Allison Racicot