Awardee of 2020 UGC Teaching Award – Mr David Seungwoo LEE

Case Study of Good T&L Practices > List of Case Studies > Mr David Seungwoo LEE


Mr David S. LEE
Principal Lecturer
Faculty of Business and Economics
The University of Hong Kong

Awardee of 2020
(Category: Early Career Faculty Members)

Mr David S. Lee is active in the areas of corporate governance, ethics, fintech, law, leadership and organisational development. His teaching practice spans undergraduate, MBA, EMBA and executive education courses. He has conducted training related to corporate governance, ethics, fintech, leadership and organisational development for government institutions and Global Fortune 500 companies. He is a co-author of the leading Asia focused business ethics textbook and a co-teacher for an award-winning online course entitled Fintech Ethics and Risks. A recipient of multiple teaching excellence and teaching innovation awards, Mr Lee is the first teacher from a business school to receive a UGC Teaching Award.

After starting his career at Goldman Sachs, Mr Lee worked in investment management before joining The Hong Kong University (HKU). He also has experience as a lawyer, in management consulting and in advising entrepreneurs. Mr Lee strives to be an impactful teacher by leveraging his diverse professional and educational background. He received his JD from UCLA School of Law, Master’s degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics and Political Science, post-graduate training at Cambridge, and a BA from Brigham Young University. As the inaugural Director for Career Development at HKU Business School, Mr Lee is especially interested in helping students as they consider and prepare for different career and life paths.

Motivated to help students consider and pursue a purpose, Mr Lee is working on a wide variety of projects related to purpose, career satisfaction, fintech, the intersection of technology and politics, the impact of rising inequality in Asia and the reconciliation of the two Koreas.

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Teaching Philosophy

Part I: Teaching Philosophy

Mr Lee considers teaching an absolute privilege. During his professional life, he has worked across consulting, law, entrepreneurial ventures, asset management and for investment banks, but he regards none of these roles as having been as meaningful as teaching. He sees the opportunity to interact with students in and out of the classroom as incredibly special. In a very profound way, teaching is his calling.

Mr Lee’s teaching philosophy is framed by three core pillars: a focus on transformational learning, teachers as leaders and promoting an active learning environment.

Focus on Transformational Learning

If there are two broad categories of learning, informational learning and transformational learning, Mr. Lee sees the informational learning that normally occurs in classrooms and represents traditional forms of knowledge transfer as learning mainly for examination. Although such learning serves a purpose, Mr Lee doubts whether knowledge acquisition alone leads to the most impactful student learning.

Mr Lee was fascinated by Professor Jack Mezirow’s (Teachers College, from Columbia University) concept of transformative learning, defined as ‘the process of deep, constructive, and meaningful learning that goes beyond simple knowledge acquisition and supports critical ways in which learners consciously make meaning of their lives’.[1] Mr Lee interprets transformational learning as an ‘a-ha’ moment when some particularly complicated course concepts or life principles are clarified through critical inspiration. At its deepest level, transformational learning compels students to consider their own respective callings and life purposes.

Mr Lee advocates for educators to accept a collective responsibility to not only ensure that informational learning takes place in the classroom but also to produce transformational learning, because that is what will have an impact on students in the long-run. He believes there are opportunities to create these types of transformational learning moments in every course. Mr Lee has predominantly taught ethics and law courses to business students. Although the majority of his students enrolled in those courses solely to meet their graduation requirements, by the end of the semester, numerous students have described these courses as the most meaningful and memorable of their degree. He believes this is partly due his focus on transformational learning.

Teachers as Leaders during Volatile Times

Mr Lee believes that teachers should interact with students not only as teachers but also as leaders. Mr Lee recently wrote an article for his university’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning[2] sharing his unique view about teachers as leaders, which can be quite uncomfortable and even stressful because it requires teachers to constantly strive for their best and to engage in self-examination. However, he critically argues, only by doing so will students receive what they deserve in education.

Deliberating on the quality of leaders, Mr Lee borrows the acronym VUCA, which was used around the end of the Cold War by the United States military and stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.[3] VUCA can be used for developing leadership agility and to observe operations in a turbulent social environment. On both the inside and outside, a good leader is someone who can exercise increased reflection and awareness to deliver superior performance in the midst of a challenging situation.[4] Mr. Lee believes that from the recent political unrest to the pandemic, teachers should realise that universities are not immune from volatility and classrooms are no longer static environments. Consequently, only if teachers are agile leaders can they fulfil their roles. In the abovementioned article, Mr Lee writes that ‘Navigating this dynamic terrain is central to a teacher who understands that teachers are also leaders and need to incorporate leadership agility to be effective in how they teach and lead. Unfortunately, turbulence in some form seems to be the new norm globally and our classrooms are not immune from the impact of this volatility. It is imperative for our community of educators to consider how we prepare to teach in such an environment. I believe part of that preparation is a deep commitment to pursuing opportunities to hone our craft.’

To conclude, Mr. Lee’s teaching philosophy is to inculcate this concept of leadership agility, which has compelled him to constantly reflect upon and seek opportunities for enhancing his teaching craft, and finally to listen more intently to the needs of students.

Promoting Active Learning Environments: Case Study Method and Flipped-Classroom Teaching

His own highly interactive education experience with a Socratic style of inquiry and case study learning environments left an indelible impression on Mr Lee. These learning experiences that required students to prepare and reflect in a meaningful way before class and contribute during class became a foundation that continues to influence his own teaching.

Mr Lee defines this approach of learning as active learning as distinguished from the traditional learning in the form of lecturing, representing a shift from the ‘Instruction Paradigm’ to a ‘Learning Paradigm’.[5] Consequently, to enhance understanding, learning, and student focus, Mr Lee does not solely rely on lectures but rather adopts active learning and mixed teaching methods in his classes. Case studies, in-class group exercises, class experiments, the use of video/animation, a flipped classroom methodology, selective use of guest speakers, and participation facilitated by online polling technology are a sample of the practices Mr Lee regularly adopts in the classroom.

One method used by Mr Lee to promote active learning is the case method. If the case method is used effectively, it can be powerful in synthesising theory and applied practice while creating high-levels of student engagement, dialogue and participation in class. Increased rates of student participation foster a sense of psychological safety in the classroom, which leads to greater inquiry, sharing and co-learning. If case teaching is properly executed, students and teacher can co-produce a truly memorable learning environment. As a former student commented on the case method in one of his courses, ‘The methods of teaching used, which was closer to a dialectic/group conversation than a lecture, had the class very engaged the entire time’.

To drive better case teaching, Mr Lee has been actively involved in creating new case materials. He is a co-author of the first Asia-focused business ethics casebook, which is now widely used across Asia, including in China and Southeast Asia.[6] Additionally, he has written for the Harvard Business Review and regularly writes his own cases, which are published by his faculty’s Asia Case Research Centre and distributed through Harvard Business Publishing.

Building on the desire to create more active learning for students, Mr Lee has also explored ways to use technology to better facilitate flipped classroom teaching. He used two Teaching Development Grants to create two online learning tools. The first was a collection of online, animated resources that were designed for flipped classroom pedagogy to assist students in preparing for a more active classroom environment. The second was an online collaboration and feedback tool that simplified student collaboration and assisted in providing feedback to students.

Building on the above experiences, Mr Lee co-created and co-teaches a world-first MOOC on Fintech Ethics and Risks. The course is now approximately two years old and has over 14,000 enrolled students from more than 160 countries and regions. HKU recognised the design, impact and reach of the MOOC by awarding his course teaching team a Teaching Innovation Award. This award was meaningful because of the global nature of the course’s impact and the way the team have been able to use different technical methods to create high rates of interaction with students despite the asynchronous nature of the teaching.


Mr Lee has received ten teaching awards[7] over the approximately 6 years he has been teaching, and his course assessment scores are at times the highest in his faculty. However, he continues to aspire to have a greater impact in his teaching and is constantly reminded that teaching is a humbling experience.

Considering student impact, he has realised that his teaching is not limited to the classroom. Every year he advises hundreds of students outside of class, helping to bridge the divide between the classroom and their professional and personal lives. At various times, his students have organised separate sessions outside of class to continue the class dialogue and have recommended friends not in his courses to seek advice from Mr Lee. Former students have also reached out to Mr Lee for advice on the next steps in their life journey after working for a year or two. Additionally, he circulates an email newsletter to over a thousand former students to help maintain a relationship with them. As a teacher, the continuity of these relationships is perhaps the most meaningful element for Mr Lee as it provides a feeling that his students, and now former students, trust him. Ultimately, he hopes that his teaching assists students in making meaning in their lives and to find their callings – for a teacher, this is a sign of true impact.

A video by the UGC showcasing Mr Lee’s teaching philosophy can be accessed here.

[1] Simsek A. (2012) Transformational Learning. In: Seel, N.M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Boston, MA: Springer.

[2] Lee, D. S. (2020, Feb). ‘Reflections on preparing to teach in a dynamic environment’. Teaching and Learning Connections, 11. Retrieved from cop/reflections-on-preparing-to-teach-in-a-dynamic-environment/

[3] Arnold III, Archibald V. (1991). Strategic Visioning: What it is and How it’s Done. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 15, end notes.

[4] Joiner, W. B. & Josephs, S. A. (2006). Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change (1st edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[5] Barr, R. B. & Tagg, J. (1995). ‘From teaching to learning – A new paradigm for undergraduate education’. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6): 12–26.

[6] Bishop, D. L., Lee, D.S., et al. (2019). Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making and Cases, An Asia Edition. Singapore: Cengage Learning Asia.

[7] In addition to the UGC Teaching Award, Mr. Lee has received six teaching awards from his faculty for both undergraduate and taught postgraduate teaching. Additionally, he has received an Early Career Teaching Award (2018) and two Teaching Innovation Awards (Team) (2019, 2020) from HKU.

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Achievement/Good Practices

Part II: Achievements/Good Practices

Engagement and Commitment in Continuous Professional Development

Sharing as a Form of Educational Leadership: Striving to develop his teaching practice and skill after transitioning to academia, Mr Lee has emerged as an ambassador for his faculty’s teaching and learning initiatives. He is one of only two faculty members nominated and recognised as Fellows of the Higher Education Academy. Subsequently, he was asked to serve as a convenor to assist other colleagues in his faculty to prepare and navigate the path to receiving fellowship recognition from the Higher Education Academy.

Because of his interest in student-centred learning, Mr Lee was approached by the university regarding the new initiative of Communication-intensive Courses (CiCs). One of his courses was the first course in his faculty to be badged as a CiC.

David has significantly contributed to the enhancement of teaching and learning at HKU as he was a key participant in the launch of the CiC initiative. He was the first FBE faculty member to badge an FBE course…He also showed his commitment to promoting the CiC initiative by sharing his experience going through the badging process as a speaker in the first CiC Join-the-Conversation event, and he also serves as a CiC peer reviewer helping to review badging applications from faculties across HKU. (Dr Michelle Raquel, Senior Lecturer, University of Hong Kong)

Mr Lee believes that working on university-wide or cross-faculty projects is incredibly important to further his own professional development. He is one of the few members of his faculty to have been awarded multiple Teaching Development Grants (TDG) and other forms of funding for teaching and learning. He has been actively engaged in disseminating teaching practices within his faculty and at the university by speaking at symposia and sharing sessions.

David exemplifies what many teachers in higher education strive for – bringing together students, researchers and the community in ways that lift everyone. Within the Faculty, David is known as someone who loves teaching and is a master at his craft. Not only has he won nearly every teaching award available within the space of a few years, but it is well known informally among both colleagues and students that he truly is an ambassador of great teaching practices.

David was also a pioneer within the Faculty of Business and Economics, bringing out the first MOOC, collaborating with other HKU Faculties in the process of creating a larger body of Fin Tech work. David consistently works to improve his teaching and community outreach with multiple TDG and KE awards that complement a steady stream of publicity in well-known media. He is a pleasure to work alongside and he consistently inspires everyone around him. (Mr Beau Lefler, Principal Lecturer, University of Hong Kong)

Commitment to Student Advising: He invests a significant amount of time advising current and former students of his courses and students he serves in his capacity as Deputy Director of his faculty’s Asset Management/Private Banking major. Thanks to these efforts, current and former students reach out to him on an almost weekly basis.

He has also served for two years as his faculty’s Director of Career Development and Training and is regularly invited to speak to student groups regarding academic and career planning. As a result, he routinely engages or advises up to 25% of his faculty’s approximately 4,000+ students every year. He believes such student advising and service is incredibly important in ensuring students have positive learning experiences at university.

Seeking Constant Learning and Leadership Opportunities: Mr Lee has participated in several meaningful professional development opportunities. For example, he completed a case teaching seminar at Harvard Business School. He was \ selected as a Network of Korean American Leaders (NetKAL) Fellow. This half-year fellowship  affiliated with the University of Southern California provided a variety of learning sessions and simulations that included leadership coaching and training on relationship-building, influence and communication skills. He also serves on the board of directors or as an adviser for  a variety of organizations.

In addition, he was selected as a POSCO Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center, which is routinely ranked one of the top-5 government-affiliated think-tanks in the world. These kinds of experiences have enhanced his teaching as he is able to bring real-world issues into the classroom.

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