A Course Taught by Six Academicians

April 20, 2018  click:

Reported by a journalist from Guangming Daily: Xia Jing

Twenty years ago, Ageneral knowledge course given by six academicians jointly, Introduction to Surveying and Mapping, was introduced to freshmen in Wuhan University. The course keeps updating every year. The fame has spread outside WHU, attracting more and more students to the classroom. The wide vision of these famous and experienced teachers combining with a good teaching method emphasizing on both imparting knowledge and educating people help identify and mobilize students’ potential. The persistence of the six academicians sets a good example for the talent cultivation in universities.


Ning Jinsheng,an academician is communicating with undergraduates in spare time

(A file photo)

Suppose the class is a pond, big fishes lead small fishes.

"Happy birthday to you, Mr. Ning!” Every year in September, Ning Jinsheng, an academician teaching this course spends his birthday in class. Flowers and wishes Mr. Ning has received from students fill his twenty years’ education career of this general knowledge course, running from his 64 years old to 84 years old.

"The course was originally designed to retain students who wanted to transfer to another major." Mr. Ning said, “In the 1990s, the surveying and mapping disciplines and industries were not well understood by the society, with many freshmen asking for major changing.

In 1996, Ning proposed that academicians share the basic professional course to give freshmen some basic knowledge of the influence on Chinese modernization exerted by surveying, mapping and remote sensing and enlightenment for students’ future development. This proposal received positive responses from academicians such as Li Deren. In September 1997, the course "Introduction to Surveying and Mapping" was officially introduced to students. Over the past 20 years, there have been changes in the teaching staff, but every year there are several academicians and well-known experts involved in it. Currently, only academicians in the teaching team include Ning Jinsheng, Li Deren, Chen Junyong, Liu Jingnan, Zhang Zuxun and Gong Jianya.

“When the new teaching mode was implemented, less students demanded major switch. Each year some students were willing to switch to surveying and mapping major.” Ning JinSheng became excited when it comes to its influence. Back to 1997, only 600 students attended the class. Now, the largest classroom needs to be prepared for up to 1000 students three times a week. Later in Wuhan University, the course is known as the academician class for surveying and mapping.

“When I first joined the institute of Surveying and Mapping, I was puzzled about my future, and I thought about switching my major. But the geodesy and geomatics taught by six academicians changed my mind. In the first class, Mr.Ning began with such words: sky surveying and land mapping, you are all pillars of our future. His words really impressed me,” said Zhang Lixian, an undergraduate student of Surveying and mapping major. Academician Ning talked about his learning, life and research experience in a progressive and attractive way. Zhang Lixian became attracted by both its wide application in land, sea, space and the prospect of future high technology. Moreover, he was deeply touched by generations of scholars in this field. From then on, the thought of sticking to surveying and mapping was deeply rooted in his mind.

After all those 20 years, the youngest academician Gong Jianya has reached his sixties. Confronted with arduous scientific and managerial tasks, academicians would take teaching seriously. No matter how busy they are, they would appear on the platform on time.

Academicians regard teaching undergraduate students as knowledge inheritance. When six academicians were at their student age, surveying and mapping elites like Xia jianbai and Wang zhizhuo gathered in Wuhan University, and they all taught undergraduates in person. Many students fell for this course after their lectures. As Li Deren recalls, his instructor Wang Zhizhuo would go to the student dormitory in the evening to help students command knowledge by answering their questions. In winter days when roads were covered by snow, he would ask his daughter to accompany him with a torch. He would patiently answer students’ questions ,no matter they are easy or difficult.

“Well-known teachers are always at a high position and have a broad vision. They pay attention to both students’ academic and metal development. They are good at stimulating students’ potential and breeding young talents.” Li Deren’s own learning experience explains the role well-known teachers play throughout students’ lives.

It is a permanent task to cultivate talents for scientific inheritance. The talent training is the basis, and undergraduate education is the root. The educational philosophy of Wuhan University is shown in academician class. It stresses educational practice centering students and offers an example for talents cultivating in surveying and mapping field.

In 2013, the course introduction to surveying and mapping has been transplanted to Tongji University, Ning Jinsheng being course manager and other academicians chairing professors.

According to Ning Jinsheng, as the course introduction to surveying and mapping attracts new students, it also promotes development of Civil engineering, architecture, urban planning, marine geology, traffic engineering, environmental engineering, geological engineering, water supply and drainage engineering, engineering management and so on. Freshmen need to develop their interdisciplinary thinking and problem-solving ability.

“If you want to teach students a bowl of water, at least you need to have a bucket of water” said Ning Jinsheng. Gravity measurement involves mathematics and physics, which is hard for students to learn, while Ning Jinsheng could explain profound theories in simple language. Academician Ning possesses profound knowledge and a deep understanding of Earth gravity field theory. He would explain fully about formula, data, and source of pictures. As we absorb knowledge, he also taught us the importance of a rigorous scientific attitude, said a student on the course website.

Academicians would update new materials each year, come to classroom 15 minutes before the class, or even come to teach from a foreign country. Those behaviors show their attitude as well as their virtue of teaching. Academicias themselves are like living materials.

Mr. Mei Yiqi, an educationalist, has elaborated on the relationship between teachers and students in college. According to Mr. Mei, “ university is like a pond, while students and teachers are like fish swimming in it. The big fishes lead small fishes. As small fishes accumulate swimming experience, they could also do it.” Academicians and students are like big fishes and small fishes. Suppose the class is a pond, big fishes lead small fishes. All these form a beautiful picture of leading tour in Wuhan University.


Academia Zhang Zuxun was teaching the lesson of “Introduction to Surveying and Mapping”.

Patriotism guides students to talents

Wuhan University is hailed as “ the Educational Capital of Surveying and Mapping in the World” as its Surveying and Mappinghas ranked the top three in the world and the first in Chinafor many timesduring thedisciplinary evaluations conducted by the Ministry of Education.

Since its founding in 1956, the discipline of Surveying and Mapping in Wuhan University has witnessed 61 years of trials and hardships. In history, 6 academicians have experienced the rise of this discipline after the founding of People's Republic of China and promoted its curve overtaking at the international level. They are practitioners of serving the country by scientific research, writers of the history of Surveying and Mapping disciplines, and promoters and witnesses of the rapid development of China's Surveying and Mapping.

In the interview, the reporter learned that many national key laboratories and the national key projects concerning Surveying and Mapping are in Wuhan University with leading scientists and Changjiang scholars starting their dreams from the class “Introduction to Surveying and Mapping” here. Generations of students majoring in Surveying and Mapping followed their teachers and embarked on the road to the development of Surveying and Mapping.

Zhang Liangpei, the professor of the State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing of Wuhan University and the Changjiang Scholar and chief scientist of Project 973, recalled his teacher Li Deren and said: “Mr. Li is my doctoral supervisor. His two distinctive characteristics haveexertedgreat influenceonmy life. Firstly, he has a very strong sense of mission for the country, school, and discipline. Secondly, he has a strong sense of responsibility for students and younglearners. Therefore, in scientific research and teaching work, I always take Mr. Li as an example to fostermystudents'enthusiasm andthus cultivated aworld-renowned team on the processing and application of remote sensing information.”

In the class “Introduction to Surveying and Mapping”, students not only acquired professional knowledge, but alsolearnedthe patriotic stories of academicians.

There are several pairs ofacademicians with mentoring relationshipsin the “Family of Academicians” in Surveying and Mapping of Wuhan University. Among them, Wang Zhizhuo, Li Deren, and Gong Jianya are “three generations together”—Wang Zhizhuo is the research supervisor of Li Deren, and Wang Zhizhuo and Li Deren are the mentors of Gong Jianya. These three scholars all have studied abroad with outstanding academic performance and served the motherland after graduation. Their choices and experienceleft behind many great storiesin Wuhan University and even in the national Surveying and Mapping circles.

Gong Jianya made remarkable achievements while studying in Denmark and Finland. The paperObject Oriented GIS Data Modelhas laid the theoretical foundation for the establishment of a new generation of GIS (Geographic Information System). At that time, Li Deren often wrote to him and Wang Zhizhuo has repeatedly shown that the country was in a great need for talents. In October 1990, Gong Jianya gaveup several well-paid jobswithout hesitationand returned to China from Denmark on schedule. “The country has nurtured us. We should work hard to serve the motherland in return. Money is mere worldly possessions whereas scientificresearchis above all.”

Students majoring in Surveying and Mapping in Wuhan University are fortunate as they can do research and development in the masters' scientific research team during school time. The 4-year undergraduate study enable students to learn the basic theoretical knowledge and know the leading figures in the scientific development of Surveying and Mapping by learning the scientific spirits and achievements of the 6 academicians. Academician Liu Jingnan broke the mythic monopoly of foreign software and stopped America’s dominant position in the GPS positioning system by carrying out the earliest researches on global positioning system in China and making outstanding contributions to the domestic “Beidou” Navigation Satellite System. Li Deren focused on GIS researches and developed software with independent intellectual property rights, occupying most of the market share once dominated by the foreign software. Zhang Zuxun developed a fully automatic digital mapping software for 14 years and insisted that intellectual property rights belong to China and rights to sell remain in the Asian region (Middle East Excluding), thus generating economic benefits of more than 100 million yuan currently.

To compete with the world's best players and meet the national strategic needs, the team led by Ning Jinsheng has innovatively solved a number of theoretical and technical problems in precisely identifying the geoidal surface. Besides, the team has completed three improvements of precision from level of meter to that of sub-cm, providing a complete new technological system and standards for China's modern height datum construction. The complete set of parameters calculation formula in geodetic reference system deduced by Chen Junyong in 1980 was adopted internationally so far, which was the first time that the Chinese had provided mathematical foundation for geodetic survey. He also presided over the establishment of a national GPS network. Gong Jianya established a system of geographic information service standards in China and developed the first basic software of object-oriented geographic information system in the world and has become the basic software of the “geographical map” of the national geographic information public service platform, which is of great significance for safeguarding national spatial information security.

Gong Yu, an undergraduate student fromSchool of Surveying and Mapping, said, “Academicians’ strong national pride, excellent craftsmanship and their love for our country vividly show the core concept of patriotism.” The personal experiences academicians talk about during each warming-up and break inspire every students, encouraging them to set ambitious goals and dedicate themselves to the country.

Academicians turn the platform to a stage by special skills

How can tedious Introduction to Surveying and Mapping become the favorite class of students?How do academicians use their special skills to turn the platform into a charming stage? What makes students obsessed with courses of the 6 academicians as they are with TV series?

Mr.Li Deren said: “My biological clock reminds me automatically that it is time to get ready for the class every August.”

Updating teaching plans and following the developing trends every year, they involve the new theories, technologies and progress they have achieved in key national scientific research programs into their classes to inform students hotspots and latest development.

Are classes by academicians obscure and rigid? That is not the case. Students who have attended these classes said every academician had their own unique ways to make classes fascinating and full of personal charisma.

Lectures given by Mr. Zhang Zuxun are always both entertaining and educative. Started with the video cut about the R&D process of Chinese atomic and hydrogen bombs and man- made satellites, the lecture then refers to the role of reverse thinking in innovation. From internet, big data, mobile terminals for smart telecommunication to computers and artificial intelligence, he also demonstrates examples in daily life to explain professional knowledge vividly. Thanks to his priorities on the cultivation of interests, students learn knowledge unknowingly.

What will go wrong if you measure with camera being put on a plane? How about a satellite? With these incremental questions, students got active in thinking. Mr. Li Deren took the chance to introduce the highlights of his lecture—photogrammetry. He raised questions constantly, leading students to think and imagine. He said: “We must arouse students ’initiative to the most extent and inspire their innovative thinking in class. And then we find talents during this process.”

Recalling the days talking with Professor Ning through Wechat, a chatting app, Sun Jia, a doctoral student, was very happy. He said: “Mr. Ning is an amiable gentleman. We call him ‘the handsome academician.’ He likes to demonstrate surveying and mapping by trendy electronic products. He knows how to use every apps we like. Internet is a tool for us to learn in class and communicate after class.”

Though being a scholar of engineering, Liu Jingnan is keen on history and literature, especially ancient poems. He is adept in explaining professional knowledge through historical events. He joked that he read A Dream in A Red Mansion for so many times that he could point out where some allusion and poems came from precisely. During his tenure as the president of Wuhan University, he hoped that students of Wuhan University can truly combine scientism with humansism. He once said: “As a university, no humanism means no soul.”

Leng Wei, the founder of Wuhan Jiahe Technology Co.,ltd, said:“We learned a lot from Mr. Chen Junyong because of his profound knowledge of macroscopic surveying and mapping. We acquired knowledge outside textbooks from his lectures. He used to introduce us to the latest international development of surveying and mapping and gave his opinions as well as the potential growth of discipline. He encouraged us to explore interdisciplines where new discipline was always set up.” He believes that it is the lectures given by academicians during the freshmen year that embedded the idea “Technology benefits humankinds” into both his classmates’ and his minds.

Beneficial from lectures given by academicians, a young teacher-to-be Doctor Xiao Changjiang has strong feelings, saying:“Lectures taught by academicians mean much more than its formats. The most important thing is the morals and science spirit passed on to students by academicians, for example, how to be a person and how to tackle adversities in life. This process is the light of science and carries the core value of social civilization.”

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