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Yvonne Turner, University of Newcastle upon Tyne Business School
Themes: learning and teaching methods, learning environments, supporting learners, staff development strategies
This paper presents the outcomes of a longitudinal study carried out in 2001/ 02 with a group of 10 postgraduate students from the People’s Republic of China, enrolled on a taught Master’s programme in International Business Management in a UK university Business School.
The aims of the research were two-fold. First, to explore the evolution of the students’ implicit theories and the development of their orientation to learning during their year of study in the UK. Second, to explore ways in which the researcher’s interactions with the study group contributed to her professional reflections as a lecturer and facilitated specific changes in practice to support the needs of a cohort in which the majority of students were Chinese.
The practical context of the work lies in the rapid increase in numbers of Chinese students studying in UK Higher Education (HE). The traditional mono-cultural pedagogical model of HE is increasingly challenged as students and academics attempt to understand the nature of diversity and work with its consequences. This is particularly the case for programmes populated by students whose previous educational experience took place within environments culturally different to the UK, such as China. The underlying rationale, therefore, resided in the importance of ensuring consistent, high quality teaching and learning experiences for all students, irrespective of their previous educational experiences or country of origin.
The methodological context of the project was essentially action-research based, working within the researcher’s own professional context. The data collection process was qualitative, involving monthly meetings with the participants throughout the academic year to discuss their learning experiences, supplemented by the researcher’s classroom observations and reflective journal-keeping. Interpretation of the results was achieved first by qualitative textual analysis of the interview transcripts to identify thematic developments in each participant’s perspectives on the teaching and learning process. Second, an assessment of the recorded interview and classroom interactions between researcher and participants and analysis of journal entries enabled reflection about the scope and nature of teaching and learning support the researcher offered the study group.
The outcomes of the work include a comparison of the student’s evolving orientations to learning with established research models including the Chinese learner ‘paradox’ and evaluations of deep, surface and achieving orientations to learning. The overall conclusion of the work generated an agenda of developmental themes for the researcher’s professional practice. This aimed at responding to the study participants’ expressed struggles with UK cultural pedagogical practices and academic conventions. Agenda items included the provision of additional facilitative support for small group-work activities in the classroom, making explicit the intellectual and cultural rationale for specific academic conventions (such as referencing and citation in written work), and creating a ‘safe’ environment in which students could actively participate in seminar sessions without personal embarrassment.