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Heather Clay, Middlesex University Business School, UK
Cathy Minett-Smith, Middlesex University Business School, UK
Philip Frame, Middlesex University Business School, UK
Session 5c, Wednesday 09.30
The aim of this paper is to report on a substantive piece of research conducted with staff and students here at Middlesex University Business School. The focus of this research was to identify and explore the impact of cultural diversity on the quality of teaching and learning as perceived by both our students and our academic colleagues.
We have a high number of overseas students; in 2004 there were 794 undergraduate students and 798 taught postgraduate students from all parts of the world; this amounted to approximately one quarter of the student population. In the light of this increased diversity we felt it was appropriate to take a systematic view of the implications of these changed circumstances on staff and students.
Our research project utilised both focus groups for staff and questionnaires for students. 30 staff participated in the former and 953 students responded to the latter, which represents approximately one quarter of each total population. Data from the focus groups was content analysed and the questionnaires have been subject to an exploratory descriptive analysis. The results of the two elements of the study were then compared to see the extent to which they support or contradict each other, and the particular areas where this occurs.
The focus of the discussion will be on the impact of cross-cultural diversity. Firstly, this will be considered in respect to how academics perceive and respond to such diversity. Secondly, we will report on the range of preferred teaching and learning experiences that our students identified. The extent to which the data from the latter informs the former will then be explored and strategies to reduce the dissonance between these two will be identified.
It became clear that many staff made assumptions about students who appeared different from themselves. For example, it was felt that Asian students are subjected to didactic forms of teaching and learning. However, this stereotype has been challenged by, for example, Louie (2005) and Kember (2000). Our own evidence from students supports this latter perspective in that Asian students have experienced a range of pedagogical practices beyond the didactic.
What is of interest to us is the extent to which academics perceive the need to change their style of delivery to accommodate an increasingly heterogeneous student body and to what extent this body sees the need to adapt its receptiveness to different teaching and learning styles.
We conclude by suggesting that both academics and students need to amend their expectations and behaviours if cross-cultural diversity is to be effectively managed rather than being ignored or suppressed.