Fu­sion of teach­ing meth­ods bodes well

China Daily European Weekly - - COMMENT - Mike Bastin The au­thor is a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics in Bei­jing and a se­nior lec­turer at Southamp­ton Univer­sity. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

UK-led train­ing ini­tia­tive can point the way for fur­ther al­liances in­volv­ing Euro­pean and Chi­nese main­land uni­ver­si­ties

As the Chi­nese econ­omy con­tin­ues its tran­si­tion from low-cost pro­ducer to pre­mium brand provider, few would underestimate the piv­otal role be­ing played by the Chi­nese univer­sity sec­tor. It is, there­fore, in­cred­i­bly en­cour­ag­ing to see ma­jor change tak­ing place there, too. But few would also underestimate the im­por­tant in­fu­sion of Western univer­sity teach­ing and learn­ing prac­tices. It is there­fore great to re­port on the ground­break­ing train­ing pro­grams now be­ing led by the UK’s Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Academy in Chi­nese main­land uni­ver­si­ties.

In fact, only a mat­ter of months ago, the HEA hosted a group of 31 aca­demics from 10 uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, mainly from south­ern China. The four-day train­ing pro­gram took place at Guang­dong Univer­sity of For­eign Stud­ies and fo­cused on in­no­va­tive ped­a­go­gies and cre­ative cur­ricu­lum de­sign.

This in­no­va­tive and im­por­tant ini­tia­tive should act as a cat­a­lyst for con­tin­ued change in univer­sity teach­ing ap­proaches across the Chi­nese main­land, and it should also at­tract the at­ten­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions across Europe sim­i­lar to the UK-based HEA, as well as Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties.

Pub­lic feed­back from the del­e­gates who at­tended this pro­gram has re­cently been made avail­able, and it makes for great read­ing. The HEA pro­gram has earned ev­ery right to be la­beled as a gen­uine mas­ter class and, ac­cord­ing to del­e­gate feed­back, has con­trib­uted to an im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment in teach­ing de­liv­ery and the student learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

It only came about due to a serendip­i­tous meet­ing be­tween Stephanie Mar­shall, the HEA’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, and Zhong Weihe, former vice-pres­i­dent of Guang­dong Univer­sity of For­eign Stud­ies. The pair met at last year’s China As­so­ci­a­tion for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion con­fer­ence.

Over­all, in the feed­back the del­e­gates found the pro­gram to be ex­tremely thought-pro­vok­ing, com­monly us­ing phrases such as “hugely help­ful” and “a great in­flu­ence”. But more specif­i­cally, del­e­gates have re­ported that the pro­gram in­spired them to change their teach­ing prac­tices with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. The in­clu­sion of “fun”, with a mod­er­ate dosage of “hu­mor”, has also been cited as part of the pro­gram’s im­pact.

The tra­di­tional Chi­nese method of teach­ing at all lev­els, from pri­mary through ter­tiary, has been well doc­u­mented and needs no fur­ther dis­cus­sion here, but what is most ex­cit­ing about the im­pact of this re­cent HEA pro­gram in China is the de­sire and com­mit­ment among Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ers to change to a far more par­tic­i­pa­tive, student-cen­tered ap­proach.

Far too many Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties and Europe-based HEA-like or­ga­ni­za­tions still re­main bliss­fully un­aware of this change in at­ti­tude across the Chi­nese main­land univer­sity sec­tor.

Mod­ern, in­no­va­tive and am­bi­tious Chi­nese com­pa­nies have cap­tured con­sid­er­able me­dia at­ten­tion with their suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion and global brand build­ing, such as Huawei and Dalian Wanda, and Chi­nese uni- ver­si­ties are now fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar path.

Un­til re­cently, links be­tween Euro­pean and Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties have fol­lowed a very sim­i­lar, pre­dictable path in which the Euro­pean part­ner ex­pands into China and Euro­pean aca­demics visit for short, in­ten­sive teach­ing vis­its.

But soon we will wit­ness more Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties es­tab­lish­ing their own base in Europe, adding to the al­ready ex­cit­ing prospects for fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tive Sino-Euro­pean ar­range­ments across the univer­sity sec­tor.

Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties need to not only be aware of these changes that are sweep­ing across the Chi­nese main­land univer­sity sec­tor, but should also seek a fu­sion of Western and Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ing meth­ods. Tak­ing the very sim­plis­tic view that Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties and their teach­ers need to shift along some method­olog­i­cal con­tin­uum, from pre­scrip­tive to par­tic­i­pa­tive, could prove prob­lem­atic — and cer­tainly a sub-op­ti­mal al­liance will re­sult.

Euro­pean HEA-like in­sti­tu­tions need to rec­og­nize the strengths of the tra­di­tional Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ing ap­proach.

Nowhere is this more true than the growth area of in­ter­na­tional busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion. For ex­am­ple, math­e­mat­ics and sta­tis­ti­cal data analy­ses con­tinue to play a big part in many ar­eas of busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion at Chi­nese main­land uni­ver­si­ties, un­like at Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties. Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ers, there­fore, have very valu­able in­put, and the Euro­pean univer­sity sec­tor would ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cantly if this wealth of sci­en­tific knowl­edge was some­how added to their busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum. The in­clu­sion of a range of suit­able math­e­mat­ics and sta­tis­tics tech­niques for Europe-based busi­ness stu­dents, such as sales fore­cast­ing and con­sumer be­hav­ior mod­el­ing meth­ods, would also beef up the in­tel­lec­tual rigor of busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

Fu­ture busi­ness lead­ers who ac­tu­ally un­der­stand rel­e­vant sci­en­tific meth­ods will be far bet­ter placed to make in­formed and log­i­cal in­ter­na­tional busi­ness de­ci­sions.

But at the same time, the Euro­pean part­ner in any Sino-Euro­pean univer­sity al­liance should com­ple­ment the sci­en­tific ap­proach with the need for fa­cil­i­tat­ing the devel­op­ment of in­tu­ition and qual­i­ta­tive judge­ment in strate­gic de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

What adds sub­stan­tially to the chances of suc­cess for any fu­ture Sino-Euro­pean links and spe­cific train­ing pro­grams is the pos­si­bil­ity of a tan­gi­ble, highly val­ued and in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion and/or mem­ber­ship sta­tus.

The UK-based HEA Fel­low­ship and Se­nior Fel­low­ship awards pro­vide a per­fect ex­am­ple of a tan­gi­ble and pub­lic re­ward that sim­i­lar Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions should seek to em­u­late. Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ers will be mo­ti­vated even more with such a re­ward at the end of a se­ries of train­ing ini­tia­tives.

But even here, the HEA could re­visit the cri­te­ria for award­ing both Fel­low­ship and Se­nior Fel­low­ship and con­sider the in­clu­sion of tra­di­tional Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ing meth­ods. For ex­am­ple, much Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ing still takes place in­side large lec­ture the­aters with rel­a­tively large classes com­pared with teach­ing in Europe, and this de­mands ex­cel­lent or­ga­ni­za­tion and over­all class­room con­trol, skills that many Euro­peans lack.

The HEA and sim­i­lar Euro­pean-based in­sti­tu­tions should also see the pos­i­tive side of the re­spect and over­all cul­ture of cor­dial­ity that per­me­ates Chi­nese main­land univer­sity class­rooms. While this at­mos­phere is in part due to tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, it also re­sults from Chi­nese univer­sity teacher skill and abil­ity.

Euro­pean-led, HEA-like teacher train­ing ini­tia­tives in­side Chi­nese main­land uni­ver­si­ties should, there­fore, build on the strengths of the tra­di­tional Chi­nese ap­proach with the typ­i­cal Euro­pean and Western ap­proach where par­tic­i­pa­tion and crit­i­cal think­ing take cen­ter stage.

Chi­nese busi­ness and man­age­ment meth­ods will spread with the con­tin­ued in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of more sec­tors of Chi­nese in­dus­try, another rea­son a sim­ple re­place­ment of tra­di­tional Chi­nese teach­ing meth­ods should not be at­tempted.

A su­pe­rior po­si­tion should also not come across dur­ing any Euro­pean-led teacher train­ing pro­grams in­side Chi­nese main­land uni­ver­si­ties. Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ers ap­pear to have re­sponded so well to this very re­cent HEA-led train­ing pro­gram, mainly be­cause the train­ing did not pre­scribe a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, but rather Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ers were en­cour­aged to re­flect on their ex­ist­ing meth­ods. A spirit of mu­tual re­spect and em­pow­er­ment ap­pears to have been suc­cess­fully im­ple­mented.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties for Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions sim­i­lar to the HEA to con­trib­ute to the devel­op­ment of pro­fes­sional teach­ing prac­tices in­side Chi­nese main­land uni­ver­si­ties are grow­ing, with Chi­nese univer­sity teach­ers more open than ever to change. But ef­fec­tive train­ing will only re­sult if due re­spect and much at­ten­tion is paid to tra­di­tional Chi­nese teach­ing meth­ods as well as mod­ern Euro­pean and other Western ap­proaches.

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