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Perceptions of quality and approaches to studying in higher education: A comparative study of Chinese and British postgraduate students at six British.

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Presentation on theme: "Perceptions of quality and approaches to studying in higher education: A comparative study of Chinese and British postgraduate students at six British."— Presentation transcript:

1 Perceptions of quality and approaches to studying in higher education: A comparative study of Chinese and British postgraduate students at six British business schools Haoda Sun and John T. E. Richardson

2 Introduction The number of mainland Chinese students in the UK has increased in recent years, particularly in business and management, due to growth in the Chinese economy. One-year postgraduate programmes in business and management are popular in students whose families may be unable to support them for longer periods. The attention of researchers has hitherto been focused on their social development and language competence. We focused on their perceptions and study approaches.

3 Approaches to studying Interview-based research in the 1970s identified three predominant approaches to studying in higher education: a deep approach aimed at understanding the meaning of the course materials; a surface approach aimed at memorising the course materials for the purposes of assessment; a strategic approach aimed at obtaining the highest marks or grades.

4 Perceptions of the context A students choice of approach seemed to depend on the content, context and demands of learning tasks. Questionnaire surveys subsequently confirmed that students adopt different approaches depending upon their perceptions of the demands of particular courses; their perceptions of the quality of the teaching; and their perceptions of the nature of the assessment.

5 The Chinese learner Much of this research has been carried out in Europe and Australia, but a number of writers have considered the situation of the Chinese learner. Some commentators have suggested that Chinese students are passive rote learners. However, this idea has been criticised as being based on anecdote and stereotyping on the part of expatriate teachers faced with large classes of Chinese students.

6 The Chinese learner, ctd. Interview-based research has suggested that Chinese students often use a distinctive approach to studying that combines memorising with understanding. However, a similar approach has been found among students in Nepal, the South Pacific, and even the UK.

7 The Chinese learner, ctd. Some questionnaire surveys have suggested that Chinese students are more disposed to adopt a deep approach to studying than their Western counterparts. However, other surveys have found that Chinese students tend to produce higher scores than Western students on both deep approach and surface approach. Perhaps Chinese students respond to questionnaires in a different way from Western students.

8 The Chinese learner, ctd. These findings have been linked to the teachings of the philosopher Confucius. Essential Confucian traits include: filial piety, associated with male dominance and a distinctive family role for the first-born male; a strong emphasis on personal discipline, patience, and respect for and acceptance of authority; and a concern for the intrinsic value of knowledge and the idea of the complete person perfected through education.

9 The Chinese learner, ctd. Biggs and Watkins (1996) claimed that an approach that combined memorising with understanding was typical of students from Confucian-heritage cultures. This might be a plausible account in the case of students from mainland China, where the government has for the last 25 years been actively promoting Confucianism as an official ideology both supporting and supported by the communist leadership.

10 The Chinese learner, ctd. Most research on approaches to studying has been carried out with ethnically Chinese students in Malaysia and Singapore but mainly in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, students are subject to a Western educational system and Western cultural influences. The culture in Hong Kong might be described at best as vernacular Confucianism, influenced by Confucian values and practices rather than belief in Confucianism.

11 The Chinese learner Another problem is that researchers compared ethnically Chinese students at their home institutions with Western students at universities in Australia or the UK. In other words, they confounded differences in culture with differences in context. A few studies have compared south-east Asian students and Australian students at the same institutions, but the results are unclear.

12 Aims of the present study We evaluated different accounts of the Chinese learner by comparing British and mainland Chinese students taking programmes in the UK. We compared their perceptions of their programmes using the Course Experience Questionnaire. We compared their approaches to studying using the Revised Approaches to Studying Inventory.

13 Method Six UK business schools recruiting significant numbers of students from mainland China agreed to participate. A questionnaire was administered under regular class conditions in the second semester of the year. All items in the questionnaire were presented in both English and Mandarin.

14 Participants The questionnaire asked for demographic information. 134 participants were British nationals who had completed their secondary and undergraduate education in the UK and who spoke English as their first language. 207 participants were Chinese nationals who had completed their secondary and undergraduate education in mainland China and who spoke English as a foreign language.

15 Results: CEQ The CEQ contains 36 statements with which participants indicate their agreement or disagreement on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). These define six scales representing different aspects of effective instruction: Appropriate Assessment, Appropriate Workload, Clear Goals and Standards, Emphasis on Independence, Generic Skills and Good Teaching.

16 Results: CEQ, ctd. Separate factor analyses of the scale scores obtained by the British and Chinese students both yielded a single factor on which all six scales loaded. In previous research, this has been interpreted as an overall indicator of perceived academic quality. There was a close relationship between the patterns of loadings obtained by the British and Chinese students, implying no qualitative difference in their perceptions.

17 Results: CEQ, ctd. There was no significant difference between the British and Chinese students in their scores on any of the six scales, implying no quantitative difference in their perceptions of their programmes.

18 Results: RASI The RASI contains 52 statements with which participants indicate their agreement or disagreement on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). These define 13 scales representing different aspects of a deep approach to studying, a strategic approach to studying and a surface approach to studying.

19 Results: RASI, ctd. Separate factor analyses of the scale scores obtained by the British and Chinese students both yielded two factors. One factor represented a combined deep/strategic approach; the other factor represented a surface approach. There was a close relationship between the patterns of loadings obtained by the British and Chinese students, implying no qualitative difference in their approaches.

20 Results: RASI, ctd. The British students obtained significantly higher scores than the Chinese students on both deep approach and strategic approach. There was no significant difference between the British and Chinese students in their scores on surface approach.

21 Results: CEQ and RASI Separate canonical correlation analyses were used to compare the CEQ scores and the RASI scores obtained by the British and Chinese students. Both analyses yielded a single pair of canonical variates: students who obtained higher scores on the CEQ tended to obtain higher scores on deep approach and strategic approach but lower scores on surface approach. In both British and Chinese students, students who have positive perceptions adopt more desirable approaches.

22 Results: response bias When completing questionnaires, people vary in their response biases. An acquiescent response style is the tendency systematically to agree with questionnaire items rather than to disagree with them. An extreme response style is the tendency systematically to use the extreme response categories (strongly agree or disagree) rather than those in the middle of the scale.

23 Results: response bias, ctd. Previous research has found that acquiescent response style is stronger in participants from east and south-east Asia than in Western participants. However, this too confounds culture and context. In the present study, there was no significant difference between the British and Chinese students in terms of acquiescent response style.

24 Results: response bias, ctd. Previous research has found that extreme response style is stronger in Western participants than in those from east and south-east Asia. In the present study, extreme response style was stronger in the Chinese students than the British students. This was a small effect and was only found at two of the six business schools. It did not explain the differences in their RASI scores.

25 Discussion British and Chinese students taking the same courses do not show either qualitative or quantitative differences in their scores on the CEQ. Students perceptions of the academic quality of their programmes seems to be little influenced by cultural factors.

26 Discussion, ctd. British and Chinese students taking the same courses show similar factor structures in their scores on the RASI and similar relationships in their CEQ and RASI scores. British and Chinese students taking the same courses do not show qualitative differences in approaches to studying.

27 Discussion, ctd. There was no evidence in the Chinese students for a distinctive approach to studying combining memorising with understanding. To the extent that this has been found in previous studies of ethnically Chinese students, it must be ascribed to their educational context rather than their culture or ethnicity.

28 Discussion, ctd. There was no evidence that the Chinese students were more disposed to adopt a deep approach to studying. On the contrary, the Chinese students obtained lower scores than the British students on both deep approach and strategic approach. To the extent that the opposite has been found in previous studies of ethnically Chinese students, it must be ascribed to their context rather than their culture or ethnicity.

29 Discussion, ctd. At the same time, it would be wrong to characterise the Chinese students in this study as passive rote learners. Their scores on surface approach did not differ significantly from those of the British students.

30 Discussion, ctd. These results cannot be explained in terms of differences in response bias. There was no difference between the British and Chinese students in acquiescent response bias. There was a slight difference for Chinese students to be more likely to exhibit an extreme response bias. These results do not fit those of previous research, which may also be due to context rather than to culture.

31 Conclusions Mainland Chinese students in the UK are less likely to adopt a deep approach and a strategic approach than are British students taking the same programmes. As relative newcomers to the UK, they appear to be less able to engage with the content of their programmes and with the academic demands of their programmes. Previous research suggests that this is due to problems in social adjustment and language competence (which might well disappear over a longer time period).

32 Conclusions, ctd. Our findings do not support previous hypotheses about the Chinese learner. Teachers at UK universities need to avoid making pedagogical assumptions based on such stereotypes. Instead, they need to recognise the variety of contextual factors that affect Chinese students capacity to adapt to living and learning at British universities.

33 Conclusions, ctd. There is considerable scope for integrating pedagogical and pastoral strategies to scaffold the development of these students and to foster their employment of deeper approaches to studying. Indeed, this kind of support could well enhance the experience of all international students and even of those from within the UK itself.

34 For further information A full account of this research is currently in press with the journal Higher Education. DOI: /s y

35 Institute of Educational Technology The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA


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