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Developing Other-Culture Knowledge of China—Megan Greene (2019)

Overview

A professor of Chinese history describes the creation and implementation of an instrument to assess Core Goal 4.2, which states: “Upon reaching this goal, students will be able to examine a variety of perspectives in the global community, distinguish their own cultural patterns, and respond flexibly to multiple worldviews.”

Background

HIST 394 (Made in China: Chinese Business History) and HIST 397 (From Mao to Now: China’s Red Revolution) are both mid-level history courses on modern China. Students may be majoring in History or East Asian Languages and Cultures, but both courses also tend to draw students from various other majors for whom these are their first courses on China. For both courses, my goals include helping students to learn to think and write “like a historian” by using critical thinking as well as analytical and evidence-based argumentation skills. In addition, both courses aim to help students develop other-culture knowledge that will assist them with cultural competency regarding China, as well as a greater awareness of differences and similarities across cultures so that they are better equipped to engage with people from other backgrounds. All of the readings for these courses are on China and thus contain “other cultural” content.

Implementation

Through both readings and discussions, students are sensitized through repeated exposure to a set of information about norms in China and about the particular features of modern Chinese politics, society, and economy. My goal is that by the end of this course, a student should have a deep enough understanding of those norms to be able to identify them and respond empathetically and without judgment to behaviors that reflect those norms. These are behaviors and responses that I model in class and that I try to elicit from students with the questions I ask them. However, it is a challenge to capture discussion performance data and to show learning over time. For that reason, in 2017 I designed an ungraded pre- and post-test for HIST 394 (Made in China: Chinese Business History) that asked students to read a vignette and then to respond to a question about it. In Spring 2018, I employed the same strategy with a different vignette that better suited the content of HIST 397 (From Mao to Now: China’s Red Revolution), and I also added a self-assessment component because I was curious to see if students’ perception of their own intercultural competency would change over time. I was also curious about whether the students’ self-assessment would corroborate with my own scoring of their vignette answers.

Student Work

The HIST 394 (Made in China: Chinese Business History) data indicate that while taking the course, students developed their understanding of the Chinese cultural/historical/social context. In addition, students also increased their sensitivity to and understanding of the complexity of elements that might be important to Chinese and to others in attempting to interpret the behaviors of Chinese people. Students also developed their ability to consider differences of perspective across and within cultures.

For HIST 397 (From Mao to Now: China’s Red Revolution), my expectation was that at the end of the course, more people would score in the three to five range on their vignette responses than did at the start of the course, and that expectation was borne out by the data. There was measurable movement in each category, and all but one student moved up at least one level in all categories. In general, students gave themselves a much higher rating for all four questions of the self-assessment in the post-test than they had given themselves on the pre-test. The scores on the self-scored portion of the pre/post-test and the vignette portion, which I scored, show a considerable degree of consistency on the pre-test and again on the post-test. The upward movement from the first to the second test is comparable in both the self-scored and vignette portions of the test. This data indicate that my own assessment (through the vignette) of the extent to which students developed both other cultural awareness and intercultural competency over the course of the semester is similar to students’ self-assessment of their own learning in this area.

Reflections

All of my undergraduate courses are 4.2 courses, and I have increasingly thought about the ways these courses seek to assist students in acquiring cultural competency. I have undergone a constant but gradual transformation in how I think about my role in the classroom and the expectations I should have of my students as they complete one of my classes. In addition to leading me to introduce new assessments such as the pre/post-test, my reflections on these questions have led me to run in-class discussions and present lecture material differently, meaning that I am now much more intentional and explicit about encouraging students to draw intercultural comparisons and to do the work of reflecting on similarity and difference in the classroom. As a result, I now find myself frequently asking students to put themselves in the shoes of whomever we are discussing and to think more deeply about how decisions and actions are the products of context. With regard to my assessment strategy, I think it does a good job of capturing the necessary data, but each time I use it, I continue to refine it.


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BACKGROUND

The aim of this portfolio is to introduce a set of tools that I have developed for the assessment of Core Goal 4.2 in the context of two history courses I teach on China. My first experiment with this tool was in my HIST 394 class (Made in China: Chinese Business History) in the Spring 2017. In Spring 2018 I refined the tool and used it in HIST 397 (From Mao to Now: China’s Red Revolution).

Course topics and goals

HIST 394 and HIST 397 are both mid-level history courses on modern China. Students may be majoring in History or East Asian Languages and Cultures, but both courses also tend to draw students from various other majors including Political Science, Economics, Global and International Studies, Journalism, and Business. For most students in both classes, these are their first courses on China. Both are elective courses that can be used to satisfy HIST or EALC major requirements. Some students enroll in the classes because they satisfy Core Goal 4.2, but I do not know how many of them use it for that purpose.

All of the content of both courses is other-culture material. HIST 394 (Made in China: Chinese Business History) examines the development of business culture in China since 1900, looking particularly at how it has transformed and adapted in response to China’s own changing political environment, as well as China’s changing engagement with the West and Japan. Readings include cases of Western businesses in China and Chinese businesses in both China and the West. HIST 397 (From Mao to Now: China’s Red Revolution) is on the development and evolution of Maoism/Communism in China. The course introduces students to the history of Communism in modern China but also encourages them also to explore how Chinese communist thought has appealed to audiences outside of China.

For both courses, my goals include helping students to learn to think and write “like a historian” by using critical thinking as well as analytical and evidence-based argumentation skills. In addition, both courses aim to help students develop other-culture knowledge that will assist them with cultural competency regarding China, as well as a greater awareness of differences and similarities across cultures so that they are better equipped to engage with people from other backgrounds.

What Core Goal 4.2 means in these courses

Core Goal 4.2 requires that a course raise student awareness of, engagement with, and analysis of various elements of other-cultural understanding of communities outside the United States. For these courses, “other culture” means China. However, it is important to recognize that China does not have a single or monolithic culture, and Chinese actors operate in their own individual contexts just as anyone else does. These are points that I try to help students understand.

I define “cultural competency” as the capacity to understand the context for the actions of someone from another culture, to suspend judgment in evaluation of those actions, and to show empathy for those actions. All of the readings for these courses are on China and are thus “other cultural.” I do not assign readings that are explicitly about cultural competency (that is, readings by scholars in fields such as education who write on the topic of cultural competency), because there is no logic to assigning such works in my class. However, my approach to helping students develop their own cultural competency skills is informed by my familiarity with this literature and with intercultural training programs and assessment strategies that have been designed by various other universities and educational entities.

Assessing cultural competency

All of the assessments for both of these courses measure student learning about the other culture, but I designed most of them either to tell me if students were learning content or to help students develop the skills that are important to my discipline; therefore, I do not want to rework them to add a cultural competency assessment dimension. Although I regularly encourage students to make explicit cross-cultural comparisons and connections in their online or in-class discussions, it can be challenging to assess student learning as demonstrated in discussions. For these reasons, I felt that the best approach to assessing the cultural-competency learning that my students do in these classes was to add a new assessment.


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IMPLEMENTATION

All learning activities in both courses are “other cultural” in that the content of readings, discussions, and assignments is either about China or about how Chinese people, entities, or ideas have engaged with others. I use class discussions as the means to bring cross-cultural comparison and intercultural engagement to the fore. In these discussions, I ask questions that are specifically intended to encourage students to think about both similarities and differences between the thinking of the Chinese actors we are studying and either themselves or American actors of a similar time frame. I do not assume that all students share the same value assumptions about “normal” political, social, or economic behavior or decision-making, and I understand that what constitutes normal might be different for each student. In general, my expectation is that most students in the class are middle-class Americans and that their sense of normal has been shaped by American media and textbook representations of American political, social, cultural, and economic history, but I try to manage class discussion in a way that allows for a diverse set of normal starting points.

China’s political structures, social norms and expectations, cultural influences, and economic development are all quite distinct in many respects from those of the United States. Although this is self-evident in the materials we read, it is not always easy for students to take themselves out of their own contexts and try to understand things from the perspective of the people we are reading about. This is particularly the case in a course like HIST 397 that focuses on the theory and practice of Maoism, which is an ideology that is quite unfamiliar to most American students. To foster the development of intercultural competency, I am very intentional in asking students to think about their own reactions stemming from their own context to the things we read about, and then to try to put themselves in different shoes when they are attempting to interpret that material.

Through both readings and discussions, students are sensitized through repeated exposure to a set of information about norms in China and about the particular features of modern Chinese politics, society, and economy. My goal is that by the end of this course, a student should have a deep enough understanding of those norms to be able to identify them and respond empathetically and without judgment to behaviors that reflect those norms. These are behaviors and responses that I model in class and that I try to elicit from students with the questions I ask them.

As noted above, it is a challenge to capture discussion performance data and to show learning over time. For that reason, I have designed an ungraded pre- and post-test. This is an assignment that I have refined over time and will continue to refine in future iterations of both classes.

In Spring 2017, I introduced this pre/post test in HIST 394.The test asked students to read a vignette and then to respond to a question about it. Since HIST 394 is an online class, students took the pre-test as a first step in order to unlock the syllabus and the post-test as a last step in order to unlock the final exam.

I scored the responses to the vignette on a one to five scale (with one being the least) for three questions:

  1. Are the student’s ideas informed by an understanding of the other cultural context?
  2. Does the student exhibit understanding of the complexity of elements important to members of the other culture?
  3. Does the student exhibit an ability to engage with multiple cultural perspectives?

These three questions were adapted from benchmarks on the American Association of Colleges & Universities’ Global Learning and Intercultural Knowledge VALUE rubrics.

In Spring 2018, I employed the same strategy with a different vignette that better suited the content of HIST 397, and I also added a self-assessment component because I was curious to see if students’ perception of their own intercultural competency had changed. I was also curious about whether students’ self-assessment would corroborate with my own scoring of their vignette answers. The self-assessment questions were loosely based on an intercultural competency self-assessment pre-test intended for study abroad students that was developed by Purdue University’s Center for Instructional Excellence.

On the self-assessment test, students were asked to rate themselves on a scale of one to five in response to ten statements. The statements fell into three general categories: historical knowledge, identity, and context. The four statements that best reflect the intercultural competency learning that I hoped students would do in the class are:

  • I can describe how my individual and national identity differs from the identity felt by Chinese during the Maoist era.
  • I can describe how individual and/or national identity influenced ways in which Chinese during the Maoist era perceived problems.
  • I can provide an example that shows how Chinese institutions are shaped by China’s context.
  • I can provide an example that shows how Chinese institutions and practices can be transformed by China’s context.

I refined the questions I used to score the vignette to make them more specific to the contents of the vignette. The questions I scored the HIST 397 vignette answers against were:

  1. Does the student exhibit an understanding of the context in which the person in the vignette was operating?
  2. Does the student show empathy by putting him/herself into that person’s shoes?
  3. Does the student suspend judgment in evaluating why the person would have said what she said?

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STUDENT WORK

For HIST 394 (Spring 2017), students read a short vignette written from the perspective of an American manager of an American company trying to sell products in China using a Chinese sales staff. The vignette describes certain characteristics of the sales staff and the manager’s expectations with regard to the performance of that staff, explaining that the results are different than the manager had expected. It asks students to come up with explanations for why the results might not have matched the manager’s expectations. Students wrote anywhere from a couple of sentences to a long paragraph in response to the question.

HIST 394 (Made in China: Chinese Business History) analysis:

My expectation was that most students at the start of the course would not have the relevant cultural knowledge and sensitivity to be able to come up with particularly good answers. None of the course readings directly addressed this question, but most of the readings provided information that would have helped students to develop the knowledge and inter-cultural sensitivity that they would need to produce good answers to the question. I found that although few students moved from a one to a five, nearly all of the students wrote considerably more sophisticated, thoughtful, and culturally sensitive answers to the post-test than they had written in response to the pre-test, and nearly all of the students moved up a couple of notches on my rating scale.

The HIST 394 data indicate that while taking the course, students developed their understanding of the Chinese cultural/historical/social context; increased their sensitivity to and understanding of the complexity of elements that might be important to Chinese and to others in attempting to interpret the behaviors of Chinese people; and developed their ability to consider differences of perspective across and within cultures.

HIST 397 (From Mao to Now: China’s Red Revolution) analysis:

For HIST 397 (Spring 2018), students read a vignette that described the feelings and actions of a Chinese university professor who was persecuted during China’s Cultural Revolution. The example was taken from a real memoir but not one that the students read in class. The vignette ended with a statement the professor made in her book, a statement that someone without context, empathy or suspension of judgment might find to be quite mystifying. Students were asked to respond to the following question about the vignette: “Why would she say this?”

The figure below shows self-assessment responses on a scale of one to five for the four questions mentioned above in the description of the pre- and post-test.

Although the questions on the self-assessment do not correspond perfectly to the questions I scored the vignettes against, it is still fruitful to examine whether students saw their own growth over the semester in roughly the same way I saw it. The following chart shows students’ pre/post self-assessments in response to question/statement 2 (“I can describe how individual and/or national identity influenced ways in which Chinese during the Maoist era perceived problems”), as compared to my assessment of their vignettes for my question 3 (“Does the student suspend judgment in evaluating why the person would have said what she said?”). I selected these two questions for comparison because they offer the closest parallel. A student who feels confident to describe how individual or national identity might have influenced the way Chinese during a particular historical era should also be able to suspend judgment in evaluating why a Chinese person in that era would have undertaken particular actions or said specific things.

My expectation was that at the end of the course, more people would score in the three to five range on their vignette responses than at the start of the course, and that expectation was borne out by the data. For example, in answer to question 1 (about exhibiting understanding of the context), on the pretest, 15 students received a score of one, seven received a score of two, and three received a score of three. For the same question on the post-test, four received a score of three, five received a score of four, and 16 received a score of five. There was measurable movement in each category (questions 1, 2 and 3), and all but one student moved up at least one level in all three categories. The student who did not move up scored quite high in the pre-test.

In general, students gave themselves a much higher rating for all four questions in the post-test than they had given themselves on the pre-test. There was one student who actually gave himself lower ratings for some of the statements, but I am inclined to think this was partly because he had become more aware of all that he did not know, which is something that tends to happen as we learn and reflect on our learning. Self-scores for all four questions were fairly spread out across the five possible scores in the pre-test, whereas they tended to score themselves as either four or five in the post-test.

The scores on the self-scored portion of the pre/post-test and the vignette portion, which I scored, show a considerable degree of consistency on the pre-test and again on the post-test. The upward movement from the first to the second test is comparable in both the self-scored and vignette portions of the test. This data indicate that my own assessment (through the vignette) of the extent to which students developed both other cultural awareness and intercultural competency over the course of the semester is similar to students’ self-assessment of their own learning in this area. The data comparing students’ self-assessment on question 2 with my assessment on question 3 of the vignette show that while our assessments often differed on the pre-test, they did not differ often or much on the post-test. This could mean that students’ sense of their own abilities had come into line with my expectations of those abilities over the course of the semester.


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Reflections

Professor Megan Greene

Megan Greene

All of my undergraduate courses are 4.2 courses. I have increasingly thought about how these courses seek to assist students in acquiring cultural competency (which is not at all a vocabulary I would have used to describe my courses prior to the advent of the KU Core). I have been undergoing a constant but gradual transformation in how I think about my role in the classroom and the expectations I should have of my students as they complete my classes. In addition to leading me to introduce new assessments such as the pre/post-test described above, my reflections on these questions have led me to run in-class discussions and present lecture material differently than I used to. The main difference is that I am now much more intentional and explicit about encouraging students to draw intercultural comparisons and to do the work of reflecting on similarity and difference in the classroom. As a result, I now find myself frequently asking students to put themselves in the shoes of whomever we are discussing and to think more deeply about how decisions and actions are the products of context. I anticipate that I will continue to make adjustments along these lines in the future.

In both of these courses, quite a few of the readings describe cross-cultural engagement between China and other parts of the world. These readings provide an additional opportunity to encourage students to think about the transmission and translation of ideas across cultures and the challenges and opportunities inherent to that process. Over time, I have become increasingly cognizant of the importance of highlighting this issue and encouraging students to think about it. I anticipate that my teaching will continue to evolve in this respect. As I make this work more and more explicit to the students, I anticipate that I may see incremental shifts on these scales.

With regard to my assessment strategy, I think it does a good job of capturing the necessary data, but each time I use it, I refine it a bit (I am now using it in a third class). Those refinements come in the form of modifications to the vignettes and the self-assessment questions.

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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