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Fostering Cultural Competency and Core Goal 4.2 in an Introductory Course on Contemporary China—Hui Faye Xiao (2019)

Overview

An East Asian Languages & Cultures professor seeks to document growth in cross-cultural competencies in her freshman-level Introduction to Contemporary China course in order to meet recertification requirements for KU Core Goal 4.2.

Background

As the only introductory course about contemporary China offered at KU, EALC 121 provides an overview of contemporary Chinese culture and society since the economic reforms launched in 1978. Because this is a 100-level survey class, most students enrolled in this course are freshmen, some of whom have never been abroad or exposed to a foreign culture. Many students take the class to fulfill KU 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.” Given the increasing importance of the Sino-American relationship, I consider it essential for our students to gain a more comprehensive understanding of this rapidly changing country and how Chinese people live in and interact with an increasingly globalized world.

Implementation

In order to accomplish course goals and fulfill 4.2 requirements, I deliver a series of lectures dealing with various aspects of contemporary China, including politics, the economy, society, culture, gender-related issues, mass media, and everyday life. I also provide a wide range of informational sources such as images, graphs, journalistic reports, autobiographies, academic articles, book chapters, documentaries, and feature films to immerse students in a more authentic cultural experience. The required textbook (Michael Dillon's Contemporary China: An Introduction) provides a survey of various aspects of contemporary China spanning from politics and the economy to ethnicity and religion. I also assign supplementary readings on a set of topics such as filial piety, food culture, the "One Child" policy, religion, and martial arts. Viewing films allows for the feeling of an immersive learning environment, while discussion questions are used to intentionally lead students to make explicit comparisons and contrasts between Chinese culture and their own cultural framework.

Student Work

As most students begin the class with no prior knowledge of Chinese culture, it is evident from assessing their quizzes and qualitatively assessing their in-class and online discussion that they have grown in the competencies and dispositions at the heart of 4.2. For their final project, students are required to make an annotated bibliography focusing on any aspect of contemporary China. In the course of completing this final project, students are expected to learn how to:

  • Find, examine, and compare different sources of information showcasing different perspectives on global issues
  • Conduct independent research about the latest developments in a different culture and society
  • Give presentations articulating their findings and insights about a new world
  • Understand, analyze, and compare and contrast Chinese values, practices, and perspectives to those in other countries such as the US

Grades for the final project are based in part on “critical vision,” defined as the demonstration of students’ ability to go beyond stereotypes, to compare and analyze different sources of information, and to make critical reflections upon cultural assumptions and biases in the readings.

Reflections

After a semester of reading, writing, discussing, and viewing films about China, many of the students feel more confident about conducting further research regarding China, studying abroad in China, or engaging with Chinese communities on a daily basis. Based on their oral and written assignments, I can see that they have grasped a new set of cultural concepts, values, and practices; demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of a different set of cultural values and practices; and developed substantial interest in exploring an unknown culture outside of their familiar world. For the future, I would like to develop a detailed rubric for assessing learning outcomes related to 4.2 as well as create additional writing assignments that would give students opportunities to demonstrate their growth in global perspectives.


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Background

As the only introductory course about contemporary China offered at KU, EALC 121 provides an overview of contemporary Chinese culture and society since the economic reforms launched in 1978. Because this is a 100-level survey class, most students enrolled in this course are freshmen, some of whom have never been abroad or exposed to a foreign culture. Cross-cultural consciousness and communication skills in an academic setting are developed through a series of classroom activities, writing assignments, quizzes, and presentations. Given the increasing importance of the Sino-American relationship, I consider it essential for our students to gain a more comprehensive understanding of this rapidly changing country and how Chinese people live in and interact with an increasingly globalized world. All the class meetings, learning activities, and assignments focus on achieving this goal.

The class size is between 20-30 students. Many students from other disciplines take this class to fulfill the KU Core 4.2 requirement, meaning that many of them have little or no knowledge about China. KU Core Goal 4.2 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.” The challenge for this course has been how to measure students’ accomplishment of Core Goal 4.2.


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Implementation

In order to accomplish course goals and Core Goal 4.2, I deliver a series of lectures dealing with various aspects of contemporary China, including politics, the economy, society, culture, gender-related issues, mass media, and everyday life. I also provide a wide range of sources of information, such as images, graphs, journalistic reports, autobiographies, academic articles, book chapters, documentaries, and feature films to immerse students in a more authentic cultural experience.

The required textbook (Michael Dillon's Contemporary China: An Introduction) provides a survey of various aspects of contemporary China spanning from politics and the economy to ethnicity and religion. I also assign supplementary readings on a set of topics such as filial piety, food culture, the "One Child" policy, religion, and martial arts. Clips of documentaries such as Please Vote for Me and feature films such as Eat Drink Man Woman are screened in class so that students can get concrete examples of the notions and ideas introduced through the readings and can discuss a series of questions about cultural beliefs, behaviors, and practices shown in each film.

For those who have never been abroad or exposed to a foreign culture, the film viewing serves as a cultural immersion experience that is difficult to find in students’ everyday environments. Therefore, integration of these teaching materials aims to open students' intellectual horizons and develop their cultural competency and empathy. This means that they are able to understand a set of beliefs, values, and behaviors in a different culture and learn to analyze and compare those with their own culture.

Discussion questions on the topics covered in class allow for explicit comparisons to be drawn between Chinese and American culture. For example, questions discussed on the subject of filial piety that supported 4.2 learning included:

  1. According to the reading, what are the patterns of filial support in Taiwan and People’s Republic of China? How does modernization modify the patterns in both places? What does “networked family” mean? Which side of the Taiwan Strait has greater traditionalism, Taiwan or PRC? Why? Do you think we should continue practicing filial piety in today's world?
  2. Do you see similar patterns of filial support in the States? How are old people supported in the States? What do you think of it in comparison to the Chinese way? Any examples or personal experiences to support your point?

Additionally, discussion on the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is screen captured above, included these questions:

  1. How do characters (such as Li Mubai, Yu Shu Lien, Jen, and Jade Fox) deviate from gender stereotypes that you normally find in Hollywood action films (dominated by male superheroes who save the world and the female victim)? Have you achieved a better understanding of the Taoist yin-yang concept after watching the film?
  2. Why did Ang Lee say, “To be more Chinese you have to be Westernized”? According to the reading, how is this film both Chinese and Westernized or Americanized? In your opinion, what makes this film well-received in America? In addition to discussing the assigned readings, students also go the Spencer Art Museum to view pieces from its wonderful collection of contemporary Chinese art under the guidance of a KU art historian. After the tour, students write short essays reflecting upon their first-hand experiences with Chinese artworks that are exhibited in a different cultural and linguistic environment.

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Student Work

Discussion questions such as those mentioned in the Implementation section resurface on quizzes with some modifications. As most students begin the class with little or no prior knowledge of Chinese culture, it is evident from assessing their quizzes and qualitatively assessing their in-class and online discussion that they have grown in the competencies and dispositions at the heart of 4.2. For the fall semester of 2017, 16 out of 20 students earned average grades above 60 on their quizzes, which showed most of them had accomplished the learning goal.

For their final project, students are required to make an annotated bibliography focusing on any aspect of contemporary China. This is an opportunity for them to delve more deeply into a topic that interests them, such as filial piety, the Westernization of food culture in China, or Qi. Students are expected to read, summarize, compare, and provide thoughtful comments on a collection of three to four news articles and two to three academic articles. Then they give oral presentations about their findings in front of the whole class to get feedback from the instructor and their fellow students.

In the course of completing this final project (see examples here), students are expected to learn how to:

  1. Find, examine, and compare different sources of information showcasing different perspectives on global issues,
  2. Conduct independent research about the latest developments in a different culture and society,
  3. Give presentations articulating their findings and insights about a new world, and
  4. Understand, analyze, and compare and contrast Chinese values, practices, and perspectives to those in other countries such as the US.

Grades for the final project are based on:

  • Critical vision (learning to go beyond stereotypes, to compare and analyze different sources of information, and to make critical reflections upon cultural assumptions and biases in the readings)
  • Accuracy (learning to use your own words to provide concise and accurate summaries)
  • Clarity (well-organized and presented in an accessible manner in oral and written forms)
  • Mechanics (spelling, grammar, citation format, etc.)

For the fall semester of 2017, 14 out of 20 students earned final course grades above 80%, which showed most of them had accomplished the learning goals set for the class. Some freshmen students showed interest in taking other China-related language and culture classes and in travelling to China or becoming an EALC minor/major after taking the class.


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Professor Hui Xiao

Hui Faye Xiao

Reflections

After reflecting on the results of this semester, the adjustments that I would like to make for the future can be focused on two main areas. First, I want to develop a detailed grading rubric for assessing aspects of student learning related to Goal 4.2 requirements. One challenge both in teaching and assessing 4.2 is that in its current form it does not take into account the fact that the student body of KU has changed rapidly over the past decade, including an increasing number of international students. It is challenging to know how to assess students with regard to 4.2 when they are not working from the “American” cultural framework assumed by the Core goal.

Second, I want to better document this aspect of learning by integrating some written assignments to show students’ accomplishment of obtaining cultural knowledge and global perspective, which will also serve to better prepare for the recertification process.

After a whole semester of reading, writing, discussing, and viewing films about China, many of the students feel more confident about conducting further research regarding China, studying abroad in China, or engaging with Chinese communities on a daily basis. Based on their oral and written assignments, I can see that they have grasped a set of new cultural concepts, values, and practices; demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of a different set of cultural values and practices; and developed substantial interest in exploring an unknown culture outside of their familiar world. The global knowledge and cross-cultural vision that they have gained in this class will better prepare them for future career opportunities in an increasingly connected world with constant transnational flows of commodities, ideas, and populations.

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


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