Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students

Document Sample
Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students Powered By Docstoc
					                   School of Public Policy

Teaching and Assessing
  Overseas Students
     A report on discussions relating to specific problems
   associated with teaching and assessing overseas students.

Part 1: Outlining some of the problems
            First Draft prepared by Dr. Les Prince

                         23 July 2000

  For circulation and comment

1   Introduction                          3

2   The Problem of Communication          4

3   Problems of Language                 6

4   What is the point of our courses?    8

5   Problems of Critical Understanding   9

6   Conclusions and Recommendations      11
1        Introduction
1.1      This is a first stage report based on discussions of meetings held at the School of
         Public Policy from November 1999 to May 2000. It concerns issues that face us as an
         academic institution when we engage in instruction and assessment of overseas
         students. Specifically it addresses problems faced by overseas students and the staff
         who teach them, about questions of academic performance in relation to the values
         and assumptions underlying teaching and assessment within a British university

1.2      There is no implication here that overseas students are in some way unable to meet the
         standards of performance set by the university. There are, however, clear difficulties
         associated with teaching, and, more particularly assessing, from a western value set
         which the students may not share. This undoubtedly contributes to misunderstandings
         between staff and students about what is required for assessment, and the appropriate
         standards that are expected for successful performance. In addition, and perhaps more
         importantly for the students, there are clear implications that some students may not
         be achieving marks consummate with their abilities and commitment because they
         have not understood what is expected of them.

1.3      Clearly there are issues here of language, not only in terms of the modal language of
         instruction (i.e. English), but also in terms of the technical languages that form a part
         of staff members’ academic discourse relevant to the subjects they teach. Both of
         these areas may contribute to some form of apparent underachievement if students are
         not fluent in either or both.

1.4      Perhaps more difficult, however, are questions of approach. We require our students
         to achieve certain levels of critical understanding of the subjects we teach.
         Unfortunately for many students this concept is difficult to understand. This
         highlights several different associated problems. First, the concept of critical
         understanding is seldom defined, and often not operationalised in a way that students
         can understand. The concept may also be poorly understood, in any ostensive manner,
         more generally, and thus more frequently recognised intuitively rather than
         analytically. Second, many of our overseas students are culturally averse to the kind of
         critical awareness, understanding and evaluation that we require. For many, a critical
         appraisal, as we understand it, of established ideas, theories and models may be
         considered rude or inappropriate, and a more reverential or deferential approach more

1.5      This value for deference towards teachers and what they teach also impacts on the
         classroom. For many of us teaching post experience students requires an inclusive and
         interactive mode of teaching. Indeed it has now become an ideological article of faith
         that this manner of teaching is the only appropriate method of instruction for adults,
         allowing them to demonstrate their own awareness of issues and to show their own
         web of knowledge. This does not always work with overseas students, however, many
         of whom consider it more appropriate, and more polite, to be relatively passive within
         the classroom, and accept what is given without interruption. This clearly can create
         problems of mutual misunderstanding, and in turn this can clearly be seen to impact
         upon assessment, assessment procedures and assessment outcomes.

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                       Page 3 of 13
1.6      The remainder of this report elaborates the points made above, and concludes with
         recommendations for tackling some of them.

2        The Problem of Communication
2.1      Teaching is a problem in human communication. A trite observation, perhaps, but it
         nevertheless highlights some important areas for consideration.

2.2      Popular though it is, at least amongst management circles, to consider communication
         simply as the passing on of information, it is rather more complex. It is better
         understood as a dynamic series of processes that can conveniently be considered as a
         system (see figure 1).

2.3      Broadly speaking all communications systems have three parts: source; message;
         target. In human communications systems, including the lecture room, the source and
         target (perhaps better called ‘audience’) are, of course, human beings, and therefore
         active information processors, despite the old jibe that ‘a lecture is the process
         whereby the contents of a lecturer’s textbook are transferred to a student’s notebook
         without passing through the minds of either’.

2.4      Again speaking broadly, the process of communication begins when the source of a
         message frames some kind of intention and translates it into symbolic code so as to

Figure 1 Some elements of a human communications system

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                     Page 4 of 13
         pass the message on to the audience. In the lecture room the code is primarily
         linguistic, although, of course, it may not always be presented verbally, and visual
         material may also be used to supplement it.

2.5      The message will be rooted in a speaker’s knowledge base, whether extensive or not,
         and certain fundamental aspects of this knowledge base will be taken for granted -
         indeed the speaker may be so familiar with some of the most fundamental aspects of
         this knowledge base that he or she may regard them as self evident and not worth
         explaining at all. The point here is that the original intention of the communication
         may be subverted right at the outset by what a speaker does or does not consider to be
         worth including, and how the message is coded for transmission.

2.6      The translation process involves the choice of words or images that are intended to
         encapsulate the original message that the speaker wants to convey; choosing both for
         nuance, emphasis, and, depending on the speaker, clarity. For our purposes the
         important aspect of this translation is that it implicates values and assumptions rooted
         in cognitive, social, political and cultural symbol systems. Neither visual nor auditory
         information can convey a message unless coded in broadly cultural terms, because it
         is the shared basis of symbolic codes that allows communication to take place at all, a
         point that is picked up again in the next section. Thus, a source of what is called
         ‘noise in the system’ (that which interferes with communication) may be the way a
         message is composed. In any case the original message, as conceived by its originator,
         the source, will be degraded to a great extent by the symbolic translation before it has
         even been passed forward to the audience.

2.7      The message is also subject to several kinds of ‘noise’, literally in some cases. Most
         of these are irrelevant for present purposes, and those that are not will be addressed
         below. Nevertheless it is worth bearing in mind that the content of a message - what is
         included and excluded - and the medium by which it is conveyed, may both hinder
         rather than facilitate communication.

2.8      The audience, on receipt of a message must go through the reverse procedure to the
         source of the message. That is, having received the message in its symbolic form, it
         has then to be decoded, or translated into a form that the recipient can understand.
         This implicates the same symbolic processes as those used to form the message into a
         conveyable form - knowledge base, and cognitive, social, political and cultural
         symbol systems. Clearly there will be some disparity here, especially in the extent of
         prior knowledge, but also in the cultural substrate of the symbolic discourses used and
         understood by teachers and students. That is, the way the message is received, and
         what the message is, may be entirely different for the recipient and the source,
         depending on how fully the symbols of communication are shared. Equally clearly, if
         the symbols used to convey the message are not familiar to the recipient, then
         communication may be severely distorted, or absent altogether. Some of this is
         addressed in the sections below.

2.9      Before moving onto the question of language, it is worth noting that amongst
         professional communicators, such as journalists and graphic designers, it is a truism
         that for communications to be successful, of the three aspects of a communications
         system it is the audience that takes precedence over the other two, followed by the
         message itself. The source of a message comes third. This bears the strong implication
         that in order to communicate effectively a speaker must have some relatively clear

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                       Page 5 of 13
         knowledge, at a general level, of those comprising the audience, including some idea
         about what symbolic codes they are likely to use and understand, what kinds of media
         might be appropriate, and what kinds of assumptions they are likely to make, both
         about the social context of learning, about their attitude towards ‘knowledge’, and
         about their attitudes towards teachers.

3        Problems of Language
3.1      The problems of teaching students whose first language is not English are well
         known, if not always well understood. The problems of learning, for students whose
         first language is not English, when the language of instruction is English, are perhaps
         not as well understood. But several observations can be made.

3.2      As noted above, language is not simply a string of words encapsulating neutral
         information, but is rooted in the culture from which it sprang. Learning to write and
         speak a language is partly a process of learning about its embedding culture. This
         creates particular problems for teaching and learning, especially when the subjects of
         instruction are broadly social and political in nature, as ours almost always are. That is
         to say, when we teach in a language that we recognise as our own, what we say rests
         upon cultural assumptions that we are able to take for granted, and which we seldom
         if ever question. This is the ground of what many might call ‘common sense’ - those
         features of existence that allow us to function adequately within our own day to day
         context, and which we seldom need to evaluate because they are, more or less,
         generally understood by those around us. This is one of the features of language that
         allows communication to occur at all. But, it is also one of the features of language
         that can also hinder communication; when underlying values and assumptions are not
         shared, clearly there is ample scope for misunderstanding. It is obvious that when
         teaching in English students who usually speak, and think, in a different language, and
         who, in the strictest sense belong to a different linguistic community, the scope for
         misunderstanding at even a fundamental level is very wide indeed. Put bluntly, it is
         not obvious that the messages we attempt to convey are, or can be, understood by the
         students in the way that we intend.

3.3      Without going into detail, an example may serve to illustrate the point. At a
         fundamental level Chinese, at least in its written form, does not appear to treat nouns
         in the same way that western languages such as English do. In the latter noun is
         fundamental, and denotes an object - an essentially static construction. Although the
         thesis is controversial, Chinese written characters appear to treat nouns as things that
         do something, or have something done to them. These are much more active
         constructions that give the fundamental role to the verb rather than the noun. The
         difference may be subtle, but it denotes a fundamentally different orientation to
         objects in the environment, and insofar as language constrains thought (admittedly a
         controversial question) here we are dealing with subtle, but perhaps significant,
         differences in patterns of thinking.

3.4      The problem of communication is compounded when the language of instruction is
         partly technical. This can be a serious problem. Professional and technical language
         makes communication more direct and efficient when used between fellow
         professionals, but it not only impedes communication when used with students who
         are not already familiar with the subject, it can also generate an active reluctance on

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                        Page 6 of 13
         their part to engage with the material at all. That is, if trying to understand something
         is difficult, and the reasons for the difficulty reside in the language of instruction, then
         students are likely to give up trying altogether, and withdraw. In principle this is a
         special case of noise in the system generated by unshared codes of understanding.

3.5      Clearly these sorts of problems attend to all teaching contexts. There is a disparity of
         knowledge (by definition), and therefore a disparity of familiarity with the language
         through which concepts and ideas are conveyed, whether it is mainstream language or
         more technically focussed. That is, even when the language used is not itself
         technical, it will have technical aspects simply because of the way it must be used to
         convey technical ideas. The problems are, however, obviously exacerbated when
         those listening do not speak the modal language as a first language, and may not be
         familiar even with simple words and concepts that are taken for granted by fluent

3.6      Those who teach overseas students will obviously be familiar with the problem, but,
         as one is engaged in the actual process of teaching it is easy to forget it. Nevertheless,
         such a difficulty has clear implications for assessment. It is quite common, when
         marking work from someone who is not a fluent English speaker, to be faced with the
         problem of deciding if the author understands what they are writing about, but is not
         able to express it well (in English), or whether they don’t understand it at all. Some
         colleagues, it should be noted, also use grammar, punctuation and spelling as part of
         their criteria of assessment, and this sort of problem clearly raises the legitimacy of
         that as an assessment strategy. But most would agree that to penalise someone for an
         inability to express a set of ideas in a language that they may not have sufficient
         facility with, raises questions about fairness, about what it is possible to assess, and
         what it is that assessment ought to be measuring. Of course much depends on how the
         purpose of teaching and assessment is understood by both lecturers and students.

4        What is the point of our courses?
4.1      The question of what is the purpose of any particular course is not a fatuous one. It is
         easy to think of teaching simply as a means of passing on information - as that form of
         communication mentioned earlier that presupposes not only a passive audience, but
         also that the purpose of instruction is the mere accumulation of ‘facts’ and other
         elementary bits of information. If that is the purpose of any particular course of
         instruction, or any lecture that is part of it, then the question arises of why not simply
         give a list of readings and leave it at that? The answer is, of course, that teaching and
         learning, if they have any purpose at all, are vehicles for far more than the simple
         sharing of information. Ultimately, one might suppose, they are, or should be, about
         generating understanding, that element of human cognition that transforms mere
         information into knowledge, otherwise the requirement for critical understanding,
         considered later, makes no sense at all.

4.2      On the other hand this also presupposes particular motivations on the part not only of
         those doing the teaching, but also those taking the course. It is not unduly cynical to
         observe that people often attend courses simply for the accreditation, rather than
         anything more elevated like ‘learning’ or ‘understanding’, and this is especially the
         case for many on management courses. But, although that may be the case with some
         of the students, it is doubtful that those teaching a course can afford to adopt a similar

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                          Page 7 of 13

4.3      More legitimately, it is important to note that the reasons for mounting any particular
         course are not inevitably identical. Differences of emphasis are highlighted by
         distinctions between such terms as ‘education’, ‘training’ and ‘development’.

4.4      Therefore, the question of what particular courses are for needs to be taken very
         seriously, and answered, because contingent on the answer is the way that linguistic
         and cultural differences are understood. Are they fundamental problems of
         comprehension, and therefore barriers to knowledge; or are they simply technical
         barriers to the straightforward accumulation of information? Depending on which way
         they are understood, are the possible solutions.

4.5      In general terms, one assumes that the purpose of teaching is to generate
         understanding at some level, and that lectures are useful because they allow
         interactive learning, providing the opportunity for students to test ideas with an active
         source of instruction (the lecturer) rather than a passive source (e.g. a book), therefore
         giving them the further opportunity to take an active part in their own education. This
         presupposes that part of the purpose of active (live) face-to-face instruction is to help
         students develop a critical understanding of the subject, an assumption further based
         on the presupposition that a requirement for critical understanding is a legitimate basis
         for assessing the extent to which students have grasped a subject.

5        Problems of Critical Understanding
5.1      What is meant by the phrase ‘critical understanding’ is seldom, if ever defined.
         Students are exhorted, in often quite vague ways, to be ‘critically aware’, or to avoid
         ‘uncritical acceptance’, and so on, but beyond that they are frequently given no idea of
         what this might mean in terms of what they are to provide as part of their assessed

5.2      For (western) academics, a critical approach to their subject is fundamental. It is, in
         many ways, what academic work is, or should be, about - the development of ideas
         through the application of a rationality rooted in the ideals of the Enlightenment. This
         approach developed through various political struggles aimed at unseating arbitrary
         and capricious authority that appealed to ‘revealed wisdom’ and ‘divine will’ as the
         basis of its legitimacy, replacing it instead with a systematic and impartial rationality
         that used ‘scientific method’ to pursue questions of truth. Leaving aside the
         considerable questions about what rationality is, and whether it is, itself, a legitimate
         basis or approach for developing knowledge, it is undeniable that these Enlightenment
         ideals are at the root, that is, are defining qualities, of modern western culture. It is
         thus a fundamental precept not only of western academic discourse, but is also the
         basis of western ideas about democracy itself, about ideas of justice and fairness, of
         ethics, power, and, above all else, individuality, because, right at the centre of this
         approach lies the ‘sovereign individual’.

5.3      What we teach, therefore, is not simply information. Our lectures and courses of
         instruction are inevitably rooted in the western ‘liberal’ tradition, and are as much
         about the transmission of that culture as they are about passing on ‘facts’ and ‘detail’.
         This creates a dilemma (possibly unresolvable) about what we are doing when

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                        Page 8 of 13
         teaching students from cultures whose presuppositions may be vastly different. For
         example, many of our students come from cultural traditions that are far more
         collectivist in approach than individualist, as in the case of students from China and
         Malaysia. Furthermore, many of the world’s traditions do not see democracy in the
         same way as the west, and several would question it as a viable or even desirable
         political institution. And yet, both individualism and liberal democracy are embedded
         at the very heart of much of what we teach. Like it or not, every time we teach we are
         in the position of preaching one set of cultural mores over and above those that the
         students may live by. And the question is ‘is that a legitimate activity?’.

5.4      There is no real answer to this. On the one hand it would be entirely inappropriate to
         abandon the values underlying our teaching, because, apart from anything else, those
         values give coherence to the whole raft of ideas as they relate to, and modify, each
         other. But at the same time we cannot ignore the fact that many of those we teach do
         share, or even comprehend, those values and ideals. On the other hand, it is probably
         worth considering that students in this position are intelligent people who are
         probably aware, at some level, of the tension, and may themselves be able to make
         appropriate adjustments. This is important, and indicates that especially when
         teaching in these circumstances the students need to be enlisted actively as part of the
         process. But, as considered later, this might itself create problems.

5.5      It is also important to note that students who elect to attend a course of study at a
         western, and especially British, institution of higher education, simultaneously elect to
         be taught from within the western ‘liberal’ tradition. That is to say, the argument here
         is not that we should abandon, at any level, the standards by which we develop our
         ideas, because the students know (or ought to know if they have been inducted
         properly) that it is in the broadest sense western cultural values that they will be
         learning, and not simple and undeniable truths about life, the universe, and stuff.

5.6      Nevertheless there is a real problem here. Critical awareness is the basis of
         assessment, and fundamental to successful performance on our courses. And yet
         conveying the principles of critique to students who do not live by western
         Enlightenment ideals may be to ask them to violate fundamental cultural mores of
         their own.

5.7      It is hard to know how far to emphasise this difficulty, and there is a risk of
         overstating the problem. Many overseas students have already been educated from
         within the western traditions, even within their own countries, and at least part of the
         problem of teaching them critical awareness must be the same as when trying to teach
         western students the same thing; it is sometimes difficult to remember that each of us
         had to learn how to do it, and that it didn’t come as an automatic consequence of
         living within western cultures. Nevertheless it is important to note that students from
         other cultures often come from traditions that treat received knowledge and wisdom
         with considerable respect, and often veneration. To ask them to criticise what earlier
         thinkers, or even their own teachers, are saying, is to risk asking them to be
         disrespectful at the least, and positively rude at the worst. And yet, even traditions that
         show reverence to received knowledge have their own critical traditions. They must
         have because critique is the basis of development. And even cursory readings of
         literatures from non-western cultures, such as the Taoist texts of Lao Tsu and Chuang
         Tsu, the Confucian canon, the various Buddhist literatures, including Zen, and more
         modern writers such as Mao Tse Tung and Ghandi, reveal traditions of critique. But

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                         Page 9 of 13
         they are not the same as the western traditions, and do not proceed in the same way.

5.8      So, at least two things need to be done here. First, we need to find ways of explaining
         the western critical tradition to our students in such a way that it does not violate rules
         of propriety that the students may recognise, while maintaining our own academic
         standards. In other words we need to work out for ourselves what critical awareness
         is, and find a way of showing that it is a positive approach to knowledge, and does not
         necessarily connote disrespect for that which is being criticised. But it is important
         that our standards are conveyed to the students as well; it would do them no favours,
         and would compromise our integrity, if we were to alter the standards by which we
         judge academic work.

5.9      Second, however, and probably more important, we also need to learn how different
         cultural traditions encompass critique. That is, as well as trying to teach what we
         mean by it, and how and why we do it, we also need to learn from our students how
         they would expect to accomplish similar objectives within their own traditions. What
         this amounts to is finding out how different traditions teach intellectual methods for
         discovering and communicating the limitations of sets of ideas and practices. Apart
         from the obvious intellectual adventure of the process, this would provide at least
         three extra benefits. First, it might suggest ways in which we can accommodate
         different approaches into our own, perhaps suggesting innovative assessment
         procedures. Second, it would bring the students much more into an active role
         regarding the course of instruction which, pedagogically, can only be a good thing
         because it would give the students a ‘stake’ in the course. Third, it would undoubtedly
         develop our practice in the classroom as we learn more about how the intellectual
         traditions of our students operate. And besides, good teachers are always ready to
         learn from their students.

6        Conclusions and Recommendations

6.1      Most of the problems addressed above are, in the broadest sense, cultural in origin. It
         is, perhaps, trite to observe, that when teaching overseas students cultural differences
         must be at the forefront of our considerations. But equally, it is important not to over
         exaggerate these as difficulties applying only to overseas students. Many of our
         overseas students will have been educated in the western tradition, and therefore
         should not be significantly disadvantaged thereby. For such students coaching in the
         critical traditions that we are supposedly defending should prove no more difficult
         than teaching ‘domestic’ students. On the other hand, also obviously, many of our
         students will not have been educated in the western tradition, especially the tradition
         of critical thought as we understand it, and such students clearly will be at a
         disadvantage. But, there are at least three other important observations that need to be

6.2      First, although for convenience and relative simplicity, this report has been written as
         if each country comprised a single monolithic culture, clearly this is not the case.
         Countries contain and comprise many macro and micro cultures, and we should
         beware of treating a group of students from any given country as if they all shared the
         same cultural assumptions. This points clearly to the need in our teaching practice to
         take the trouble to find out who our students are, and the kinds of important
         differences there might exist between them in relation to what we are trying to teach;

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                        Page 10 of 13
         clearly there would be some differences, such as religious commitments, that are
         irrelevant to the overall programme of instruction. So, not only do we need to identify
         and acknowledge differences, we need to do so with sensitivity and respect.

6.3      Second, while acknowledging difference, we equally need to identify important and
         relevant similarity, both between the students, and between the student group and the
         teaching group. As people we all share similar concerns and worries; we share a
         common humanity. Thus, as part of our attempts to understand how we might differ,
         we need to explore how we are the same as well.

6.4      Third, it should be noted that many of the observations made in this report apply
         equally well to our ‘domestic’ students - those who were born and live in the UK. On
         this basis, what this report is really about is the problem of teaching in any
         multicultural context, whether with UK students or overseas students.

6.5      In fundamental terms, these three points should alert us to the important principle that
         in approaching the difficulties highlighted earlier we are not dealing with simple
         technical matters that are amenable to straightforward ‘techniques’ for solving them.
         This is not a case of establishing a quick fix summarised in five bullet points, and of
         arranging a couple of training seminars to cover the issues. Here we are talking about
         something far more complex, and diachronic in nature.

6.6      It would be too easy to think of the group of overseas students entittatively as a whole,
         and not acknowledge their diversity as well as their similarity. That is to approach the
         problems from the standpoint of having a group that needs something done to or for it
         to solve its difficulties. But this group of students comprises people, and to adopt such
         a stance would be to deny them the respect they are due as intelligent social actors,
         who not only have similarities and differences, but also have the intelligence to
         acknowledge and work with them. ‘Their’ difficulties are, actually, ‘our’ (shared)
         difficulties. It is with this in mind that some recommendations are made below.

6.7      At this stage it is difficult to make hard and fast recommendations for development.
         Most of the final decisions will need further discussion and consideration.
         Nevertheless, some broad recommendations can be offered.

6.8      The most pressing problem would seem to be that of generating general awareness of
         some of the problems, and sharing approaches towards them using the breadth and
         depth of experience that exists within the School. This can be accomplished relatively
         quickly and cheaply by organising a series of School-wide workshops (not seminars)
         on broad themes, with a view to highlighting the problems in further depth, and
         establishing methods of approach towards them. As a starting point, it is
         recommended that the following themes and topics might be useful in this regard:

         Ž        Teaching and assessing overseas students. This is, of course, the
                  main topic of this report. The intention here would be wide ranging
                  general discussion as a means of clarifying and identifying what is
                  involved, and how different colleagues have dealt with any problems
                  they encountered. The ultimate objective would be the identification of
                  good practice.

         Ž        Critical Thinking. Although fundamental to what we assess, and how

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                      Page 11 of 13
                  we assess it, it would nevertheless be useful to have some discussion
                  about how people understand critical thinking, and how they identify
                  it. No doubt there would be differences of emphasis identified, but that
                  would be to the good as a means of clarifying what we want from our
                  students. The objective would be to find a way of formulating what we
                  mean by critical thinking, and from that developing teaching material
                  that can be circulated to students, and establishing focussed teaching
                  sessions in which we can explain and rehearse what they are expected
                  to do in their assessed work.

         Ž        Language. We would probably need specialist help here to enable us
                  to explore the ways in which language can help and hinder
                  communication and learning.

         Ž        Culture. Again specialist help might be advisable here, but the
                  purpose would be to explore the role of culture in teaching and

         Ž        Communication. This workshop would be a general examination of
                  what communication is, and how it can be facilitated or hindered.

11.1     For the most part these workshops can be accomplished from within the School itself,
         although it is strongly recommended that the Staff Development Unit be invited to
         take part. The kind of specialist help that the SDU can offer would, if nothing else,
         help us to identify ways of taking some of the discussions forward towards practice.

11.2     As noted earlier in the report, it is regarded as important that we attempt to learn from
         our students, especially about their own critical traditions. For this we need feedback,
         but the standard course feedback forms are inadequate for the purpose. We are a
         research institution, and we should therefore be able to call upon our research

11.3     The recommendation here is to use a variant of the focus group, drawing from
         different cohorts of students. These groups would be convened with the purpose of
         exploring, jointly between staff and students, traditions of teaching, learning, and
         critique. The format can be flexible, and modified to circumstances, but it is
         recommended that at least two kinds of focus group are attempted: one comprising
         staff and students; and the other comprising students alone.

11.4     These groups could be convened at the beginning, middle or end of selected courses,
         and perhaps included as part of the course programme itself. The developmental
         aspects of focus groups should not be overlooked, because they can be incorporated
         easily into the overall course objectives.

11.5     The purpose of the focus groups would be two-fold: first, to gain some knowledge
         from the students about their own traditions, and from this to formulate some ideas of
         good practice. The results of this part of the exercise would then be fed directly into
         the course itself, and, more generally could be fed back to the School-wide workshops
         mentioned earlier. The second purpose would be to give knowledge to the students
         about how the western critical tradition works. In other words, the focus groups are
         conceived here not simply as research tools, but also as teaching tools, thus combining

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                       Page 12 of 13
         two objectives in one technique.

11.6     As a final conclusion, it is important to emphasise that the issues dealt with (cursorily)
         in this report are not, in any substantial way, amenable to final solutions. They
         highlight ongoing aspects of the teaching and learning relationship that will not only
         persist in some form, but will probably also change over time and with different
         groups of students. Nevertheless, by examining what the issues are, and how they
         might be approached in practice, we may find ourselves in the position of not only
         being able to identify good practice for ourselves, but also of being able to pass it on
         to others. If we get this right, there are potentially very significant knock-on benefits;
         the issues raised here, although primarily focussed on overseas students, are also
         relevant to other student groups. What we learn from trying to help our overseas
         students should also help us to provide better teaching for our domestic students as

Teaching and Assessing Overseas Students I: Some of the Problems                       Page 13 of 13

Shared By: