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They won't talk: An investigation into perceptions of Chinese students' engagement and active participation in the classroom

Author Julie Butters
Abstract Firstly, I would like to point out that by the use of the term 'Chinese students' throughout this paper, by no means do I see this group of learners as a fixed homogenous entity; instead, they are viewed as individual, plural, extremely diverse, fluid and in constant shifts of change. Further discussion and critiques of this term will be discussed in the literature review. This study set out to investigate university teachers' and Chinese students' perceptions of engagement and active participation in the classroom to gain deeper insights into the statement 'They won't talk'. This research project was inspired by a three year teaching experience in Beijing, China, where I began to realise that students who identified as Chinese were often misrepresented and misunderstood especially in relation to active participation. Terms adopted by teaching staff to talk about 'Chinese' students were at times problematic especially in relation to cultural characteristics. Therefore, I wanted to explore how both teachers and 'Chinese' students spoke about active participation. I adopted qualitative research methods specifically semi-structured interviews to gain a deeper insight into attitudes and experiences. The sample came from a UK university. The findings of the study suggest that both teachers and 'Chinese' students were aware that it can be an issue for this group of students to actively participate. However, only one teacher adopted a more critical view of what affected their level of active participation, including lack of agency and the positioning of those students due to societal power structures. The other eleven of the participants, both teachers and students, put the onus on cultural attributes; thus, leaning towards a more deficit view. This could signify that for this group of participants engaging in collaborative intercultural awareness sessions could help both students and teachers to adopt a more critical approach to culture and learning leading to a more inclusive ethos and inclusive learning environment.
Keywords intercultural awareness, inclusive discourse, inclusive practices, agency, power dynamics
Published In ICEP Proceedings 2016
Date 2016
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