It is an honor and pleasure to be part of the Expert Team for the Undergraduate Teaching Audit Assessment for Wuhan University. Although I have been to China numerous times, this is the first time that I have been deeply exposed to the multifaceted contributions, issues and challenges of a higher-education institution in China.
Over the past few days, I’ve really enjoyed this beautiful campus as well as learning about Wuhan University’s abundant achievements. This is a university with an important mission to enhance human resources in order to contribute to the betterment of China and of human society.
I am truly impressed with Wuhan University’s students, faculty, and administrators. I want to thank them for their excellent work and the time that they gave me. Party Secretary Han Jin, President Li Xiaohong, and their team lead with vision and dedication. Wuhan University’s faculty are leading researchers and committed teachers, and its students are smart and creative. I must be honest with you to say that before this trip, I did not realize that China had such a gem in the most central location of the country. After this assignment, I will certainly spread the word about Wuhan University’s distinguished academic status.
Now let me turn to Wuhan’s undergraduate teaching. I would like to sum up my impression by the following description:
Accomplished faculty whose teaching skills are to be perfected.
Talented students whose energies are to be fully harnessed.
Let me first bring up Wuhan University’s goal of talents cultivation, namely, to cultivate “outstanding innovative talents and specialized talents with international competitiveness.” Based on my observations over the past few days, including visiting the Innovative Practice Center, attending classes, visiting internship sites, reviewing tests and theses, discussions with students, and interviews with administrators and faculty, I am fully convinced that Wuhan U’s students are innovative and have specialized knowledge. The question is, are they internationally competitive?
International competitiveness, among other things, requires (1) high-quality critical thinking and engaged communication; and (2) global preparedness. On both counts, Wuhan U is moving in the right direction. For example, students’ internship reports demonstrate original thinking; and Wuhan U has many international students and partnerships.
But there are also glaring gaps. Let me highlight two gaps, followed by specific recommendations.
I. Classroom Teaching
Regardless of instructional language (Chinese or English), students in the classroom tend to be quiet and passive. I was really surprised that very few students take notes, ask questions, or raise their hands. When the professor asks a questions, he/she is often met by silence, or at best a group murmuring of an obvious answer. Left unaddressed, this problem will leave students completely unprepared for the work place, let alone an international work setting, which values exchange of ideas.
My recommendation for classroom teaching is as follows:
1. Consider the classroom NOT just a place of knowledge transmission (which can be at least partially accomplished through reading materials, online resources, etc.) but a laboratory for critical thinking and problem-solving.
2. Consider the following stages for students’ participation, and constantly assess at which stage a classroom is:
(1) Silence – student gives no response to instructor’s questions
(2) Answer – student gives just a yes or no answer
(3) Elaboration – student explains the answer with reasoning
(4) Dialogue – student and professor exchange views, student may even question and disagree with the professor’s view
(5) Debate – student and instructor defend and substantiate their differing positions
Professors should use effective strategies to help students advance from stage 1 to stage 5. Stages 4 and 5 are not easy, especially in a cultural context where teachers are highly respected (Unlike the U.S. where faculty are students are more like friends. It’s not uncommon for students to eat their lunch in class. I remember once when I was a TA at Ohio State University where a student brought his dog to class.) But if the professor is open-minded and willing to share ownership of the classroom with students, anything is possible.
3. Encourage students to be physically mobile in the classroom: take notes, use their mouths (speak), raise hands, make eye contacts, turn around and acknowledge other students, move to form groups, etc.
4. Advance a student’s role from a passive recipient of knowledge, to a participant, to a stakeholder of the classroom. By doing so, the university is being responsive to societal demand by preparing students to effectively communicate, respect differences, resolve disagreements, take ownership, build teamwork, and ultimately lead and innovate.
II. Global Preparedness
Wuhan U already is actively recruiting international students, engaged in numerous international partnerships, and has created effective programs to attract international faculty. But a key dimension of internationalization is the student’s preparedness for the global world, which should be prioritized. My recommendation is as follows:
1. Promote a sense of global citizenship (Sheila Biddle defines a global citizen as someone (1) who is knowledgeable about the world; (2) who recognizes his/her role to help solve the world’s problems and has the skills to do so; and (3) who has the humility about other peoples and cultures.)
2. Invest in improving English proficiency, programs that cultivate a global perspective, and courses that focus on global problems (e.g., climate change, terrorism, migration and refugees, financial crises, global health).
3. Create and fund study-abroad. While at present only a small number of students at Wuhan U has access to long-term study-abroad experience (> 6 months), short-term summer programs combined with increased funding could motivate more students to study abroad. Such experience can transform a student’s life, build confidence, accelerate their foreign language proficiency, build social and professional network, and significantly broaden their mental horizon and world view.
I hope you will find some of my recommendations helpful. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about and comment on Wuhan U’s undergraduate teaching. Your open approach and hospitality is much appreciated.
Finally, I would like to thank members of the Higher Education Evaluation Center of MoE and my fellow experts for their hard work. It’s been a privilege working with you. I have benefited from the insights from this distinguished team of University Presidents and Vice Presidents. Although I have involved in higher-education evaluations in the U.S. and Hong Kong, I was not previously aware of China’s Higher Education Evaluation Center, and I am very pleased to have worked with the Center. I would like to congratulate Director Wu Yan for the stellar work that you and your team have done, which plays an important role in helping prepare China’s future generations.
Cindy Fan, UCLA Vice Provost for International Studies and Global Engagement