Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Adaptation and acceptance of group learning: Moving from 'chalk and talk' to student interaction and self directed learning

Philip David Reece
Commerce/Management
Murdoch University
This paper seeks to address the recent changes in the learning methodology and structure in the unit OMD C240, at Murdoch University, in second semester 1997. The unit coordinator, Dr Cecil Pearson, decided it was time to move from 'chalk and talk' to a group centred, interactive learning method.

There has already been a good deal of debate over the learning styles of 'Western', or more self directed and independent oriented students, compared with the more rote learning of their 'Eastern' oriented counterparts. A view has been presented that, SE Asian students in particular, are uncomfortable with and find great difficulty in adapting to, anything other than rote learning. In turn, it is argued that SE Asian students should be streamed into culturally appropriate learning methods and environments.

This paper seeks to review the interactive and group methods used, assess the results gained from the use of these group and interactive learning methods, as assessed by the students themselves. As the seminar groups that the author conducted have a large SE Asian student population base, it is interesting to see how the students felt they performed, adapted and accepted a new approach.


Introduction

SEA students contribute significantly to Australia's economy, with one WA university being named as the fourth largest exporter of education in dollar terms, yet there are other things that SEA students bring apart from dollars, alone (Ballard 1987, Financial Review 1995a, Business News 1997). A major contribution is being made in terms of exposure to cultural norms and expectations as SEA students and their 'Australian' counterparts, mingle and socialise. This cultural exposure is an inherently important development, not only the benefit it will bring in terms of future economic development, but also, the long term personal relationships which can help to form closer national bonds.

Assumptions about SEA students

When SEA students leave home to study overseas, for the first time, they inevitably suffer some form of 'culture shock', when all their comfortable landmarks and family ties have been left behind (Carrell, Heavrin and Jennings 1996). Their entry into an Australian university is one marked with huge shifts of emphasis from that of being rote learners, to being self motivated and self directed learners (Moses and Ramsden 1992, Murray-Harvey 1993). This can be particularly traumatic, as it is often understood that they are in fact capable of doing so; when they perceive this not to be the case, SEA students are 'seen' to be less than proficient and are often left to their own devices (Ballard 1987, Kember and Gow 1991).

Thus, over time the perception has grown that SEA students are lacking in the ability to think critically, accept the words of 'authorities' such as the lecturer or the text without hesitation (Burns 1991, Renshaw and Volet 1993, 1995). Is this the case? Recent reports in SEA newspapers would indicate that the perception of Australian academics is in fact true, with one newspaper very critical of the lack of any critical thinking being imbued into students in the curriculum of one developing SEA country (Ling, 1997). It was noted that students memorised the text and had little or no comprehension of what it meant; this was further exacerbated by the nature of the exam setting, which encouraged rote learning to successfully gain a pass in the country's exam system (Ling, 1997).

These same SEA students then enter into the Australian university system which prizes the ability to think critically and analyse the arguments presented, a situation that most SEA students have yet to experience (Boud and Griffin 1987). If these very skills are lacking, how well could SEA students be expected to perform? The focus on critical thinking skills is a vital one, however, is it sufficient of itself? There is the need to imbue into all students the need to think not only critically, but also creatively and constructively too (De Bono 1994, Ling 1997). The failure to do this will continue to perpetuate the 'Humpty Dumpty' syndrome all too often seen in students, whose academic reach falls short of their grasp (Hubbard 1994, Volet and Kee 1993). This manifests itself when students cannot resolve for themselves problems with their work, and fail to progress satisfactorily through university.

Some suggest that the lack of creative thinking shows up in the fact that most SEA students are diligent note takers, reliant on handouts provided by the lecturer and find it difficult to work in, what appears to them, an unstructured environment. They most often remain silent in tutorials, asking few if any questions, preferring to rely on the good graces of others to assist them through (Bradley 1984, Samuelowicz 1987). One explanation advanced for this behaviour is the cultural orientation of SEA students with their high emphasis on collectivism and on respect for authority figures such as lecturers, leading to a large power distance (Hofstede 1986, Ronen 1986).

So with the very large numbers of SEA university students coming to Australia to study, it is interesting to ask: "How well do they cope in a move from a very structured and memory driven learning environment, to another which is not?" This paper seeks to address the experience of 76 men and women students in three of the OMD C240 unit, 2nd semester 1997, at Murdoch University's Murdoch Campus.

The format

Dr Cecil Pearson, the unit coordinator, elected to move from the traditional 'chalk and talk' method of a weekly two hour lecture and one hour tutorial; to a weekly one hour lecture and a two hour seminar. The focus was now on how well the student learned for themselves, as they were required to do more then passively accept information given to them at a lecture and play 'spot the correct answer' in an exam, at the semester's conclusion (Ballard and Clanchy 1991, Samuelowicz 1987). The unit was radically overhauled to emphasise what the individual student learned in the workshops, where the students had to deal with group work, case studies, role plays and simulations (Biggs 1992, Volet and Kee 1993).

The first lecture is designed to inform students of exactly how things will be done, who the various workshop leaders are (in this case four) and the emphasis put on the students doing the work. Dr Pearson clearly explained that the students themselves were responsible for their own success, or lack of it. Why? Primarily due to 75% of the marks being weighted to ongoing assessments, including assignments, attendance and participation, mini tests and exams. Only 25% of the marks are weighted to the final exam, allowing students who have continuously performed at a very high level to have 'passed' the unit before sitting the final exam. To this end, a typical workshop may include oral presentations, a case study or a role play or a simulation.

The purpose of the oral presentations are to strengthen public speaking skills, seminar presentations, use of visual and audio technology and to increase confidence levels in speaking to an audience who maybe totally unknown. During the course of the semester each group presents a total of three times. On each of the first two presentations they are marked by their peers by means of a marking key containing some 16 criteria (see Appendix 1), on the final presentation they are marked by the workshop leader, only. The use of the marking key enables the students to be critical based on a given, universal and clearly understood set of guidelines all of which they themselves have experienced and been marked on before.

The use of role plays enables students to immerse themselves in the 'persona' of another, with the role, obligations and problems that that person in industry or business may face. It allows them to analyse and address problems themselves, without their personalities and or actions becoming subject to outside criticism; while allowing for critical reflection on what they would really do. Case studies, a concept and teaching methodology widely used, understood and accepted, allows the students, as individuals and as a group to assess the actions of others. This allows them to draw on real life experiences in industry and or business, often applying these principles in follow up exercises designed to further stimulate thinking and application.

The use of business games is designed to simulate, on a small and limited scale, the problems of running a business. One game in particular, The Aeroflyte Company, allows students to assess their ability to deal with a number of management roles. The MD, has a staff of up to eleven people who are responsible to her/him; for the running of the companies financial health, to the design and production of actual aeroplanes themselves (these are carefully folded from proper origami paper and if made correctly, loop the loop and return to the maker). There can be as many as five 'workers' on the factory floor, who get sick, take industrial action are subject to materials delays and so on. Thus it is entirely possible for a company to go very quickly, broke; as indeed all the groups did. even with start up capital of $1 million. The reaction from the majority of students has been exceedingly positive with the hands on simulation, as most of them 'see' the value of actually doing it rather than reading about it. So much so, that the prospect of carrying hands on exercises have become a cherished and enjoyable part of the way OMD is now conducted.

The use of the workshop format is applied to all students, regardless of their country of birth, cultural affinity or learning styles preference (Dart, 1994). This paper offers some observations about the experiences of these 76 students during 2nd semester of 1997; especially how they felt they benefited from the use of this interactive method.

Responses: How well did the changes rate?

During week eleven, the three workshops were asked to complete a survey questionnaire of 25 questions. It was designed to segregate responses by age, gender and cultural disposition. In most cases the students merely had to rate the extent to which they felt that their experiences in the unit had impacted on their learning, as a whole. The rating was from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest.

Firstly, of the 84 students in the three seminars, a total of 76 were present on the day; of which 44 were women and 32 were men. The age group most predominate was the 17 to 25 year olds, 66 of the total and nine of these were between 26 and 34, while only one was between 35 and 44.

As for places of birth, we had a very large range of countries, including the Isle of Man, Peru, the Maldives and the USA. The number of SEA students in total was 44; a breakdown of 16 women and 9 men from Singapore, 6 women and 5 men from Malaysia and 4 women and 4 men from Indonesia. The majority of these were of ethnic Chinese extraction. The Australian students were 14 women and 10 men, the remainder was 4 women and 4 men from other countries. Interestingly of this group of others, only 1 woman and 1 man resided permanently outside Australia.

The following is a selection of some of the questions asked, beginning with:

What is your preferred language?
EnglishOther

Female
Singapore11 (68.75%)5 (31.25%)
SEA
(Malay)
(Indonesian)

2 (50.00%)
4 (80.00%)

2 (50.00%)
1 (20.00%)
Australian17 (100.00 %)0 (00.00%)
Other1 (100.00%)0 (00.00%)

Male
Singapore9 (100.00%)0 (00.00%)
SEA
(Mal)
(Indo)

4 (80.00%)
2 (50.00%)

1 (20.00%)
2 (50.00%)
Australian13 (100.00%)0 (00.00%)
Other1 (100.00%)0 (00.00%)

Overall, 66 of the 76 rated English as their preferred language or 86.84%.

To what degree do you think that the 'Western' approach to life, culture, relationships and business has affected you?
(The scale is one to five, with one being the LOWEST and five being the HIGHEST.)
12345

Female
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other

7 (43.75%)
3 (33.33%)
1 (5.88%)

7 (43.75%)
6 (66.66%)
7 (41.17 %)

2 (12.50%)

9 (52.94%)
1(100.00%)

Male
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other



1 (7.69%)

1 (11.11%)
1 (11.11%)
1 (7.69%)

6 (66.66%)
3 (33.33%)
6 (46.15%)

2 (22.22%)
5 (55.55%)
5 (38.46%)
1(100.00%)

To what degree can do you feel your experiences at Murdoch University have changed your ability to accept different methods of learning?
(The scale is one to five, with one being the LOWEST and five being the HIGHEST.)
12345

Female
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other



1 (5.88%)


3 (30.00%)
3 (17.64%)

12 (75.00%)
4 (40.00%)
10 (58.82 %)

4 (25.00%)
3 (30.00%)
3 (17.64%)
1 (100.00%)

Male
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other



1 (7.69%)

2 (22.22%)
2 (22.22%)
6 (46.15%)

6 (66.66%)
3 (33.33%)
3 (23.07 %)
1 (100.00%)

1 (11.11%)
3 (33.33%)
3 (23.07%)

To what degree do you think that the group learning in the OMD seminars have contributed to your ability to learn in a different way?
(The scale is one to five, with one being the LOWEST and five being the HIGHEST.)
12345

Female
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other



1 (5.88%)

5 (31.25%)
1 (10.00%)
4 (23.53%)

8 (50.00%)
4 (40.00%)
5 (29.41%)

3 (18.75%)
5 (50.00%)
7 (41.18%)
1(100.00%)

Male
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other

4 (44.44%)
1 (11.11%)
1 (7.69%)
1(100.00%)

5 (55.56%)
4 (44.44%)
7 (53.84%)


4 (44.44%)
5 (38.46%)

To what degree do you think that group work contributed to the development of your personal communication skills?
(The scale is one to five, with one being the LOWEST and five being the HIGHEST.)
12345

Female
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other


2 (20.00%)

2 (12.50%)
1 (10.00%)
4 (23.53%)

7 (43.75%)
5 (50.00%)
10(58.82%)
1(100.00%)

7 (43.75%)
2 (20.00%)
3 (17.64%)

Male
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other

2 (22.22%)
1 (11.11%)
3 (23.07%)
1(100.00%)

5 (55.56%)
5 (55.55%)
5 (38.46%)

2 (22.22%)
3 (33.33%)
5 (38.46%)

To what degree do you think that the 'hands on' group work contributed to your learning?
(The scale is one to five, with one being the LOWEST and five being the HIGHEST.)
12345

Female
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other



1(5.88%)



1(5.88%)

2 (12.50%)
5 (50.00%)
2 (11.76%)

11 (68.75%)
3 (30.00%)
6 (35.29%)
1(100.00%)

3 (18.75%)
2 (20.00%)
7 (41.17%)

Male
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other

5 (55.56%)

2 (15.38%)

1 (11.11%)
6 (66.66%)
7 (53.84%)
1(100.00%)

3 (33.33%)
3 (33.33%)
4 (30.76%)

To what degree would you recommend the adoption of the seminar and group work methods into other university units?
(The scale is one to five, with one being the LOWEST and five being the HIGHEST.)
12345

Female
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other


1 (10.00%)

2 (12.50%)
1 (10.00%)
2 (11.76%)

3 (18.75%)
1 (10.00%)
2 (11.76%)

4 (25.00%)
4 (40.00%)
6 (35.29%)
1 (100.00%)

7 (43.75%)
3 (30.00%)
7 (41.18%)

Male
Singapore
SEA
Australian
Other



1 (7.69%)
1 (100.00%)

5 (55.56%)
5 (55.56%)
3 (23.07%)

4 (44.44%)
4 (44.44%)
9 (69.23%)

Perhaps the singularly most significant factor here is the fact that students from SEA, contrary to some researchers assertions, are just as able to adapt and adopt interactive and group learning methods as anyone else (Felix and Lawson 1994, Ginsberg 1992). In the figures last quoted, it is generally woman that show any significant levels of indifference or outright antipathy (and then only 12, or 27.27% of the total number) to the implementation of methods other than the traditional ones. Even so, Singaporean women still preferred the interactive learning method at a rate of 68.75%, the remaining SEA women at a rate of 70%, while Australian women recorded a rate of 76.47%. This translates into a rate of 78.80% for all women, a truly satisfactory result. By comparison, all Singaporean and SEA men rated it as 100% for acceptance, while Australian men rated it as 92.30%. This in turn gives a result of 97.43% for all men.

There are other interesting aspects, in particular the aspect of personal communication. It seems that women on the whole rate improvements in their personal communications skills, due to the small group focus of the workshop, rather highly even in the face of the cultural differences outlined by Hofstede (Hofstede 1986). With Singaporeans at 87.50%, SEA's at 70.00%, Australian's at 76.46%, with an overall rating of 83.49%. Similarly so do the men. With Singaporeans at 77.78%, SEA's at 88.88%, Australian's at 76.92%, with an overall rating of 81.19%.

There is a factor which no doubt contributes to a very high degree here, that of the use of a common language, through which all students have to communicate, English. As mentioned previously, 66 of the 76 students rated English as their preferred language or 84.64%. It is estimated that English will become the lingua franca of the business world, not merely for the next few years but for the next three to four decades (Gung 1997 ). It became very quickly evident how important the lingua franca of English had become, when the very first of the workshops commenced. the students where thrown into a maelstrom of interactive teaching/learning. As there is a very heavy reliance on brainstorming and group solution and decision making, effective communication became a must. In the first three workshops, intergroup discussion was often subdued and tentative, but as the parties developed and grew in confidence, their command of the situation became more evident. By the last two or three workshops, the volume of conversation had reached, in some cases, fever pitch, as did the ability to offer solutions and defend or compromise them, as needed.

This constant interaction in small groups and into a larger forum, enabled students to think not only critically, but creatively and constructively as well. For, once into the larger forum of open discussion, they had to articulate and defend their ideas against others. In many cases they found their thinking similar, in others very divergent; nonetheless, they most often found themselves capable for far greater levels of personal communication than ever before. As one student recounted, both in the written survey and personally, this was the first time in two years, full time at university, that she actually knew the names of other members of her class. More importantly, not only had it increased her ability to learn, communicate and think; she actually enjoyed coming to and looked forward to attending.

Conclusion

The purpose of the revamping of OMD C240, was to promote the ability of students to not only accept greater responsibility of their own learning; but more importantly develop individuals who have world class thinking and learning abilities and skills. Was the objective successfully met ? The author's experience has been that it was very successful. Students expressed a very high level of appreciation for the opportunity to participate in a less structured environment, where their individual contribution counted for so very much.

It was commented on by many, that their personal understanding of group processes, their personal communication skills and overall levels of self confidence had risen substantially. Many felt that their earlier assumptions about the course being too much work was in fact totally incorrect; rather that the workload both in class and out of class was fundamentally very easy to deal with once they saw the application of it. In fact a number of students commented that they felt they did not have to work hard at all, that the 'new' learning methodology made the process of acquiring their new ASK's (abilities, skills and knowledge's) a very simple, satisfying and 'easy' process.

References

Ballard, B. (1987). Academic Adjustment: The other side of the export dollar. Higher Education Research and Development, 6(2), 109-119.

Ballard, B. and Clanchy, J. (1991). Teaching Students from Overseas. Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Biggs, J. B. (1992). Why and How do Hong Kong Students Learn. Education Paper No 14, Faculty of Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Boud, D. and Griffin, V. (1987). Appreciating Adults Learning: From a Learner's Perspective. Kogan Page, London.

Bradley, D. and Bradley, M. (1984). Problems of Asian Students in Australia: Language, Learning and Culture. Australian Government Publishing Services, Canberra.

Burns, R. B. (1991). Study and stress among first year overseas students in an Australian university. Higher Education Research and Development, 10(1), 61-77.

Business News (1997). Local university is among Australia's top exporters of education. Oct 17, pp 4 -5.

Carrell, M., Heavrin and Jennings (1996).

Dart, B. C. (1994). A goal-mediational model of personal and environmental influences on tertiary student's learning strategy use. Higher Education, 28(4), 453-470.

De Bono, E .(1993). Six Thinking Hats. Macmillan Publishing, London.

Felix, U. and Lawson, M. (1994). Evaluation of an integrated bridging course on academic writing for overseas postgraduate students. Higher Education Research and Development, 13(1), 59-69.

Financial Review (1995a). Drive for overseas students can harm unis. Educational Supplement, July 18, pp 40.

Ginsberg, E. (1992). Not just a Matter of English. HERDSA News, 14, 6-8.

Gung, W. (1997). China leads the way in learning to speak English. New Straits Times, Feb 18, 1997, p 21.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-related Values. Sage, Newbury Park.

Hofstede, G. (1986). Cultural differences in teaching and learning, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10, 301-320.

Hubbard, R. (1994). Addressing the languages and cultural problems of overseas students in the context of mathematics classes. Higher Education Research and Development, 13(1), 133-142.

Kember, D. and Gow, L. (1991). A challenge to the anecdotal stereotype of the Asian student. Studies in Higher Education, 16(2), 17-28.

Ling, C. S. (1997). Reviewing exam format to spur critical thinking. New Straits Times, Apr 4, 1997, p 78.

Morgan, G. (1986). Images of Organisation. Sage, Newbury Park.

Moses, I. and Ramsden, P. (1992). Academic values and academic practice in the new universities. Higher Education Research and Development, 11, 101-118.

Murray-Harvey, R. (1993). Identifying characteristics of successful tertiary students using path analysis. The Australian Educational Researcher, 20(3), 63-81.

Pearson, C. A. L. (1996). Managing the Facilitation of the Learning of International Students. In Changing Australian tertiary Education Study: A Longitudinal Assessment, ANZAM Conference Paper, Presented in Wollongong, May 1996.

Pearson, C. A. L. and Beasley, C. J. (1996). Facilitating the Learning of International Students: A Collaborative Approach. HERDSA Conference Paper, 19, 650-658.

Renshaw, P. D. and Volet, S. E. (1993) A cross-cultural study of observed and self-reported participation in university tutorials. Paper presented at Australian Association for Research in Education, Perth, Western Australia.

Renshaw, P. D. and Volet, S. E. (1995). South East Asian students at Australian universities: A reappraisal of their tutorial participation and approaches to study. The Australian Educational Researcher, 22(2), 85-106.

Ronen, S. (1986). Comparative and Multinational Management. John Wiley, New York.

Samuelowicz, K. (1987). Learning problems of overseas students: Two sides of the story. Higher Education Research and Development, 6(2), 121-133.

Volet, S. E. and Kee, J. P. P. (1993). Studying in Singapore - Studying in Australia: A Student Perspective. Murdoch University Teaching Excellence Committee Occasional Paper No 1, School of Education: Murdoch University Western Australia.

Appendix 1: OTB Presentation standards

As with all presentations there are certain standards on which it will be assessed, these are as follows:

Personal

Content

The presentation

Written

Please cite as: Reece, P. D. (1998). Adaptation and acceptance of group learning: Moving from 'chalk and talk' to student interaction and self directed learning. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 286-294. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/reece.html


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