East meets West: Week two

WEEK TWO was even more productive and even more cross-cultural than week one. The social and intellectual barriers had fallen. One very telling sign – both sets of students said that translators were no longer necessary. They were communicating visually and orally perfectly well, writes John Mair.

The time arrives to present and explain ideas - in English and Chinese

The time arrives to present and explain ideas - in English and Chinese

Students met formally each afternoon to progress their projects. The first two were devoted to Computer Aided Design (CAD) work on hulls for the boat, the second two to meshing it all together into one for a big presentation on the Friday. The most encouraging sign of all was the extra curricular work that went on continually.  In all sorts of nooks and crannies on the ZUMC Campus – the coffee shop, beside the university lake, in the card room of the hotel – one would find the (mixed) groups beavering away.  The division of labour clear to all and not based on nationality.  Few cavilled and few shirked their responsibilities to their team.

Team building amongst the Coventry students was helped by two setbacks. They were challenged to a basketball match by the ZUMC first team. Basketball is very popular in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the ZUMC players were very big and very skilled. They thumped the Coventry boys badly. Eventually, it became so one sided that the teams mixed. The very next day, the University football team took on the Cov Boys in the University Stadium. This a better contest with a more familiar game. Coventry lost just 5-3.  But their status as friends had been firmly established by these two one-sided contests.

Inside the classroom, the quality and quantity of work being generated was simply stunning. Chinese culture met British design skills. One group provided over twenty drawings of various sorts of their West Lake boat. Others were not far behind. We found ourselves running out of paper and having to send out for more.

The presentations re-inforced one pedagogic iron law: Effort = Output = Success…Most students will rise to a high bar.

The small group of journalists making the documentary (their first) of the trip excelled themselves. Finding themselves, like so many other filmmakers, with too much material and running out of time for a deadline, they came up with a simple solution. They rented a hotel room for two nights to edit. Boys and girls are not allowed overnight in each other’s dormitories at ZUMC, so that was out. They took it in turns to sleep and to edit. The result was ‘Hello Hangzhou’, a very watchable and lively fifteen-minute film shown to much acclaim to its subjects on the last day. That will soon be available for viewing on the Coventry University YouTube web site.

Explaining hull design as best possible in 'Chinglish'

Explaining hull design as best possible in 'Chinglish'

On the big morning itself, students were pinning up their designs on the studio wall for 7.30am ready for an 08.15am start. They were that keen.  The master plans became hard reality. What’s more they were being asked to verbalise their designs in English and Chinese to their peers. To see one group leader walking up and down rehearsing his lines like a Shakespearian actor was a joy to behold. The presentations themselves were very articulate in both languages. One myth quickly shattered was that Chinese young women are shy and hate losing face. To see one doll like individual firmly arguing the toss with a questioner in Mandarin about her design put that one to rest. Almost all the students took some part in the oral presentations. Almost all perfomed very well.

Inside the classroom, the quality and quantity of work being generated was simply stunning.

The presentations re-inforced one pedagogic iron law: Effort = Output = Success, and the group which had burned the midnight oil the night before even making a model of their boat won hands down. The dysfunctional group came a comfortable last. The fortnight of cross-cultural experiment had ended in triumph. ZUMC wheeled out their hierarchy to praise the results of a project about which they had been initially very sceptical.

Overall, the lessons for the future are very straightforward. Go with a plan but be ready to change it according to circumstances. Be aware of the audience and their needs, abilities and expectations. Adjust teaching accordingly. Be ambitious – most students will rise to a high bar. This year boat designers, next year ZUMC say they want journalists. And, finally, remember education and pedagogy is much the same the world over. It’s about learning.  Six of the Chinese students enjoyed the exchange so much that they came on a coach trip of three hours to Shanghai airport to say their farewells…

  • Article courtesy of senior journalism lecturer, John Mair, and images courtesy of Professor Andree Woodcock BSc, MSc, PhD .

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