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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


The Critical Learning Journey of Chinese Post Graduate Students in the U.K.: Adapting to Western Norms of Academic Argumentation and Debate

Kathy Durkin.

Recruitment of Chinese students onto U.K. masters programmes has increased over recent years, and predictions are that the trend will continue in the future. However, many Chinese students, especially during the first term of their one-year course, encounter very different lecturer expectations from that with which they were familiar in China, particularly with respect to critical thinking and evaluation (Jin & Cortazzi 1997, Block & Chi 1995, Tannen 1998)

This research explores, through in-depth interviews supported by scenario-type questionnaires, how Chinese students view their personal learning journey in adapting to western-orientated critical thinking and argumentation. Lecturers were also interviewed to compare their perspectives of the critical learning journeys of Chinese students during their masters study abroad.

One of the aims of the research is to heighten awareness – both of lecturers and students – of the cross-cultural differences in teaching and learning expectations in higher education. An equally important aim is to identify the teaching and learning strategies which are viewed by the students and their lecturers as most helpful in lessening any stress and misunderstanding in the early months of a masters course in the U.K.

Longitudinal data has been collected over the past three years, consisting of in-depth interviews of Chinese students at the beginning and towards the end of their masters course in two U.K. universities, and for comparison purposes, some U.K. students were also interviewed. Final year undergraduates in a university in China, all of whom were planning to study for a postgraduate degree abroad, were also interviewed to explore their expectations prior to departure.

The longitudinal study enabled the researcher to track any changes in the students’ self-perceptions of thinking, attitude and learning behaviour over the course of the year. In this sense, the notion of a critical learning journey emerged.


Kathy Durkin  (United Kingdom)
Lecturer in Research Methodology and Study Skills
Media School
Bournemouth University

I have been lecturing and researching at Bournemouth university since 1996. My current responsibilities include supporting international students studying on masters programmes in the Media School. The emphasis of this support is the development of critical thinking and evaluation skills, particularly in written assignments. My Ph.D research focuses on cross-cultural differences in academic teaching and learning styles and expectations, with particular reference to Chinese students on postgraduate courses in the U.K. I also teach research methodology on a masters course. In 2002 I was awarded a British Council Chinese Studies Grant, and a Bournemouth University Teaching and Learning Fellowship, both of which have furthered my research.

  • Chinese postgraduates
  • Critical thinking
  • Argumentation
  • Cultural adaptation
  • Academic expectations

(30 min Conference Paper, English)