Something Interesting: Cultural Differences in Education

This will be the first in a series of posts that describe interesting articles I’ve been reading about education.

My focus, in particular,  will be the institutional context of what we do–how we as faculty members, and our students,  are affected in our work by the larger social context of education.

It’s easy for some of us to forget sometimes,  as we move about in our relatively small world of online classes,   that we are part of a larger higher-education universe. Our students have often attended college before at more traditional institutions,  and come to us because they wanted to try something new.  They face many of the same issues –self-confidence,  comfort with reading and/or numbers,  even a broad awareness of the larger world outside their comfort zone of family, community, job and neighborhood– that students face in every learning institution,  and perhaps more so.

Let me begin with this fascinating piece about cultural differences in attitudes towards learning.  In a piece published about 18 months ago,  Alix Spiegel raises the issue of cultural differences in education.  He describes a middle school math classroom in Japan,  in which a student who had problems understanding the material was called to the front of the class by the teacher –not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to learn, in public, with the support of his classmates.  As the teacher walked the boy through the problem,  slowly and patiently,  his classmates made suggestions on the next steps he could take.  They cheered him on, and gradually he figured out how to approach the problem.  Towards the end of the class he finally understood the entire problem solving process,  and every one in class cheered for him.  He sat down with a big smile.  Education for these young Japanese teens was not an exercise in proving who was smarter;  it was a shared effort, a struggle to master difficult material.

Something to think about:   are we communicating to our adult learners, many of whom have not experienced a great deal of success in school,  that education is a shared struggle? Are we taking care not to lavish attention exclusively on the “smartest kid in the class?”  And are we encouraging our students, also, to share in the struggle,  to help one another understand difficult material?

  • Brandy G. Robinson

    So, I must start by saying I enjoy your posts as they are so much on point. I think your questions posed are valid. The interesting aspect about online learning is that the learning environment can be more balanced than a traditional classroom.

    In an online learning environment, instructors are not limited in materials, activities and participation. This is one of the best things I enjoy about online learning. From my experience, I have made every student a part of the learning process. I do this by responding and discussing the materials and concepts with every student. I leave no student out or behind.

    I also found that the shy student or the student who did not perform well in a traditional learning experience are often more participatory in online learning. This is no matter if their performance is the best among their peers. While I lead, I also allow the students to lead the discussions, which allows for every student to take ownership in their learning experience. So, the question may be how can we further channel the information and challenge students in an online learning to not only become active participants but facilitators in the learning process as well.