Friday, November 30, 2012

Five Things I've Learned from Teaching in China, Part 5

[This post is the last of a five-part series on what I have learned from teaching in China.]

Entrance to the Beijing International MBA program
At the end of each of my three classes at BiMBA, I asked my students to say one thing that they learned in the course. One student, Cara, who delivered a perfect presentation and raised the level of her team's performance, stood in front of the class and said, “What I learned is the value of trusting your teammates. We learned to trust each other by agreeing to meet one night for dinner. We sat in a restaurant, and no one opened a laptop to look at the presentations. We just got to know each other. We ate together, talked about our families, our plans, and our interests. Then when we got together in class the next week to practice as a team, we made great progress."

This lesson was the greatest one that I learned as a teacher in Beijing. I constantly told my students to work as a team but I did not tell them how they might accelerate that process. Cara showed us all how--by becoming like a family.

Being in Beijing for 30 days was a great pleasure for me. Yes, I enjoyed the outstanding Chinese cuisine. Yes, I visited the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, and those are amazing sights. But what I will never forget are these lessons learned from my students.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Five Things I Learned from Teaching in China, Part 4

[This post is the fourth of a five-part series on what I have learned from teaching in China.]

Many students in my classes at the Beijing International MBA program made individual coaching appointments with me to improve their writing or presentation skills. On one occasion, four students met with me as a group to sharpen up for their second team presentation. Since three sat around as one received the coaching, I decided to put them to work. "Amanda, you critique Mike's body language. Lilian, you cover his voice. Zach, you have his PowerPoint slides."

The results were excellent. The students noted details that I overlooked, and each comment they made was right on target. In this way, we continued until all four received feedback while I concluding with summary remarks. And this team delivered the best presentation of 17 groups.

Weiming Lake on the campus of Peking University
A big part of my classroom teaching focused on relying on teammates to receive unrelenting criticism, so this approach was nothing new; however, being present while students criticized each other gave more legitimacy and greater credence to their commentaries. I have decided to make coaching sessions like these routine for future classes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Five Things I've Learned from Teaching in China, Part 3

[This post is the third of a five-part series on what I have learned from teaching in China.]

In my classes at the Beijing International MBA program, students are separated into small groups of four or five, with each member playing a specific role (e.g., CEO, COO, CFO) in a fictitious start-up business whose job is to deliver a persuasive presentation to a group of venture capitalists (their fellow classmates). The youngest student in the room (let's call him Chris) talked about how he and his teammates practiced fielding difficult questions in preparation of their team presentation. "We thought of the holes in our argument and came up with responses to questions that might come our way about those weaknesses," he explained.

Chris's point made me think of the recently concluded United States presidential debates, for which the candidates assigned a member of his party to play his opponent in practice debates. The idea behind this tactic was to get the candidate comfortable in the presence of a harsh critique and to practice responding to attacks, counterattacks, and difficult questions. I regularly told my students to think of challenges they might receive from a difficult audience, but never did I tell them to rehearse their presentation by playing the role of that difficult audience. Thanks to Chris, I will make future groups practice by determining the toughest questions they might get and crafting responses to them.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Five Things I’ve Learned from Teaching in China, Part 2

A courtyard in the Beijing International MBA Program
[This post is the second of a five-part series on what I have learned from teaching in China.]

I am a typical East Coaster: fast-talking  and wise-cracking. Now that I have met all 85 of my students spread across 3 classes, I have learned that humor doesn't always translate well and that I speak faster than I had thought.

I admire my students, all of whom are multilingual, some already holders of doctorates and other higher academic degrees, and most with deep international experience. Nevertheless, English is the first language of only three of them. It takes some courage to attend an MBA program in a foreign language, so the least I can do is reconsider what I find funny and slow down when speaking. I'm sure they'll appreciate these adjustments.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Five Things I've Learned from Teaching in China, Part 1

[This post is the first of a five-part series on what I have learned from teaching in China.]

I am writing from my room in the Shaoyuan Guest House on the campus of Peking University in Beijing. Tomorrow I begin teaching Report Writing and Presentation Skills to the first of three graduate classes of approximately 30 students per class for the Beijing International MBA program (BiMBA).

One of the great pleasures of teaching adults is that I learn as much as I teach. In this case, I have not taught even my first class, yet I have already learned an important lesson. On the way from my hotel room to BiMBA is a serene wooded path that leads to a scenic lake. On the path is a monument to Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), a Chinese intellectual who became the university president in 1917. Yuanpei worked extremely hard to make the university a sanctuary of academic freedom. His memory is so revered on the campus that fresh flowers always appear at the foot of the monument, and Chinese students often can be found standing quietly before the bronze statue. Perhaps they are reflecting about Yuanpei's legacy. Maybe they're saying, "Please inspire me to pass this important exam," or "Thank you for making this educational opportunity available to me" or "I hope to accomplish in my life just a small measure of what you have."

Whatever these students devotedly whisper to the statue, I have learned something from witnessing this scene: that Chinese students greatly value intellectual history. Therefore, I will surely work hard to contribute whatever I can to my students' intellectual development during my month here.