Shhh …… silence …… is normal in Transnational Higher Education classrooms
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Internationalisation via partnerships and collaboration appears to be the way forward in western higher education and is also developing fast in Asian countries. One growing area of collaboration is part-time Transnational Higher Education (TNHE) courses where western ‘flying faculty’ academics from ‘exporter’ universities in, for example, the UK or Australia, ‘fly in’ to the Eastern ‘importer’ country to deliver teaching, and then ‘fly back’ to their country and their role in their university after one or two weeks of intense teaching. Such western higher education institutions collaborate mainly with Asian countries where strong cultural factors continue to affect local society. Asian countries embrace the courses because they lack their own part-time options to provide students with an opportunity to gain higher qualifications and prestige. However, in the TNHE classroom environment, during the intense teaching periods, the silent behaviour of Asian learners that brands them as passive is of concern to the flying faculty academics who are more used to outspoken confident students who generally ask questions during class, with only a few quiet listeners approaching the academics at the end of the session (Bista, 2011). Edward Hall, an anthropologist and one of the founders of the study of intercultural communication, outlined in his book The Silent Language (1959) that culture-specific behaviours and views of the world are influenced by unconscious cultural rules and contextual patterns. Hall’s beliefs were relevant at that time and are also applicable now within the contemporary globalisation trends in higher education. In TNHE classrooms, students conduct themselves on the basis of their own values, beliefs and models: it is important that this is understood as different values and beliefs might be concealed, but they influence students’ mind-sets and impact on their conversations and behaviour in the classroom. This thought piece will suggest the reasons for the silence in the Malaysian TNHE intercultural classroom environment. It is important that tutors appreciate and understand the reasons behind students remaining silent despite their ascribing such importance to academic achievement. As Elbert Hubbard stresses, ‘he who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words’.
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