Language and Cultural Meaning: Establishing dialogical learning in a internationalised teaching and learning environment
MetadataShow full item record
We live in an increasingly interconnected world, in which not only goods but also ideas and people are exchanged ever more extensively and rapidly. That this condition extends into educational settings is no surprise. (As two notable examples, both the student body and the teaching staff in architecture at Plymouth are now approximately 40% international; within Accounting and Finance the Year 3 student cohort is approximately 70% international.) Owing to this enhanced interconnection, we are now able to acquire instantly knowledge and skills locally (including via virtual networks) that were once previously all but unobtainable. There is however a danger in this apparent ease of accessibility; we can easily fall into an assumption that owing to the pervasiveness of this exchange all share not only our knowledge and skills, but equally are understanding of them. Overlooked is the formative role that local culture retains in framing how we experience, interpret and value the world. (For related reading see Brown 2011) In intermingling students and staff from disparate cultural backgrounds together in the teaching and learning environment, it is inevitable that differences in worldview will test the dialogue essential to a shared context of learning. This challenge is both most significantly posed and most acutely faced through the language that we use, where we understand language as central to our thinking practices and cognitive structuring of the world. (See for example Brecher 2000, or Hayashi and Kuroda 1997) The influence of language (and the cultural-framing which underpins it) on our education praxis (whether as students or staff) is beginning to become recognised as a significant issue for examination, though there has to date been relatively little written on the subject. There is by way of contrast much that has been written on these issues for those operating in actual business practice; within discourse on architectural education a notable though only very recent exception is P. Beacock, G. Makstutis and R. Mull, eds., 2011; even then most of the texts are more of a descriptive narrative of the experience of working in a cross-cultural setting, rather than a critical consideration of the underlying issues. Other discourse has recognised the significance of language in the learning environment, these have been focused for the most part not on culture but instead mostly on valuable but only tangential issues of gender, ethnicity and/or professional enculturation; see for example: Ahrentzen and Anthony, 1993; Ahrentzen and Groat 1992; Cuff 1991; Devin 1990; Diaz, Buss and Tircuit 1991; Oak 1998; Vowles 2000; Willenbrock 1991. In the present and increasingly internationalised environment of education, what is needed is further examination of this condition. Using the recent experience of students and staff within the Architecture Department and Accounting and Finance Department at Plymouth, seemingly universal constructs have been found to be not so commonly shared, but rather encompass permutations and subtleties which delimit dialogue and learning. While the words used to discuss these constructs are recognisable to anyone familiar with the English language, how these are understood across different cultures does indeed vary. That a discipline (as a sub-culture) has its own distinct conceptualisation of these words only adds to the sense of divergence. Such considerations are critical within a discipline whose pedagogic strategies are significantly reliant upon dialogue between students and staff in tutorial-based interaction (Architecture) or written work (Accounting and Finance). With the above as a background (and Plymouth University’s agenda of increased internationalisation and widening the learning community as per the University’s Strategic Plan), this project is founded upon pursuing an investigation into the role that language plays in the teaching and learning context. Central to this is a year-long tracking of students’ understanding of key concepts, and in parallel a reflective examination on the tacit and explicit practices that have supported their understanding. Intrinsic to the latter is an exploration, testing and analysis of teaching methodologies that might contribute to enhancing students’ development in understanding of these concepts. This examination will be supported by a literature review of relevant discourse from education research (and may be further supported through the participation of postgraduate students within the Emerging Architectural Research module). The project aims to map the culturally-embedded understanding of constructs that are key to the disciplines of Architecture and Accounting and Finance, and the understanding of these constructs that students bring with them to their education. Through an on-going documentation across the academic year (based around written input via a reflective journal and group discussion with participating students and relevant staff) the study aims to reveal how this comprehension develops through their education (both formally and informally), notably in terms of cross-cultural understanding (i.e., students retain their a priori beliefs and values, but also assimilate (and synthesise as relevant] new awareness. There are opportunities that this project will afford, including: • The prospect of explicitly exploring the role of language in education, and how key constructs within the discipline are perceived across cultures. • An examination of how students make sense of these constructs, and the teaching and learning strategies that support them, in the course of their learning journey. • Through this project a better sense of the students’ experience, notably in the challenges they face in their learning in a cross-cultural context, will be also gained. Moreover, it will offer opportunity for the testing of explicit methodologies for addressing this condition. There are a number of interrelated outcomes that will arise through this project, including: The project will inform teaching and learning within the department through integrating what has been gained into the planning of the curriculum and pedagogy in the future, including through: • Student feedback on the project through written feedback and group discussions. • Research within the discipline and education more generally, notably on relevant teaching methodologies. The project will inform the curriculum, including through: • A critical re-examination of key constructs within the discipline. The project will contribute to the wider disciplinary knowledge based, including through: • A critical re-examination of key constructs within the discipline. • Explicit study by students and staff embedded within Emerging Architectural Research postgraduate elective. The project should equally contribute to pedagogy more widely, serving as both a challenge and a pilot for other disciplines across the two participating Faculties, if not the University.
The following license files are associated with this item: