Science - December 9, 2004

Chinese students want better guidance

The results of the inquiry on problem-based learning (PBL) held last year amongst Dutch students, recently convinced the university board to overhaul how this type of education is given. This week Wei Qin, of the student party PSF, finished a second survey, which asked Chinese students for their opinions on PBL. The results show that the majority of Chinese students have no real problems with PBL, although most indicate they would like to have more guidance from supervisors.

A total of 71 Chinese students at Wageningen University returned the questionnaire: nearly half of them were BSc students. Qin hopes that the results will contribute to a better understanding of the differences between Dutch and Chinese students. He hopes that this example will lead to better support for international students and further improvements to ‘the high-standing multicultural educational environment’. Apart from being the largest group of international students in Wageningen, Chinese students are the only international students who participate in BSc programmes as well. The questionnaire was written in Chinese and the results were later translated to English. ‘That way it was easier for them to participate. From the results it is clear that language is still a problem for many Chinese students.’

About one-third of the respondents had not experienced problem-based learning before they came to Wageningen. Of the students who had, most say that PBL in Wageningen is different from what they have done before. ‘In China PBL is more like a group assignment,’ Qin explains. ‘The teachers ask you to answer a question with a group. When I came to Wageningen I had to learn what PBL meant here. In Wageningen you have to formulate the goal yourself, find your own way of doing it and develop your own skills.’ Still, nearly all students say they are quite satisfied with PBL.

More than half of the respondents experience large differences between Chinese and Dutch students. These differences are mainly related to language skills and culture, and less to other skills. They also find that Dutch students often ‘come up with the ideas, lead the group and sometimes ignore others’ opinions’, whereas they themselves tend to stay in the background, first listening to the discussion. Although most of the Chinese students prefer to be in a group with Dutch students as well, in their answer to one of the open questions, many express their dislike of students asking questions in Dutch or doing their presentations in Dutch. Only 17 percent of the Chinese students indicate that they find it either ‘difficult’ or ‘horrible’ to work together with Dutch students.

In general Qin concludes that Chinese students would benefit from better guidance and stricter supervision. ‘There is too much freedom for them at present. I think they need supervision if they are to perform better in PBL. Now it’s too easy to stay at home and play computer games.’ / JH

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