Educational Interviews- Faculty and Student Perspectives (China and USA)

Dr. Phillip Wishon Dean - College of Education  James Madison University Photo taken by Sean Bates

Dr. Phillip Wishon
Dean – College of Education James Madison University
Photo taken by Sean Bates

As I reflect on this trip to China, it reminds me of my first international trip some two decades ago. Like then, my goal for moving to London was rooted in learning, professional growth and development.  Although my primary objectives were framed in learning the operational structure of different healthcare systems, little did I know the impact of the “Environment” would have on my learning?  In education there’s a continuous debate on the impact of one’s environment and learning.  Some people believe the learner should adapt to the learning environment while others argue that the learning environment should adapt to them. From my experience I believe doing a little of both is an acceptable approach.

As an intern at one of the hospitals, I had to articulate to my teachers (administration) my desired outcome from this experiential experience.   They provided me with a learning environment that allowed me to take ownership of my learning based on my interest and the needs of the facility.  My ability to self-direct my learning allowed me to feel invested in my work and created and environment of openness and collegial respect.  It allowed me to work in areas, like fiscal/budgetary, human resources and development, but most importantly, it framed my professional interest and lead to developing  the foundation, of what I would look for in a mentors and cemented by life-long belief of self-directed learning and the importance of  having engaged teachers to facilitate this process.

For this assignment, I was interested in talking to educators who have and continue to make significant contributions to field of education in two areas: (1) someone who provides resources to aid educators to enhance teaching and learning; (2) someone who works with educators to promote the importance of assessment in learning.  For my US interviews, I interviewed a Dean of a College of Education, who is responsible for the administrative oversight, but also provides leadership in the areas of strategic planning and resource allocation.   In my second interview, I wanted to focus on assessment and its impact on learning.  I also wanted to talk to an educator that could explore the curricular relationships between assessment and learning.   My interviews in China focused on gaining a better understanding of the perception of Higher Education, its meaning from a global perspective and what skills should graduates from a Higher education program possess.  In addition, I was able to record various classroom lectures and other cultural activities.   These classroom observations, where insightful and allowed us to observe different teaching styles, student/instructor interactions and the impact of active learning activities to enhance learning.  I conclude with a personal reflection on the impact of Chinese music has on learning.


Impact of Resource Allocation on Learning

A major theme in education is how we allocated our limited resources to enhance teaching and learning.  For many administrators, deans and superintendents resource allocation continue to be a major concern and  often a road block to enhance and engage innovative teaching techniques.

I selected to interview Dr. Phillip Wishon, Dean – College of Education as James Madison University for several reasons:  (1) JMU’s intensive collaborative work in foster global exchange with teachers all across the world; (2) the desire to have the perspective of teaching and learning from an administrator (Dean), who consistently must address funding request from faculty to enhance and develop teaching and learning opportunities but who are limited due to budget restraints.  A significant portion of my interview with Dr. Wishon focused on the impact of global education and the impact of internationalization in education.  We also discussed his views on best practices for student learning and the impact of technology and teaching in secondary education.

One of the global education initiatives the college participates in is the International Teachers in Residence Program.  The program which began in 2000 was designed to share best practices in education.  Educators selected for this program, must be nominated by their own country and must have a minimum of five years of teaching experience, primary in the areas of English and Social Studies.   As Dr. Wishon points out, this “year’s group of 16 educators (Fellows) come various places across the globe, we have educators from Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Kenya, Morocco and Senegal, who will spend a semester with us” one of the goal of the group is to share best teaching practices and to work collaboratively with teachers in the Rockingham/Harrisonburg schools systems.

JMU International

International Teachers in Residence
Photo taken by JMU College of Education

According to Dean Wishon, the College elected to use “Residency Model”, which allows the “Fellows” to work closely with the faculty, student and a seasoned teacher in the local school system, to gain hands experience to “western” teaching styles and share their own teaching best practices with their colleagues and fellows.  Most importantly the fellows will have the opportunity develop and lead various educational modules in the classroom and participate in various professional development activities.

The program exposes the Fellows to teaching and learning from various viewpoints.  The Fellows are allowed to enroll in various JMU courses that have an educational focus and those that are in areas of personal interest.  The faculty in the College of Education and the administration of the local schools systems has developed a series of professional development workshops, geared to enhance teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge (instructional strategies).  Many of these topics are driven by the Fellows themselves.  One of the most interested topics discussed was on the Impact and Perceptions of Violence in schools and Bullying.  For many of the Fellows according to Dean Wishon, they were surprise of the tendency and frequency of violence in schools.  As one of the Fellows stated” Teachers are Respected… Place in High regards… it’s like a second religion”.

In addition to the educational exchanges, Fellows participate in cultural and social activities.  These cultural exchanges focus on their individual beliefs; culture and values round education, etc, but also serve as venue for them to compare their various educational systems (comparative education) and share best practices.  They participated in excursions to Richmond and Virginia beach and for many of them they experience snow for the first time.


The Impact of Assessment on Teaching and Learning

Veronica Shuford Director of Educational Innovation and Assessment VCU School of Pharmacy

Veronica Shuford
Director of Educational Innovation and Assessment
VCU School of Pharmacy- Photo taken by Sean Bates

A central component of teaching and learning is Assessment. In my discussion with Mrs. Shuford (Director of Educational Innovation and Assessment- VCU School of Pharmacy) our conversation focused primarily, on how assessment can enhance learning and the correlations between assessment and learning. Mrs. Shuford suggests that teaching and learning should be “deliberately flexible” and educators must be able to integrate diverse teaching and learning styles to be effective in the classroom. In describing her approach to teaching and learning, Mrs. Shuford states:

“I begin by thinking about who my students are, recognizing that they come with a variety of needs based upon their background and experiences. I also give considerable thought to the goals and the objectives of the course or faculty development program I am preparing” (Audio file)

Pharm photo 2

Photo taken by VCU School of Pharmacy


Mrs. Shuford feels that the best way to help students achieve those goals and objectives in any course is to provide students a several opportunities to assess knowledge and competencies.   When working with faculty she suggests using active learning to enhance student learning.  This can be in the form of using audience response systems, think-pair-share exercises, case-based learning, leading questions, or a roundtable discussion.  She suggests the use of active learning contributes to an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation among students leading to a safe classroom environment and provides students have the opportunity to share ideas without feeling threatened or being ridiculed.

“In preparing to teach any course…  I think about the best way to help students achieve the goals and objectives of the course or program”

In her role to enhance faculty teaching Mrs. Shuford believe that material and learning experiences should be meaningful to the students as it will help them learn the information easily and retain the information. In supporting faculty with teaching and learning activities she recommend that faculty explain the WII-FM (What’s In It for me) to the students so that they understand how this will apply to them as a practitioner. As an educator she incorporate the AAHE’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, which are Good Practice (Chickering, 1991):

1. Encourages Student-Faculty Contact
2. Encourages Cooperation Among Students
3. Encourages Active Learning
4. Gives Prompt Feedback
5. Emphasizes Time on Task
6. Communicates High Expectations
7. Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Pharm photo1

Photo taken by VCU School of Pharmacy

Although these were written for undergraduate education, she encourage faculty in our school to consider these items as they are planning and preparing to teach a course or module.

In discussing challenges in teaching and learning we talked about the challenges working with clinical faculty on teaching and assessment whose time is often spent in practice, precepting students, producing scholarly materials to support promotion and tenure, and the challenge of identifying innovative ways that faculty can appropriately engage 140 students and adequately assess the Learning Outcomes and Professional Competencies in the Doctor of Pharmacy program.

“As an institution,  we believe that internationalization is not only positive but also very relevant as a key component of the changing landscape of higher education”.

In this interview we discussed the large number of international students in our professional programs and the impact of internationalization on teaching. Mrs.  Shuford suggests Teaching and Learning in the School of Pharmacy has been impacted by internationalization with students who have English as a second language for them.  These include some of our Pharm.D. students and some of our graduate students.  She states in the Pharm.D program the impact is directly related to the outcome related to communication abilities.  She believes that institutions should prepare students to use effective oral and written communication skills to listen to, assess health literacy, clearly communicate with, and educate patients, other health care professionals, and members of the community.  The university has resources to support students in this area and there are opportunities for students to apply and reinforce this skill throughout the curriculum.



Student Interviews – Shaanxi Normal University


Sean Bates and Katherine Sperandio interviewing Graduate Students at Shaaxni Normal University. Photo taken by Sean Bates

 What is Higher Education… what does it mean to you? Was the questions asked of me and Katherine Sperandio during our interview with higher education students at Shaanxi Normal University.   Initially, I thought this question was odd coming from a graduate student in Higher Education, but I later realize like so many students in China and US who pursue graduate studies in higher education, they are often individuals who migrate into the field from other careers or disciplines.   As a professional with a health sciences background, I shared with the students my journey into higher education and what factors motivated me to pursue my advance degree.  During this exchange of ideas I shared with them that Higher education is only one of several disciplines in education.  I shared that students in Higher education, “often focused on leadership, some focused on research, looking at how student learn, student development, and some are interested in developing skills in budgeting, finance and human resources.”   I used the academic units at William and Mary: Curriculum and Instruction, School Psychology and Counseling Education programs to talk about how each of these discipline interact and collaborate to enhance student learning.  In reflecting on the questions asked, my response was more retrospective.  I shared with the students my perceived lack of knowledge of educational principles and theories, prior to taking courses in the program, but after taking a series of courses I felt that my knowledge, skills greatly improved and I was more aware of how my previous experiences interconnected with the professional goals I was pursuing.  Lam and Bengo (2003) uses a series of assessment tools to allow individuals to retrospectively assess their “own growth or change in attitude and knowledge in their learning”. So for me personally, I measured how well I did in my course work as a benchmark of my learning and then I integrated my new knowledge into a new career path.

From a counseling perspective Katherine shared  her perceptions of Higher Education as being “a discipline that trains students for more professional careers in administration assume position as a Dean, Professor… anyone in control of a university”.  I thought Katherine analysis of what Higher Education meant to her was reflective and showed how various disciplines, like counseling, curriculum and instructions and higher education all play a role in defining what education is all about and to showcase our commitment to adult learning.

Through these discussions I began to reflect how little I knew about counseling and the impact it has higher education.  I knew from my experience as an instructor the impact of psychological and academic problems can affect student learning.  My jaded view of counseling was more entrenched in psychological, health, safety issues and not so much on the financial needs of students or the increased demands for accountability and privacy.  From my classmates, I learned the difference between what constituted an emergency versus a crisis and began to use this new knowledge to frame how I would interact with my students in the future.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother component of counseling and higher education that fascinated me was the impact of globalization, specifically, the impact of international students on counseling services on college campuses.  In my discussion, so many of the students in China inspire to study abroad, many are impacted by limited opportunities due to competitiveness to obtain a student visa and cost.  Many of the students stated that having a study abroad experience would assist them in obtaining a good job and provide them with professional credentials that will set them apart from their peers.  Like so many recent graduates in the US, students in China also are struggling to find meaningful employment.

For students who are fortunate to obtain the opportunity to study abroad, many of them are not prepared for the cultural differences between the two countries, specifically in the areas of social and educational differences and the emotional issues that have associated with international education.  Mortenson (2006) provides a thorough overview of the academic stress and the impact on student health.  In his article, he suggests that international students are less likely to seek out help to address emotional issues, and often use avoidance as their coping mechanism.  As my classmates have learned, counseling in China is perceived differently and the depth, availability and value of its services are distorted.  So for international students it’s important for professionals in higher education to acknowledge the cultural stigma of counseling, understand that the value we place on counseling is different and be more aware of our international students need when they attend our institutions.

During our conversation with students at SNU it became apparent that neither of our Higher Education systems had a simple definition of higher education. China has a degree system similar to that in the US; however, the amount of time it takes one to earn a master’s degree depends upon the program one is enrolled in, but traditionally these degrees are often completed in two years, whereas based on our conversations with students at SNU the normal time to complete graduate (masters) work is three years.

Academic course load, student/faculty interactions and course assessment were other areas we discussed in our interviews.  For graduate students in US, a traditional course load is 3 course or 9 credit hours, but for many our counterparts in China, the course load varies from program and institution.  In my discussion with students at SNU it became apparent that although we had similarities in the length of courses, there were clear differences in the number courses taken per semester and frequency the class met.  In the video I captured with SNU students, Leslie Bohon asked students about their course requirements and the responses given to us was  very informative.

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Faculty Lecture Series

Prof at BNU

Photo taken by Sean Bates



Presentation: Higher Education in China – Dr. Liu Baocun, PhD
Professor- Beijing Normal University


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Dr. Baucon’s Presentation on the “Higher Education in China” provided a historical analysis of the establishment and development of the Chinese education system. His presentations focused on the classical higher education institutions (Confucius, etc.) and their impact on the training and selection scholars of that era. His discussion on the Four Books and the Five Classics provided a welcomed introduction to Confucianism. In his lecture he argues that the books focus on the core values and beliefs system of Confucius and his disciples and eventually served as the foundation for the civil examinations. In his transition to the modern higher education systems in China, he discusses the various models of education used in China the last two centuries.  Early in its inception, the country followed a Japanese Model, followed by a German, US and ended with the Soviet Union model, before the cultural revolution in 1966 and the higher education reform initiatives in 1978.  An interesting fact shared in this discussion was that in 1949 there were 205 Higher Education Institutions in China,  (49 universities, 28 technical, 61 private  and 21 missionary institutions),  today there are 2409 colleges and universities  (1129 four year institutions and 1280 two/three years school), which consists of 31.67 million enrolled students of which 1.6 million are graduate/doctoral students.  Later in the lecture he talks about various fields of studies, the impact of the national college entrance exam (common courses vs subject courses), the Chinese credit hour system, administrative structure of Higher education (trinity structure), the role of the Ministry of Education and the impact of the economy hindering students finding jobs.  I personally found his lecture to provided a comprehensive outline of the issues facing Higher education in china and offers some concrete suggestions on how changes in policies will improve education in the country, offer more autonomy  in the area of governance.  I elected to post his interview entirely, so viewers can make their own conclusion on where he sees china educational transiting to.




Presentation: Sociology in Higher Education –  Yahui Chang
Assistant Professor- Shaaxni Normal University


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While in Shaaxni Normal University, I felt we had more direct contact and interactions with the university senior administrators and staff.  We where great with a welcome banner from the university on the main educational building on campus.  The Dean through a translator (Associate Dean for .. ) talked about the rich history of  SNU and the impacts its student and alumni are making in the field of education.  The Dean talked about his life-long passion for promoting literacy in China and how he supports global education and students pursing graduate work.

As an institution, SNU employs 60 faculty who teach primarily in the areas of Special Education, Curriculum, Leadership and Pedaeology.  The institution has doctoral/ graduate programs in Early Childhood, Comparative and Higher Education and has undergraduate programs in Early Childhood and Special Education.  Each year they admitted 80-100 undergraduate students into their program and nearly 120 graduate students and 10-20 doctoral students.  SNU focus on global education is evident in the international relationships it has with various institutions in the US, and Canada.  The relationship they have with one Canadian university, allows 16 graduate students and 1 professional staff member to intern for one month at SNU.  The participants of this program work collaboratively with faculty at SNU and with their local partners to expose the students to Chinese peadology, culture and allow to the attend classes and present on areas of interest to the university community.

SNU requires all faculty to have one year of study abroad experience  either teaching or conducting research in order to be granted tenure.  In launching this new policy they have embarked on developing affiliation agreements with colleges and university across the global to foster  international exchange.  They focus these emerging partnerships on three specifics areas for this culture exchange: (1) Learning, (2) Teaching and (3) Research.  During our discussion we talked about the on-line education, relationship between graduate and doctoral students (do our graduate students work), whats the difference between PhD and EdD? ( how many in our group were pursing Masters vs PhD’s vs EdD’s), and we compared required course in the Higher Education programs.



Chinese Music and Art Impact on Education

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Although our primary focus in China was root in teaching and learning I would be remiss not to share how some of the cultural, visual and civilian interactions enhanced my learning.  It was during our visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing, a cold and windy morning that I would experience my first teachable moment of this trip.  As we walked along the interior walls of the city, we came across a group of musicians, a lively, cordial group of men in various stages of life, sharing their musical talents with the locals, and tourist alike.  Their songs told stories, some rooted in traditional hyperbole’s and others entrenched in literary and historical facts were my welcome song saying…  “Welcome to China/歡迎到中國來.  The sounds vibrating through the various instruments were unknown to me, but stuck a cord of inspiration and hope.  I recall asking our guide Robert Huang to share with me what he knew about the various instruments being played.  He immediately pointed to three men seating on window seal (pictures above) who he said were playing an instrument called an ERHU, similar to our violin, one was playing the Bangzi a percussion instrument, and one artist was playing the Pi Pa, a plucked string instrument, that resemble a hybrid between a banjo and guitar.  Because of our packed schedule for that day, I was only able to record a small piece of this musical opus, that I assume is played daily to the delights of tourist like myself and for their contemporaries and fellow musicians. 

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We also was exposed to various Chinese ethnic groups traditional dances.  Several members of our group Katherine and Richelle, elected to participate in this early morning dance routine.  Although, both had very little time to practice their routines, they embraced the challenge to learn a new form of art and show the rest of us that practice makes perfect.

In reflection, I wanted to learn more about Chinese musical instruments, but I also wanted to know how the Chinese people were preserving the historical knowledge of these cultural artifacts and whether the younger generations  still use these instruments and other forms of expression in their daily lives .   Intermediately throughout my interviews with students in China, I would randomly asked if any of them  played an instrument, many of them indicated that they did, the Pi Pa and the piano was often cited, however, my sample size was only 3 students.

It wasn’t until our trip in China was coming to a conclusion, that I was able to blend the musical and artists events  I participated in Beijing to the educational impact music has on teaching and learning.  In China music is an important tradition in the Chinese lifestyle.  In our campus tours we saw the images Confucius and Socrates was everywhere, their likeness was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdepicted in paintings, marble statues and instructional materials.  Confucius is considered great philosopher, educator and his philosophy; Confucian promotes the idea of “education for all” and lifelong learning.   Zhang (2008) examines the impact of Confucian principles on Adult learners, focusing on three distinct areas; (1) Pursuit of lifelong learning, (2) Teacher authority and (3) Collaborative learning.  The impact of Confucian is widely respected as a way of life in China.  Learning is seen a continuous process that is encouraged regardless of one’s financial or social status or age.  Under this doctrine, teachers are elevated to the highest levels of respect and acceptance. As gatekeepers of knowledge and skills they serve as the moral compass for parents and students.  As Zhang points out “the relationship between teachers and students is a vertical division, rather than a horizontal one.” he also talks about student learning and the methods by which they learn best, which he states is face-face mode of instruction.  Collaborative learning is another Confucian principle that focuses on “integration and harmony”, Zhang argues that an individual relationship with their family, class, society, etc. (group learning), is the best way to learn.  He later talks about the concept that Chinese people believe that “everyone is educable”, he uses the Confucian philosophy, highlight a widely accepted Chinese proverb “Effort can compensate for a lack of ability, diligence compensates for stupidity.”

My experience in China has allowed me to see the pedagogical benefits of promoting global education. Not only did I learn about another culture,  but I was able to emerge myself  in many culture opportunities.  The willingness of  the student and faculty at the three institutions was remarkable, whether it was the guided tours, the 1:1 conversations or the extensive conversation on our respective educational pursuits, i felt that each of us learned a great deal from each other.  In reflection, I wish we had more time to visit more rural locations in China.  I think having that perspective would have made this educational journey more complete.


Chickering, A.W.,& Gamson, Z.F.(Eds.).(1991). Applying the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education (New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 47). San Francisco, CA:   Jossey-Bass.

Lam, T. C. & Bengo, P. (2003). A comparison of three retrospective self-reporting methods of measuring  change in instructional practice. American Journal of Evaluation, 24(1), 65-80.

Mortenson, S. T. (2006). Cultural differences and similarities in seeking social support as a response to academic failure: A comparison of Chinese college students. Communication Education, 55, 127-146.

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Zhang, W. (2008). Conceptions of lifelong learning in Confucian culture: the impact on adult learners. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 27:5, 551-557.