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  • Matthew Hora

First reactions to China/Chinese Higher Ed

While I'm not planning on doing an extensive travel blog here, I'll start these posts with some quick observations about China in general and then more about what I'm learning about higher education here in China. First off, I'm on the front end of a 2 week trip to China, with the first week in Beijing meeting w/HE scholars to talk about trends and issues in the country, and the second week in Qingdao where I'll be collecting data as part of a pilot study on education-workforce relations there.

Some quick observations about Beijing:

1. Little dogs are everywhere. Well coifed, peeing all over, and really all over the place.

2. Never seen so many variations on 2 or 3-wheeled vehicles. Motorized produce carriers, electric bikes, many looking 40 years old, no helmets in sight, and many careening through ancient alleys at 25 mph.

3. Super friendly people for the most part. Stopped about 10 strangers yesterday getting lost on campus of Tsinghua University, all tried to be helpful to this sweaty foreigner.

4. Smog: looks like LA did when I was growing up there in the 1970s, but worse. I feel for the people here, especially the kids.

5. Some places are saturated with history. Being here reminds me of Jerusalem in many ways, with the walls so old and witnesses to so much, it's in the air.

On Chinese HE, I passed a classroom yesterday in what looked like the Education building, and a room with 100+ students were all nose deep in their folders, listening to the professor profess. A truly classic lecture. My sense was that if he was interrupted by a question, he wouldn't have been to psyched. Why does this matter? Because I'd just ended a conversation with a colleague about the growing interest in active learning pedagogies, flipped classrooms, replacing lectures with more hands-on, engaging teaching that are sweeping Chinese HE, due in part to the government's recognition that they need more "innovative thinkers."

Whether this means more entrepreneurial students and academics, or more critical thinkers, is something I need to figure out, as the latter of course are key to the former, with creative problem solvers and technicians being something of a necessary ingredient to many companies R&D departments.

I've got another meeting today and a research talk of my work in Wisconsin, and hopefully that will clear some things up. Though its tough, having little documentation (in English) available on these matters, very little web presence, and a nagging feeling that (as in the US in many ways) the official line may not be exactly what is happening in the classroom, in students' lives, and inside the business community.

Statue of famous poet Wen Yiduo at Tsinghua Univ

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