Chinese whispers in Cross Cultural Perspectives

It’s January 2011. a good time for some reflection and action-taking. I certainly have resolutions and know, from the research that is done on the subject, that keeping a diary or at least plan my behaviour may help.


Since last year, I have been keen to evaluate if the materials that I teach actually affect the students’ thinking.  One of the challenges for this year is to convey the message I have intended for my students.  In order to evaluate this, I included a review exercise as part of the MBA assessment – students were required to evaluate the impact (or not) of the course ‘Cross Cultural Perspectives’ on their thinking and (potentially) practice. The course is part of ‘Management Perspectives’, which includes ethics, diversity, consultancy & entrepreneurship. It aims to add a philosophical perspective to the MBA experience.  The MBA is a great opportunity to take some time to reflect. MBA students often come in with an air of ‘you cannot tell me anything new’ (which makes me wonder why they’re there in the first place). But the whole point is to share experiences, reflect and discuss. This is their time to learn, reject/accept and evolve.

Unfortunately for me, the reviews mainly focused on a) the need to be aware that there are other nationalities and b) we all need to be politically correct/nice to one another. This wasn’t the lesson I intended. The five sessions focused on different aspects of management (economic crisis, marketing, negotiations, leadership) and the main topic throughout all of them was to encourage a) awareness of the subjectivity of best practice, b) critical thinking in terms of cognitive biases (mental short cuts like stereotyping) and c) the importance of cultural intelligence. As is evident, this doesn’t quite match the main themes from students’ reviews (despite that they were encouraged to think critically, feel comfortable to be critical and were given a template with an example). So, back to the drawing board.

Perhaps I am dealing with a cultural difference; the students (none were British/Western European/American) may not be familiar with the pedagogic practice of  criticising the facilitator. I’ll try again at the end of the year, when they almost finished their entire MBA to see if a) cross cultural perspectives made an impact (self reflection) and b) they retained the core 3 messages (do they incorporate the knowledge into the presentation on their project?). A bit like the Theory of Planned Behaviour with an intervention…

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Nathalie,
    I guess your frustration with the critical assessment reflects human capacities of attention and processing. We often only reflect critically when forced too (e.g., when studying for an exam or when trying to solve a problem for which we need some knowledge). I think those results are actually quite encouraging and reflect positively on your course. These students come together from many different cultural and economic backgrounds, they study and learn together and share their experiences and thoughts. Your course gives them the space to explore their differences and similarities. This is the most salient experience for them and I think it reflects positively on your course.
    On the issue of critical thinking, a student of mine (Vivian Lun) and me examined the widely held assumption that Asian students show limitations in their critical thinking skills. Using a number of samples and measures, we found very little evidence of substantive differences. The small differences that we encountered were due to language difficulties (problems with English as a foreign language). More importantly, critical thinking helped both Western and non-Western students to the same extent to get better grades at the end of the course.
    Have a look at
    Lun, V.M.C., Fischer, R., & Ward, C. (2010). Exploring cultural differences in critical thinking: Is it about my thinking style or the language I speak? Learning and Individual Differences, 20, 604-616. Doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2010.07.001

    Happy 2011! 🙂

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