the Western Education System - Teaching & Learning

Welcome to the University of Tasmania (UTAS). UTAS is an international
university with students in many countries of the world. These countries include:
China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. UTAS students are,
therefore, members of a global community. We hope you will find your time
studying with us both challenging and rewarding.
The booklet contains information and activities designed to help you understand
more about:
the Western education system in general
teaching and learning obligations of UTAS students and staff
learning and study skills necessary for success at UTAS
Specific information relating to administrative procedures (such as enrolment, email
access, and exam results) will be found in another location. Please ask your Unit coordinator/UTAS visiting lecturer about this.
We understand that many of the teaching and learning situations you will experience
while studying at UTAS will be quite different from those you have experienced in
your previous education. Learning how to participate successfully in a new
education system can be challenging. It takes a lot of time and effort - from both staff
and students. But there are many rewards that come with this time and effort.
Staff at UTAS are committed to helping you learn about the different ways of
teaching and learning in a Western education system. We want to help you succeed. It
is important for you, too, to spend some time learning about the differences. You can
master the differences with dedicated time and effort and genuine motivation to
We encourage you to see your time at UTAS as an important cultural learning
opportunity. The Western education system will help you develop the knowledge
and skills essential for participating in a global community. It is an alternative way of
teaching and learning. It is not a replacement for your education system. By the time
you have finished your studies at UTAS you will be familiar with two different
systems of education. You will be educationally ‘bi-cultural’.
Here are some suggestions to help you learn about the Western education system:
1. Read about the differences between the education system you have
experienced most of your lives and the education system in which you will
participate as a student at UTAS. Reading the information and completing the
activities presented in this booklet is an important start.
2. Listen to people who talk to you about teaching and learning at UTAS. These
people might include your visiting UTAS lecturer, other students from your
country who have studied with UTAS or in similar Western education
systems or lecturers and tutors from your own country who have
experienced alternative systems of education.
3. Practise the behaviours that are expected of you as a UTAS student. Be
committed to learning about the behaviours that will help bring you success at
UTAS. (You might like to use the ‘Checklist of Successful Student
Behaviours’ included in this booklet).
Different cultures have different attitudes towards knowledge and learning. They
approach learning in different ways. The way you think and learn has been
influenced by your culture. The way that teaching and learning occurs at UTAS is a
reflection of Western culture. This section will highlight some of the key differences
that exist in higher education in terms of attitudes and approaches to knowledge and
Ryan (2000) suggests that there are three main ways that cultures differ in higher
1. Relationships in the learning environment
2. Learning styles and approaches to learning
3. Attitudes to knowledge and learning
Each of these areas will be explored in greater detail below. Examples will be given
from Western cultures and other cultures.
*** (The points made below are generalisations only. All cultures are different and
individuals behave differently within each culture).
Relationships in the learning environment
Western cultures
Teachers expect students to be independent. This means that students are
expected to take control of their own learning. Students are not dependent
upon their teachers for their success.
Students can initiate or start conversation.
Teachers and students have an informal way of relating to each other.
Teachers are not always automatically respected. They earn respect from
Students can question and challenge teachers and their classmates (in an
appropriate way).
Other cultures
Teachers take control of the teaching and leaning process.
Students are used to high levels of personal support and assistance from
their teachers, both in class and with assignments.
Teachers and students have a formal way of relating to each other.
Students show great respect for their teachers.
Students do not refer to their teachers by their first name.
Students do not question or challenge their teachers or their classmates.
Learning styles and approaches to learning
Western cultures
Learning is student-centred.
Students work independently on assignments.
Students engage in critical thinking. This means that students do more than
reproduce knowledge; they question and challenge the ideas of others and
forward their own opinions and ideas.
The role of the student is to understand, think deeply about and make sense
of information.
Teachers will not tell students the ‘correct answer’. Many different ‘answers’
might be provided by the teacher and students are expected to reach their own
Many different forms of assessment are used.
Being a successful student means being able to think critically about others’
ideas and be creative and original in constructing new ways of thinking.
The approach to learning that is expected of Western students is often called
‘deep learning’.
Other cultures
Learning is teacher-centred.
Students tend to rely on teachers to transmit (tell or provide) information.
Students are used to teachers telling them the ‘correct answer’.
The role of students is to accumulate knowledge.
Students tend to rely on memorising information (sometimes called a ‘surface
learning’ approach).
Students tend to reproduce the information and knowledge that has been
passed on to them by their teachers.
Students work collectively in study groups.
Students believe that they will be successful if they work hard.
Exams and tests usually form a major part of the assessment.
The approach to learning of students in these cultures is often called ‘surface
Attitudes to knowledge and learning
Western cultures
Ideas can be owned. This is called intellectual property.
The ideas of others need to be acknowledged. This means giving
information about who ‘owns’ the idea). If the source of ideas is not
acknowledged it is considered a form of academic dishonesty. This is called
plagiarism. Plagiarism is stealing someone else’s ideas and pretending they
are your own.
Other cultures
No-one can ‘own’ knowledge. Knowledge is owned collectively.
Students are free to reproduce, in their assignments, the ideas of their teachers
and the ideas found in sacred writings without acknowledgement or saying
where the ideas came from.
It is considered disrespectful to tell teachers the source of ideas. It is
expected that teachers already know this.
(Based on Ballard & Clanchy, 1997 and Ryan, 2000).
All of the points above are discussed in more detail in the rest of this booklet.
** It is important to note that Western students, too, have to learn about the
teaching and learning expectations in Western higher education. They, too, have
to learn about the ‘rules’ for acknowledging other people’s work and how to
think critically, for example. It is not only transnational students who have to
learn these things. Nor are all Western students effective at managing their own
time or working independently. ALL students, regardless of their culture, can
learn different approaches to thinking and learning. This is especially true when
they are self-motivated and when staff provide the appropriate support for them.
Becoming an independent learner
In some education systems the teacher is primarily in control of what is learnt, when
it is learnt and how it is learnt. The teacher makes most of the decisions for students;
they initiate almost all of the conversation. Another way of describing this situation is
to say that teachers have an active role and students have a passive role. This type of
education is teacher-centred.
In Western education systems this won’t happen. Teachers will guide and support
students, but they will not tell students what, when and how to learn. Western
education is student-centred. Students are expected to have an active role in their
own education; they are expected to be independent learners.
What does ‘independent learner’ mean?
Being an independent learner means taking responsibility for your own studies and
learning. Independent learners rely on themselves to achieve success with their
education. They do not rely on the teacher to make them successful.
Specifically, being an independent learner means:
Knowing where, when and how to ask for help with your studies. Teachers
will not ask you if you need help with your studies. They will expect you to
ask them if you need help.
Organising your own study time so that assignments are submitted by the due
date. Teachers will not remind you when assignments are due. They will
expect you to know that and submit them on time.
Knowing what your preferred learning style is and using this to help you with
your studies. See the section in this booklet titled ‘What is my Preferred
Learning Style?’. For example, if you discover that you learn best through
listening, then you make the decision to tape record lectures. It isn’t the
teacher’s responsibility to make audiotapes for you.
Making your own decisions about which books and articles. to read for
assignments. Teachers will provide you with guidelines and suggestions for
reading, but it is up to you to decide which material to choose and use in your
Setting your own personal goals and being determined to meet them. For
example, ‘I’m not confident about essay writing. I want to learn as much as I
can about essay writing this semester. I will find out how to do this.’
Making a commitment to thoroughly understand the information presented
in lectures, tutorials and in your reading for assignments. Independent learners
want to understand; they want to participate and engage in learning. When
they write down lecture notes with or make notes from reading, they want to
think deeply about what those notes actually mean. They want to think
deeply about points that are discussed in tutorials.
Using the feedback you receive from teachers on your assignments to help
you make plans for improving your work. For example, if your teacher writes
this on your assignment: ‘You need to include a conclusion in your next
report’, you should find out what a conclusion is and how to write one. The
teacher will not find you and teach you this skill. This is your responsibility.
You can seek out your teacher and ask for help.
Practising new skills that have been taught. Independent learners practise in
their own time. It does not have to be part of an assignment. They practise
because they want to improve. Independent learners understand that they learn
by doing.
Finding out more information about a topic. It does not have to be part of an
assignment. Independent learners want to find out more information because
they are genuinely interested in discovering more about the topic.
Discussing studies with classmates, friends, family and teachers. Talking
helps with understanding.
Reflecting on your own learning. This means thinking about yourself and
your university studies. For example, you might think about what you are
succeeding in and what you need to improve upon. Reflecting also means
trying to decide why you might find some areas of your study difficult and
some areas easy. This is related to understanding your own learning style.
Finally, reflecting means deciding what action to take. What can you do to
change some things that are causing you problems at the moment? What can
you do to ensure that your successes continue?
If you haven’t had much practice at being an independent learner it may take you
some time to get used to this way of learning. The most important thing to try and
change first is your attitude. You must decide, in your own mind, that you can take
responsibility for your own learning – that to do so is challenging and very rewarding.
You must try to stop seeing the teacher as the person who determines your success.
You determine your success at UTAS.
What are the advantages of being an independent learner?
Cooper (2003) suggests that employers rank university graduates more highly than
non-graduates. This is because university students have developed the ability to take
responsibility to for their own lives. At university students learn how to organise
their own lives, time, study and learning. These are important skills in the workplace.
To function successfully in a global workplace, employees need to be able to:
work unsupervised
set their own goals and work towards achieving those goals
be flexible
continually up-date their knowledge and skills.
Learning how to be an independent learner at university helps you develop those
skills that employers value. These skills help you function successfully and
productively, not only in the workplace, but in all areas of your life.
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