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Crossing borders: Professor teaches scholarly life, academic English in China

Professor Teaches Scholarly Life, Academic English in China
New global collaboration with Wuhan University underway

An international collaboration with Wuhan University got underway in May/June with the arrival of a Warner School of Education faculty member on the campus of one of China’s most prestigious universities. Nancy Ares, associate professor in teaching and curriculum, had the honor of being the first Warner faculty member to teach at Wuhan University.
With the global push for Chinese scholars to write and publish in English, Ares designed a new course in scholarly life and academic writing in English to support Wuhan graduate students’ development of experience and expertise in international academic settings. The graduate-level course was offered to two cohorts, totaling more than 60 master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral students from multiple disciplines spanning education, philosophy, information science, medicine, and pharmacy, from May 21 to June 10.

Students at Wuhan UniversityThroughout the three-week course, students engaged in activities grounded in the academic practices of their fields or disciplines. Class assignments provided students with opportunities to participate in formal, hands-on academic practices, such as preparing for conferences, publication, and presentations. Assignments were written and presented in English to support students’ development of academic English speaking, listening, and writing. For some students, these assignments were submitted to publications and conferences, while others were preparing for the future.
Each class was organized into three 45-minute sessions that consisted of:  lectures and demonstrations; workshops and small-group work: and conversation time among students, providing them with opportunities to talk about their research in English. Warner Professor Mary Jane Curry’s book, A Scholars Guide to Publishing in English: Critical Choices and Practical Strategies, helped to lay the foundation for the development of the course, which was taught entirely in English.   

According to Ares, there was a lot of negotiation and navigating of American and Chinese academic cultures for both her and the students enrolled in the course. When Ares arrived, she found that Wuhan students were accustomed to more lecture-based instruction, which was very different from Ares’s teaching style back in the U.S. Together, they went from a mostly lecture-based start to a more discussion-based finish. Based on the feedback that Ares received from students, they appreciated the new structure of the course.
Nancy Ares with Wuhan University students“The students have been studying English for years, but they don’t always get a lot of time to practice speaking the English language,” Ares explains. “It was a safe environment for them to speak in English, and they really valued that.”
Wuhan students were not the only ones who benefitted from this international collaboration. With this being Ares’s first time in China, she learned a lot about the Chinese culture. She also gained a better understanding of the fundamental role that scholarship and knowledge production play in education in China.
Nancy Ares with Wuhan University students“It’s such a rich and ancient culture—that was clear to me,” says Ares. “The valuing of intellectual pursuits in the culture is profound,” says Ares, “and the cultural norms and traditions are vastly different in China. The reverence for professors and the many generations of positioning scholars as valued was something I really took away from this experience.”

Raffaella Borasi, Frederica Warner Professor, and Hairong Shang-Butler ‘15W (PhD), assistant professor, are the impetus behind this budding partnership—a collaboration that will afford teaching and research opportunities to both scholars and students at Wuhan University and the Warner School.  Shang-Butler, an alumna of Wuhan University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English language and literature, was one of Ares’s graduate advisees during her doctoral study at Warner. A liaison with a strong connection to her first alma mater, Shang-Butler was instrumental in proposing the course’s focus and identifying Ares as an ambassador who has the expertise to support Wuhan students in writing and speaking in English.

Wuhan UniversityAres toured the Wuhan University campus and familiarized herself with the nuances of the Chinese higher education system, as well as gained insight into the culture and the city, its communities, and its people. She also traveled to locations of importance to the Wuhan University and local Chinese communities, such as the Great Wall, museums, and temples, to name a few. The Dragon Boat Festival, a 2,300-year old tradition in ancient China where people dress in dragon heads, tails, and scales and race dragon boats, exposed her to new Chinese rituals and foods at one family’s celebration.

Ares started to develop a cross-cultural understanding that she believes will be helpful to her graduate students at Warner. “I have a comparison now that I can bring into my teaching,” notes Ares, who has had to navigate a culture very different from her own. “We have a lot of students from China in our Warner classes, so I have a much deeper understanding of their background and experiences traveling to and studying in a new country.”
Nancy Ares with Wuhan University studentsAs part of the new collaboration, Wuhan University will send one of its faculty members to the Warner School in August to conduct research during the upcoming academic year. Both institutions hope to have similar future exchanges, collaborating on curriculum development, teacher preparation, and education research. 
Similar agreements supporting global collaborations and exchanges among faculty and students are also underway with Nanjing Normal University in China and Tecnologico de Monterrey University in Mexico. As more students from all areas of the world are coming to study at the Warner School, this initiative aims to create supports at Warner that will help to provide the best experience possible to international students.