What works at mainland universities may not be as effective in Hong Kong.
Since the 1990s, China has attracted considerable global attention with its rapid economic development and the expansion of its higher education system. Starting in 1999, China transitioned from a system geared to educating the elite to one that reaches a broader population. To cope with growing numbers of students, the country has had to expand university faculties by adding young and comparatively inexperienced instructors. When these new teachers are paired with students who are often passive rote learners, the result is a challenging teaching and learning environment.
Our study investigated relationships between different approaches to teaching and learning and student satisfaction. We focused on construction engineering education because it is a major program of study in China.
In particular, we sought to examine the differences in teaching approaches between Hong Kong and mainland China, and their impact on the learning process. Due to an intertwined history with the United Kingdom, Hong Kong’s educational programs have been modeled after the British system, while universities in mainland China have a significantly different educational heritage. The popular approach to teaching in mainland China remains a teacher-centered one. Hong Kong, by contrast, emphasizes both teacher-centered and student-centered strategies.
Teaching can be considered a simple matter of transferring knowledge or shaping students, or it can be understood as a complex matter in which the teacher and student share a journey of mutual growth to gain knowledge and to develop. The former approach is teacher-centered, based on content-oriented instruction, while the latter is student-centered, using learning-oriented instruction.
Learning, on the other hand, involves two main dimensions, motivation and strategies, each of which has various approaches. A student’s motivation can be intrinsic—that is, engaging willingly in tasks; extrinsic—seeking to obtain a passing grade with minimal effort; or achievement oriented—seeking high marks. Similarly, learning strategies can be deep—that is, striving for meaning and understanding; surface—seeking rote knowledge; or achievement-oriented—applying any method to optimize final marks. Different learning motivations can produce different learning strategies or behaviors, and subsequently produce different learning outcomes.
Our study revealed interesting differences in student reactions. In Hong Kong, where both teacher-centered and student-centered strategies are employed, teacher-centered instruction correlated with surface or achievement-learning strategies, while student-centered teaching correlated with deep learning strategies. This was not the case in mainland China, however. There, the predominant educational strategy, teacher-centered instruction, correlated with deep learning strategies. Indeed, students in the mainland Chinese programs, and especially those in what are considered the top 10 universities, were less satisfied with a student-centered orientation, as opposed to their counterparts in Hong Kong.
For reasons not yet clear, it appears that mainland Chinese students are somewhat indifferent to teaching approaches and naturally employ deep learning approaches in their studies.
Both teacher-centered and student-centered teaching approaches have their merits. The results of this study suggest that educators in mainland China can apply various teaching methods in the construction education process. Since the student-centered approach produces deep learning strategies in Hong Kong, and students there are generally satisfied with this approach, it is recommended that Hong Kong educators apply this approach through problem-based learning, interdisciplinary team projects and action learning.
Mei-yung Leung is an assistant professor in the Department of Building and Construction at the City University of Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China. Xinhong Lu is an associate professor in the School of Real Estate at Shanghai University, PRC. This article is adapted from “Impacts of Teaching Approaches on Learning Approaches of Construction Engineering Students: A Comparative Study between Hong Kong and Mainland China” in the April, 2008 Journal of Engineering Education.