Advertisement

Higher Education

, Volume 77, Issue 5, pp 831–852 | Cite as

Exploring current Chinese higher education pedagogic tensions through an activity theory lens

  • Llandis Barratt-PughEmail author
  • Fang Zhao
  • Zhaoyong Zhang
  • Shasha Wang
Article

Abstract

In this paper we investigate the current tensions for pedagogic change in the Chinese higher education system, and explore how the intricate interplay between the stakeholder relationships drives and mediates the system, and impacts on potential pedagogy. To achieve these goals, this study takes an inductive theory-building approach to gather the unique perceptions of 66 Chinese academics, and critically analyses the findings based through an Activity Theory framework. The findings indicate that institutional pedagogy is driven generally by regulated knowledge sources, knowledge dissemination, student compliance, parental expectations, examination achievement and pastoral care. The academics were enthusiastic about introducing more interactive, self-paced, authentic and web-based pedagogy, but continually indicated how traditional practice, social expectations, local regulations and economic restraints would frustrate reforming practices. The findings also show how pedagogic reform confronts existing subjectivity, and emphasise the importance of building and disseminating a rationale for changing prior to any pedagogic innovation. The Activity Theory framework demonstrates how potential pedagogic change has to be preceded by changing the understanding of stakeholders about the new goals and practices of learning. This study and the results have important implications for restructuring and reforming Chinese higher education system to meet future global and societal demands.

Keywords

Activity theory Chinese higher education Pedagogic change Higher education system change Cultural subjectivity 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank the 66 Chinese scholars who participated and contributed to this study. They also wish to acknowledge the financial support from Edith Cowan University.

References

  1. Beer, M., Eisenstatt, A., & Spector, B. (1993). In C. Mabey & W. B. Mayon White (Eds.), Why change programmes don’t produce change (2nd ed., pp. 99–107). Buckingham: The Open University.Google Scholar
  2. Behrend, M. B. (2014). Engeström’s activity theory as a tool to analyse online resources embedding academic literacies. Journal of Academic Language & Learning, 8(1), A109–A120.Google Scholar
  3. Carlsson, F., He, H., & Martinsson, P. (2013). Easy come, easy go: The role of windfall money in lab and field experiments. Experimental Economics, 16(2), 190–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davidov, V. V. (1990). Types of generalisation in instruction. Reston: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
  5. Ellis, V., Edwards, A., & Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.). (2010). Cultural historical perspectives on teacher education and development: Learning teaching. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Ellis, V., McNicholl, J., Blake, A., & McNally, J. (2011). The work of teacher education: Final research report for the Higher Education Academy. Bristol: ESCalate Subject Centre for Education.Google Scholar
  7. Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.Google Scholar
  8. Engestrom, Y. (1999). Expansive learning theory at work. Keynote address, 7th International Post Compulsory Education and Training Conference, Changing practice through research proceedings, Centre for Learning and Work, 3/5th December, Griffith University, Surfers Paradise, Queensland.Google Scholar
  9. Glaser, B. G. (1968). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Google Scholar
  10. Glaser, B. G. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity: Advances in the methodology of grounded theory. Mill Valley: Sociology Press.Google Scholar
  11. Glaser, B. G. (1992). Basics of grounded theory analysis. Mill Valley: Sociology Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hasan, H. (1999). Integrating IS and HCI using AT as a philosophical and theoretical basis. Australian Journal of Information Systems, 6(2), 44–55.Google Scholar
  13. Hasan, H., & Kazlauskas, A. (2014). Activity theory: Who is doing what, why and how. In H. Hasan (Ed.), Being practical with theory: A window into business research (pp. 9–14). Wollongong: THEORI.Google Scholar
  14. Healey, N. M. (2008). Is higher education really internationalising? Higher Education, 55(3), 333–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hofstede, G. (2010). Culture and Organisations; software of the mind. New York: MacGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  16. Kanter, R. M. (1992). The challenge of organisational change and how companies experience it. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  17. Kotter, J. (1996). Leading change. Brighton: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kuutti, K. (1996). Activity theory as a potential framework for human-computer interaction research. In B. Nardi (Ed.), Context and consciousness: activity theory and human computer interaction (pp. 17-44). Cambridge: MIT Press 1995.Google Scholar
  19. Li, M., & Bray, M. (2007). Cross-border flows of students for higher education: Push–pull factors and motivations of mainland Chinese students in Hong Kong and Macau. Higher Education, 53(6), 791–818 Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Liu, J. (2012). Examining massification policies and their consequences for equality in Chinese higher education: A cultural perspective. Higher Education, 64(5), 647–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Malhotra, N. (2013). Basic marketing research: Pearson International edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Marginson, S. (2011). Higher education in East Asia and Singapore: Rise of the Confucian model. Higher Education, 61(5), 587–611 Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McConnell, D. (2018). E-learning in Chinese higher education: the view from inside. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research, 75(6), 1031–1045.Google Scholar
  24. Murphy, E., & Rodriguez-Manzanares, M. A. (2008). Using activity theory and its principle of contradictions to guide research in educational technology. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 24(4), 442–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Oswald, M., & Engelbrecht, P. (2013). Leadership in disadvantaged primary schools: Two narratives of contrasting schools. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 41(5), 620–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pham, T. (2016). Student-centredness: Exploring the culturally appropriate pedagogical space in vietnamese higher education classrooms using activity theory. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(1).  https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2016v41n1.1.
  27. Slaughter, S., & Leslie, L. L. (1997). Academic capitalism: Politics, policies, and the entrepreneurial university. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Procedures and techniques for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Thanh Pham, T. H., & Renshaw, P. (2015). Formative assessment in Confucian heritage culture classrooms: Activity theory analysis of tensions, contradictions and hybrid practices. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(1), 45–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Toulmin, S. (1999). Knowledge as shared procedures. In Y. Engeström, R. Miettinen, & R. Punamaki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory (pp. 70–86). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tsui, A., & Law, D. (2007). Learning as boundary crossing in School University partnership. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(8), 1289–1301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Van der Veer, R., & Valsiner, J. (1991). Understanding Vygotsky: A quest for synthesis. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Vavrus, F., & Bartlett, L. (2012). Comparative pedagogies and epistemological diversity: Social and materials contexts of teaching in Tanzania. Comparative Education Review, 56(4), 634–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press Original work published 1933.Google Scholar
  35. Wang, L., & Byram, M. (2011). ‘But when you are doing your exams it is the same as in China’–Chinese students adjusting to western approaches to teaching and learning. Cambridge Journal of Education, 41(4), 407–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Waycott, J., Jones, A., & Scanlon, E. (2005). Using a PDA as a learning or workplace tool. Learning, Media and Technology, 30(2), 107–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wilson, V. (2014). Examining teacher education through cultural historical activity theory. TEAN Journal, 6(1), 20–29.Google Scholar
  38. Zaja, E. J., & Krattz, J. L. (1993). A diametric force model of strategic change: Assessing the antecedents and consequences of restructuring the higher education industry. Strategic Management Journal, 14, 83–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zha, Q. (2009). Diversification or homogenization: How governments and markets have combined to (re) shape Chinese higher education in its recent massification process. Higher Education, 58(1), 41–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Zhang, A., Hua, J., & Yi, L. (2012). Contemporary Chinese public relations education: Development and challenges. Asian Journal of Communication, 22(4), 386–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zhao, H., Chen, L., & Panda, S. (2014). Self-regulated learning ability of Chinese distance learners. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(5), 941–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Business and LawEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia
  2. 2.UWA Business SchoolUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

Personalised recommendations