Is financial reward overriding good pedagogical practices?

Author:Walker, Elizabeth A.
Position:Report
 
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Enrolments by international students in Australian universities have boomed over recent years, especially in postgraduate courses. In many cases these students struggle to meet the standard that their teachers expect. This is often because of poor English combined with a limited understanding of the teachers 'cultural expectations. Rather than lamenting their students 'inadequacies, the present authors embedded an academic skills segment in one of the introductory units that they teach in a postgraduate MBA program. This resulted in a statistically significant reduction in plagiarism among the students who participated in the unit.

INTRODUCTION

Postgraduate business education has become a very important financial stream for most tertiary institutions particularly in the Master of Business Administration (MBA). (1) MBA courses have become a global commodity with universities not only plying their trade overseas and teaching off shore but also marketing the courses in foreign countries to attract international students to come and study at the home campuses of the institutions. In theory this should be a win-win for all concerned in that the universities gel the income and the international students get a postgraduate qualification from an overseas university. However, this basic commercial transaction assumes that the international students have the academic competencies necessary to undertake postgraduate studies in an overseas institution where instruction is typically in another language, in this case English.

What is becoming increasingly evident is that this assumption of academic competence is incorrect and that in reality many international students struggle to meet the academic standards and expectations of the overseas universities, (2) as indeed do many local students. For international students this situation is further compounded by the social and cultural shock they experience by moving to another country, with little or no time to acclimatise prior to commencing their studies. So we posed two questions. Firstly, do we start to address the poor academic competencies of international students, or just hope that 'she'll be right' and that learning by osmosis will eventually occur? Secondly, do we continue to promote technology as the way forward and assume that this will also overcome language and cultural barriers? This paper explores current practices in business higher education and offers an alternative educational solution, based on a management theory and practice.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The teacher-student/master-apprentice dyad has been the educational convention used since time immemorial. Historically the teacher/master was the resource. In recent times technology has been used in an attempt to advance learning practices but the real contribution of technology is perhaps overestimated and often the way it is used does not develop deep learning. (3) Traditionally, the teacher found the ability level of each student and worked towards improving that by offering learning challenges and personal experiences to progress the students to the next level. While the amount of information provided might have been less than is currently available to students, the teacher provided depth of learning to the student. This was very much a personal approach to education.

Over time, books and other resources have been introduced into education to allow students to learn more, in different ways, and at their own convenience. Self-directed learning moves the emphasis and responsibility away from the teacher and onto the student. This approach has grown exponentially with the development of technology. Technology has facilitated an increase in available resources. An outcome has been a move away from the personal approach of the teacher to the impersonal approach of cyberspace. Technology has also increased the volume of information available. There is so much information out there but of what quality? Furthermore, how capable are international students of filtering this enormous volume of information to determine what is most relevant and of best fit to advance their learning and academic performance?

As quantity is substituted for quality and the transition from a personal to an impersonal approach has occurred, it has been assumed that students will still be able to achieve deep learning outcomes by availing themselves of all cyber resources. The question is, however, do students know what they need to know and do they make use of all the cyber resources provided to help them develop their academic competencies in the most efficient and effective way? Furthermore, even if they do avail themselves of these cyber resources, do they understand the linkage between knowledge and academic skills development to enable deep learning and successful academic performance? We believe the answer is no. As Bretag states: 'Telling an international EAL [English as an additional language] student who is having difficulty writing an assignment to go to the university website and download a 15-page document on essay writing is clearly not providing meaningful support'. (4)

We hypothesised that students do not use all of the resources made available to them. A possible reason is that they do not know what they do not know and, if the Johari Awareness Model (5) was used, most of these students would fall into the fourth quadrant (that is the unknown quadrant--which reflects behaviours, feelings and motivations known to neither the self or other parties). Because of this they do not know where to start. Also, they have limited understanding of how the different resources fit together to support and develop those academic skills that can enhance academic performance. This results in a lose-lose situation for everyone. In this environment students can and do get frustrated and, as a result, staff may bear the brunt of the student's ire in unit evaluations.

What seems to have been the case to date is that the problem of the poor academic skills of international students is seen as an educational/linguistics/learning style issue, (6) therefore solutions are sought in the educational/linguistics/learning literature. This is clearly a factor but we believe an even more fundamental factor is the quantity and quality of academic assistance given. We propose looking at this problem from a work performance perspective using management literature as the lens rather than purely an educational/linguistics/learning perspective.

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