Academic Hero (学霸)

There are ongoing challenges for both academics and students because of the diversities in tertiary classrooms (Heng, 2021). Chinese international students experience academic stress (Yan & Berliner, 2010) and can struggle to make a successful transition from the Chinese educational system and pedagogical practices into Western tertiary classrooms and learning environments (Jiang & Smith, 2009). Western teachers encounter difficulties when addressing Chinese international students’ learning needs and concerns (Summers & Volet, 2008). Chinese international students are often categorised as rote learners (Watkins & Biggs, 1996), passive learners (Clark & Gieve, 2006), and as a “problematic” group (Tan, 2011).

The Chinese Commerce Academic Development (CCAD) model has provided a hybrid method in supporting Chinese international students in a Western classroom. Research discussed here on the efficacy of CCAD has recently been published in the Journal of International Students (Xu & Keevers, 2022).

How the CCAD model works

The CCAD is an informal, voluntarily organised, bilingual, peer teaching program for Chinese international students in the Business Faculty at a regional university in NSW. All the CCAD leaders – “academic heroes” – are high-achieving students in the Faculty of Business, and include Higher Degree Research students, Dean’s scholars and casual academic tutors. The CCAD classes are bilingual and are conducted in English and Mandarin, with Mandarin being the principal language used. CCAD classes involve deliberate re-teaching of academic content covered in lectures and tutorials. A typical CCAD class combines aspects of lectures and tutorials; the leaders run through prepared slides in lecture or tutorial rooms. 

What is an Academic Hero – Xueba (学霸)?

Chinese students call their CCAD leaders “Xueba” (学霸), or in English “academic hero”, to show their respect. A typical Xueba (学霸) is:

  • from a Chinese background;
  • uses Chinese slang and case study examples;
  • has experience studying in Australia;
  • has familiarity with institutional practices and Australian culture;
  • possesses a sense of humour;
  • uses classroom practices such as drawing diagrams in Chinese and English;
  • uses illustrations from Chinese contexts; and
  • has fluency in accountancy and finance practices and theories and in English and Chinese pedagogy.

All these characteristics play a role in their ability as leaders. Particularly,  Xueba (学霸) has a strong, embedded social and cultural understanding that comes through in their sense of humour and the way that they interact with students. For example, Xueba (学霸) were able to allude to filial practices by teasing the students, suggesting ironically that they spend their time watching movies rather than studying and that if their parents knew they would be in trouble.

Research findings

The bilingual approach utilised by the CCAD leaders helped to interpret subject materials for Chinese students in their first language, and this was perceived to offer great comfort to students who felt unsure and/or anxious about content, assessment tasks and exams (Cui et al., 2015). The CCAD leaders skilfully applied Chinese examples and strategically used Mandarin in communicating the complex concepts and meanings in core subjects to ensure students’ understanding. This approach tackles the issues Chinese students have due to the norms and conventions that are embedded in Western cultural values and beliefs (Wang, 2012), such as how to ask questions and join discussions.

The CCAD acts as a bridge which enables students to have a transitional pathway into Western learning environments. The CCAD leaders capably employed a hybrid pedagogical approach that not only includes Confucian pedagogy, but also the fundamental elements of acquisition, transmission, and constructivist approaches. The acquisition and transmission approach could be seen in how the students are explicitly taught how to answer exam questions and to pass exams.

The CCAD leaders and Chinese international students co-constructed this model which builds strong connections and establishes trust interrelationships between the leaders and the students in a situated learning environment (Yakhlef, 2010). Within this community, students’ educational and sociocultural practices merged and became entangled with their peers and teachers and were socially and collectively constructed and co-constructed in their learning (Xu, 2019). The CCAD environment helped students to soften cultural shock and smoothen intercultural adjustments (Lin, 2006).

What is next?

Next steps for the initiative include introducing the CCAD model into some core first year subjects’ curriculum. To support this, the team is developing bilingual lectures in these core subjects and conducting Western pedagogical practices workshops to make the first-year transition less complicated for Chinese international students.

We also plan to provide training to the “academic heroes” on how the CCAD model works and to demonstrate how this hybrid pedagogical method bridging transmission, acquisition, and constructivism supports student learning.

We also hope to connect with other institutions to continue supporting and developing innovative peer teaching/learning programs that facilitate student learning at the start of their courses to ensure their success at university and to develop a sense of belonging in the community.

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Image credit: Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

About the author

Jinqi Xu, Ph.D, is a Lecturer in interdisciplinary education, Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Education, Enterprise & Engagement, at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her major research interests span diversity in education, Chinese international Students in Higher Education, interdisciplinary education, and Confucius education. She develops this interest through a focus on practice theory and practice-based studies using collaborative ethnography.

Published by Jinqi Xu

Jinqi Xu, Ph.D, is a Lecturer in interdisciplinary education, Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Education, Enterprise & Engagement, at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her major research interests span diversity in education, Chinese international Students in Higher Education, interdisciplinary education, and Confucius education. She develops this interest through a focus on practice theory and practice-based studies using collaborative ethnography.

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