【Setting Sail X】 Making Use of Spare Time--- The Secret of US Classrooms

By Fri, 16 Dec 2016 GMT

Beijing, 15th December, 2016 (BISTU)--- It seems like a blink of eye before I realized that my one-year exchange at San Jose State University has come to an end. It is just one year, a very short period in my life. However, it is an unforgettable memory for me.  


The Secret of Labs  

As is well known, a number of Nobel Prize winners are from Labs in the US. I had been wondering why and now I know the reasons, after I spent a year learning in the labs. Actually I suffered a lot from pressure and shock. My course is related to embedded system and requires each student to have at least 6 hours of experiments in the lab. At the beginning, all goes well and I could complete the experiments and reports in a timely manner. As time goes on, pressure accumulates. Firstly, we were no longer offered exact steps of experiments, which meant that I have to preview relating contents before experiments. Secondly, most experiments requests two or more ways to solve one problem. And I was stuck by panic: I am much too used to following guidance of textbooks. And six hours in the lab was not sufficient for me. I started to spend 8, 10, or even more hours in the lab. In about four months’ time, I began to understand how to design my own experiments. When it came to the end of the course, we were asked how we felt about experiments. After listening to our answers, the professor said that we shall be grateful to what we were when we were truly working very hard. Future opportunities reached us because we did try and sweat. It is true. Opportunities favor those who work hard.    


Effort is requested not only in class  

The year in the US gives me a completely different way of learning and living. The professors here, when talking about assignments, usually combine hot issues with what we have just learned in class, instead of offering several questions or exam papers. It indicates that it is far from enough if we applied only the formulas and equations learned in class. In Strong Power System, a course run last semester, the professor asked us to analyze what new energy resources were applicable to five countries chosen by us. Facing with an open question like this, I felt bewildered at the beginning. Then I thought that I did need to research geographical, economic, climate and social features of different regions and apply what I have just learned to these features. Usually it took two or more weeks to solve such a problem.     

A large amount of preparatory work had to be done before each lecture. It is only when you are fully prepared that you could exchange and communicate with classmates during the lecture. Otherwise you will be sided out. When every student invests enough time in preparation, class discussion would move much faster and smoother. Therefore students in the US spend far more time in off-classroom learning that Chinese students.  


Successive problems and TEAM model  

As an outsider who experiences the teaching and learning in the US, it is inevitable for me to compare the two educational environments and generate some subjective feelings and experiences. I hold that education in China does need to improve in some respects, regardless of culture differences. In reality, we do have a lot to improve and we do need to learn from successful, advanced practices of other countries.   

Different from class interaction in China, the US class interactions are featured for frequent questions raised by students. In a research-oriented class, interaction in China is normally one bound: the teacher is responsible for teaching, and the students listening. While in the US, students raise their questions whenever they have one and usually they raise one after another. Follow-up questions are very normal. And even very simple questions will never be hushed. The professor would produce specific answers patiently. Of course sometimes too many questions force the professors to omit part of their teaching. However, each question is welcome and persuasive communication is produced. It is in this process that critical thinking of students are nurtured.     

TEAM model benefits me a lot. In learning a course, team cooperation is necessary. Many assignments require team work, either small report in class or group work after class. Comparatively, in China students are more likely to fight alone instead of working together with others. In the closing project of courses, a group presentation is requested. This semester I had an assignment regarding Mesh Network Mac Layer. In our team there were three members. At the beginning, we all had our own thinking on this topic and it took quite some time for us to reach consensus while keeping what we believe was very necessary. Yet it is not a process of wasting time. Rather, I am deeply convinced that it is very important for learning. When discussing with team members, we could learn and appreciate other ideas, which make us more creative.  


Culture Now  

It is generally acknowledged that cultural qualities of Americans are better. The public toilets are always clean and tidy. If they make the toilet dirty by accident, they would actively clean it. And each family collects their trash in categories and they view it as a natural responsibility. Some grocery stores are self-served: customers pick their goods and check out on their own. And they are highly aware of the importance of intellectual property rights. I once was seriously reproved by my professor, for I did not put reference for a view of some scholar in my essay. And you will be fined heavily if you play pirated videos or read pirated books. With regard to food, hamburgers, sandwiches, and pizza are very popular here. It is a good thing that Chinese food becomes more and more popular. Americans attach more attention to individualism and are more open and direct. But they do not exclude people with different cultural backgrounds. And thus we all communicate and cooperate well.