Assessment shock – Chinese students’ first year experiences in Australian universities: CRADLE Seminar Series

A sold-out audience at Deakin Downtown and many more online joined us to hear Fudan University’s Dr Jiming Zhou discuss her research into Chinese students’ first-year experiences of assessment in Australian universities, as part of the CRADLE Seminar Series. Here, CRADLE PhD student Bianka Malecka shares her thoughts and key takeaways from the seminar.

Since students from China constitute more than a third of Australia’s international university enrolments, it is not surprising that Dr Jiming Zhou’s seminar on ‘assessment shock –  understanding Chinese students’ first year experiences at Australian universities’ attracted a strong turnout. Jiming’s presentation also seemed timely given recent unfavourable and rather biased media reports about international students’ low language competence levels and poor academic standards. I think the audience, which consisted of a mix of researchers, teachers and professional staff, was as eager as me to hear Jiming’s perspective on the pressing issue: What aspects of assessment do Chinese students find most difficult and how can we, as educators, help them?

Photograph of Dr Jiming Zhou presenting her seminar before a large and attentive audienceThough there is a wide body of literature examining Chinese first year students’ language development, academic performance or acculturative stress, little is known about their experiences with assessment tasks. Jiming’s project – which was a collaboration with CRADLE researchers Joanna Tai and Phillip Dawson and the University of Melbourne’s Christopher Deneen – intended to fill that void. The study involved 37 Chinese undergraduate and postgraduate students from various disciplines at Deakin (IT, Engineering, Business, Law, Arts and Science). The findings reveal that the novelty of assessment (reflective reports, rubrics, work-based assessment) and preparation approaches (completing pre-class tasks, time management and self-regulation) were initial hurdles that, with the help of peer learning, study groups and various support services, could be overcome relatively quickly. The higher assessment requirements and students’ reticence to engage in feedback opportunities with their tutors proved to be more challenging.

These challenges, however, seem to create opportunities for educators.  Simplifying assessment requirements, providing a variety of exemplars (good and bad) and enhancing connections between assessments to provide consistent opportunities for formative feedback were among some of the strategies suggested by Jiming. It was also interesting to hear from the audience, who noticed that it is often teachers who shape students’ incorrect conceptions of what university learning is by focusing too much on linguistic accuracy rather than content. Another pertinent remark was that assessment shock applies not only to Chinese learners but other student populations as well.

Photograph of Dr Jiming Zhou presenting her seminar, standing before a slide from her presentation

Photo: Joanna Tai

Having taught Chinese students at direct entry courses for a number of years now, I have also witnessed how creating supportive and nurturing environments is crucial in assisting students to untangle the intricacies of assessments and empowering them as learners. But, as Jiming remarked at the end of her presentation, it is primarily the assessment design that stimulates learning, and so ensuring that our curriculum includes assessment activities which teach students how to master ‘the rules of the game’ can partly minimize the effects of initial assessment shock.

Category list: CRADLE Seminar Series, News

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