Final Exam: What did you learn?

I gave the sixth and last session of my Cross-Cultural Leadership classes on October 14. My final exam was one question, basically “What did you learn in this class?” It’s a take-home, due next Tuesday the 20th. Here’s the exam itself:

  1. Name and explain three things that you learned in this class
  1. How did you learn them?
  1. How do they relate to what you already know?
  1. How do they relate to what you are really interested in?
  1. What do you need to learn next, and how will you learn it?

This final exam is worth 40% of their grade. Thirty percent is based on four team reports, one due each week from week 2 through week 5. The last 30% of their grade comes from the midterm which consisted of 20 questions with multiple choice answers. I wrote about this previously in the post titled Zero de Conduite.

I was asked to do this class during our second week here by a lecturer in the International Business Program which has offices right across from our “Visiting Expert” offices. The class would be in English, the students all spoke English, and the course outline and instructor’s lecture notes had already been written, based on a course given at “a university in Massachusetts”. The class was scheduled for 6 4-hour sessions on Tuesday afternoons. I would have an assistant who would come to all the classes. They insisted on paying me for doing it, 2 M dong. Since Joe and I came here thinking we’d be working 24-7 and doing whatever we were asked to do, pay was not an issue, but it was an interesting idea. I asked Dean Hoa if it was OK for me to teach this class and he said yes, that it would in fact help him because it would show the President that people brought to his program were useful for other programs, too.

I looked up the link they gave me. It was to an MIT “Open” class, probably dating from the time that MIT put all its courses on line. Putting the whole MIT catalog on line was interpreted as a strategy to scoop the for-profit course offerings during the MOOC craze. After all, if classes with the MIT brand were available for free, why would anyone pay tuition at Phoenix? I knew other places where administrations were urging faculty to get everything on line asap. So I assumed I was looking at a product of that strategy. It also looked as if the instructor had done it in a hurry.

This MIT Open class  was designed for the kind of students you’d get at MIT: elite students from all over the world, speaking good English. Africans, Asians, Norwegians, Brits and Brazilians. The idea was that the instructor would put them in clusters by region and draw course content from the depth of their personal awareness of their own culture. My students, of course, were all from Vietnam and spoke modest English; they probably read and wrote better than they spoke.

The MIT Open syllabus included week by week readings, some from journal articles and some from books, linked to how to buy them from Amazon.There was no way I could order these books from Amazon, pay for them myself, get them shipped to Vietnam and then photocopied for students to read.

I found a bunch of journal articles on line, however. There was also a chapter about cross-cultural issues in the Northouse book on leadership that I’m using for my Art of Leadership class. I used that for my first session, power points and all, and photocopied the chapter. I am aware that that’s a copyright violation but that is simply one battle I don’t think is worth fighting here. The Northouse book cost me $100 and is designed to make huge profits for SAGE. Enough is enough. In my Art of Leadership class, I gave them the book to copy and about 14 of the 60-plus students bought one, paying about 100,000 dong or $4.50. And for kids who make 17,000 D an hour at their part-time jobs, that’s a lot already.

The IB Program also gave me a link to a 166- page book by Aksana Kavalchuk, called something like How to do Business with Germans: A guide, that turned out to be very good. It covered all the different dimensions of cross-cultural communication that were needed, and more. I emailed it to the class monitor, who had the class list and emailed it to the class.

I whipped up my own syllabus, including the way I was going to grade students. It got approved.

This is very important. Once the syllabus is approved, apparently I was licensed to simply teach the class according to the syllabus. If it was on the syllabus, that was what would happen. This is the license I am using to give a single question, no-wrong-answer essay for the final exam. We shall see.

I designed scenarios to dramatize the different aspects of cross-cultural communication and conflict, one for each session.

So the class began.

In the first class I assigned students into teams to adopt country clusters. The clusters were from Northouse’s chapter which describes the GLOBE study (look it up). There was some resistance to assigning the teams randomly. Students sit together in class in tight bunches of friends with the best, most active students in front and the reluctant ones in the back, sometimes with their heads down or talking. After they were assigned, they set about researching their country cluster. This was internet research. I gave them a broad list of things to find out: geography, mineral resources, political process, Gini index, corruption index, military history, etc.

This class, like all the other classes I’ve seen, had a monitor, a young woman student, in this case, who acts as a go-between for the students and teacher, does any photocopying, calls roll at the beginning of class, tells the “guard” who keeps the records at a desk out in the hall if we need to up the fans or air conditioning, and keeps the student email list in case there is anything I need to send to students. Whether these monitors are elected or appointed I can’t tell. Among the most active students, she was the only girl.

In the second class they presented the profiles – economic, political, military, geographic, etc – of their country cluster. Many of the papers they handed in were clearly cut-and-paste jobs. I talked about citations, paraphrasing, quoting, etc.

In the third class they had their first cross-cultural conversation. Teams met and tried to accomplish something despite cultural differences. This went pretty well; people seemed excited and laughed and clapped at the end.

For the fourth class I used a collective bargaining scenario, plus some information about export zones. This was the class that got the most interest. Knowing something about labor practices in other countries is cross-cultural information, right? Although they weren’t really clear on the issue of conflicting interests of labor and management.

The first hour of the fifth class was the midterm exam, a multiple choice 20-question open book test. I wrote about this elsewhere. I followed it with a rather severe lesson on how I correct their English when sentences are unintelligible and I have to go through a guesswork sequence to figure out what they’re talking about. We closed with a short scenario on interviewing a new hire that they carried out patiently but without enthusiasm. I could tell they were bored with scenarios by now.

In the sixth and final class I was planning to give back their last team report, in which they explained what happened during the collective bargaining scenario in Week 4. I had sent the class monitor a rubric explaining my grades. I probably sent it to her too late; she didn’t get my email in time to forward it to the class. I had attached the TPP summary on labor conventions and the two ILO conventions, 87 and 98, that will go into effect (sort of) if the TPP passes. But none of this made it out to the class.

So I did a short 45-minute lecture comparing the US, Russia, Vietnam and China across various labor-related dimensions, using the Pringle and Clarke book, then put them through one last scenario, a project evaluation. They came up with some wild projects: one Japanese group hired Brazilians to rebuild their nuclear plants, a Anglo group had problems with an Italian company that wanted to market coffee to Brits, and the Qatari were trying to get some Venezuelans to build a mall out of gold, which the Venezuelans refused to do because it was a bad use of resources and not ecologically sound. In retrospect, it sounds pretty cool, but at the time I saw them as cooperative but not really learning anything.

So, some notes: The only thing I think students read was the Northouse chapter that I photocopied for them. They did not show evidence of having read the Kavalchuk book. They did not download and print it. They don’t have printers. They don’t have much paper. They don’t have paper file folders; they use plastic covers, probably because of the rain. Many of the students don’t even have laptops; they have phones. So whatever they read, they read on their phones.

On the midterm, most of them got 8 and 9 points out of 10 for reasons which I will not say aloud. On the team papers, how do you know who did what?

So the single question no-wrong-answer essay final exam is my way of trying to find out whether they really learned anything or not. I hope they understand that I want them to tell the truth. Maybe that’s the real test.Do they dare tell me the truth?  It is due day after tomorrow, Tuesday the 20th of October.

I look forward to reading the essays. Even though there will be more than fifty of them. And this was a small class!!!!

Actually, I’m a little nervous. I am banking on my sense that “the students are ahead of the system” which is the idea that keeps coming back to me as I learn more and more about the way students are graded and evaluated. The evaluators — which are sometimes called the Department of Evaluation and sometimes “the control”– have a way of deciding what is a good class. A good class is a class where passing is 5 out of 10 and most of the students get 7 or 8. “They are looking for a curve like this,” explains Vinh, drawing the curve, with “5” to the left of the hump.

This system evaluates how well the teacher can predict what got through to the students.  A “good” teacher guesses what the majority of the students will get 70% of. The evaluators see a snapshot of the teacher’s best guess. if the teacher guesses wrong (guesses low, for example, and the students get 90% of what she taught), then that’s a problem for the teacher: the exam was too easy. If she guesses high (the majority of the students only get 30% of the multiple choice answers right) then the exam was too hard. Either way, it’s the teacher’s problem. The way you fix this is you learn how to write an exam that expresses a better guess at what will produce that curve with the hump at 7-8.

Other things you could fix: your syllabus, your text, your teaching approach, your goals for the class, the size of your class, the pre-requisites for the class, the time of day of the class…etc etc.

So I look forward to getting back the exam papers from my cross-cultural leadership class. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

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