By Lisa Trebs
Collaborative project work between Roskilde University and Xing Wei College
Project work is a specific feature of the education at Roskilde University. Every semester, students work together in groups to enrich ideas in a self-chosen topic and to work on the solution of a real-world problem. In what I have come to realize, problem-based and project-based learning are the foundation for learning, while lectures build ground-knowledge in broader fields, which the students in due time study with a narrowed-down idea.
To be honest, when I first went to RUC, I did not really know the learning style of the university. I always liked going to school, listening to the teachers and studying in general, so when I started my studies at RUC, I was surprised and shocked. Project work, groups, long-term research – I have been a tiny bit scared of my decision to study in a foreign country with a completely different study model. Starting my studies there was more or less a coincidence, and yet I couldn’t have been more excited and nervous at the same time when professors were suggesting topics for us to work on for the next six months. My first semester at Roskilde University was starting and so was my first research project.
One project especially caught my interest: “Learning with/and from the others”. It was an opportunity to work with another project group in another university, to share knowledge and experience regarding higher education, especially since RUC is very different from every other educational structure I had experienced before. It was a major ambition for me to join this project. Another university study group was coming from China: it was, more precisely, Xing Wei College in Shanghai. Funnily enough, I now know that they have joined the conferences of the Critical Edge Alliance and are engaged in co-operational and collaborative work.
Our project was to examine the challenges university students at Xing Wei College face, as their previous education had been drastically different. Generally speaking, Chinese schools are strict: It is about getting the best grades, studying all day and all night long to get the best chances in life. Pressure arises from various sources: not only from the government and educational structures that are pushing students, but also from family and friends’ expectations, which are of unbelievably high standards. Teachers are authority figures and learning to memorize things by heart seems like the recipe to success. (Yu et al., 2012; Kirkpatrick & Zang, 201; Watkins & Biggs, 2001).
Compared to the fixed structures in most other schools, Xing Wei College is like an alien project in Chinese society. Students can independently choose their own subjects and refer to teachers with their first name: seeing them as friends and advisors. Students study in workshop-like lectures and, have short and long-term projects where they have the chance to combine theoretical and practical work. One of the subjects even includes building up one’s own business, as a university student of 19 to 22 years of age! In the student self-governance committees, students have the chance to create the university socially and politically, which includes organizing different events, student and teacher exchanges, and even to possibly hire and fire lecturers (Dr. David Stafford, 2013; Xing Wei College Academics, 2014; Xing Wei College study regulations, 2014; XingWei College: The challenges for students in an alternative education system in China, Roskilde University study group HIB, 2016).
It does sound crazy in a Danish context, and even more so in the Chinese society! Hence, the university seemed to have given room for challenges and clashes to arise; and those for us to study.
We started contacting Xing Wei college students via Skype conducting interviews. Later we also had the chance to apply for a travel grant offered by RUC, and, luckily enough, we got it! Four of us travelled to Shanghai to visit the university and got a first-hand experience of Chinese educational culture. We attended lectures at XWC and personally conducted interviews with students who we would use as case examples.
Later when I told my friends back in Germany, they couldn’t believe what I was doing. In my first semester of university, I already had the chance to work long-term on an issue I liked and chose, travel to other parts of the world, work in a group, gain soft skills, agree on theories and methods ourselves, and learn while practically working. I probably couldn’t even believe it myself. As the title of the project “Learning with/from the other” suggests, we came to understand our own education better as we compared it with the one in Xing Wei. We learned about the improvements possible in higher education, and that, no idea is too crazy to implement. Our recipe to success is to try differently.
RUC opened my eyes to what education can look like, how one is able to learn in a different manner, and for me personally, an even better way.
Fortunately, I am still in contact with the Chinese students and can’t wait to see them in September at the Critical Edge Alliance Conference again. Because you always meet twice.
About the Author
Lisa Trebs is a German bachelor student at Roskilde University taking the program “Global Humanities”. She has been living in four different countries in the last two years as she can’t get enough of traveling, cultural exchanges and the beauty of diversity. You’ll even find her dreaming herself away when singing and playing the guitar at local concerts.