Developing higher order thinking skills
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This qualitative interview study of Chinese graduate students in U.S. programs of social sciences, humanities, and education focuses on these students’ perceptions of incongruities between their educational experiences in China and in the U.S.. Data were mainly collected through interviewing Chinese graduate students about their perceptions of incongruities between Chinese and U.S. programs of social sciences, humanities, and education, and through examining course syllabi and students’ written assignments. Interviews were conducted in Chinese and English with participants, who were diverse in academic subjects. The findings of the study fall into three areas: participants’ perceptions of incongruities between Chinese and U.S. graduate programs, their perceptions of the challenges they faced, and their experiences of developing higher order thinking skills. Four major types of incongruities are identified in general characteristics of the graduate programs, general classroom characteristics, teachers’ behaviors, and students’ behaviors. Regarding general characteristics, U.S. programs provided learners with opportunities to learn about social theories from multiple perspectives through thoughtful classrooms, courses requiring higher order thinking skills, and quantitative and qualitative research methods and projects. In terms of classroom characteristics, participants perceived differences mainly in the graduate seminars, which provided learners with an opportunity to freely discuss and reflect on readings they had completed. Regarding instructors’ behaviors, instructors in U.S. programs prepared a detailed syllabus to communicate with students course requirements, goals and ways of assessment, facilitated rather than dominated the instruction, and provided academic assistance and treated students as colleagues and independent researchers. In terms of students’ behaviors, students in U.S. programs were active learners who developed independently into researchers taking up challenging tasks. Participants perceived five major types of challenges: unfamiliarity of U.S. graduate programs; lack of teaching or research experiences; inadequate language proficiency; disconnections between their experiences of teaching strategies and assignments that require higher order thinking skills; and disconnection between experiences they had with different research questions. All participants identified higher order thinking skills as a significant learning experience in their U.S. programs. They developed such skills through readings, classroom discussions, and completing written assignments and course projects. These findings have implications for research and educational practices.