How cultural values shape Chinese students' online learning experience in American universities
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The purpose of this study was to explore the role of cultural values in shaping Chinese students online learning experiences in American public universities. Three research questions guided this study: How do Chinese students experience online learning in U.S. public universities? What are the socio-cultural factors that impact Chinese students online learning? Finally, how do Chinese students negotiate cultural values and learning styles in their online learning? A qualitative methodology was employed for the research design, and in-depth, semi-structured interviews were chosen for data collection. Eleven Chinese graduate students from six public universities in the Southeastern United States were selected and interviewed about their online learning experiences. All participants were Chinese graduate students from mainland China pursuing their graduate degrees in the U.S., and having taken at least one online course during the past three years. For the purpose of this study, an online course was defined as one in which more than 75 percent of the course hours were delivered through the Internet. The eleven interviews were transcribed by the researcher himself, and data was analyzed using the constant comparative method to generate major themes. Data analysis revealed that Chinese students online learning experiences are characterized by feelings of greater control over their learning, use of various forms of learning community or support, a need to manage their learning, and by the impact of technology, instructor and classmate. The second category of findings delineated the socio-cultural factors that shape Chinese students online learning. The major socio-cultural factors include language, U.S. instructional style, and the Chinese cultural values and school norms. Impacting by Chinese values, Chinese students perform a different learning style than their American classmates in an online environment: silence or passive learning, hardworking and diligent, formal and content-oriented discussion, deference to teacher, concern for others, and worry about losing face. With regard to the third research question on negotiating cultural values and learning styles in their online courses, Chinese students first had to acknowledge and reflect on the differences between U.S. and Chinese instructional styles, and then they learned and practiced new strategies for their online learning. Based on the findings, three conclusions were drawn from this study: Chinese students share experiences common to all online learners, and they experience some unique features of online learning; Chinese cultural values including collectivism, hierarchical relationships, conservatism and conformism, harmony-seeking, face-saving, and valuing effort and diligence, shape their online learning experiences and behaviors in a significant way; and their online learning in U.S. universities is a process of cultural negotiation and construction.