NIU Hosts International Delegation for Cultural Exchange and Professional Development

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Northern Illinois University (NIU) hosted faculty from the Anhui University of Finance and Economics (AUFE), mainland China, during the fall 2015 semester. The International Training Office was instrumental in designing and administering the program for the delegation of six Chinese scholars, which was focused on cultural exchange and professional development.

Chinese Delegation workshop in computer lab

Because of this focus, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center was asked to provide professional development opportunities in the form of workshops highlighting pedagogy and technology used in higher education settings in the United States. In preparing for these sessions, Faculty Development staff reached out to members of the AUFE delegation in order to assess their individual teaching experiences (both face-to-face and online), as well as their familiarity with a range of learning technologies. The Chinese faculty were also queried on their preferences for workshop topics. With this information, the center staff designed a series of workshops arranged in a sequence that maximized impact building upon each other. The delegation members attended workshops on a range of topics such as ‘Designing a Course’, ‘Writing and Assessing Leaning Objectives’, and ‘Introduction to Live Online Classes Using Web-based Technology’, to name a few.

In order to better prepare for the visit, Faculty Development staff received orientation training which focused on Chinese history, geography, cultural heritage, as well as exploring differences between Chinese and American cultures. We are grateful to Dr. Michelle Xia, an NIU Assistant Professor in the Statistics Department, for delivering that session. After arriving in the United States, the AUFE delegation received an orientation to American culture during their initial meeting with Faculty Development staff as well.

We were fortunate to have a graduate assistant who could assist with communication during the workshops. Lucia Wang served as an interpreter during lectures, group discussions, and reflection activities. Because she also has deep knowledge of teaching pedagogy and technology use, she was an invaluable asset.

In addition to attending our workshops, the International Training Office arranged for the visiting scholars to attend multiple ELS sessions for improving English language skills, faculty-led workshops such as ‘How to Publish and Flourish’, and meetings of the Faculty Senate, University Council, and the Board of Trustees.  During their stay, members of the Chinese delegation also enjoyed a number of opportunities for cultural exchange including field trips to the Chicago Art Institute, the 21st Annual Native American Harvest Pow Wow at the Naper settlement in Naperville, a Chicago Bulls’ games, and a visit to the Wisconsin state capitol. These adventurous faculty also gained a sense of the diversity of people and places in the United States by traveling to New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.

In reflecting on their time at NIU, the Chinese faculty were eager to express a deep appreciation for their experiences. When asked what the most important thing they learned from the Faculty Development workshops, one person reported, ‘….the philosophy and the ideas of teaching. A good teacher should be a good instructor, good director, good designer, good actor, and good listener as well. He (or she) should be open-minded, responsible and whole-hearted for the students and one’s teaching career itself.’ Another faculty member said they would miss NIU faculty’s attitude toward work, ‘Faculty at NIU are thoughtful and passionate, and each course is prepared carefully…. teachers respect students and have patience.” Finally, when asked what they plan to use/share upon their return to AUFE, one person wrote, ‘I’m going to apply the methods of metacognitive and reflective thinking and the techniques and skills of responsive teaching methods for my future teaching area. Engagement matters much in teaching. I’ll try many teaching skills learned in NIU to get my students more engaged and learn more.’

Because of such a positive response by the Chinese delegation, it is likely that international cultural exchange and professional development programs will continue to take place between Northern Illinois University and other Chinese universities.

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