Faculty Exchange Academic and Cultural Knowledge with Students, Professors in China

Chemistry Instructor John Osegovic not only taught students, but was taught by them, here learning how to make dumplings.

Chemistry Instructor John Osegovic not only taught students, but was taught by them, here learning how to make dumplings.

(Sept. 19, 2018) – After several hours of lecturing to a room full of Chinese college students on culture, communication and its relationship to a teacher’s disposition, Dr. LaSonya Moore had that rarest of experiences.

“They were ready to continue the conversation and learning even after the class ended,” said Moore, a USF St. Petersburg Professor of Education specializing in special education and leadership. “So more than 40 students from the class followed me back to the apartment where I was staying on campus. I got my son who speaks Mandarin Chinese on Skype to translate and we continued to discuss the lecture and much more.”

Moore was one of two USF St. Petersburg faculty members who taught short courses over the summer at Changzhi University in the Chinese province of Shanxi, exchanging academic and cultural knowledge with students and professors. For around a month, she and Chemistry Instructor Dr. John Osegovic spent their days in the mountainous region of northern China, a landscape dotted with roaring rivers, the Great Wall, coal production, ancient temples, modern museums and bustling cities.

“I had absolutely no knowledge about China before going, so I was extremely nervous and excited,” said Moore. “Being in China however, I relearned the importance of communication, collaboration, congeniality and civility and how regardless of where you are and who you are with, we are more alike than different.”

The University itself is a college focused on educating educators, with a student body comprised of about 80 percent females. It is located in the city of Changzhi, a mix of extremely rural society around a rising commercial, industrial center. More than 3.5 million people live in the city, which is greater than the population of the entire Tampa Bay region.

Dr. Moore participating in an activity with her students in China.

Dr. LaSonya Moore participating in an activity with her students in China.

“This area of China is pretty remote even though it has millions of people. For example, only 65 foreigners were there over the summer in a city of 3.5 million, and almost all of them were teachers,” said Osegovic. “The University was similar in geographic size to ours, but with about 10,000 students and hundreds of faculty members who all live on campus.”

Moore – through the help of a translator – and Osegovic taught several courses to students that ranged in size from 40 to nearly 200 students. Sometimes even faculty and Deans sat in on the class lecture. Moore’s course focused on teacher disposition of effective educators. Osegovic’s classes were on general chemistry, and he taught a couple of seminars, including one about ice in the Solar System.

“All the students read and write English pretty well, but were still learning how to speak it, which is why their professors wanted me to teach the class as I would normally back home,” said Osegovic. “I teach chemistry and a lot of times in chemistry, it’s like learning a new language. So, in this context, the Chinese students were hearing a different language and learning about the language of chemistry at the same time.”

Moore and Osegovic noted similarities between USF St. Petersburg and Changzhi, such as the rigorous coursework, high expectations of students from faculty and focus on student success. Osegovic said that in the end, “students are students.”

Thinker's Square at Changzhi University.

Thinker’s Square at Changzhi University.

They also noted many differences. Students in China generally didn’t ask questions during lectures and had a great reverence for the authority of the professor. Nearly all learning emphasis is lecture-based rather than some component of hands-on learning that is a hallmark at USF St. Petersburg. Graduation is not just a single event, but spills out over weeks with various celebratory events. Another interesting difference was that students in China are required to pass a physical education requirement to graduate.

The international experience in China has spurred new insights into teaching USF St. Petersburg students for both Moore and Osegovic.

“Based on this experience, I will stress greater collaboration with my students, both in person and online, where there can be a lot more back and forth discussions around lecture topics,” said Moore.

“I got a better appreciation that in order to teach a student high-level critical thinking, which is the goal at a University, don’t take for granted that they already understand the basic concepts needed to get to that next level of thinking,” said Osegovic. “Critical thinking can’t happen without that rote memorization first, and this experience further instilled that in me.”

The opportunity to participate in international teaching at Changzhi stemmed from a general agreement for collaboration between the two universities, administered by the University’s Global Initiatives Office and signed in August of 2017. The agreement promotes joint educational and research activities, such as allowing for the exchange of visiting scholars and work on joint research projects.

Later in the summer, Moore and

Education Professor Dr. LaSonya Moore with faculty from Changzhi University during their trip to USFSP to learn about American higher education practices.

Dr. Moore with faculty from Changzhi University during their trip to USFSP to learn about American higher education practices.

Osegovic were able to welcome many faculty that they had met during their time in China when USF St. Petersburg welcomed a group of 10 English faculty from Changzhi University for a teacher’s workshop. Making their first trip to the United States, the group of educators learned about American higher education practices during a two-week  professional development opportunity.

During their stay, they received briefings and workshops from the Regional Chancellor, the Director of Global Initiatives, the Dean and faculty of the College of Education and librarians from the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library. Additionally, Moore organized tours of local schools from pre-school to high schools in the area and the Changzhi faculty visited the English Language Institute at St. Petersburg College, USF World and INTO USF  in Tampa. They also visited a variety of cultural offerings in the area, including museums, beaches, malls, and Kennedy Space Center.

The collaboration agreement also begins discussions for developing a future undergraduate and graduate exchange program that would offer students from both universities the opportunity to study in a different country and experience that nation’s culture.

Check out other photos from Dr. Moore and Osegovic’s experience in China as well as photos during Chinese faculty visit to USFSP and St. Petersburg over the summer.

A view of the city of Changzhi.

A view of the city of Changzhi.