I turned in my students’ grades yesterday. I’ve seen all their presentations. Nearly 90 PowerPoint Presentations from non-native English speakers could have been mind-numbing. But, my goodness, how far from mind-numbing it was (with a few exceptions).
I have been gradually introducing the ideas of social responsiblity into my coversational English class with sophmore English majors at a Chinese university. We started looking at social realities they were familiar with – friendships, parties, weddings, family. Then we moved into subjects with which they are familiar, but not used to discussing in English – crime, social problems and philanthropy. Their final project was to research one of the Millenium Development Goals’ targets, find an organization working to meet that target, and discuss their personal reasons for caring, their committments to action, and their call to action to their fellow students.
This was also an exercise in gradually increasing awareness of international standards of academic integrity – especially in the form of correct citation of sources used. I knew none of them would know much about their chosen development goal, so it would require significant research, which would require citation. I lectured several times about the importance of and the methods of correct citation. I even provided them with detailed instructions of the use of a website that builds bibliographies called EasyBib.com. I asked them three questions: Are Chinese students as intelligent as students in the rest of the world? (The answer is, of course, YES!) Are Chinese students as hard working as students in the rest of the world? (I told them my answer was, “You are harder working.”) And, finally, is there any reason Chinese students should not be held to the same level of academic integrity as the students in the rest of the world?
I got a lot of silence from the class after I asked the last question. Some students shook their head vigorously, adamant that integrity is critical. In one class, there was a bit of defensiveness.
“Are you saying Chinese students aren’t honest?” I was asked. I had to be very careful to answer that.
“I am simply asking if there is any reason Chinese students should be exempt from this kind of integrity? If there is no reason, then I’m sure you will all agree that Chinese students should be held to the same standard.”
I appreciated that one class more than the silent ones, because I felt they were at least speaking up. In case you weren’t aware, Chinese students have always had a different persepective on academic integrity. It is one of the most frustrating things Western English teachers face. We want our students to speak for themselves, and we also want them to tell us when they are using someone else’s words. Perhaps that seems basic to the Western intellectual. It is not in China.
So my students’ presentations were somewhat of a coup on that front. There were problems, yes. Even the best student didn’t use quotation marks when quoting someone else’s words. But most, at the very least, provided a web address to the source of the information they presented. And almost every single student seemed to have gained a higher level of concern for and dedication to the betterment of the world. The suffering of others become more concrete and tangible to them. Their discovery of people doing work in civil society opened some students’ eyes to new career possibilities.
This is the best student’s work. Claire is passionate about animals and the environment, and her passion came through in both the slides and the verbal presenation of them. She used correct citations and spoke eloquently. Her analysis of the causes and effects of the loss of biodiversity, and her introduction of the organization that address the issue were cogent and thorough. She personalized throughout, and we could see that this issue was more than just an assignment for her. Please enjoy, and post a comment here if you like it. I’m going to share them with her.
Here are some of the other fine presentations my students presented. They care about clean drinking water, the living conditions of slum dwellers, lack of access to the benefits of technology and maternal health. They did more than just research the problem, they grew more passionate about it because of their research. And they taught me a lot about the state of the world today. Take a look at some of the other fine Millenium Development Goal Presentations on SlideShare from English majors at Dalian University of Technology City Institute.
Next term I will be teaching sophmores again, and I will be using wikispaces instead of PowerPoint. If you have any suggestion about how to use wikis in oral presenations, let me know!