Study abroad opens up new teaching methods

Being immersed in a different culture means more than eating exotic dishes and taking classic tourist pictures.

A curriculum and instruction class within the College of Education has been hosting 20 Hong Kong exchange students this fall. The 21 University students and 20 Hong Kong students had their first field placement session Monday in a local classroom, which allows them to observe and teach middle school and high school students in the surrounding communities.

Mark Dressman, curriculum and instruction professor, said this is the first course in the secondary English certification program. It allows the Hong Kong and University students to think more deeply about the different approaches to teaching across cultures, he added.

Dressman said some of the major differences the Hong Kong students have noticed is that there is a contrast in motivation between both student groups. There are no discipline problems in Hong Kong schools because teachers stick to a prescribed curriculum planned by the entire teaching staff, he added.

“Teachers have more autonomy and control in the (American) classroom,” he said.

The Hong Kong students never challenge the teacher, they stand up when they answer a question, seem passive and wait to be told what to do, Dressman said.

He added that this part of the program has been beyond beneficial for students.

“This has been a great success so far,” he said. “Illinois students have said things like, ‘I’ve never realized there was a different way to teach.’”

Davida Bluhm, director of educational career services, said there are many international teaching options for students abroad. She said some programs include the Peace Corps, teaching on a military base in a different country or working through the Japan Exchange and Teaching program in Japan.

Some of the advantages of teaching abroad include gaining international experience and seeing the world, Bluhm said. The idea of teaching on international soil can be scary when traveling to a new place.

“I think if it’s right for the person, I would recommend it,” Bluhm said. “It would really add to the richness of who they are. I think it can add to their ability to teach back here in the country.”

Ashlee McLaughlin, campus Peace Corps representative and graduate student, said the volunteer program runs for 27 months overseas through the federal government.

According to the Feb. 4 Peace Corps press release, the University has placed 19th on the Top 25 list of large universities that produce Peace Corps volunteers. Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, 1,886 University alumni have served.

“There’re a lot of benefits of getting overseas experience in whatever your field is,” McLaughlin said. “It is two years of international experience. It looks good on a resume.”

However, Dressman said there are some downsides to the implementation of the class at the University.

He added that “it’s taxing the infrastructure” since one classroom has to accommodate 40 to 45 students. He also mentioned there have been slight logistical problems in placing all of the students in local schools because of the large class size.

The benefits, though, seem to far outweigh these few logistical issues.

“It gives a different point of view,” Dressman said. “It raises everyone’s awareness of aspects of teaching that people wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It provides students with a more global perspective in English as a second language.”