Field trips and social media to mediate cultural conflicts
Faculty of Arts, Monash University
Xin Gu teaches two units in the Faculty of Arts based around field trips, which serve as immersive and individualised global case studies. In one unit, students engage with domestic creative industry workplaces. They learn about the day to day operations of these workplaces. In her other unit, she takes her students to Shanghai, where they similarly learn how creative industries operate day to day, but this time in an international context. These experiences inevitably lead to some cases of cultural clash and conflict, however Xin highlights the importance of allowing these to occur rather than stifling them. She believes that the cultural conflicts that the students experience serve as a necessary vehicle for learning about other cultures. By allowing them to occur in a controlled environment, students are able to engage in discussions with people from different backgrounds, so that when they enter the workplace they do not see cultural differences as a significant barrier.
She then sets assessments that allow students to reflect on these experiences and share with others what they have learned. In doing so, she allows students to develop their own views in the context of the global case studies, rather than imposing her own on them. These assessments tend to be loosely designed and open ended, where students are able to express their own learning outcomes. For instance, one of her units has a larger assessment broken into smaller stages. In the first stage, students have to write a self-assessment of their cultural capability to interact with a creative industry overseas. After engaging with the creative industry, they then undergo the second stage of the assessment, which involves critically reflecting on their initial self-assessment. The third stage of the assessment relates to their performance within the placement itself. The fourth stage of the assessment is a video essay, which involves capturing the visual data they have collected throughout the whole experience. Each of these stages allows the student to reflect on the learning outcomes of the unit in their own way.
Xin has also adapted the way she delivers her unit by utilising social media in place of traditional learning platforms like Moodle. She highlights that there are some practical issues such as the requirement for a VPN to access Moodle from China, however she now recognises that it has far more potential than just its practicality. The use of social media such as Facebook and Wechat creates a much more personal network between the lecturer and the students. In Xin’s unit, this is particularly important as she effectively becomes a caretaker for her students while they are overseas on the field trip. Social media allows her to communicate with students and help them work through and understand different cultural phenomena they may encounter. She also uses Facebook to share, and allow students to share, interesting cultural experiences that have occurred over the course of the field trip. The Facebook page, Shanghai City Lab, can be found at the following URL: https://www.facebook.com/shanghaicitylab/. This use of social media enhances the interactivity of the unit, and allows for a more personal connection between students and between the students and the lecturer, which is necessary for facilitating the cultural shock likely to happen in an internationalised experience.