Reflections on HEA workshops at Guangdong University for Foreign Studies

Kathy Wright, Academic Head of International Academic Practice
15 July 2016

Prioritising, ranking, classifying, discovering, designing, creating, telling stories, collaborating, making, playing, testing technology and at all times discussing and listening, thus demonstrating the centrality of talk in engaging learners, after all, ‘learning floats on a sea of talk’ (Barnes 1976).

This is how we - a group of 31 committed academics from 10 universities and colleges in South China - spent a four-day programme in June on innovative pedagogies and curriculum design at Guangdong University for Foreign Studies (GDUFS), South China. The topics covered were diverse: interactive teaching, innovative approaches to learning, high impact pedagogies, monitoring, assessment and feedback, curriculum design, technology enhanced learning. These were experienced and explored by participants through a series of interactive activities, all of which could be adapted for their own academic practice.

The feedback from participants was stunning.

‘I want to say a big thank you for the training, which is very informative, fun and thought-provoking….. I cannot wait to apply all these tricks in my own class.’

‘You have opened a new world to me.’

100% of participants thought the workshops were very good or good. Everyone agreed that the activities were relevant and engaging, that the programme was well structured and everyone reported that they intended to use effective group work activities and collaborative projects in their programmes.

And yet, realistically, can a four-day intervention change practice and impact on student learning? Can four days really ‘sort’ staff development?

Writers such as Guskey (2002) claim that changing practice in teaching and learning is a long-term process of professional development and exposure to new practices, with feedback and follow up. This could be problematic for short-term intensive programmes such as this. However, in a small-scale follow up study I carried out in 2015 into the impact of short term exposure (of 2 - 4 hours) to interactive, creatively-oriented workshops on academic practice delivered by HEA colleagues (myself included), I found that nearly three quarters of respondents reported that the workshops had caused new ways of thinking about learning and teaching to develop and many had already implemented learning strategies or approaches from the workshop in their professional practice. So I am optimistic that we will find impact from this programme when we go back to participants in a few months’ time to see if the changes that they reported as ‘likely’ to be implemented in their practice, have been operationalized.

But they may face challenges to any change in their practice. As one participant noted, ‘traditionally ’ Chinese students demand classes with rich information and high cognitive demand. Games are not valued much in Chinese classrooms as teachers have to follow the syllabus and course book requirement and find no time for games and messiness’ and that some students in China complain that foreign lecturers don’t teach them enough in class. How will students react to the enthusiastic lecturer armed with a collaborative and possibly creative activity? How might the lecturer cope with any potential rejection of their methods by students? What might be the best way to introduce and scaffold ‘change’ for students? Could the community of practice, so much in evidence during those four days in June, be a source of mutual support?

Through the collaboration between GDUFS, in particular, the GDUFS Center of Excellence of Foreign Language Teacher Development, and the HEA, we hope to be in a position to support the professional development of these teachers in the longer term. Watch this space!


Barnes, D. (1976) From communication to curriculum. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin

Guskey, T.R. (2002) Professional Development and Teacher Change, Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 8:3

Background information:

The project started during a visit to China in November 2015 to attend the China Association for Higher Education conference. Professor Stephanie Marshall, the HEA’s Chief Executive, met President Zhong from Guangdong University for Foreign Studies in Guangzhou. The discussions were around a longer-term collaboration, starting with the setting up of an initial four-day programme which would address innovative pedagogies and curriculum design. The process has been facilitated by Ms Zhang Jing, the HEA’s Chief Representative in China.


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