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Learning spaces and places: Teaching in China and Finland


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Niina Moilanen

Senior Lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 10.06.2024

Teaching the same courses in Finland and China, we have observed differences in students and their views on our pedagogical approaches in the two countries.

Teamwork and presentations feature prominently in our teaching

Collaboration and communication are vital skills for the future of work. In Finland, our students get to do teamwork throughout their studies. For introverted Finns, group work can be stressful at times. In a collective culture like China, students are used to doing everything together, from early childhood onwards.

Due to the severe COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, students in both countries are not used to having presentations in front of an audience. It is a different thing to talk in front of a class than just at the screen in Zoom. Some of the Chinese students turned their backs on the audience and read directly from a screen or paper. We took special effort and practiced presenting daily.

In China, studying at a university means listening to professors giving lectures, not having students take the stage or take part in a dialog in front of the class. Chinese students prefer to ask teachers questions after the lecture or during the breaks – even more so than our Finnish students.

Our Chinese students were willing to try new ways of learning, even though it sometimes took more time than we anticipated. On the other hand, our students in Finland sometimes wish for more theory and lectures, and opportunities for more passive ways of learning.

Classroom set-up and supplies influence pedagogics

Most classrooms in China are designed for lectures. The tables and chairs are attached to the floor and cannot be moved around. At Haaga-Helia the rooms are designed for group work, and the furniture can be moved around. Our campuses are functional and accommodate different teaching formats, enabling efficient communication and collaboration. We may sometimes take this for granted.

For our teaching approach, with the students at the centre of all activity, we need extra supplies. Our Chinese teacher colleagues had to buy colour pens and papers to make it possible for us to engage students in creative tasks, using their hands, hearts and heads to come up with colourful posters and drawings.

Even though China is such a technologically advanced country – or perhaps because of it – the students in China seemed very willing to experiment with new creative hands-on approaches to learning. One student quoted an old Chinese saying ‘live until old, study until old’ and added ‘we need to step out of our comfort zone, adapt to this constantly changing world, interact with different people and things… to enrich ourselves’.

The experience of teaching the same content in two different environments motivates us to find a the best balance of new and familiar approaches and to keep our students inspired.

Picture: Haaga-Helia