Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 7 - April 2020
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedApril 15, 2020
Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 8 - May/June 2020

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A visiting teacher must be aware of their teaching practices and recognize that they may differ (significantly) from those of the institution/area where they are placed.


Shot in the Dark

In the summer of 2016, an application was submitted for a Fulbright grant to teach in China. A sabbatical was scheduled for the fall of 2017, and this was one of many opportunities that an American professor chose to explore for that time. Though the educator has had a successful career in education, he possessed reservations regarding the likelihood of being selected for such an opportunity. With the encouragement and support of colleagues, the required paperwork was completed and submitted a year prior to the planned sabbatical. The educator continued to seek alternative plans until contacted in early 2017 by the Fulbright organization…he was going to China.

The educator proposed to aid in the preparation of new and practicing teachers interested in providing contemporary Technology and Engineering Education to students. For the sake of this opportunity, the application was positioned to work directly with a college/university in the designated area of China to which the teacher was assigned—mainland or boundary. The intent was to work collaboratively with the faculty/staff at the assigned college/university to structure practical, hands-on learning opportunities and environments founded in the diverse subjects associated with Technology Education – General Technology Subject. Topics that were proposed included the following:

  • History and development of Technology Education
  • Specific content knowledge relating to each of the designated modules
  • Subject integration including Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Art
  • Learning Activities, Projects, and Assessments
  • Classroom/Laboratory setup and maintenance


These opportunities were designated for either candidate teachers and/or practicing teachers from other disciplines. The form and content of these opportunities were to vary dependent on the college/university assigned as well as the needs of the surrounding community. For example, if placed in a more rural area, the focus of the Technology and Engineering Education may lean toward agricultural technology rather than robotics design/construction. With this understanding, the responsibilities would have included both traditional classroom/laboratory experiences as well as professional development seminars. Site visitations to review existing programs and/or highlight programs of excellence as potential models were also proposed.


Why China

China has been a topic of much consideration with regard to curriculum and student education. Many educator colleagues have prepared students to progress into positions of industry/manufacturing, education, and/or varied trades. It is believed that for someone to be capable and competitive in an ever-changing world of advancing technology, that they must have a concept of the global economy and its participants. Therefore, China has become a regular topic of discussion and debate in classrooms. Over the past thirty years, China has exhibited tremendous development of society and economics through large investments in manufacturing and infrastructure. The Chinese educational system has seen a corresponding growth in development.

An example of this progression is founded in the current, contemporary form of Technology and Engineering Education. Its roots can be traced back to the Soviet model of polytechnic education from the 1950s—alleged to serve political needs rather than educational or societal (Jiang, 1996). By the 1980s, the Labour-technical education model emerged as a much broader interpretation—addressing both political and economic necessities (Feng, Siu, and Gu, 2011). However, this evolution was not compulsory, nor did it provide education beyond industrial training. By the 1990s, early forms of Technology Education began to emerge to the point where it was recognized as an independent subject. As of today, Technology Education in China is comprised of two main categories—Information and General Technology. Both require compulsory foundational courses with a variety of electives that may be offered (by school availability or community need) (Feng, Siu, Gu, 2011).

The Ministry of Education in China has been working to prepare a new generation of teachers through traditional, in-service, and online training (Ministry of Education, 2003). However, even these efforts have left several programs without adequately prepared teachers and/or facilities. There are several suggestions as to why this condition persists, including lack of available resources, assessment requirements, funding, and/or training programs at the collegiate level (De Vries, 2002). At the time of the Fulbright application, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) was in discussion with agencies in China to establish a resource center. This center was proposed to provide additional support and resources to continue the efforts set forth by China’s Ministry of Education. The teacher wished to participate in this journey by adding another ally to the purpose. There was already a collection of quality institutions engaged in this work (such as Nanjing Normal University), and the teacher was hopeful that they could be supportive in their continued development.


TETMJ20MM2Preparing to Teach in China

The American educator has been fortunate to teach a variety of subjects at various levels during a teaching career that includes middle school, high school, and college/university levels. Over seventeen years of classroom teaching, personal teaching methods have evolved. Like most inexperienced teachers, early lessons relied heavily on behavioral teaching methods. The simple transfer of information was comfortable and familiar.

Though the behavioral method is quite efficient for the transfer of information and basic skills, it only addresses the most primary of a learner’s cognitive process—lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It took guidance and support to transition from the behavioral process to more of a constructivist teaching method. The constructivist method transitions the teacher from an authoritarian figure (lecturer) to that of a guide (facilitator) (Harden & Crosby, 2000). It relies on a community of learners, working collaboratively to solve problems and arrive at conclusions with the guidance/support of the teacher. This method is complementary to the behavioral method and works well for moving students to higher levels of cognition. It is also very applicable to hands-on, project-based learning where skill development in critical thinking and problem solving is sought. These facets have been embraced by the teacher in his current practice for the benefit of student learning.

These, of course, are not the only approaches to developing student learning. In fact, China’s own history demonstrates cultural, political, and economical stimuli that have influenced the structure of the current educational learning theory. A foundational element of China’s educational culture is based on the teachings of Confucius. This early form of educational structure focused on both society and individual aims—with former taking precedence (Chen, 1990). Others’ needs supersede the individual’s, and loyalty toward society and family were paramount. Such a model has yielded an educational system based on hierarchical structure with a strong emphasis on etiquette, honesty, and meticulousness (Corcoran, 2014). Therefore, communication within this system requires understanding and respecting this history and its implications. A foreigner must establish a Guanxi (personalized network of influence) to effectively communicate and network within the existing hierarchy (Corcoran, 2014). To build such a network, an individual must be open, honest, and as respectful as possible while also reciprocating any kindness that is offered by hosts and/or colleagues (Elashmawi, 2001).

Though Confucius’s teachings have endured even into modern Chinese society, the educational model has evolved through outside influences. Such influences include German, Soviet, and Western practices (Wu, 1991; Zhou, 2005; Wang, 2005). Each has brought its own interpretation and value of liberal and vocational education into China’s educational system. Today, the system is an amalgam of these influences as is evident in the teaching methodologies commonly practiced—behaviorism, liberalism, and connectivism (as examples) (Wang, 2009; Corcoran, 2014). Due to this reality, it is vital for any teacher/educator (foreign or domestic) to be prepared to address and demonstrate a variety of teaching methodologies. This will be for the benefit of any candidate and/or practicing teachers for at least two simple reasons:

  1. Teachers should not be limited to a single teaching methodology:

-      They need to feel empowered/supported to find the method that works best for their teaching style, subject, and student learning.

  1. China needs to establish its own educational identity that celebrates its history while addressing the country’s objectives:

-      Continuing to borrow from other nations will only perpetuate the turmoil.


This was important to understand because a visiting teacher must be aware of their teaching practices and recognize that they may differ (significantly) from those of the institution/area where they are placed. Removing oneself from the role of teacher (a position of authority) to that of a facilitator may not have been readily accepted (depending on the practice/influence at the assigned institution). Therefore, an individual must be ready to respect the practices of the institution and its surrounding community and establish/foster a Guanxi prior to demonstrating possibly challenging methodologies.


TETMJ20MM3Teaching in China

The American educator was granted a Core Fulbright Teaching Scholarship to help prepare graduate teaching students (masters and Ph.D.) in STEM Education. Arriving in late August, a group of American educators spent a handful of days in Beijing being trained at the U.S. Embassy by State officials. After completing the training, the collection of scholars was sent off to their respective institutions for the duration of their stay. The educators were provided a wèi bàn (professional representative of the university) and two graduate students functioning as teaching assistants to ease the transition and to aid in systematic responsibilities.

The educator was fortunate to be placed at Nanjing Normal University, the eventual location of ITEEA’s China STEM Center. Additionally, Dr. Jianjun Gu, Dean of the School of Education Science, would be the acting supervisor. He is directly responsible for the development and assessment of STEM education for China’s Ministry of Education. Dr. Gu continuously worked with students, colleagues, and contacts on collecting data from across the country. His students (all graduate level) worked diligently, processing the national data for the Ministry of Education. Dr. Gu invited the teacher to present together at a national conference in Nanjing on STEM Education. They discussed STEM Education in China and the U.S. and discussed possible future ventures between institutions and associations like ITEEA. This assignment also provided the teacher additional opportunities to present at conferences, local schools, and colleges/universities of engineering, education, and technology. The teacher presented on STEM Education in the U.S. and China, Project-based learning, Transportation Safety, and Energy supply and demands.

The American educator was asked to teach two graduate classes during a brief stay: (1) Teaching Methods in STEM Education and (2) STEM Laboratory Project Design. This was the first time the teacher has had the opportunity to teach graduate level courses. After some curricular adjustments due to limited equipment and material access, the courses began. Each class was scheduled to meet once a week. The days, times, and locations of those regularly shifted due to scheduling/programming that was unfamiliar. It appears that changes of this sort were common. However, the other faculty and staff were extremely helpful and patient. 

The students were found to be extremely polite, professional, and respectful. When arriving for class, the students sat toward the front of the room, eagerly awaiting instruction. Their retention of information was impressive—particularly in mathematics. After a few classes, the teacher began to modify the learning environment. The reasoning for the change was explained and, for some, the discomfort was clearly observed. As an example, one day the teacher arranged the chairs into a circle—including their own. The students arrived and were directed to sit in the circle. Students were visibly confused by the new arrangement. It was explained that this was part of the lesson—an example of different classroom environments and teaching methods. After some apprehension, the students acquiesced, and the group began to discuss what the students were feeling. It soon became apparent that the circle was not the primary concern; rather it was the fact that the teacher was sitting as part of the circle and not at a position of authority. This was a notable turning point for the classes. Following this session, the teacher relocated their desk and workspace into the student lab space on the lower level of the building. This was done to be closer to the students while also continuing to build trust and communication between the teacher and the students. Additionally, the lab (at that time) was not in good working order. Much of the equipment needed repair, and many of the students had never used it.

The relocation greatly enhanced the relationship between the students and the teacher; a Guanxi was beginning to be formed. The teacher and students would sit together and discuss projects, English writing, graduate schools, and opportunities in the U.S. Students began to more freely ask questions about education and education systems. They began to discuss various ways of approaching projects and teaching. Students developed and presented lessons that incorporated different teaching methods. At the close of the courses, all the students’ submissions were collected and combined into a single digital folder for them to share. Lessons ranged from primary to secondary grade levels and encompassed all variations of STEM Education. Additionally, all teaching styles and methods were equally represented. It was the teacher’s intent to expose students to alternative ways of instruction/learning, not to forcibly alter their preferred methods or approaches.


TETMJ20MM4Going Forward

The educator intends to continue to work with Dr. Gu on the development and assessment of STEM education throughout China. The development of more project-based learning with measurable outcomes for implementation in China’s educational system was discussed. The teacher also anticipates being involved with the continued development of the ITEEA STEM Center at Nanjing Normal University. At the end of the experience it became apparent that a new site for the ITEEA-supported laboratory space had been identified, and plans were underway for setting up what would become the national hub for STEM education in China. The teacher was also privileged to present at Dalian University of Technology. There, future research projects were discussed with Shengchuan Zhao, Professor and Dean at the School of Transportation and Logistics. He was interested in perspectives related to transportation in the U.S. and China as well as the communication of such through various teaching methods. They discussed developing texts/lessons that would be focused on the clear communication of transportation system design and considerations to entry-level engineering students.

For the American educator, it was a great honor to represent the country as a Fulbright scholar and act as a representative for ITEEA; honors that would have never materialized if not for the support of fellow educators, colleagues, and friends. The Guanxi that was established has forever impacted the teacher—in both teaching and scholarship. The students, especially, have become part of the teacher’s family. For anyone interested, there are great opportunities in STEM Education throughout China. The fact that ITEEA has an existing and direct connection brings those opportunities ever nearer. Additionally, the Fulbright organization is a wonderful program prepared to help students, teachers, and professionals experience the world for the betterment of education and humankind. For those interested, it is important to know that the Fulbright organization, though competitive, is keenly interested in attracting new and innovative professionals (at all levels) into the association. If you are interested in finding out more about opportunities in China and/or the Fulbright process, please feel free to contact the author of this article at the email address below.



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Mark Mahoney, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Technology and Applied Design at Berea College in Berea, KY. He can be reached at


This is a refereed article.