Comparison of the Perceptions of Classroom Participation among Asian and Non-Asian Design Students

Article excerpt


The United States higher education system often reflects the culture' of the dominant society (Tierney, 1992). U.S. colleges and universities have largely been designed to educate Caucasian students. The educational system forces social integration and assimilation rather than creating a framework of liberation where differences are respected. Not until recently has emphasis been placed on multicultural education.

In design studio classes, students' participation 2 is a generally accepted component of the grading criteria for the class. There are cultural differences in perceptions of classroom participation between students and educators from diverse backgrounds (Boss 1983; Scollon, 1981). For example, Scollon (1981) found differences existed on perspectives of classroom participation between instructors, Alaskan native students, and non-native students. This included differences in expectations of classroom behavior, attitudes about respect for elders and teachers, and relationships between instructors and students. Boss (1983) confirmed similar findings through her observations of Vietnamese students in classroom settings. She found that Vietnamese students tend to be more passive and demonstrate different learning attitudes as compared to U.S. students.


This study was based on the hypotheses that in the design field, Asian-American students and non-Asian students may have different frames of reference in regards to expectations of classroom participation. Since most U.S. college instructors may have been raised in the United States, it is logical for them to define good classroom participation in terms ofU.S. culture. Educational curriculum underplays the influence of cultural background on students' learning experiences. Increased cultural diversity in higher education necessitates redefining the existing curriculum in order to better serve the changing student population.

Cultural factors greatly influence educational motivation and achievement. Studies investigating the impact of cultural differences on perceptions of classroom participation are needed in order to help educators achieve effective communication and teaching styles with students from diverse backgrounds.

This study was conducted at a large Midwestern university. The objectives of this study were to compare and contrast instructors' and Asian students' perceptions and expectations about classroom participation in a design classroom, and to compare and contrast perceptions and expectation about classroom participation between Asian and non-Asian students. The goal ofthis study was to increase awareness among design educators about the significant role their students' cultural frames of reference play in classroom participation. The ultimate goal is to provide reference material for design educators so that they can improve their communications with students of diverse cultural backgrounds. Also, this study is intended to better the learning experiences of Asian students by offering a culturally sensitive model for classroom instruction.


Social integrationists suggest that each society has a uniform value system. A social integrationist perspective assumes that all individuals, regardless of race, class, or gender, must conform to a uniform set of values; furthermore, that it is an individual's responsibility to adapt to the values. Numerous arguments can be raised against this assumption. A major concern is that there are many components within each individual culture that cause differences in individual perceptions of the world. The U.S. higher education system reflects the culture of the dominant society, that is, Caucasian culture, as Tierney states (1992); he observes, "to assume that colleges and universities do not reflect the culture of mainstream society is to overlook the crucial importance of the sociocultural contexts surrounding post-secondary organizations" (p. …