Williams and Laird

Barbara Laird (left) and Dr. Ellen Williams admire blooming cherry trees in Xi’an, China.

Ellen Williams offers American education perspective in China

Dr. Ellen Williams, intervention services, was only in China for a month this spring, but left a significant imprint.

Williams was the first BGSU faculty member, and the first foreign teacher, to offer a short-term graduate course at Xi’an International Studies University (XISU), with which BGSU has had an exchange program since 1985. Her students are majoring in the teaching of English.

The focus of the course was a comparison of educational systems between the United States and China, looking at compulsory education, teacher training and preschool, remedial, special, secondary, higher and adult education.

In addition to teaching her course, she met extensively with the university’s president, associate dean and director of international programs. “They’re interested in exploring how to expand the faculty and become more diverse,” Williams said. “President Hu is very forward-thinking and wants to develop further BGSU connections.”

Williams said students were eager to participate in the course, and in addition to those enrolled, many more audited the class. Most of the students are working teachers.

XISU, which is in the heart of the bustling city of six and a half million people, has opened a new campus on Xi’an’s outskirts, where it plans to eventually move all undergraduate classes. Williams was asked by the dean of the English-language program to name several rooms, facilities and even buildings during her tour of the new campus.

She also delivered a lecture on “Education in America: General Issues” for about 250 undergraduates at the new campus.

“Everything is big there,” Williams said. “XISU has 20,000 students on its two campuses.” Right next door to the inner-city campus is Shaanxi Normal University, with 48,000 students, many of whom are also preparing to be teachers.

Williams discussed school bullying with the associate dean of Shaanxi. A significant topic in U.S. education circles for some time, it has only recently become a developing issue in China, she said. She agreed to share BGSU’s “anti-bullying” resources with the school. “We also identified a potential area of research related to the bullying topic,” she said. “We discussed conducting a comparison of the characteristics of the victims and perpetrators of bullying in the two countries.”

Some of the students in her graduate courses accompanied Williams on her school visits, which also included a stop at Shaanxi Middle School. Like the universities, the school has a large enrollment, with 8,000 children in three grades. Despite the large class sizes in China, however, the system appears to be very effective in teaching subjects such as math and science, which have lagged in the United States, Williams added.

In addition, she observed, “it’s considered very important to learn English in China. There are some teachers working in language immersion in the public schools.”

Under the Chinese system, public education is open to all but there are fees to attend, making it difficult for some families to continue sending their children to school. A significant development while Williams was in the country was the lifting of school fees in rural areas.

China has a number of special schools for children with disabilities, but as yet Xi’an appears to have no teacher training in the areas of autism or mental retardation. She arranged to help locate materials on teaching strategies for retardation and autism, which her Chinese students will translate from English to Chinese. She also visited the Xi’an Deaf Mute Special School, where she met with administrators and teachers.

The BGSU-Xi’an exchange is organized through the German, Russian and East Asian languages (GREAL) department but relies on close cooperation with the English department and other BGSU units. About 30 BGSU faculty and staff have participated in the exchange program.

Dr. Ellen Williams (right) and Barbara Laird (center, front) visit with BGSU alumni at Xi’an International Studies University.

Williams and Barbara Laird, an advisor in Academic Enhancement who is participating in the exchange program for the entire 2005-06 academic year, also met with a group of XISU colleagues and BGSU alumni in Xi’an. A number of BGSU alumni now teach or work at XISU.

One, Dr. Shaorong Huang, who received his undergraduate degree from XISU and his Ph.D. from Bowling Green, now teaches at the University of Cincinnati in English and communication. This spring, he and his wife were visiting XISU, where he was teaching a short-term graduate course.

Williams said the experience was an excellent learning opportunity and encourages others who might be interested in such an exchange to contact her or GREAL Chair Dr. Timothy Pogacar.

June 26, 2006