‘2+1’ Chinese business students’ methods of case-study group discussion in British university seminars

  • Liyuan Wang

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The purpose of this study was to investigate how a group of Chinese business students understood the nature and the purpose of the instruction techniques they were exposed to in Britain, and the attitudes the students, Chinese lecturers in China and British lecturers in Britain held towards seminar discussions.

    The study also investigated how and to what extent students’ prior learning experiences predisposed them to certain attitudes towards seminar discussions. The student participants in this study undertook Part I of their degree programme at a Chinese university for two years before transferring to Britain to study for one year, graduating with a British Bachelors Degree in International Business. Data was gathered from classroom observations, follow-up and exploratory interviews, and a questionnaire survey to discover more about the students’ learning experiences in Part I in China, and from classroom observations, audio-recordings, and follow-up and exploratory interviews to investigate the same group of students’ learning experiences in Part II in Britain. A ranking task and interviews were used to identify the preferences of Chinese students, British lecturers, and Chinese lecturers from China in terms of specific group discussion methods. The study identified three discussion methods used by students in British seminars: these have been termed ‘spiral’, ‘exploratory’ and ‘individual’ methods. The Chinese students tended to use the ‘spiral’ method, repeatedly bringing the discussion back to the question provided by the seminar tutor, whereas the non-Chinese students tended to use the ‘exploratory’ method, reformulating each other’s opinions and building on them by bringing in new information. When discussing within Chinese-only groups, the Chinese students used the ‘individual’ method whereby a group leader took responsibility for the outcomes of the discussion and the other members did not build upon each other’s contributions. Chinese and non-Chinese students sometimes misunderstood each others’ intentions, but were not likely to notice that miscommunication had occurred. The ranking task and the follow-up interviews revealed that the British lecturers preferred the ‘exploratory’ discussion method, whereas Chinese lecturers from China and Chinese students preferred the ‘spiral’ method. The British lecturers were found to adopt a constructivist approach to group discussion tasks, seeing them as a means by which students could obtain professional experience. They treated Business and Management knowledge as divergent and ‘soft’. Chinese lecturers and students, on the other hand, were found to perceive group discussion as a kind of assessment and were keen to find ‘correct’ answers to case study problems, treating Business and Management as convergent and hard disciplines which offered judgements on good practice. The Chinese lecturers in Part I of the programme organised group discussion so that students could exchange answers and check their accuracy, and, perhaps because of this, in Part I the students learnt in an exam-oriented way, strategically dividing up their tasks and working individually on their own task portions in order to find an acceptable answer as quickly as possible. These students were found to continue to employ these strategies during group work after they had transferred to the British component of their degree programme.

    The study has made a theoretical contribution to knowledge concerning the cultural influences on students’ classroom interactional practices. The findings from the study have implications for the teaching of intercultural business communication, and the enhancement of students’ learning experiences in international business programmes, in business English programmes in China, and whilst learning within groups.
    Date of AwardOct 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorHilary Nesi (Supervisor)


    • Higher Education
    • China
    • Cultural differences
    • Business studies
    • Group discussion
    • Cross-cultural communication
    • Inter-cultural business communication

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