How to Help Asian Students Feel Free to Share Their Thoughts?

Teacher-Centered: Learning Environment in China

Teacher-Centered: Learning Environment in China

Spring 2011: My first semester in Teachers College Columbia University. I was stunned by the U.S. educational system, especially group dynamic in classroom discussion. My classmates did enjoy participating in classroom activities. Especially, American students they felt free to express their thoughts in front of professors and colleagues. Nevertheless, it was clear that those international students (especially from those Asian students) were not confident to share their ideas in the classes.

Asian students generally tend to display reserved characteristics when voluntarily sharing thoughts in classroom, comparing to non-Asian students. Differences may exist in the preferences of students from diverse cultural backgrounds (Ramburuth & McCormick, 2001). In terms of Asian students, possible factors for such phenomenon include that 1) high parental expectation levels lead the Asian students to be more afraid of making errors than non-Asian students, and 2) Asian students are more adapted to teacher-centered classroom environment, in which they do not feel comfortable of liberally expressing and presenting their own opinions to other classmates. Such unbalanced participation level has been a critical problem in school setting, particularly among multi-cultural classrooms. In a nutshell, identify is the key reason leads Asian students not to feel comfortable to express their thoughts in front of others.

How can we help those students to be able to express themselves in front of others? Is there any alternative communication channel for them to express themselves without showing their identities?

This week readings about MUDs and digital literacies pointed out the opportunity to help those Asians students. Nevertheless, it needs more researches and experiments to put theory to practice.

Multi-User Domains, MUDs put people into virtual space in which they can navigate, converse and build. User’s identity on the computer is distributed presence of user. MUDs turn real life into another window of user’s identity. MUDs are powerful reflection of thinking about identity, and a set of ideas about postmodernism (Turkle, 1999).

In the article “Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl”, Thomas pointed out that girls could create their own cyberbodies, which allow them to explore, experience a senses of empowerment, and find new ways of reinventing themselves. They could have the command of the words, empower themselves in cyberspace (2004).

Imagine, if we can let those students feel free to express themselves without showing their identities in front of others in MUDs through digital literacy. It possibly changes their behaviors, makes them feel confident, and feels free to express their own thoughts. I see the potential of idea sharing in MUDs. If we can grow the concept of idea sharing in virtual world, then those students  would be able to express themselves freely in their real world as one of many windows of their lives.


Thomas, A. (2004). Digital Literacies of The Cybergirl. E-learning, 1(3), 358-382.

Turkle, S. (1999). Life on The Screen. New York: Touchstone. (Introduction: Identity in the Age of the Internet.

Ramburuth, P., & McCormick, J. (2001). Learning diversity in higher education: A comparative study of Asian international and Australian students. Higher Education, 42(3), 333-350.


About bankcolumbia

Graduate Student . M.A. Instructional Technology and Media . Teachers College . Columbia University . View all posts by bankcolumbia

5 responses to “How to Help Asian Students Feel Free to Share Their Thoughts?

  • Sorachai Kornkasem

    Bank’s reflection on the free thoughts is quite interesting. I personally had exactly the same experiences when I first landed on the graduate seminar classes in the US system in 1995. I was shocked, scared, intimidated. I didn’t think I could survive those classes.

    After the graduate school, I went working and had another shock at work during all the meetings. What were they talking about and why so much? I wouldn’t think I survive, either.

    Then, the “[advanced] Business Communication” class I took from NYU cont’d education rescued me tremendously. I learned a lot more about “[american] culture, “small talk,” and “how to be attentive in [some] conversations.” I wouldn’t think I changed myself but I adapted to understand why it was important [to be engaged]…..”when you are in Rome, do as the romans do.”

    Technology also helps in many ways, as we have seen in our readings; from self-epression (anonymously, etc.). It is, though, we need to teach why it is important to do things, what underly the concept of such, then….let’s free the thoughts!

  • Christine Whittam

    I liked how you tied in the MUDs to teaching students how to express themselves. I think this is a great tool to use! I agree that many children grow up in societies or households where they do not necessarily feel free to express themselves. It is important to get them to express themselves in anyway as opposed to not at all and MUDs seem like a positive way to do this. I think its different from just writing in a journal to be handed in, because some children may even feel pressure if they were to be graded on an assignment.

  • patrickscioscia

    I really like your unique perspective on this! Something I would compare to a modern day MUD is Second Life. I recommend that you explore it if you have not already. Second Life allows for a degree of personalization to allow for a person to create an identity while not exactly being oneself, thus allowing people to express themselves with ease.

  • Songlak Svasti

    I agree with you and Sorachai. It is true that Asians tend to hold back their ideas. Maybe it is because we Asians are brought up into a more conservative way, and also our entire life we have been taught by a teacher-based system. Also there are other factors such as language barriers, even though we want to convey our ideas in class but the idea didnt come out right. It is hard to convert an idea and conveying it out at the same time in another language. Anyways, you did a great job linking the class readings to your blog. See you in class.

    Songlak Svasti

  • marialarahwang

    Great post!
    It is very interesting. A couple of blogs ago Yuewen/Jennifer mentioned something similar about how Asians seem to be different than “Americans” in the classroom. Her and I had a good discussion about this topic in particular on her blog 🙂 Check it out if you get a chance!

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