Of Clickers and Culture in the Classroom

Catherine Loughlin, Associate Dean, Research and Knowledge Mobilization


Students in Class (Kim, Jon and Kyler) to illustrate Hong Fan's video

If you’re a typical Canadian, you are probably comfortable approaching your boss or other authority figure with questions, or even complaints. Our national culture tends to be socially flat – we don’t demonstrate a lot of deference to authority. In other countries, like China, that is not the case.

The Power Distance Index is one way that we describe the cultural parameters of a society. A researcher named Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most thorough examinations in history of how workplace values are affected by culture. The Geert Hofstede model provides a way to compare the national culture of many of the world’s countries on six axes including Power Distance, which describes how most of a country’s people will respond to authority. This online tool is pretty neat to play with, especially if you do a lot of travelling. It can help you understand why some countries and the people within them do things the way they do.

Teaching at the Sobey School of Business, intercultural understanding is essential. Forty-six percent of our students come from outside Canada. Inside the classroom, we have to be prepared to shift our approaches to ensure that all our students are equally partaking in the education.

Dr. Hong Fan recognized a challenge to overcome:  her Chinese students showed such deference and respect that they did not speak out in class, and therefore did not engage as readily in conversation. She took the opportunity presented at Sobey and with our program offered at Beijing Normal University in Zhuhai to construct an experiment. The ultimate goal was not just to help students take part in class, but to help them adjust to Canadian culture and learn to take part in public discussions more easily. This in turn will help them in their future workplaces, and that is what business schools are for!

Catherine Loughlin
Associate Dean, Research and Knowledge Mobilization

sobeyschool@smu.ca T: 902-420-5422