Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Middle Way: Exploring Differences in Academic Expectations.: Perceptions of Critical Thinking of East Asian Masters Students in the U.K.

Kathy Durkin.

This paper is based on empirical case study research, investigating the academic adaptation journey of East Asian students on masters courses in the U.K. In the U.K. Students are expected to engage in critical debate and argumentation, both in seminars and in their assignments. Critical thinking theorists (such as Paul 1993; Siegal 1988; Ennis 1996) argue that critical thinking skills are universal and accultural. Street (1994) and Gee (1994), on the other hand, argue that language and culture influence ways of thinking and expressing disagreement. The critical thinking heritage in the U.K. is rooted in Graeco - Socratic debate, and its tendency is to be linear, explicit and 'masculine' (in the sense of Hofstede's (1980) 'masculinity' dimension). East Asian cultures, in contrast, place more value on maintaining harmony and conciliatory dialogue where there is more concern for others 'face' and where inference and high context communication is the norm (Ting Toomey 1999). Masters students are expected to adapt to Western norms through a process of deculturalisation (unlearning their traditional academic norms) and acculturation (learning the new mindset)(White 1976). This current research has shown, however, that none of the students in the two case studies viewed full acculturation to U.K. norms as acceptable. Instead they chose what they termed 'The Middle Way', which allows them to maintain the value systems of their own cultures whilst synergising elements of it with Western-style critical thinking approaches. The Middle Way is presented as a new model which has emerged from the interview data, following a grounded theory approach. The paper describes this Middle Way and explores the implications for educators in the U.K.


Kathy Durkin  (United Kingdom)
Lecturer in Research Methodology and Study Skills
Media School
Bournemouth University

I have been lecturing and researching at Bournemouth university since 1996. My current responsibilities include supporting international students studying on masters programmes in the Media School. The emphasis of this support is the development of critical thinking and evaluation skills, particularly in written assignments. My Ph.D research focuses on cross-cultural differences in academic teaching and learning styles and expectations, with particular reference to Chinese students on postgraduate courses in the U.K. I also teach research methodology on a masters course. In 2002 I was awarded a British Council Chinese Studies Grant, and a Bournemouth University Teaching and Learning Fellowship, both of which have furthered my research.

  • Critical Thinking
  • East Asian masters students
  • The Middle Way
  • Academic Expectations

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)