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From China to White Plains, Berkeley College shares American teaching methods

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Lou Piermatteo speaks to members of the faculty exchange program.
Photo by Aleesia Forni

Berkeley College professor Lou Piermatteo walks up and down the rows of his classroom at the school’s White Plains campus, asking questions and prompting discussions between his students. He jots notes on the whiteboard and guides his students through the day’s lesson, stopping to make the occasional joke or encourage class participation.

Piermatteo may seem like your typical college professor, and this may seem like your typical American classroom. But these are not your typical American students.

The seven members of Piermatteo’s class are each college professors in their own right and part of a faculty exchange program between Berkeley College and China’s Guizhou University of Finance and Economics (GUFE). The six-week program aims to share American teaching and learning methods with Chinese instructors.
“This program is not designed to make these people better teachers, because they’ve all been teaching a long time, and they’re really good,” said Piermatteo, a professor at Berkeley College’s Larry L. Luing School of Business, “but to show them some different ways to teach.”

The exchange is part of Berkeley College’s Collaborative Programs initiative, which aims to foster relationships between the college and other institutions. As part of Berkeley College’s Collaborative Program at GUFE, students can enroll in courses that will prepare them for transferring their associate’s degree from GUFE to complete a bachelor’s degree at Berkeley College or another institution abroad.
“The whole reason you’re here is to go back and to get your students ready to deal with people like me and the rest of us over here,” Piermatteo said, addressing the faculty exchange members.

In order to prepare those students for attending an American university, the GUFE faculty members who instruct those students must themselves learn teaching methods and learning practices widely used in the U.S. Faculty members from GUFE in Guizhou province in southwest China will spend their time primarily at Berkeley College’s White Plains campus learning an array of education techniques, from curriculum development and assessment techniques to the use of technology in the classroom.
“We have learned many things about how to make a syllabus, a grading rubric and a lesson plan,” said Min Yahua, an English language teacher with Berkeley’s program at GUFE. “We have our own way (in China), and it’s more general. I think here, we learn something more specific.”

In the U.S., teachers supply students with a wealth of detailed information, like rubrics or a syllabus, letting them know exactly what is expected of them, Piermatteo said. In China, those practices are largely unheard of.
“If the students are not prepared when they come to Berkeley College, they might not know to read the syllabus, and they might fail their courses,” said Xie Jing, an English professor at GUFE. “So what we need to do is prepare them.”

berkeley college china exchange program
Photo by Aleesia Forni

Another stark contrast between the two cultures is the relationship between student and instructor.
“Here, we sort of see the students as equals at times,” Piermatteo said. “In their culture, there’s more of a gap between the teacher and the student.”

Piermatteo said that a more peer-like relationship can help foster engagement, debates or discussion during class time, something that, again, is largely absent in Chinese classrooms.
“I don’t know whether one is better or not,” Yahua said of the difference in that relationship between the two countries. “In China, students seem to respect teachers more, but they don’t put forward questions.”

Prior to his position as faculty administrator for the faculty exchange program, Piermatteo was among a group of Berkeley faculty who served as visiting professors at GUFE last fall. Those faculty taught a variety of courses, from accounting and marketing principles to business communications and law, along with demonstrating their techniques to GUFE instructors.
“The whole point is so that their students will sort of be aware of how to handle different cultures or teaching aspects,” Piermatteo said of the school’s Collaborative Program at GUFE.

For all but one of the visiting GUFE instructors, this exchange program marks their first time in America. As such, the faculty members intend to make the most of their time stateside, having recently trekked up the East Coast to spend a few days in Boston. The group also plans to make a visit to Washington, D.C., in August and even has their sights set on a cross-country trip to California.
“We have met many Americans here, and they are all warm-hearted and very friendly, and I find that they do not know Chinese (culture) very well,” Jing said. “So I think when we come here, we’re kind of like the bridge. We make American people know Chinese people, and when we go back, we will tell our friends and our colleagues what American people are like. I think this will improve our friendship of the two countries.”

Founded in 1931, Berkeley College enrolls more than 8,000 students, including more than 550 international students. The private, for-profit college operates eight campuses in New York and New Jersey.

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