Harvesting Stats

27 Nov 2002

Living in China has its fair share of inconveniences. The ones that immediately come to mind are being on the opposite side of the globe from most of my friends and family, and a big long list of things I can’t eat here (oh, cheesecake! I miss you!). But there are some great benefits too. The benefits are so numerous and unexpected that you can live here for years without realizing them.

One of these benefits which I discovered early on in my first semester at ZUCC was the potential for gathering information. Sure, the teacher’s up there to teach the students, and then the teacher can learn from the students as well. But I mean something far more direct. You can gather information on Chinese society straight from your students and even make it part of classwork. My first semester I taught American Society and Culture, and one of the regular assignments I gave was a one-page written response to the latest chapter’s material. I encouraged students to make comparisons between Chinese society and what they learned in the book, or what they learned from me, or what they knew of American society already. At times I cursed myself for giving those assignments because it gave me a lot to read. But what I gained! Students would often write out what they wouldn’t say in class. I learned a lot about Chinese families, government, education, etc. from those papers. More than my students learned from me, I fear.

Anyway, despite the precious info I gleaned from those papers, they were a one-semester thing. It was just too much work to read them, and I had to read them all or some of the students would plagiarize like little fiends. And I wasn’t about to let them get away with that, less because of the dishonesty factor and more because I didn’t want them to ever think for a second that they could outsmart me.

Since then, I’ve picked up this and that from miscellaneous discussions and such in class. But it’s never been such pure information downloading as it was with the papers. Recently, though, something rekindled my lust for data. I think it began when I asked my class if they shared my excitement about a new generation of leadership in the Chinese Communist Party (they very much didn’t), and a little discussion on their feelings about politics ensued. Basically, they felt that they had no control over politics, so they didn’t care. But the idea of taking polls in class took shape in my mind.

So, lately I’ve been surveying my students on various topics. I’m carefully noting the data, and I’ll report the interesting results I find. I have close to 300 students. Sure, my students typically come from upper class Chinese families, because the tuition here is quite high for a Chinese college. But that doesn’t mean the data won’t yield trends that are interesting and telling. I’m loving this. I’ve got lots of good stuff on the way. So without further ado, the results of my first poll…

Poll: Cell Phones

Is that higher than you expected? Cell phones are definitely common on the streets in Hangzhou. They’re everywhere. The ::beep:: ::beep:: of the SMS message alert permeates every nook and cranny of town. Furthermore, while Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province–a quite wealthy province–keep in mind that this is still Hangzhou, not Hong Kong, not Shanghai, not Beijing (those three places have cheesecake!). Also, the fact that so many of the students bring their cell phones to the classroom is a serious factor for the teacher. There’s little more infuriating in class than a student ignoring you because his gaze is transfixed on the LCD screen of his cell phone. They think you won’t see them if they keep the phone below the surface of the desk. Makes you wanna grab the phone, chuck it out the window, and smack the student.

Anyway, the polls have begun. And may the data collecting proliferate among the foreign teachers here in China…

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Hi there!

    I recently came (re)came across your site and have been going through these old posts. You have certainly collected a plethora of great stories and very interesting information over the years you’ve spent in China!

    My first visit to China was around the time of a lot of these early posts – incidentally it was during a study abroad from your Alma Mater, UF! Since then, I’ve gone back numerous times for various reasons, but recently I made a few extended trips for business purposes.

    On reading these early posts, I noticed that many of your observations closely mirrored my own from my earlier trips. But in my more recent trips, many of those paradigms seem to have shifted: things are no longer as inexpensive as they were a decade ago, the metro seems to be more organized, and a lot of the things that we coveted from “back home in America” are more and more readily available today, albeit often at a premium price. I wonder if these observational changes are reflective of life in China itself actually changing, or if it has more to do with the circumstances of my trips (i.e. as a broke college student 10 years ago vs. as a professional today). I reckon it’s likely a combination of both – but I wanted to solicit your opinion because you have been in China continuously over the past 10 years, in contrast with my “snapshots” over the same period.

    Looking forward to your thoughts, and in the meantime I’ll keep on nostalgically enjoying your early posts!

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