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Communication is key: A study of the development of communication key skills in China

Ann Harris, Zhong Hua
2015 English in Education  
Different countries offer alternative curricula around what might be designated language, literacy and/or communication. This paper focuses on the latter which has typically been associated with vocational education and often labelled a 'key' or 'core' skill that forms part of a wider set of life and employability skills. In recent years, as China has emerged as a global economy, education has been significant in its policy and development. This research explores staff and student responses to
more » ... udent responses to the introduction of a key skills communication course in three Chinese further education vocational colleges. The initiative was prompted by research in China which had suggested that communication is important not just for education (Ye and Li 2007) but also for employability, and that the ability to communicate effectively could be instrumental in individuals' success and development (Tong and Zhong 2008). It explores what communication key skills might mean in a Chinese context and questions notions of transferability and of competence and performance in communication. It analyses how motivation could affect learner success and the relationship of pedagogy to curriculum and, finally, it considers how communication might be an element in the longer-term social and political development of critical literacies. Vital social and methodological competence[s] for daily life and professional development. (Chinese Occupational Skills Test Authority 2007, p3) Communication and indeed key skills may no longer have the same currency in the UK and other western countries as previously, but this is not the case in China. Within this article, the notion of communication key skills will be interrogated and analysed with a focus, firstly, on how to specify communication key skills in the Chinese context. Secondly, what are the attitudes of Chinese teachers and students towards communication key skills, and, thirdly, how significant are pedagogy and curriculum to promoting communication skills in China and making them relevant to the world of work? The wider research on which this study is based involved the introduction of a key skills communication course into three Chinese further education vocational colleges. The course was a compulsory component but not part of the students' core qualification and assessment. This article explores the impact of what they studied, its potential significance for employability and how it might affect future development, socially and politically. It is, however, acknowledged, that communication skills' acquisition can be affected by students' prior learning experiences (Li 2008), and that this presented a challenge to both teachers and students grounded in traditional Chinese transmissive methods which emphasise 'knowledge acquisition' (Wang 2002; Gu 2003; East 2015) and focus on learning that is 'classroom, teacher and textbook-centred' (Wang 2002, p73). Harkin et al. (2000) pointed out that communication skills, 'cannot be developed through didactic pedagogy' (p6), although Reece and Walker (2000) suggested that the competence outcomes usually associated with vocational education require 'the careful sequencing of learning activities to shape behaviour' (p123). Although the debate around whether communication should be delineated as either or both performance or competence is historic in the West, in China it still has resonance (Halliday 1975; McCroskey 1981): Communication competence must be distinguished from communication 2005) and is inclined to shift the emphasis from an integration of communicative competence with cognate performance towards an assessment of measurable skills with behavioural aspects. However, this narrow focus undermines the notion of communicative 'performance' which should perhaps be considered both as a 'complex output of a variety of psychological processes' and also as 'a cooperative' and 'socially-situated' endeavour (Fussell and Kreuz 1998, pp3-7). Several other studies have highlighted the importance of social skills for effective communication performance Spence 2003) . More recent studies have, however, indicated the value of that being collaborative discourse as opposed to or as well as online social networking (Lu, 2014) . In their work, had identified communication skills as 'a set of goal-directed, inter-related, situational-appropriate social behaviours which can be learned and which are under the control of the individual' (p2). The requirement to be 'situational appropriate' emphasises the importance of context and interactivity in communication. Price (1996) had also highlighted this, delineating communication as: Activity in which symbolic content is not merely transmitted but exchanged between human agents, who interact within a shared situational and /or discourse context. (Price 1996, p399) This notion of a 'dynamic social process' (Gerbner 1993, p15) stresses not just the interactive aspect of communication but also its fluidity and unpredictability. However, there is also literature linking the communication process to 'cognitive operations' (Griffin 2000; Hargie and Dickson 2004). Wyer and Gruenfeld (1995, cited by Hargie and Dickson 2004), for example, recommended seeing communication as an interpersonal cognitive process and indicated that interpretation and meaning are crucial for effective communication and should be seen as significant to communication pedagogy. Finally, communication has also been seen as an affective process which occurs as 'bodily experiences, expressions and feelings-physiological responses to a stimulus, rather than thoughts' (Kiely and Armistead 2004, p27). This suggests that personality is significant in communication responses and further emphasises the importance of cultural context. This section has discussed the concept of communication and of competence, positioning both historically in keeping with the Chinese context. It has examined the communication process, emphasising the complexity of the social, cognitive and
doi:10.1111/eie.12069 fatcat:nkmlrumdzneklcygwduyuwwfcm