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Transformative Course Evaluations, Mentoring, and "Sensitivity": Working Through Ethics in a "Small Culture" in China

Sat, April 9, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Convention Center, Level One, Room 154 A


In this paper, I draw on a case study of a 3-year collaborative partnership in my institution (a high-ranking public Chinese university, at which I am one of the first two full-time, long-term foreign faculty members) with my (Chinese) colleague as part of an international grant-funded network on gender, social justice, and praxis. Using this case study, which has been documented through a series of deliverables for this network, I explore the dis/comforts of engaging in feminist and critical work in this institutional space, particularly how I navigate questions of ethics from these perspectives.

I begin by exploring the challenges and potentialities of “transformative course evaluation” in our context. This concept emerged through the deliverables as highly relevant to our partnership, and is intertwined with issues of ethics around evaluation processes. I consider how can course evaluations be transformative for students and instructors alike? And, how (given all of the differences in our positionalities) can we conceptualize a pluralistic understanding of “transformation” (rooted in the solidarity that we seek to cultivate in our partnership), and which is, beyond that, translatable to our colleagues? I then discuss three additional evaluation issues: a) the current challenges of what “evaluation” means in our institutional context (including how local and foreign students and faculty must re/negotiate such ethical challenges as cameras in the classroom (not unique to our country context)), b) how a conceptualization of “feminist” evaluation can strengthen pedagogical practices, and c) ethical challenges and potentialities of using new modes of evaluation such as QQ and WeChat platforms.

Then, moving to a self-assessment of my own pedagogical practices, and drawing on my own course evaluations, I reflect upon how I (re) negotiate issues of “sensitivity” in our institutional context, particularly as they relate to mentoring local and international students both conducting research locally and abroad. I argue that “sensitivity” is a problematic concept, understood in practice to mean many different things – meanings that are often not understood by/visible to students, thus making teaching around ethics highly challenging. I also challenge how both “insiders” and “outsiders” may understand “sensitivity” as a non-navigable deficit in my context. I also discuss the challenges of negotiating a system/teaching students how to negotiate a system in which there are no Institutional Review Board processes.

I conclude by arguing for the importance of centering grassroots (student and/or community-centered) approaches as much as possible in such collaborative faculty work, and consider how doing so “facilitate[es] advancing an interpretation of situations that emphasizes their ‘small culture’ (Holliday, 1999, 237) nature, rather than representing them as evidential of national ‘large culture’ (237) practices”(Hett & Hett 2013, pg. 498). By this I mean that we don’t necessarily set out to seek to theorize larger situations within China, instead seeing our institution as a “small culture” in which, according to the participants, these experiences have had a meaningful impact. I argue that given our institutional location, perhaps our collaboration, given backing by the network, may be able to reverberate in other similar settings.


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