Context for Discussion with Bath AR Group on Monday, 14th February.

Developing Collaborative Enquiries: Ways Forward?

By Dean Tian Fengjun, Dr. Moira Laidlaw and Colleagues at China's Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching (CECEARFLT),

Guyuan Teachers College, Guyuan, Ningxia Province, P.R. China.


General Context:

In December 2003, Dean Tian Fengjun, Dean of the Foreign Languages and Literature Department of Guyuan Teachers College, opened China's first Centre for educational Action Research. Our mission statement expresses our desire: to improve the teaching and learning of English for all children in China. Since then we have built capacity in teaching methodology with students and colleagues, developed an AR programme in an English department at a local secondary) School and written about our work - see We also hope to publish our case-studies in a book called: 'Action Research and the New Curriculum in China', with Beijing Foreign Languages Press in May 2005.


Sustainable development:

One of the chief ways in which we are facilitating educational and professional enhancement at the Centre is through an emphasis on sustainable development. We see sustainable educational development as constituting the building of capacity to render individuals and groups able to continue and evolve their own beneficial ways of working without reliance on outside agencies. We are:


             encouraging more colleagues in the Centre to take on responsibilities of the educational development of teaching-methodology for teachers and students;

             devolving power in groups and meetings to a wider number of people;

             helping to build capacity in research skills;

             networking in order to encourage different points of view and fresh insights;

             trying to gain good publicity for the Centre;

             widen the scope of our endeavours through working with new educational establishments, holding conferences, visits to England, building stronger links with VSO and the New Curriculum Working Party in Beijing;

             encouraging the development of Action Research with Chinese characteristics, which seems to be forming itself as a kind of collaborative Living Theory Approach to educational AR.


A common feature of our work together, and a way of enhancing sustainability for the AR project is its increasing focus on AR with Chinese characteristics. Although this is in its early stages, it seems to be characterised by:


             a weaving together of society and family as the context for educational improvements;[1]

             an emphasis on the influence of societal precedents' in the present and the future;[2]

             an emphasis on 'we' rather than 'I' as the means, purpose and fulfilment of social and educational improvement[3];

All these seem apparent in a letter from Tian Fengjun to Moira Laidlaw, February 2005.


Dear  Moira, I hope you are well and my best regards to your mother, especially at this Chinese Spring Festival. It's a pity that the school Website Centre is closed but I am lucky there is an installation of a family one now, so it's very convenient for me to write you back about everything that is going on here.

The postgraduate class was just finished last week. We were all busily involved and successfully passed our two courses examination papers. Three days ago I got time to go back to Haiyuan and see my parents. They are well and send you and your mother their warmest regards.
Very good news I got last week from Beijing Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press -that our book will possibly be published if we do some revising work on the draft-form, including references and the language itself. I am now doing some of the work required and hope if you have some time to help me with a bibliographical list and send them to me by email. I hope the book would get published late Spring. Is this very exciting?

It's also very good news from you that 'China Development Brief'[4] or Matthew Perrement would possibly come to Guyuan to visit or interview us. It's a good chance for us to make the Centre publicised and please let Matthew know about my warmly welcome to him to Guyuan.
I am also very pleased to know that you are going to have a meeting at Bath next week with Jack and the AR Group. How important if all the experts at the meeting could know how their Chinese colleagues are striving to improve education as the practical, and perhaps only, way to improve their social development. How they are working deliberately to realise the collaborative educational living theory and hoping to help students learn better and teachers develop their professionalism well. And how colleagues here are making different ways to implement the New Curriculum more effectively, though we are in a very remote place and have only poorly-equipped facilities here. All this may possibly cause a "stir" in Ningxia or even in China. What a glorious task people are fulfilling!


Whether this all happens or not, it is still good enough to let them know that colleagues here are trying to enlarge their collaborative work with one or two middle schools and two colleges (one is Wuzhong Technical-vocational College in Ningxia, the other is possibly Shangluo Teachers' College, south in Shaanxi Province). A bright, widely expanded 'Collaborative Living Educational Theory Action Research' and the New Curriculum Implementation from our Experimental Centre will be developed in this new year.

I am still thinking about the importance of getting Masters a Degree Programme going, possibly even this year although I am sure this would bring Jack and your other friends there many difficulties. If you can spend time with Jack during this time to talk more about this programme and let me know I would be very appreciative.

With a cup of tea, I am very happy to be writing this letter to you. Hope you may also be enjoying your tea as you read this.

Warm regards to you and please give my warmest wishes to your mother. I am looking forward to seeing you soon.


What are we looking for?

Recently, the specifically collaborative nature of our work has been concerning us a lot because in China, group-norms often supercede individual ones and social ramifications sometimes take preference over individual needs. Validity is, it seems, differently arrived at between Western and Chinese ways of doing things[5]. We are now looking at the work currently being done here at Bath in terms of inclusionality (Rayner, 2004), and a 'life-affirming flow of humanity' (Whitehead, 2005) which we believe, will be of enormous benefit to us in understanding and developing our collaborative abilities further. We wish our colleagues to gain insights, which might deepen our ability to evolve an authentic Chinese way of enhancing the educational value of our AR Centre and its work.


In discussions with colleagues in January 2004, we have concerns about how we might achieve this in approaching the following:


             widening our research-skills and knowledge;

             improving classroom practice;

             improving the practical and educational quality of inservice training[6];

             widening the scope of our influence;

             improving the collaborative nature of our work in order to enhance its educational quality.

It seems likely that one of the chief issues we need to address will involve the dynamics between power and knowledge[7].


In July, 2005, Tian Fengjun and Gao Qin (from the Hui Middle School we work with) are coming to Wiltshire (to the John Bentley School) in the first, we hope, of many exchange-visits to promote links between rural China and England. Both are conducting AR as an integral part of their professional development and look forward to meeting you then.

We would value any thoughts you care to give us about what we are trying to do. Please ask as many questions as you like. We truly value making links between your work and ours in the pursuit of enlightenment and improvement.


Warmest regards,


Colleagues at CECEARFLT, February 2005.


[1] Liu Xia, (2004), 'How can I help my students to learn through respect and encouragement?' paper at above website.

[2] Tao Rui, (2004), 'How can I help to motivate my students?';

Li Peidong, (2004), 'How can I help my students to be more confident in classwork?';

Zhao Xiaohong (2003), 'How can I help my students to become more responsible for their own learning?' papers at above website.

[3] Tian Fengjun, (2003), Action Research and Creativity in Foreign Languages Teaching, Journal of Foreign Language Education, Nov./Dec. ISSN 1000 5544.

Li Peidong &Laidlaw, M., (2005), 'How can we facilitate a process of educational change?' joint paper in process.


[4] China Development Brief is a bilingual, educational newsletter and newspaper. A British and a Chinese journalist will be visiting Guyuan in late-March.

[5] This is a huge statement and there is not the space here to go into this at length, but this is a truism we have found to be a contributing factor to ontological and epistemological conclusions about the nature of our work.

[6] In March 2005, GTC has been given the go-ahead to act as a centre for re-training 53 adult-workers to become English teachers over a two-year period. The first year will be spent honing their English skills with some educational theory. The second year will consist of practical teaching and courses in AR.

[7] Foucault, (1986), 'Power/Knowledge', Jossey Bass Publishers, New York.