Crossing cultures: Experience design course in a Chinese context

This July 2016 we had  a great challenge and a great adventure working with a group of Chinese students from Macau. Having as the core of the experience design course co-creating knowledge and practice in context by using the collective creativity of the group we struggled to apply this approach in the Chinese context. These active and interactive concepts don’t really go along with the Chinese education and business mentality where hierarchy and  structure are central.
We, the facilitators (myself, Frank, Suzan and Marlinde), accepted to embrace the challenge and explore ways to offered the experience design course that fit the Chinese way of learning and working.
The course was offered as part of the summer school at NHTV Breda University. We had 15 students from Macau for 3 days and one commissioner who offered 2 real life assignments in which students had to worked on throughout the process of learning the Imagineering Design Methodology.
I have to say that the preparation was as hard as the 3 intense days co-creating with the group. I say “hard”  because that was the first time offering this design methodology to Asian students and we wanted to address the cultural differences properly being open to adapt the methodology in ways that could be useful for the specific context of the students.
We wanted to be  open, flexible and aware of our positions and try to bridge with their own way of working.
The first day was filled with some sense of strangeness. We started well by providing a welcoming experience to the group – we invited our Dutch students to take the chinese students out in the city for one hour, showing them how their student’s life look like. The chinese students simple loved all the care, the fun and also getting some insights about being a student in Breda. After this huge success, the struggle started as the invitation was to interact as a group, to pose questions and to challenge the status quo, which is not their approach in school neither in work life. We had to be creative and propose alternative exercises, being sensitive to what/how the group was reacting to our offer, adjusting accordinly.
Our team was busy the 3 days of the course and even busier in between breaks and evenings reflecting about the learning process and actively adapting to what was needed. Focusing on the learning process rather than just the content to be delivered brought us into more nuanced ideas, less cut and dried allowing the bridge to be made.
In our pedagogy we believe that connection, sense of trust and stories help people engage and learn, moving from abstractions and embracing the practice of it.
At the end of the third day we had beautiful presentations of prototypes for the commissioner who gave the 2 assignments.
As I am really interested in the potential of crossing cultures creating something new and context-valuable, especially in a globalized and interconnected world, this was a great experience with vast learning for all of us involved.
For some pics click here!