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Received 30 November 1998; accepted (in revised form) 15 August 1999
ABSTRACT. This research is distinctive in that it not only provides an example of one
of the few cross-cultural studies in science education, but also it used multiple research
methods from different paradigms in exploring classroom learning environments in Taiwan
and Australia. This article describes the validation and use of an English and Mandarin
version of the What is Happening in this Class? (WIHIC) questionnaire in junior high
school science classes in Australia and Taiwan. When the WIHIC was administered to
1081 students in 50 classes in Australia and to 1879 students in 50 classes in Taiwan,
data analysis supported the reliability and factorial validity of the questionnaire, and
revealed differences between Taiwanese and Australian classrooms. Although the study
commenced from a more positivistic framework, favouring a more objectivist view, as
the study progressed, it employed an interpretative framework and drew on elements of
constructivist and critical theory paradigms. This article outlines the researchers use of
multiple research methods including classroom observations, in-depth interviews and
narratives. The themes which emerged from the data gathered using these methods helped
to make sense of classroom environments that were created in each country.
KEY WORDS: cross-cultural, high school education, learning environments, science

There is a growing need for collaboration across countries to help to
advance the efforts and accomplishments of educators world wide
(Ferguson & Meyer, 1998). Previous studies which compare science
classroom learning environments in different countries have been limited.
For example, to date, there are no studies that compare the classroom
learning environments found in Australia with those found in neighbouring
countries of South East Asia. The present research involved six Australian
and seven Taiwanese researchers in working together on a cross-cultural
study involving a comparison of classroom learning environments in these
two countries, as well as an investigation of factors that influence the
learning environment in each country.
In his 1996 presidential address at a NARST annual meeting, Fraser
claimed that educational research which crosses national boundaries offers
Learning Environments Research 3: 101134, 2000.
2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.



much promise for generating new insights for at least two reasons. First,
there usually is a greater variation in variables of interest (e.g. teaching
methods, student attitudes) in a sample drawn from multiple countries than
from a one-country sample. Second, the taken-for-granted familiar
educational practices, beliefs and attitudes in one country can be exposed,
made strange and questioned when researchers from two countries
collaborate on research involving teaching and learning in two countries.
Such research not only provides a researcher with understanding of science
education in another country, but also sharpens insights into science
education in his or her own country (Fraser, 1996).

The present study commenced from a more objectivist paradigm, in which
the main focus of data collection was the large-scale administration of
questionnaires. This phase sought to provide an overview of the learning
environment in each country, as well as providing a springboard for further
data collection using different research methods. As the study progressed,
new research questions emerged and, through critical reflexivity, the study
began to involve a more interpretative approach that included the
combination of multiple research methods.
The interpretative framework from which the research methods were
selected was guided largely by constructivist (Taylor, 1994; von
Glasersfeld, 1987, 1993) and critical theory (Giroux, 1983, 1988)
paradigms. The constructivist perspective assumes that there are multiple
realities in which the researchers and their subjects create their own
understandings (von Glasersfeld, 1987, 1993). From this perspective, our
study was emergent in both its design and nature. The critical theory
perspective implies that reality is shaped over time by social, political,
cultural, ethnic and gender factors (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Epistemologically, this paradigm assumes that the values of the researchers will
influence the inquiry. The present study drew on feminism, which is related
to critical theory, that assumes a materialist-realist ontology from which
the real world makes a difference in terms of race, class and gender
(Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 14).
The present study examined and explored the learning environments in
science classes in Taiwan and Australia. The notion that a distinct classroom
environment exists began as early as the 1930s when Kurt Lewin (1936)
recognised that the environment and its interactions with personal
characteristics of the individual are determinants of behaviour. Following
Lewins work, Murray (1938) proposed a Needs-Press Model in which



situational variables in the environment account for a degree of behavioural

variance. Sterns (1970) Person-Environment Congruence Theory, based
on Murrays Needs-Press Model, proposed that more congruence between
personal needs and environmental press leads to enhanced outcomes. Also,
following Murrays Needs-Press Model, Getzels and Thelen (1960) put
forward a model for the class as a social system that suggests that the
interaction of personality needs, expectations and the environment predicts
behaviours, including student outcomes. Walberg (1981) has proposed a
multi-factor psychological theory of educational productivity which holds
that students learning is a function of three student aptitude variables (age,
ability and motivation), two instructional variables (quantity and quality)
and four psychosocial environments (home, classroom, peer group and
mass media).
During the progress of the present study, the researchers became aware
of the importance of examining social and cultural factors that influence
the learning environment in each country. Culturally sensitive methods of
collecting data, such as in-depth interviews, narratives written by
researchers and classroom observations, that would take into account that
social action is locally distinct and situationally contingent (Erickson,
1998, p. 1155), were used to help to develop a clearer picture of such factors.


This section places the present study of science learning environments in
Taiwan and Australia into context by providing (a) a historical perspective
on past developments in the burgeoning field of learning environments and
(b) a review of the limited number of previous learning environment studies
that have been conducted in Eastern countries.

3.1. Historical Perspectives

A milestone in the historical development of the field of learning
environments occurred approximately 30 years ago when Herbert Walberg
and Rudolf Moos began seminal independent programs of research.
Walberg developed the Learning Environment Inventory (LEI) as part of
the research and evaluation activities of Harvard Physics Project (Walberg,
1979; Walberg & Anderson, 1968), whereas Moos developed social climate
scales for various human environments including the Classroom Environment Scale (CES) (Moos, 1979; Moos & Trickett, 1987). Walbergs
and Mooss pioneering work built on the earlier foundations of Lewin
(1936) and Murray (1938) described in the previous section.



A historical look at the field of learning environments over the past few
decades shows that a striking feature is the availability of a variety of
economical, valid and widely-applicable questionnaires for assessing student
perceptions of classroom environments (Fraser, 1998a, 1998b). Few fields
in education can boast of the existence of such a rich array of validated and
robust instruments which have been used in so many research applications.
These instruments include the Individualised Classroom Environment
Questionnaire (ICEQ) for open or individualised settings (Fraser, 1990), the
Science Laboratory Environment Inventory (SLEI) for laboratory settings
(Fraser, Giddings & McRobbie, 1995), the College and University Classroom
Environment Inventory (CUCEI) for higher education classrooms (Fraser
& Treagust, 1986), the Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction (QTI) for
assessing the interpersonal relationship between teachers and students
(Wubbels & Levy, 1993), and the Constructivist Learning Environment
Survey (CLES) for assessing the degree to which a particular classroom
environment is consistent with constructivist epistemology (Aldridge, Fraser,
Taylor & Chen, 2000; Taylor, Fraser & Fisher, 1997).
Whilst the instruments described above have been used and validated
in a number of countries, many of the questionnaires overlap in what they
measure and some contain items that might not be pertinent in todays
classroom settings. Therefore, in the present study, the recent What is
Happening in this Class? (WIHIC) questionnaire (Fraser, McRobbie &
Fisher, 1996) was used to collect data because it combines scales from past
questionnaires with contemporary dimensions to bring parsimony to the
field of learning environments.
Although the use of questionnaires has led to many insights into learning
environments through the students eyes, the field also includes many fine
studies that have used qualitative or interpretative methods (Fraser, 1998a),
and considerable progress has been made in combining qualitative and
quantitative methods in learning environment research (Fraser & Tobin,
1991; Tobin & Fraser, 1998). Examples of studies that highlight the benefits
of combining qualitative and quantitative methods in learning environment
research include research on exemplary science teachers (Fraser & Tobin,
1989), a study of higher-level learning (Tobin, Kahle & Fraser, 1990), and
an interpretative study of a teacher-researcher teaching science in a
challenging school setting (Fraser, 1999b).
Literature reviews trace the considerable progress made in the conceptualisation, assessment and investigation of the subtle but important
concept of learning environments over the previous quarter of a century
(Fraser, 1994, 1998a; Fraser & Walberg, 1991). For example, the varied
types of past research on educational learning environments include (a)



investigations of associations between student outcomes and classroom

environment (McRobbie & Fraser, 1993; Wong, Young & Fraser, 1997);
(b) evaluation of educational innovations and systemic reform (Fraser,
Kahle & Scantlebury, 1999; Maor & Fraser, 1996); (c) investigation of
differences between student and teacher perceptions of experienced and
perceived learning environments (Fisher & Fraser, 1983); (d) studies of
changes in learning environments during the transition from primary to
high school (Ferguson & Fraser, 1998); (e) teachers practical attempts to
improve their own classroom and school environments (Fraser, 1999a;
Thorp, Burden & Fraser, 1994), and (f) incorporation of educational
environment ideas into the work of school psychologists (Burden & Fraser,

3.2. Past Research in Eastern Countries

Although a recent literature review (Fraser, 1998a) shows that the majority
of the classroom environment studies ever undertaken involved Western
countries, a number of important studies have been carried out in nonWestern countries. Early studies established the validity of classroom
environment instruments that had been translated into the Indian (Walberg,
Singh & Rasher, 1977) and Indonesian (Schibeci, Rideng & Fraser, 1987)
languages and replicated associations between student outcomes and
classroom environment perceptions. Recently, Asian researchers working
in Singapore (Chionh & Fraser, 1998; Goh, Young & Fraser, 1995; Teh &
Fraser, 1994; Wong & Fraser, 1996) and Brunei (Riah & Fraser, 1998) have
made important contributions to the field of learning environments.
In Singapore, the growing pool of literature related to classroom learning
environments across different subjects includes computing (Khoo & Fraser,
1998), geography (Chionh & Fraser, 1998; Teh & Fraser, 1994), mathematics
(Goh et al., 1995) and science (Wong & Fraser, 1996; Wong et al., 1997).
Also a study from Brunei investigated how the introduction of new
curricula has influenced learning environments in high school chemistry
classes (Riah & Fraser, 1998). Studies in Singapore (Chionh & Fraser,
1998), Brunei (Riah & Fraser, 1998) and Korea (Kim, Fisher & Fraser,
1999) were conducted simultaneously with the present study and, like the
present study, used the What is Happening in this Class (WIHIC)
questionnaire to collect data pertaining to the classroom learning
environment. The studies in Singapore and Brunei validated an English
version of the WIHIC questionnaire, whilst the study in Korea validated a
Korean version of the questionnaire. The findings in each study replicate
those of past research, reporting strong associations between the learning



environment and student outcomes for almost all scales. Whilst these
studies provide useful suggestions to educators regarding classroom
environment dimensions that could be changed in order to improve
students outcomes, they do not identify causal factors associated with the
classroom environments.
In Hong Kong, qualitative methods involving open-ended questions
were used to explore students perceptions of the learning environment in
Grade 9 classrooms (Wong, 1993, 1996). This study found that many
students identified the teacher as the most crucial element in a positive
classroom learning environment. These teachers were found to keep order
and discipline while creating an atmosphere that was not boring or solemn.
They also interacted with students in ways that could be considered friendly
and showed concern for the students. Also, in Hong Kong, Cheung (1993)
used multilevel analysis to determine the effects of the learning environment
on students learning. The findings of this study provide insights that could
help to explain why Hong Kong was found to rank highly in physics,
chemistry and biology in international comparisons (Keeves, 1992).
The present study went beyond past research in non-Western countries
to involve an English and a Mandarin version of the WIHIC that were
validated and used in Western Australia and Taiwan, respectively. In
addition, other research methods, drawn from a range of paradigms, made
possible a more in-depth understanding of social and cultural influences
on the learning environments. The study not only replicated previous
research, but also explored causal factors associated with students
perceptions of their learning environment.

The way in which researchers perceive the world is likely to be shaped by
the paradigm which they use (Feyerabend, 1978; Kuhn, 1962; Lakatos,
1970). It is widely agreed that multiple methods in comparative research
are useful in achieving greater understanding (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994;
Keeves & Adams, 1994; Tobin & Fraser, 1998). It was with this in mind
that data collection for the present study involved different sources and
kinds of information (as recommended by Erickson, 1998), including
videotape recordings of science classrooms, fieldnotes, narrative stories,
interview comments and tape recordings of interviews. The collection and
analysis of the data were integrally linked, each informing the other during
a recursive process. The idea of grain sizes (the use of different sized
samples for different research questions varying in extensiveness and



intensiveness) in learning environment research (Fraser, 1999b) has been

used effectively in studies that combine different methodologies (Fraser
& Tobin, 1991; Tobin & Fraser, 1998), and was used to guide the collection
of data for this study.
Initially, a large-scale quantitative probe (involving samples of students
in Australia and Taiwan responding to the WIHIC questionnaire and an
attitude scale) provided an overview of the learning environments in each
country. In the spirit of this interpretative inquiry, the data posed more
questions than it answered. A sense of the problematic was developed
during observations which reshaped the inquiry towards an examination
of social and cultural influences that might affect what was considered a
desirable learning environment in each country. The data collected using
the questionnaires were then used as a springboard for further data
collection using different research methods, including interviews with
participants, observations and narrative stories.
The procedures used in collecting survey data and gathering information
are described below, with reference to: the instruments used for data
collection; translation of questionnaires into Mandarin and back translation
into English; survey data collection for the main study; and the generation
and analysis of qualitative data.

4.1. Instruments Used for Data Collection

The recently-developed What Is Happening In This Class? (WIHIC)
questionnaire was used to measure students perceptions of their classroom
environment. These data provided an overview of the learning environment
in each country and provided as a starting point from which comparisons
could be made. The WIHIC was developed by Fraser et al. (1996) to bring
parsimony to the field of learning environments by combining the most
salient scales from existing questionnaires with new dimensions of
contemporary relevance to assess the following seven dimensions of the
classroom environment.
In addition, an eight-item scale was used to assess students attitudes in
terms of enjoyment, interest and how much they look forward to science
classes. This was based on a scale from the Test of Science Related Attitudes
(TOSRA) (Fraser, 1981).

4.2. Development of a Mandarin Version of the WIHIC

For the purposes of this study, a Mandarin version of the Personal form of
the What is Happening in this Class (WIHIC)? questionnaire was developed



for use with students in Taiwan. The English version of the WIHIC
questionnaire was translated into Mandarin by educators in Taiwan and
then back translated into English by an independent third party as
recommended by Brislin (1970, 1976, 1980; Brislin, Lonner & Thorndike,
1973). The back translations were checked, in collaboration with Taiwanese
colleagues, to ensure that the Mandarin version maintained the original
meanings and concepts in the original English version.
Comparisons between the Mandarin back translation and English
versions of the questionnaires revealed that, in some cases, the language
used in the back translations was more succinct or simpler than in the
original English version. In these cases, we modified the original English
questionnaire to make the items clearer. For example, Item 10 in the original
English version read In this class, I am able to depend on other students
for help and this was changed to In this class, I get help from other
In other cases, we found that some English words had no direct equivalent
in Mandarin. In these cases, the English version was changed so that the
wording could be parallel in the versions. For example the term favours in
the original item I do favours for members of this class was found to have
no direct equivalent in Mandarin. To accommodate this, the original English
item was changed to I am friendly to members of this class.
There were other cases for which differences in words changed the
meaning of the back translation. For example, some items in the back
translations used the word homework (e.g. When I have problems with
homework, this teacher will help me), when the original version implied
class work (e.g. The teacher helps me when I have trouble with the
work). In these cases, where the meanings of the back translations differed
from those of the English version, amendments were made to the Mandarin
version to ensure consistency.
Once the modifications had been made, the process was repeated to
ensure that the changes were adequate. A trial of the modified English
version of each student questionnaire took place in three science classes
in Australia, one from each of Grade 7, 8 and 9. This was followed by
interviews with five students from each class about the readability and
comprehensibility of items. These interviews were used to check whether
students had responded to questionnaire items on the basis intended by the
researchers. Similar interviews were conducted in Taiwan by a colleague
from National Kaohsiung Normal University.
Insights from the interviews in Australia were compared with those
conducted in Taiwan and subsequent changes were made to the questionnaires. The Taiwanese version was then used to make two questionnaires



in which the items remained identical except that the word biology was
used for biology classes and the word physics was used for physics

4.3. Survey Data Collection

The two questionnaires were administered in each country. In Taiwan,
students completed the Mandarin version of both the WIHIC questionnaire
and the attitude survey. For the most part, junior high schools in Taiwan
are separate from senior high schools and range from Grade 7 to 9 (1315
years of age). A sample of junior high schools, considered representative
of schools in Taiwan, was drawn from three different areas. Schools located
in northern Taiwan were selected from Taipei, schools in central Taiwan
were selected from the city of Changhua, and schools in southern Taiwan
were selected from Kaohsiung. A total of 25 junior high schools was
selected and the questionnaires were administered to two classes in each
school, giving a total of 50 classes (25 biology classes and 25 physics
classes), providing a total sample from Taiwan of 1879 students.
In Western Australia, an English version of the WIHIC questionnaire
and the attitude survey were administered to classes from junior high
schools (Grades 810 or 1315 year-old students). The schools selected
in Western Australia were restricted to those in which teachers were
prepared to participate. A representative sample of schools was selected
from different regions of the state of Western Australia. Of the 50 classes,
38 were selected from within the metropolitan area of the capital city, Perth,
and the remaining 12 classes were from rural schools. The questionnaires
were administered to two general science classes in each of the 25 schools,
providing a sample of 1081 Australian students.
It should be borne in mind that the students ages of entrance into the
junior high school, as well as the age for leaving school, are different for
both countries. The science curriculum in each country is also quite
different. Despite these factors, attempts were made to ensure that the
samples selected in each of Australia and Taiwan were similar, particularly
with respect to the students ages.

4.4. Generation and Analysis of Qualitative Data

The data from the questionnaires were used not only to provide a
parsimonious and economical view of learning environments in each
country, but also as a starting point from which other data could be
collected. Analysis of the survey data revealed that anomalies made the



results hard to interpret without the point-of-view of individual participants.

For example, in some cases, the survey data were not congruent with what
we observed in the classrooms of each country, creating dialectic tensions
that led to emergent research methods.
From this point, the study employed interpretative procedures (Erickson,
1986, 1998) to inform the inquiry. Using a recursive process (Erickson,
1998), involving observations and interviews (looking and asking), insights
into the learning environments in each country were sought. Analyses of
the data involved critical reflexivity in which assertions and questions were
generated and reframed throughout the data-collection process. This section
describes the use of classroom observations, interviews with participants,
and researchers stories to help to capture a richer interpretation of the
participants perspective.
Observations were carried out in the classes of four teachers in each of
Australia and Taiwan. The selection of these teachers was based on their
willingness to be involved in the study. Narrative stories, in keeping with
Denzin and Lincolns (1994) fifth moment, were used to portray
archetypes of science classrooms in each country. Stories were used to
represent a way of knowing and thinking (Carter, 1993; Casey, 1995),
making use of the researchers images, understandings and interpretations
of the learning environments in each country. The stories were used with
their interpretations and subsequent commentaries to provide a second layer
of representation (Geelan, 1997).
At least three students from each of the eight classes were interviewed.
Initially, interviews with these students were based on student responses
to selected questionnaire items in addition to questions raised during
classroom observations. The analysis of these initial interviews invariably
raised a number of questions related to the learning environment and
cultural aspects that were unclear. These issues were probed during
subsequent, more in-depth, interviews.
The teachers of the eight classes were also interviewed to seek their
reasons for various actions and whether the classroom environments created
by different teachers were influenced by social and cultural factors. As with
the students, we found ourselves returning to ask more questions in our
attempt to piece together our understanding of the learning environments
in each country.
The cross-cultural nature of the present study led to a multimethod
approach to allow triangulation of the methods and cross-validation of
the data. The data collected using the different methodologies complemented each other and together they formed a more complete and
coherent picture of the learning environments in each country (Denzin



& Lincoln, 1994). The results are presented below in three separate
sections: analysis of the questionnaire data; findings related to recognising
and minimising cultural bias; and information gathered using observations
and interviews.


The analysis of the data collected using the questionnaire and attitude scale
is reported below in terms of the statistical validation of scales and
differences between scale scores in the two countries.

5.1. Statistical Validation of Scales

During the development of the Mandarin version of the questionnaires, a
back-translation check (as described and recommended by Brislin, 1970,
1976, 1980) was used to achieve linguistic equivalence with the English
version (the development and back translation of which are described in
the previous section). Before valid comparisons could be made between
the two countries, based on the WIHIC and attitudes scales, it was important
to establish the conceptual equivalence (Berry, 1980) between the two
versions of the questionnaires. To determine whether the two versions of
the questionnaire exhibit essentially the same coherence and structure
across the two cultures, the data collected from the 50 classes in Australia
and the 50 classes in Taiwan were analysed to investigate the reliability
and validity.
Analyses of the data generated statistics were used to determine the
reliability and validity of the instruments, including factor structure, internal
consistency reliability, and ability to differentiate between classrooms.
Principal components factor analysis followed by varimax rotation
resulted in the acceptance of a revised version of the instrument. Two items
were omitted from each of the seven scales, resulting in a 56-item
instrument with 8 items in each scale (see Aldridge, Fraser & Huang, 1999).
The a priori factor structure of the final version of the questionnaire was
replicated in both countries, with nearly all items having a factor loading
of at least .40 on their a priori scale and no other scale (see Table I).
Simultaneous studies conducted in Singapore (Chionh & Fraser, 1998),
Brunei (Riah & Fraser, 1998) and Canada (Zandvliet & Fraser, 1998) have
reported similar factor structures using the WIHIC questionnaire, thus
supporting this factor structure.
To establish that each scale has satisfactory internal consistency, or that
each item in a scale assesses a common construct, Cronbachs alpha


Factor Loadings, Internal Consistency Reliability (Cronbach Alpha Coefficient), and Ability to Differentiate Between Classrooms (ANOVA
Results) for Two Units of Analysis for the WIHIC







Factor loading

Task orientation




















Factor loading

Task orientation







% Variance
Alpha Reliability
Class Mean
.07** .14**
.22** .14**
Loadings smaller than .4 are omitted. The sample consisted of 1081 students in 50 classes in Australia and 1879 students in 50 classes in Taiwan.
The eta2 statistic (which is the ratio of between to total sums of squares) represents the proportion of variance explained by class membership.
*p < .05. **p < .01.






coefficient was calculated. The internal consistency of each of the seven

eight-item scales is reported in Table I. Using the individual as the unit of
analysis, scale reliabilities ranged from .81.93 in Australia and from .85
.90 in Taiwan. Using the class mean as the unit of analysis, scale reliability
estimates ranged from .87.97 in Australia and from .90.96 in Taiwan for
two units of analysis (individual and class mean). As expected, reliability
values are somewhat higher when the class mean is used as the unit of
analysis as opposed to the individual student.
The relatively high alpha reliability for each scale of the WIHIC for
both the English and Mandarin versions suggest that the items in a scale
assesses a common concept. These results were comparable to those
found using the WIHIC in Singapore (Chionh & Fraser, 1998) and Brunei
(Riah & Fraser, 1998), which ranged between .71 and .86 using the
individual as the unit of analysis and between .74 and .91 using the class
mean as the unit of analysis. These results suggest that the internal
consistency for both the Mandarin and English versions of the WIHIC
are acceptable.
A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), using class membership as
the main effect, was used to determine the ability of each WIHIC scale to
differentiate between the perceptions of students in different classes. The
eta2 statistic was calculated to provide an estimate of the strength of
association between class membership and each WIHIC scale, in order to
ascertain whether scale scores varied with class membership. Table I
presents the ANOVA results which indicate that each of the seven scales
differentiated significantly between classes (p < .01) in both Australia and
Taiwan. The amount of variance in scale scores accounted for by class
membership (i.e. eta2) ranged from .07.15 in Australia and from .07.36
in Taiwan for different scales.

5.2. Differences between Australia and Taiwan in Learning

Environment and Attitude
Table I records the differences in mean environment and attitude scores
for Taiwan and Australia. Australian students consistently perceived their
learning environments more favourably than did Taiwanese students. Effect
sizes and t tests were calculated to investigate the differences between
students perceptions in Australia and Taiwan (Table II). In order to estimate
the magnitudes of the differences (in addition to their statistical significance),
effect sizes were calculated as recommended by Thompson (1998a, 1998b).
The effect size for five of the seven scales of the WIHIC questionnaire
ranged between approximately a quarter of a standard deviation (0.27) and



Mean, Standard Deviation, Effect Size and T Test for Independent Samples for
Differences Between Australia and Taiwan in Perceptions of Classroom Environment
and Attitude for the Class Mean as the Unit of Analysis
WIHIC scale


Teacher support
Task orientation
*p < .05.

Standard deviation





Difference between
Effect size







over three quarters of a standard deviation (0.86) for class means. These
effect sizes suggest a substantial difference between countries on the
learning environment scales with the exception of Student Cohesiveness
and Teacher Support. T tests for independent samples, using the class as
the unit of analysis, were used to investigate whether differences in scale
scores between Australia and Taiwan were statistically significant. Students
in Australia consistently viewed their classroom environment (in terms of
WIHIC scales) more favourably than did students in Taiwan. There was a
statistically significant difference (p < .05) for the scales of Involvement,
Investigation, Task Orientation, Cooperation and Equity (see Table II).
An interesting anomaly arose in that students in Taiwan expressed a
significantly more positive attitude towards science than did students in
Australia (p < .01). The effect size for student attitudes was over two thirds
of a standard deviation (0.72) for class means, also suggesting a large
difference between countries. Despite students in Australia holding more
favourable perceptions of the learning environment, it appears that students
in Taiwan had more positive attitudes towards their science classes. These
findings prompted the researchers to examine the perceptions of the
students in each country more closely during the qualitative data collection
which is discussed further in the following sections.


This section explores two factors associated with the bias and assumptions
that researchers bring to a cross-cultural study. In the first place, critical



auto-ethnographies, defined by Burdell and Swadener (1999, p. 22) as a

form of self-narrative that places the self within a social context, are
used to identify differences in the lenses that researchers of different
cultures brought to the present study and how these affected what they
observed and how they interpreted their observations. Secondly, a
retrospective analysis of stories written during the course of the study is
used to explore the notion of crossing cultural boundaries and the journey
that one of the researchers took over the course of the present crosscultural study.

6.1. Identifying the Different Lenses that Researchers Bring to a

Throughout the study, we found ourselves moving between hermeneutic
understanding (generating insights into the meaning of others) and
phenomenological understanding (a means of gaining insights into our
conscious experiences) (van Manen, 1990). In this study, hermeneutic
understanding was generated through interviews with teachers, students
and other researchers, while phenomenological understandings were
generated through stories written by researchers. In addition, critical
reflexivity was considered an important factor during the present study.
Stories, written by one researcher from Taiwan and one from Australia,
were made at the end of observations made in each country.
The stories were used to help to identify differences in researchers
perceptions of aspects of the study. One such difference was the researchers
views of what constituted a good teacher. The stories brought to light that
the researcher from Taiwan considered the most important element of being
a good teacher to be good content knowledge. For the Australian researcher,
however, the most important feature was concerned with the interpersonal
relationships developed between the teacher and the students. This
difference in perceptions created a different lens through which each
researcher viewed their observations. The researcher from Taiwan was more
likely to pay attention to the content of the lesson and the depth of
knowledge that the teacher relayed to the students. In contrast, the
Australian teacher was more likely to focus on the teachers interpersonal
skills and the way in which the teacher related to the students at different
The lens through which the researchers observed each lesson was also
coloured by the view that each held of what constituted active participation.
Prior to observations, we had discussed the importance of active
participation during a science lesson and, in many cases, we discussed



the degree to which active participation had taken place during these
lessons. It was not until after we had read a number of stories about our
observations that we realised that we each held different views. The
Australian researcher had used this term to describe lessons or activities
that encouraged a hands-on approach (i.e. more student-centred and
involving physically manoeuvring, touching and investigating a variety
of materials). The Taiwanese researcher, however, perceived the term
active participation as a minds-on phenomenon in which students not
only pay attention to what is taught, but assimilate the new information
with different or similar information that has been learned. This requires
the teacher to keep the students interested and attentive to what is being
taught. Once again, these differences coloured what each of the researchers
considered important during the observations, and the stories often reflected
these differences.

6.2. Crossing Cultural Borders

Finally, the researchers stories were used to illustrate one of the Western
researchers shift from a largely Eurocentric perception of the education
system in Taiwan to a critical awareness of the Australian education system.
The stories and their subsequent commentaries, in combination with student
and teacher interviews, were the catalyst for the Western researchers
experience of crossing cultural borders, as they helped to redefine selfconscious boundaries that were originally established through culturalcentrism.
In the past, studies involving the notion of border crossing (Giroux,
1992) have explored the idea of moving from different cultures and
micro-cultures encountered in everyday life, in several different contexts,
including minority groups crossing into the world of white Anglo-Saxons
(Lugones, 1987) and students journeys from their everyday lives into
the subculture of school science (Aikenhead, 1996; Cobern & Aikenhead,
1998). The present study went beyond past research in non-Western
countries that merely involved translating a questionnaire into another
language and using it to replicate previous research in Western countries.
Through using a range of intensive qualitative methodologies during
numerous visits to Taiwanese schools, the Western researcher in the
present study crossed the cultural border not only to gain a deeper
understanding of classroom environments in Taiwan, but also to reexamine her ideas about education in her own country.
The Australian researcher commenced this study with a more Orientalist
mind bent, described by Said (1995, p. 45) as the sense of Western power



over the Orient. Initially, the Australian researcher tended to use her own
culture as a benchmark to determine whether science classes in Taiwan
were effective or appropriate, and explained differences between the
science classes in Australia and Taiwan using her own experiences and
cultural understandings. The initial reactions which she had towards science
classrooms in Taiwan and her comparisons of the learning environments
led her to view education in Australia as more conducive to effective
learning. The ensuing discourse assumed the role of Orientalism in which
she expressed the strength of the West and the Orients weakness (Said,
1995, p. 45), as seen by herself, a Westerner.
The concept of border crossing (Giroux, 1992) was used to make sense
of the Western researchers shift from Orientalism towards rethinking and
reinvestigation of assumptions about what she knew to be true of schools
and the culture in Taiwan. Her initial reaction to science teaching in Taiwan
was one of symbolic violence (Bourdieu, 1992), in which she felt that
science in Taiwan went against much that she had learned to represent good
teaching. However, after subsequent discussions with colleagues and
interviews with teachers, she was able to make sense of particular actions
and to recognise difficulties and pressures under which teachers in Taiwan
work. She began to empathise with these teachers and understand the
problems which they faced. This, coupled with the Taiwanese researchers
conflicting view of what constituted an effective teacher, forced her to reexamine her own views.
Whilst the examination-driven curriculum in Taiwan appears to have
forged teaching styles different from in Australia, interviews with students
revealed that they were not as unhappy with classes in Taiwan as the
researcher had imagined. In fact, students whom we interviewed in
Taiwan had more positive attitudes towards science classes than those
in Australia. This disclosure forced the researcher to take a more objective
look at teaching in her own country and, as a result, she began to find
that perhaps it was not as superior as she had first imagined. She no longer
considered Australian education to be relatively free of faults and, in
contrast, commenced a more critical discourse about Australian education.
She had began to recognise that neither system was superior, neither
had all the answers and, in retrospect, both had a lot to offer the other. The
researchers awareness of Orientalism, and the difficulties that this mind
bent could pose, made her more critical of her own reactions towards
education in Taiwan. This awareness would not have been possible if she
had not felt at ease with her fellow researchers and able to question and
probe aspects of their culture.




The results of the large-scale quantitative probe, in addition to the
interviews based on items of the WIHIC questionnaire, posed anomalies
and dialectic tensions about which the researchers were keen to find out
more. As a result of critical reflexivity and dialectic tensions, there evolved
research methods that were more culturally sensitive and that the researchers
felt would help them to understand social and cultural factors that influence
the learning environment. These included observations and interviews with
the participants and narratives. The following section outlines the
differences between the cultures and education systems of the two countries
and how they might impinge on the learning environment that is created.
This section explores factors that influence the learning environment
in Australia and Taiwan. Data were gathered using classroom observations
and participant interviews from which themes emerged from our findings.
The bricolage method, described by Denzin and Lincoln (1994), was
used to draw together the information collected using a variety of research
methods. By holding competing perspectives in dialectical tension, we were
able to draw on a variety of paradigms to inform their interpretation in a
bid to explain the cultural and social factors that could contribute towards
the learning environments established in each country. The following
commentary attempts to bring together the pieces that form the bricolage.
The following pages discuss two themes that emerged from fieldnotes
of observations and interviews, which are labelled educational aims and
the nature of the curriculum and discipline and respect for the teacher.

7.1. Educational Aims and the Nature of the Curriculum

During our observations and interviews, it appeared that the educational
aims, reflected in the nature of the curriculum, were quite different in
Taiwan and Australia. In Taiwan, teachers whom were interviewed
indicated that education was focused predominantly on the development
of academic ability. With the students, the examination results are most
important . . .. If they do not achieve well, then they cannot go on to
university (Taiwanese Teacher, Transcript 4.1.13). Social and emotional
aspects of a students development were generally considered to be the
responsibility of the family and wider community rather than of the school
(Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). In contrast, teachers interviewed in Australia
considered academic development to be one of several aspects to be
developed in students, with social, emotional, and physical development
holding equal value. I think that we mustnt lose sight of the fact that



education involves the development of the whole child . . .. Too much

importance can be placed on academic development . . . (Australian
Teacher, Transcript 3.2.10).
The nature of the curricula in Taiwan and Australia appeared, in many
ways, to reflect academic versus whole-student aims. In Taiwan, the nature
of the curriculum tended to be more examination-driven and highly
competitive, when compared to the curriculum in Western Australia. In
Taiwan, examination results were of paramount importance to students,
as high achievement increased the likelihood of being allocated a position
in a star school (i.e. a school with outstanding results as measured by the
number of students who enter university). In contrast, students in Australia
gained access to the high school of their choice without having to take such
It seemed that the educational aims considered important to the teacher
and the nature of the curriculum played a significant role in, and in some
cases acted as a constraint to, the creation of the ideal learning environment.
The competitive nature of the curriculum in Taiwan appeared to encourage
teachers to concentrate on developing academic ability as efficiently as
possible. Diversions from teacher-centred methods were viewed as off-task
by many parents, teachers and students.
One such teacher whom we interviewed, Mrs Lee, had a passion for
biology and a love of teaching. However, when the conversation turned
to the biology curriculum, it became clear that Mrs Lee was less than
satisfied. Apparently the latest curriculum has been developed by
scientists and much of the content is above the level of her students. The
teacher explained that:
The textbook [upon which examinations are based] is very big and the teacher has to go
through each stage. There is too much to teach . . . and there isnt enough time to cover
the content of the book. Ideally I would like to give students the chance to learn what is
not in the textbook . . . (but I) dont do that . . . because of the shortage of time.

According to Mrs Lee, in her school, formal examinations in biology are

held at least once a month and she spends much time preparing her students
for these. She went on to explain that, as a result, alternative methods were
often not used in her class:
I try to include different methods in my teaching, but it depends on a lot of factors. I try
to use a multimedia approach to keep my students interested but find that I constantly
have to be aware of the time. Sometimes, I will prepare a lesson using a lot of different
media but do not get the chance to use them because of the students ability or the amount
of content that needs to be covered.



The constraints placed on Taiwanese teachers as a result of the examinationdriven curriculum were echoed by Mr Cheung, a teacher whom we
interviewed the day after. He used the expression time is tight on a number
of occasions to explain the predicament of teachers in Taiwan. Mr Cheung
had explained that:
The way we teach is constrained. Students have to do the entrance examination to senior
high school and they like to be crammed . . .. The examinations, the [content of the]
textbook and the amount of homework restrict how much work we can do outside of the
textbook. Every aspect of science education is constrained.

The science curriculum (for both biology and physics) in Taiwan is

presented to students in the form of textbooks, and examinations are based
on the content of these. As a result, it is important for teachers to cover all
areas. Teachers whom we interviewed explained that teacher-centred
methods are the most practical way to cover the content in the given time
frame, and that diversions are often not possible.
Without exception, the classes that we observed in Taiwan were teachercentred and there were generally few opportunities for discussions or
questions. Initially, we had assumed that the teacher-centred nature of
classes in Taiwan was the result of large class sizes, but speaking to more
teachers convinced us that class size was but one factor (among many) and
the nature of the curriculum was another. When asked whether he used
discussions in his class, Mr Cheung responded:
Usually no. I dont give them this kind of chance. In the beginning, in my first year of
teaching, I tried this kind of teaching, but I found that it was too noisy and very difficult
to control the class. Most of all, I found that this kind of chance [discussions] takes too
much time, and sometimes the students are not on task. So, although I have tried, I dont
use discussions in my teaching now . . .. Under the education system that we have in
Taiwan, the lecture kind of teaching is the most efficient way to teach students and get a
good score . . .. The students time is already very tight and they work too hard already.
So [by teaching in this way] I can do something for them.

During our visits to Taiwan, we did observe a teacher who moved away
from the teacher-centred approach, but these occasions were few.
In classes that we observed in Taiwan, we noticed that teachers used
rote learning on a number of occasions. The teacher would ask a question,
and students would chorus back the answer. These sessions were used to
revise the content of lessons, particularly when a test was close at hand.
Through further reading, we became aware that what we perceived as rote
learning (a mechanical procedure requiring little thought) could have
actually been what is referred to as deep memorisation (Biggs, 1996; Lee,



1996). Memorisation in the Confucian tradition is seen as a significant

part of learning. It generally precedes understanding and is accompanied
by reflection. When we asked students and teachers for their opinion
about such rote sessions, they generally agreed that this was an effective
method of preparing students for examinations. When asked about her
opinion on rote learning, one teacher, Mrs Chou, commented: In our
situation, this kind of teaching is very helpful for preparing students for
the examinations.
Australian teachers, on the other hand, tended to avoid the use of rote
learning or memorisation of a verbal, repetitious nature and, when
questioned, generally frowned on this as a viable teaching method. In this
light, one teacher commented that developing the students ability as
learners was more important than pumping them full of information.
Although these teachers expressed a desire to use methods that were not
teacher-centred in their science classes, they explained that, for various
reasons, this was not always possible. Generally, however, it was felt that,
by incorporating a range of different styles of teaching, they were better
able to cater for the range of learning styles. In addition, teachers felt that
their students were more likely to understand concepts if they were actively
involved in their learning.
Teachers interviewed in Australia indicated that, like Taiwan, the science
curriculum in Western Australia is defined by a set content that needs to
be covered. However, unlike Taiwan, where the curriculum is examinationdriven and presented in the form of a textbook (whose depth and scope
leave little time for any method of teaching other than teacher-centred),
the methods by which the Western Australian curriculum was delivered
was left largely to the teacher. Consequently, the nature of the curriculum
appeared to be largely responsible for the type of teaching approaches used
in each country, and these have led to differences in what were considered
to be ideal learning.

7.2. Discipline and Respect for the Teacher

Classroom observations and interviews suggested that there could be
differences in the ways in which students regarded their teachers, with
students in Taiwan appearing to be more respectful of their teachers than
students in Australia. The traditional bow of students, at the beginning
and end of lessons, is considered to be a mark of respect. Whilst it is
difficult to gauge the degree of respect that students hold for the teacher
from such rituals, interviews with teachers and students in Taiwan
indicated that teachers hold a high status within the community.



According to Huang (1997), Stevenson and Stigler (1992) and Smith

(1997), teachers in Taiwan hold a professional status within the community and are respected as experts in their field. Reinforcing their status
and professional standing, some teachers in Taiwan made a point of
intentionally distancing themselves from their students. One such teacher
explained that, in his experience, if he was friendlier towards the students,
they were less inclined to study. He added:
If Im too close or friendly, students feel that I am more of a friend than a teacher. So, if
Im too close, they wont feel pressured to study . . . I find that, by distancing myself,
they [the students] wont forget what position they hold or lose respect.

Although the teachers whom we interviewed generally felt this way, there
was an exception. One Taiwanese teacher purposefully created a closer
and more personal relationship with some students, paying particular
attention to those whom were motivated or interested in biology. She
encouraged them with excursions and trips to sites of interest on the
weekend and took them around the school grounds to teach them more
biology after school.
The degree of respect that the Taiwanese students have for their
teachers could be grounded in the students upbringing and in the
Confucian ethic of filial piety. According to Bond and Hwang (1990),
Lee (1996) and Smith (1997), much of the Chinese social behaviour is
commanded by the teachings of Confucius, or Chung-ni Kung. One of
the primary concerns of Confucius is achieving social harmony (Tong,
1970). In the Confucian tradition, relationships are considered to be of
paramount importance, with both parties within a relationship being
accorded rules of correct behaviour. Social harmony is ensured if each
individual follows the requirements of his or her relationship role, such
as that of the teacher and student.
Students observed in Australia, however, were more likely to interrupt
or be disrespectful towards the teacher than their counterparts in Taiwan.
The socialisation of students could also have a bearing on the degree of
respect that students have for their teachers. Comparing classrooms in
Taiwan and Australia, observations indicated that there was a larger gap
between the roles of teachers and students. This point was highlighted
during observations of Australian teachers performing tasks, such as giving
out papers, that normally would be undertaken by students in Taiwan.
Differences in the degree of respect accorded to teachers in each country
could be related to power differences between teachers and students in the
respective countries.



In Hofstedes (1980, 1983) work-related study, he extracted four

dimensions of cultural variation. One such factor, power distance, can be
used to help to explain the relationship between the teacher and students
in each country:
The extent to which the members of a society accept that power in institutions and
organisations is distributed unequally [differs between countries]. This affects the
behaviour of the less powerful as well as of the more powerful members of society. People
in large power distance societies accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a
place which needs no further justification. People in small power distance societies strive
for power equalisation and demand justification for power inequalities. (Hofstede, 1983,
p. 83)

In cultures in which there is an emphasis on filial piety, such as Taiwan,

there is a greater likelihood of a larger power distance, according to Bond
and Hwang (1990). The differences between power distances in Taiwanese and Australian classrooms could explain the observed respect or
lack of respect for the teachers. A study by Ho and Kang (1984) has shown
that attitudes towards filial piety were correlated with the placing of
greater emphasis by parents on strictness and discipline and less emphasis
on the childs expression of opinions, independence, self-mastery and
Although teachers in both countries complained about discipline
problems, we noted that there was more evidence of disruptive behaviour
in science classes in Australia (answering back and chatting between
friends) than in Taiwan. It appears that student behaviour in Taiwan could
be influenced by the degree of discipline and respect for the teachers
knowledge and ability. According to Smith (1997, p. 43), the discipline
problems and ills of classroom management prevalent in America are not
a problem in schools in Taiwan:
They are simply not part of the culture or social setting; such discipline problems,
disrespect, and disruptive and uncontrolled behavior on the part of the students are

One teacher commented that, while corporal punishment is officially

forbidden in schools in Taiwan (as it is in Australia), some parents suggest
to the teachers that they beat their children so that [they] will be more
afraid and will study harder. Dr Huang, who has school-age children
pointed out that, while there are parents in Taiwan who condone and even
encourage teachers to use the cane, not all parents are of this opinion. She
added: Because the competition is very high and they want their child to



do well, they see corporal punishment as a means of helping their children

by making them study harder.
This point is reiterated by Parish and Whyte (1978, p. 255) who speak
of discipline in the homes and some schools of Taiwan: Spanking and
scolding are the mainstays of discipline . . . there appears to be little reliance
on the techniques of persuasion, praise, or withdrawal of love which are
favored by child care authorities in China and America . . ..
Whether or not the use of such discipline made a difference in how
students acted towards their teachers, or behaved in class, was difficult to
tell. During classroom observations, however, we noticed that student
disruptions in Taiwanese classrooms were minimal, with only brief,
whispered discussions with neighbours. Students indicated that these brief
whisperings were related to points that were unclear from the lecture.
Moreover, when teachers in Taiwan discussed discipline problems with
us, these appeared to be associated more with inattentiveness than what
we, as Australians, would class as disruptive behaviour. Smith (1997) adds
that few discipline problems of consequence exist in Taiwanese classrooms
and that such problems are rarely related to violence.
There was no doubt that the students in Taiwan were less likely than
students in Australia to say anything negative about their teachers during
the interviews. The teachers knowledge was not questioned by any of the
students interviewed in Taiwan. They rarely questioned the teaching
methods or the lesson content. As one student commented, I like what
the teacher is teaching me. She teaches very well and it is always interesting.
So, I dont need to question the way she teaches.
In contrast, students whom were interviewed in Australia complained
readily about their teachers and the teaching methods which they used.
Some students complained that they found science lessons boring and many
said that they would choose to have science taught differently. There were
cases of students, particularly in lower-ability classes, who viewed science
and their science teachers as something to be endured because the subject
was compulsory.
In science classrooms which we observed in Australia, incidences of
students talking between themselves, calling out or answering the teacher
back in a less than civil manner were not uncommon. Teachers whom were
interviewed in Australia expressed the opinion that a lack of discipline was
one of the biggest constraints to their teaching. These teachers complained
that disruptive students often prevented them from being able to teach in
ways in which they would ideally like. In some cases, teachers felt that
they found themselves in the role of counsellor and spent teaching time
sorting out students problems. Of this, Slee and Knight (1992, p. 8) wrote



that the teachers role now comes to include that of quasi-therapist or

corridor counsellor.
During a group interview, the question of discipline arose and this
sparked off a discussion of the problems which they encountered in their
classrooms. The teachers all were in agreement that they were running out
of avenues to which they could turn to for help, and we got the distinct
impression that each teacher felt alone in his/her dealings of individual
problems. The teachers relayed a variety of horror stories of experiences
with students, some of which drew laughs as the events were recalled. One
of the teachers mentioned the Education Departments bid to cut down the
number of suspensions in their school which led to a discussion on the need
for suspensions. These teachers repeatedly expressed that they felt that they
had a lack of means with which to deal with disruptive students.
In Western Australia, teachers usually follow a procedure laid down in
school policy (known as the Managing Students Behaviour Policy) which
outlines the steps which teachers should take to resolve a conflict, which
is supported at the local, district and state levels. Attempts made to integrate
discipline into the texture of the school have been termed a whole school
approach (McWilliam, 1999) and, according to Partington (1998), the act
of removing students from the classroom is widely practised in Western
It is very possible that the degree of respect that students had for their
teachers and the discipline problems experienced had a marked effect on
the types of learning environments created by the teachers in their
respective countries.

The research described in this article is different from the large majority
of studies in science education in that it extended beyond the confines of
a single country to involve researchers from two different countries in
working collaboratively in pursuing the same research questions both in their
own country and in the other country. This study is also distinctive in that it
went beyond past cross-national research which was restricted to translating
a questionnaire developed in the West into another language, and then using
it in another country to replicate previous research in Western countries. This
study used a multimethod approach in which the use of qualitative research
methods (observations, interviews and narrative stories) augmented
questionnaire data to provide richer interpretations and insights. Overall, the
study highlighted the importance of cross-cultural studies to help our



understanding not only of classroom environments in other countries, but

also of classroom environments in our own country, it supported the value
of using multiple research methods, and it enabled the researchers to cross
the border into the world of science education in another country.
The quantitative data, collected using the What is Happening in This
Class? (WIHIC) questionnaire and an attitude scale in the first phase of
this study, supported the reliability and validity of both the English and
Mandarin versions of all scales. The final 56-item version of the classroom
environment questionnaire had 8 items in each of the 7 scales. The a priori
factor structure was replicated with nearly all of the items loading on its
own factor and no other factor. Internal consistency (alpha reliability) for
two units of analysis and ability to differentiate between classrooms were
found to be satisfactory. Overall, the study provides very strong support
for the reliability and validity of a widely-applicable learning environment
questionnaire for use in two countries and in two languages.
A comparison of scale means between the two countries revealed
interesting anomalies that, in the spirit of the interpretative approach,
prompted the researchers to seek why differences might occur. The initial
data indicated that Australian students consistently perceived their
classroom environments more favourably than did students in Taiwan on
all scales but, in contrast, Taiwanese students had a more positive attitude
towards their science classes. To explore these findings in more depth,
the researchers took the roles of bricoleur as described by Denzin and
Lincoln (1994), in that they pieced together the data collected using
different methodologies to gain deeper insights into the learning
Whilst the quantitative data made an important contribution to the
bricolage of information built up during the study, it was limited when used
for comparative purposes. We found that students from Australia and
Taiwan responded to questionnaire items in ways that were meaningful to
their own situations and were often influenced by social and cultural factors.
Consequently, the interpretation of the data became more meaningful when
combined with data gathered using other research methods. This provided
a precautionary note regarding imposed etic (Berry, 1969), experienced
when researchers use a questionnaire framed in one cultural context and
impose those categories, variables, concepts and constructs on a different
The generation and analysis of data collected using classroom
observations, interviews with participants and narrative stories allowed the
researcher to explore the students perceptions of the learning environment;
identify factors which influence the learning environments in Taiwan and



Australia; and make meaningful interpretations which took into account

the background, culture and situation of individuals. Through adopting an
interpretative approach that enabled the researchers to weave together the
data collected from multiple paradigms and methodologies, it was possible
to examine components which could be influenced by culture such as
situational and contextual factors, . . . [including] social expectations,
norms, task definitions and social cues (Maehr & Nicholls, 1980, p. 8)
that otherwise might be overlooked.
The learning environments created in each country were found to be
influenced by the nature of the curriculum, with the more examinationdriven curriculum in Taiwan leading to more teacher-centred approaches
in the classroom. Consequently, emphases considered important to science
education in Western Australia, such as involvement, are not always as
important or possible in Taiwan. The pressures experienced by teachers in
each country appear to influence the learning environment and in some
respects appear to be on opposing ends of a pendulum swing. Whilst there
are pressures related to an examination-driven curriculum, there also are
pressures related to implementing innovative ideas and tailoring a less
prescriptive curriculum to students needs.
The degree of respect that students held for their teacher appeared to
influence the classroom environment. The decidedly rowdier environment
in Australia, where students appeared to be more disruptive in class, was
held in contrast to the classes in Taiwan that were comparatively quiet and
free of students disruptions. There were points, good and bad, to be said
for both learning environments, with students in Taiwan being less inclined
to ask the teacher questions than their Australian counterparts, but with
Australian students being more likely to encounter occasions when learning
was interrupted by the disruptive behaviour of others.
It was felt that each country has much to learn from the other with regard
to the development of a learning environment which fosters positive
attitudes and a love of learning. The comparative nature of the present study
of learning environments in Taiwan and Australia made possible the
examination of similarities and differences between the learning environment
and students perceptions in each country. By comparing the learning
environments in two such different cultures, the researchers were able to
identify the qualities inherent in each. As such, cross-cultural comparisons
of this type have the potential to provide understanding of concepts as seen
by the people within the culture under study, generating new insights
(Brislin, 1980; Fraser, 1999b; Stigler & Hiebert, 1997) and making possible
the inclusion of the social context in which behaviours occur (Bilmes &
Boggs, 1979; Tseng & Hsu, 1980). Comparative studies of this nature



enable researchers, teachers and teacher educators to gain better understandings about their own beliefs and the social and cultural restraints
to their teaching.

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Science and Mathematics Education Centre

Curtin University of Technology
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