Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > A Statistical Distance: Examining the Experiences of Chinese Graduate Instructors and Their Undergraduate Students in Statistics Courses

Chinese graduate students are the largest contingent of international students in the United States, and many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) departments in American research universities rely on large numbers of Chinese graduate students to maintain a high-level of research. At the same time, China is quite frequently imagined as the United States' main competitor, both economically and educationally. A main point of contact for Chinese graduate students with Americans is in their role as Teaching Assistants (TAs) charged with teaching American undergraduates. These interactions are sometimes contentious as undergraduate students complain that they cannot understand or learn from their Chinese instructors. Undergraduate complaints have resulted in legislation regarding instructor fluency, training programs for international TAs (ITAs), and a whole body of research that examines the `ITA problem.' It is often assumed that Chinese graduate students do not possess the English language skills to effectively teach undergraduates in the United States. In my own experience with Chinese graduate students, I have found their English to be, in almost all cases, perfectly intelligible. This dissertation focuses on Chinese graduate students teaching Statistics to undergraduates at a large research university in the southeastern United States. Through a case study methodology, this dissertation attempts to answer three research questions: 1) How do undergraduate students in Statistics courses experience Chinese TAs? 2) How do Chinese graduate students experience teaching Statistics to undergraduates? 3) How does context affect the experiences of Chinese TAs and their students? Most of the ITA problem literature reaches two unsatisfactory conclusions: either the international graduate students have deficiencies that impede undergraduate learning, or the undergraduates' racism and xenophobia negatively affect their learning. Through regular observations of courses taught by three Chinese graduate instructors and interviews with the instructors, their undergraduate students, and professors in the Statistics department, I found that the structure of the courses played a major role in the experiences of the instructors and students. I also situated the case study into the larger contexts of race/racism in the United States, representations of China, undergraduate education at research universities, and the ITA problem literature.