Similarities and differences between the groups: some implications
The findings of our investigation suggest that, irrespective of where they come from, students share many common views about good thinking skills that are useful in tertiary studies. We found no evidence of an East-West difference in knowledge and awareness about useful thinking skills, which supports views that have earlier been expressed by authors like Paton (2005) and Stapleton (2002) about cultural equivalence as far as the possession of such skills is concerned. We also found it quite encouraging to see that many qualities commonly associated with critical thinking—such as viewing things from multiple perspectives, thinking for oneself, questioning, and using systematic, logical approaches—were mentioned by students in all three groups. Perhaps this similarity between the three groups indicates the extent to which many tertiary institutions globally are increasingly becoming more alike in the student competencies and values they are promoting.
The Kyoto and Okinawa students did not appear to be any more similar to each other in their views and perceptions compared to the students from Auckland. In fact, in some aspects, either the Kyoto or the Okinawa group was more similar to the Auckland group. For example, where improving thinking skills was concerned, the Okinawa and Auckland students suggested similar strategies involving exposure to others' views, articulation of knowledge, and rising to meet challenges, which were not suggested by the students from Kyoto. This again perhaps indicates that educational environments, more than cultural factors, influence students' views about how they should apply themselves to their studies.
We did, however, find one similarity between the Kyoto and Okinawa students that appears important, and that is their common assertion that consideration of others is one of the qualities of good thinkers. The consideration they were referring to did not appear to be necessarily for self-benefit— unlike, for example, instances when the Auckland students mentioned "getting inside the lecturer's head" so that they could produce work accordingly (and hence obtain better grades). Rather, the suggestion about consideration of others from the Kyoto and Okinawa students appeared more concerned with a genuine desire to understand and establish good relationships with other people. This finding supports earlier observations by Markus and Kitayama (1991) that people from many Asian and non-Western cultures possess a more interdependent self-construal. According to their theory, interdependent people think of themselves as being part of a bigger social relationship with significant others, and this view affects not only their behavior but also their ways of thinking.
Other differences between the groups, however, suggest the influence of the students' educational and social environments rather than their cultures per se. In discussing thinking skills that are important at university and instructor expectations about those skills, there were many similarities between the three groups, but also some interesting differences. The Kyoto students referred to the importance of deeper thinking processes and instructor expectations about responsibility for the development of one's own thinking skills. However, the Kyoto students who took part in our study were enrolled in one of Japan's top-ranked universities. As a group, these students could be considered as high achievers, and so perhaps these responses from them were not surprising. These students would likely have been better aware of the range of thinking processes required for effective learning, and instructor expectations of them would likely have been higher compared to expectations in many other universities.
In contrast, when discussing the same issues, the students from Okinawa referred to the importance of appreciating cultural meanings and relevance, and to instructor expectations about social responsibilities. Again, one could argue that, with the multicultural mix of people in Okinawa and the social and political issues surrounding the US military presence there, such views and perceptions about thinking would likely be impressed upon university students who live there.
Finally, the Auckland students responded to the same questions by mentioning course and instructor management strategies and by noting their lecturers' expectations about research skills applications. In New Zealand universities, including the one where the participants for the current study came from, undergraduate student attrition is high: entry into universities is comparatively easier (i.e., compared to many Asian countries, for instance) but, once in a university, students are expected to work very hard to keep up with course requirements—and significant proportions of students fail and/ or drop out. Study management strategies are therefore heavily emphasized in New Zealand tertiary institutions, including the need to effectively employ skills learned to meet coursework demands. This situation may well have influenced the views and perceptions expressed by the Auckland students.