Stories of autonomy: international students successfully surviving, striving and thriving in a second-language ecosystem

Morrison, Brian (2020) Stories of autonomy: international students successfully surviving, striving and thriving in a second-language ecosystem. Ed.D thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Out-of-class language learning is an under-researched area of education which has started to receive more interest in the last decade. Research into autonomy in language learning has tended to investigate learners engaged in language courses. This omits swathes of international students at UK universities who engage in programmes in English, a second language. The research attention these learners have received often highlights the challenges they experience transitioning culturally and linguistically to new academic environments. Despite the challenges investigated, over 140,000 international students successfully graduated from UK universities in 2016-17 (UKCISA, 2019). Few studies have considered the out-of-class learning that likely contributes to this success until now. This study incorporated literature on autonomy from general education, adult education and language education to consider the out-of-class learning of three successful international students.

I conducted a small-scale longitudinal investigation of learning behaviours that three Chinese postgraduates engaged in beyond the classroom during their UK business Master’s programmes, and their associated beliefs. The nationality and programme selection for investigation was determined by the UK-wide statistics showing that Chinese students on business programmes were the largest proportion of postgraduate students divided by nationality and study programme (UKCISA, 2019). A contextual approach to beliefs was taken, and so beliefs were considered ‘contextual, dynamic and social’ (Barcelos, 2003, p. 20). At the beginning of the participants’ academic year in the UK, I investigated the historical behaviours and beliefs around language learning. This provided insights into prior learning beliefs and behaviours and the extent to which learner autonomy had been restrained, ignored or encouraged in each participant’s language learning experience. The research continued by exploring participants’ unfolding perceptions of their contexts and the interplay between beliefs, behaviours, context and experience as the year progressed.
A multiple case study was used in that each participant was one case with beliefs and behaviours conceptualised as particular to that person. Data was gathered through 90-minute in-depth interviews four times at approximately four-month intervals. The longitudinal nature of the interviews enabled the complexity of the participants’ language-related engagement to emerge. Consequently, it was possible to identify participants’ varying perceptions of certain contextual affordances and obstacles such as interactions with others who appeared welcoming or judgemental. It was also possible to identify when and why Chinese was used socially and academically. Of particular interest were perceptions of the importance of first and second language use for particular purposes, and how this changed. A narrative analysis was applied to the data in order to present the findings chronologically thereby highlighting both the relevance of experience on consequent perceptions of contexts and the interplay between beliefs and behaviours.

Overall, the extent to which the participants engaged with living and studying in an ecosystem dominated by English did not appear to be related to their language level prior to arrival. Instead, competing priorities, chance encounters, and perceptions of others’ attitudes influenced their beliefs and behaviours throughout their stay. This somewhat challenges the current narrative that language and culture are the obstacles. This is important because if universities are to support international students, they could consider support beyond academic literacy and language development courses. The small number of participants in this study restricts the generalisability of the findings, particularly given the divergence of experiences and perceptions amongst the three participants. However, the restricted number of participants allowed for an in-depth exploration of each person’s experiences and how these were understood. The complexity uncovered supports the case for more research in out-of-class learning which privileges learners’ perspectives of experiences related to learning in a second language. Areas of particular interest appear to be aspects of first and second language.

Item Type: Thesis (Ed.D)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Learner autonomy, language learner autonomy, internationalisation, English for academic purposes, narrative inquiry.
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Hedge, Professor Nicki and Enslin, Professor Penny
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Brian Morrison
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81659
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2020 08:29
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2024 11:14

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