Chinese international students’ participation in the oracy demands of British higher education

Liu, Julian (2021) Chinese international students’ participation in the oracy demands of British higher education. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Recent figures have shown that Chinese students constitute the vast majority of international student enrolments in British higher education, a trend which has not only contributed to the UK higher education system significantly in financial terms, but also made it more linguistically and culturally diverse. Under a dominant constructivist approach to pedagogy, oral interactions between lecturer/tutor and students and among students have been given high importance. However, social constructivism has neglected the potential influence that “hard” or “soft” disciplines may have on pedagogic interactions. While there have been many studies on Chinese international students’ participation in academic preparation or language-related courses, there is a paucity of studies on these students’ performance of the oracy demands (lecturers’/tutors’ expectations of students’ listening and speaking) across different disciplines in UK higher education.

This study is informed by critical realism and Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic discourse. Three courses with a high proportion of Chinese international students were selected then observed: Course A represents a “soft” social science discipline, whereas Course B drew from an applied “hard” science discipline. Course C was a compulsory course in workplace communication skills that was required for Course B’s discipline. This study provides a rich investigation of the pedagogic design and enactment of these three courses, with particular focus on how the students, especially Chinese international students, participated in the oracy demands of each class.

In designing this research study, I adopted the layered ontology of critical realism. Ethnographically informed observations allowed me to record and investigate interactions at the “empirical” level of classroom discourse. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the two observed lecturers/tutors and 14 students (11 Chinese international students, one international student and two domestic students). Stimulated recall interviews were also used with the lecturer interviews in order to elicit their explanations of particular moments or practices from their courses. Thematic analysis of lecturers’/tutors’ and students’ accounts reported in the interviews enabled me to understand the “actual” level of classroom discourse in terms of the reasons behind their performances. The deep “real” of the classroom discourse were potential causes of students’ performance. These causes were conceptualised through the theory of “knowledge structures”, “pedagogic discourse” and “models of teacher and student” (Bernstein, 2000).

Knowledge conditions such as the students’ preparation before class or students’ level of knowledge, linguistic challenges and cultural scripts could all affect Chinese international students’ verbal engagement in class. These interwoven factors informed the students’ model of the teacher and learner (Bernstein, 2000) and thus wrestled with the lecturers’ oracy expectations of student talk. This study also found that disciplinary differences can affect pedagogy and should be taken into consideration while studying students’ performance of oracy demands. For “hard” sciences, especially for those disciplines that rely heavily on mathematics, oracy with respect to constructing knowledge might have to accommodate the mathematical language in order to build up the disciplinary knowledge. The example of Course C demonstrated that, given the demands of labour market and students’ career paths, “hard applied” disciplines might incorporate a course on communication skills and team-work, whereby oracy is the pedagogic product, not just the pedagogic process. Effective strategies for assistance such as scaffolding questions, the use of humour, explicit teaching of expectations were provided by the observed lecturers/tutors to encourage participation or help students to think. Concerns of humility and the avoidance of losing face (Ellwood and Nakane, 2009) were still reported among the interviewed Chinese international students. However, it was found that over time Chinese international students could be adaptable when they encountered a new pedagogic culture. At the same time, this research reveals that the ancient Chinese philosophy of “Wu” influences Chinese international students’ expectations of what a good learner should be and do in the classroom. These different models of teacher and student interactions which are affected by “Wu”, humility and avoidance of losing face seem to be in sharp contrast to Vygotsky’s social constructivist learning theory and offer new insights into whether generic social constructivism applies equally to all disciplines and to students from different cultures.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Hirsu, Dr. Lavinia, Farrar, Dr. Jennifer and Doherty, Prof. Catherine
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82274
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2021 06:27
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2022 11:16
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82274

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