A Case Study of International Student Participation in an Undergraduate Module in Management in a UK Business School using the Lens of Activity Theory
Straker, John Oldfield
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This case study of international student participation in an undergraduate module in Management in a UK Business School arose from concerns that international students do not always meet institutional expectations of full participation. In the literature, the issues of language and culture have dominated discussion, while education theory has not been prominent. Using a post-Vygotskian framework (Activity Theory), the study set out to understand international student participation from the students’ perspective, taking account of the different elements of activity. It offers a holistic approach, placing the dominant themes in a broader context. The research was undertaken in two phases over a 12-month period using focus groups as the research instrument. Classroom observation, impromptu and planned interviews and correspondence with lecturers, as well as module documentation, contributed to a broader understanding of the context. The focus groups included both international and home students. Phase 1 enabled the conceptual framework to be assessed and refined for use as a coding frame. Following initial coding in Phase 2, the research focus was redefined as participants’ understandings of object-motive, and an in-depth analysis of this element was undertaken. Four module objects were identified: collaboration in diverse groups, task, academic study, and professional practice. In addition, participants identified some more personal objects. The impact of English language level and cultural background were quite extensively discussed, but not to the exclusion of other factors. The analysis indicated that focus group members’ experiences and understanding of participation in international classrooms were shaped by the objects they held in view. Thus, while the study identified the factors which participants understood as impacting on international students’ participation, the analysis of object-motive offered an explanatory framework for understanding the importance they assigned to these. The study highlights the prominence of task-based group work in the module, and questions the extent students were prepared for this type of pedagogy. It notes that home students in particular might benefit from opportunities to increase their intercultural awareness. Participants’ apparent concern for the language and academic levels of some international students may reflect the English language and academic levels of international students at entry into the institution, and serve as a reminder of the importance of well-considered entry decisions.
EdD in Education