Engaging in a learning community: International and culturally and linguistically diverse Masters students negotiating academic practice

Year: 2016

Author: Iyer, Radha

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Introduction: Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) international and domestic students comprise a significant group within higher education in Australia. While their diversity is valued as providing a heterogeneous outlook to the higher education context their academic practice and literacy is often perceived as deficient due to standards set by local institutions (Ryan, 2005; Davies, 2003). This study examines how CALD Masters students encounter academic practice and academic literacy and in what manner they become members of the learning community. Theoretical framework Instead of comprehending how CALD students become productive members of a community, research often examines ways to upgrade their academic literacy practices. As research indicates, language ability takes precedence over the skills and abilities diverse students bring to learning (Felix and Lawson, 1994; Ryan and Valet, 2009). However, if these students are to be considered valuable members of the higher education context, a productive learning community is required. In this study, community of practice (CoP) (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 2000) and Bakhtin’s (1981) theories of dialogism and heteroglossia are drawn upon to illustrate how meaning and identity can occur only when productive communities are formed and when these encourage student voice. CoP theory emphasises the centrality of participation and practice that occur when mutual collaborations form to negotiate meanings, joint enterprise occurs through discussion and agreement and alignment happens through shared repertoire where resources are shared. Further, Bakhtin’s (1981)theories of dialogism and heteroglossia are drawn upon to illustrate how centripetal and centrifugal forces in language engage in a dialectic practice to enforce either monologic, authoritative institutional discourses or decentralized discourses where student voices are heard. When centripetal and centrifugal forces collide in discourse it results in dialogic heteroglossia (Bakhtin, 1981) which illustrates diversity and difference in academic practice of these students.Methodology and FindingsThe study conducted at a local university in Australia drew on qualitative case study methodology and used pre and post study surveys and interviews to collect data. Interviews were conducted with students (n x10) in 2015 and in 2016 (n x 5) to ascertain knowledge about learning and belonging students had experienced. Pre-study and post-study surveys were conducted in 2015 and in 2016 (n x 20) to collect their perceptions about academic practice, academic literacy and belonging to a CoP. Researcher reflections (n x 6) assisted in maintaining observations on how a learning community formed or was constrained. Data analysis illustrated that a sense of isolation was experienced by CALD students however, it was less for those who participated in the CoP. Further, data illustrated that when student voice and difference was encouraged it had a positive effect on the academic literacy and academic practice of CALD students.