Peer Interaction Opportunities for Non-Native-Speaker-of-English International Students in Postgraduate Courses of a NZ University
In educational/academic contexts, participation in spoken interaction has been drawing attention as a potential source of problems for second language learners (Ferris & Tagg, 1996). Many scholars have acknowledged a need for students to participate actively in spoken communication in the higher education contexts (e.g. Mason, 1995) and also identified influential factors, including language proficiency (e.g. Xu, 1991) and socio-cultural incongruence (e.g. Lee, 2009), for the participation of non-native-speaker of English international students in their new educational practices through oral communication. While postgraduate students are assumed to have opportunities for educational interaction, the nature of activeness and collaboration in postgraduate educational practices as well as expected communicative competence need more attention. In the current study, peer interaction was conceptualized as a focal point that would help understand students’ active and collaborative learning in postgraduate education. The current study explored the processes of the creation and utilization of educational peer interaction which are afforded and constrained by contextual factors. An ethnographic approach, inspired by the development of Needs Analysis in the English for Academic Purposes research tradition and Ethnography of Communication (Gumperz & Hymes, 1972), was adopted. Specifically, insider perspectives of lecturers, local students, native-speaker and non-native-speaker international students, from three disciplines, namely, Applied Linguistics, Engineering, and Business School, were investigated through semi-structured interviews, triangulated with non-participant observations and Floor Analysis (Edelsky,1981) of audio-recorded interaction among students. Particular foci are on what types of peer interaction opportunities are created and utilized in postgraduate courses, what motivations are behind the creation and utilization of peer interaction opportunities for postgraduate learning, and how postgraduate students use communicative competence in peer interaction. Findings show that different types of peer interaction are situationally created by lecturers as well as students under the influences of multiple contextual factors, including learning objectives, pedagogical belief, and physical classroom settings. The findings also confirmed that students bring into postgraduate educational practices multi-faceted personal resources, including linguistic competence, social relations, domain knowledge, and previous educational experiences, which could accommodate or impede their participation in peer interaction. Also, students were found to utilize peer interaction opportunities to collaboratively develop their learning of the target academic knowledge while actively and interactively deploying a wide range of communicative functions, such as utterance completion, repetition, summary, validation, and information addition/edition. Pedagogical implications from this study can inform EAP practices, in the sense that EAP learner international students should be made aware of the interactive nature of learning in the target educational contexts, what factors could influence their interaction, and what sorts of communicative competence are needed in postgraduate environments where students are expected to actively and collaboratively engage in the development of their own learning.