Byrne, Gillian (2017) Engaging with Learning within the UK HE Context: A Narrative Inquiry of International Student Experience. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Taking a narrative inquiry approach and using poetic forms of representation, this thesis details the journey of a group of international and UK Higher Education students as they developed the skills necessary to become independent learners and engage in a new educational context. In contrast to many studies which take international students as their focus, this study does not isolate one group and thus avoids a deficit approach to an understanding of the international student experience.

The narrative inquiry methodology used combines elements of life story, life history, ethnography and autobiography; it is emergent, responsive, blurring genres, boundaries and refusing dichotomous classifications. Using Savin-Baden’s (2004) combined analysis and interpretation approach, stories were created. These were collated into themes which identified connections across the stories, and to the issues identified as the focus of the study. These stories became the basis for a process of poetic transcription/analysis/interpretation where data, reflective notes, field notes and literature were integrated into stanzas which combined the voices of the participants’, the researcher and those of the literature (Byrne, 2015).

The students’ narratives revealed an initially differentiated direct entrant experience. These students shared with their continuing peers a novice status in the subject but this was coupled with a novice status in the learning environment. The students had a practical conceptualisation of critical thinking, in that they articulated their understanding of this concept in terms of reading, research, writing and the construction of citation based arguments within their assignment. There was a move from reliance on the tutor as the bestower of knowledge to a collaborative construction of knowledge. The second year of study was characterised by a changing social dynamic that resulted from the joining of the direct entrant students. Thus the second year was about working out who to work with in order to achieve the best outcome. There was interaction between international and UK students. Skills were adapted, refined and shared in multiple communities of practice within a landscape of learning. The students’ learning experience was transformative in terms of their skills development.

Poetry makes the representation of data an individual process of making meaning but also transcends the personal, evoking the experience of the participants, making the researcher’s influence explicit and acknowledging the many co-collaborators in its production including the reader. The poems evoke the experiences of a peer-supportive and diverse group of students, illuminating the collaborative nature of their skills development as they share not just subject knowledge but also methods for learning and assessment. Through a focus on a combination of international, UK, second year and direct entrant students, insights are provided into the ways in which this particular diverse group of students negotiated cultural and language differences to develop supportive, inter-cultural communities of practice.

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