Journeys towards Masters’ literacies: Chinese students’ transitions from undergraduate study in China to postgraduate study in the UK
This research explored Chinese students‟ experiences of acquiring and practising academic literacies as required in their Master‟s programmes. To date, academic literacy studies in common with wider research on higher education students‟ learning have tended to focus on the experiences of undergraduate students, particularly in western universities. The current study addresses this gap in the literature by investigating the learning journeys of students who had gained a first degree in China and were undertaking postgraduate study in the UK. Data were collected from three-phases of semi-structured interview: at the beginning, at the halfway and the end of the teaching component prior to the Master‟s dissertation phrase. Each of the participants was drawn from one of three contrasting Master‟s programmes at the University of Edinburgh (Education, Finance and Investment, and Signal Processing and Communications) and participated in all three phases of interview. All eighteen participants‟ experiences are presented as case studies to bring their voices to the fore and acknowledge the complexity and individuality of their learning journeys. The research shows that five dimensions of transitions are significant and relevant to all the participants – transitions in language, pedagogical culture, subject, level of study, and living and learning abroad. The language barrier is particularly important both in itself as well as through its influence on other transitions, although all five transitions are in various respects interwoven. The extent to which the transitions are challenging differs across participants and programmes. The perspective of transitions does not therefore suffice to capture the richness of the Masters‟ students‟ journeys. Accordingly, the perspective of Masters‟ literacies is introduced as a powerful lens through which to explore the Chinese participants‟ learning experiences and challenges and how these are linked to their confidence in themselves as Master‟s students. Four academic literacy practices are viewed in this study as key components of Masters‟ literacies: autonomy in learning, subject discourses, critical and analytical thinking, and interaction with teachers and students. Finally, the conceptual, methodological and practical implications of these findings are explored.