Transformation of learner identity: exploring the transition of Chinese master's students into a Scottish university
Embargo end date30/06/2021
This thesis is based on an in-depth study designed to understand a group of Chinese master’s students’ transition experience into a Scottish university that emphasises cultivating independent and reflective learners. The research involved a longitudinal study to follow up 19 Chinese masters’ students from education, science and engineering programmes for a whole academic year (2016/7) with three individual interviews per participant. The interviews explored students’ individual and collective transition experiences, and how they perceived and coped with the transitions in different stages of their studies. The study also placed focus on whether and how the experiences affected their learner identities and capacities for learner autonomy. Narrative inquiry and thematic analysis were used in this study. The data is presented within four main topics: how students responded to the UK teaching, learning and assessment methods, how students interacted with their teachers, how they collaborated with peers, and to explain why Chinese students appear to be “silent” and “passive” in learning. Moreover, in order to give deeper insights of the individual transition experience, three case studies are also presented to tell three dramatic stories of three individual participants’ transitions. The research findings challenge previous studies which present Chinese students as a homogenous group, who would have the same challenges making the transition and who would need the same support. This study provides evidence that Chinese students with different background and previous learning experiences have very different transition experiences and have diverse responses to the learning environment. Furthermore, not every student reported that the pedagogies and assessment methods were so obviously different from their studies in China and some of them did not feel it was necessary to adjust their learning. However, the new relationships with peers and teachers were repeatedly mentioned in the interviews and played important roles in the transition. Several examples in the findings demonstrate the interactions with teachers and the collaborations with peers may reshape the students’ learner identities and influence the development of learner autonomy. Although the sample is small, the narratives in the findings are rich and touching, which hopefully can give the readers a deeper grasp of Chinese international students’ lives and studies in the UK. The discussion chapter also presents a transition stage model, developing on the findings and related literature, to help the readers understand the process and the potential challenges during the transition towards learner autonomy.