International students will sooner or later be confronted with the difficulties and problems being at a university where most teachers and the majority of the students have English as their first language. One of the most common problems is that of communication. This assignment will treat the issue of international first-year Curtin students’ confrontation with the communication-problems that arise as English is the spoken and written language at universities all across Australia.
There are several reasons why this topic is worth researching, one of the most important reasons is connected with the concept of ‘educational globalization’, which has become an issue in recent times. More and more students decide to go to universities where English is the tuition-language mainly because they want an international education that is recognized by employers in the contemporary world. It is therefore of greater general interest to research the topic of problems, difficulties and issues that arise at university, as most international students’ mother tongue is not English. In order to straighten up in these communication-problems, you must first find out what sort of problems and obstacles are most commonly encountered. Is it more difficult for international students to write correct English in essays and assignments, or is speaking the language accurately and fluently the most common problem? The purpose of this research is to find out what kinds of problems are most commonly encountered, and analyze these results to form solutions.
There is a number of different ways to study this topic, however the method selected reflects on the purpose of the research. The very first thing you will have to do is find relevant background information including a review of the literature on the topic. Next, a decision must be reached regarding the type of research, that is, should it be qualitative or quantitative research, or a combination of both? Qualitative research includes in-depth interviews, ethnographic studies, case studies and focus group interviews, while quantitative research includes questionnaires and surveys. It is important to narrow down and decide which sort of research is best for your topic in order to be able to systematically go through the process of researching. You will definitely have to identify the focus population, especially when you are doing qualitative research.
The topic of international first-year Curtin students’ confrontation with written and spoken English is definitely a topic that is worth researching qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Since the population of first-year international students at Curtin is not very large, it is absolutely better to do qualitative research, such as in-depth interviewing and focus group interviewing, so that you can probe deeper into the topic. When doing in-depth interviews, you specifically choose the people and interview them using open ended questioning techniques. Thus ensuring that you will get a more detailed picture of the situation he or she is in. Focus group interviewing is another way of doing qualitative research on a topic. When you do this, you gather people with quite similar characteristics and interests, and start a discussion led by an interviewer. There are normally between 6 and 12 people in a focus group. You should do the focus group interviews before the in-depth interviews because you want to explore and determine what kinds of problems people are concerned about and refine the direction of the individual interviews based on the findings in the group discussions. After the focus group interviewing you should go in more qualitative depth in form of individual interviews with specifically chosen people, in this case with international first-year Curtin students, teachers, counsellors and the chancellor of Curtin University. When doing individual interviews, you have to question the credibility of the people you are interviewing. They might not be telling you the whole truth, and sometimes they do not tell you what you want to hear because the questions are open.
Another type of qualitative research method you must take into consideration before starting on the research process, is whether or not you want to do ethnographic research on your chosen topic. When doing ethnographic studies on a topic, the researcher is required to actually be in the situation and among the people who are being observed. This research method is more suitable when the researcher is, for instance, studying another culture then his or her own. Then the researcher would have to be in the situation and gather knowledge about the habits and customs of the culture. Because you cannot really expect the researcher to be an international student, this kind of qualitative research is not suitable for this topic.
There is also the possibility of combining the two main formal research methodologies (qualitative and quantitative) in your research program. On this topic, you could hand out questionnaires to international students where they could rank different problems on a scale from 1-10. You would probably only get ambiguous and superficial answers mainly because of the simplistic and from sometimes intrusive or even inadvertently offensive questions asked in a questionnaire. When doing quantitative research such as questionnaires, the target-public will get more or less categorised after their characteristics, behaviour and opinions. This is where yet another problem arises, people might feel they fall into more than one category. These are the main reasons why quantitative research methods are not suitable for this topic. If the target-public was larger than international first-year students at Curtin University, you should consider the advantages of quantitative research. The main advantages are that you get a broader picture, the research process is quick and can be administrated by others and you get the possibility of comparing situations. In addition to this, if someone has done qualitative research on this topic before, it would give the researcher a good background to qualitative research on the same topic.
As a conclusion, considering the relatively small target-public, you should use qualitative research methods in the form of in-depth interviews and focus group interviewing because you want to probe deeper into the topic rather than getting a broader picture of a larger population.