This dissertation is a study of Chinese students' language and cultural learning experience through mediational means in a study abroad context. While there is extensive quantitative research to measure linguistic gains or cultural adjustment, there is limited research on study abroad participants' perspectives on their language and cultural learning experience through a sociocultural lens. This dissertation contributes new knowledge in Asian students' sojourn experience. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine, from Chinese students' perspectives, what mediational resources were used and how they used the materials to foster learning in a study abroad context. Data sources included in-depth interviews, ethnographic observations, focus group discussion, social media post and other documents. Sociocultural theory, mediation in particular, was adopted as the theoretical framework for this study because it resonates with my assumption that learning takes place in interaction between individuals and other materials and other people. Study abroad contexts are unique in offering multiple forms of resources that can be similar or different from the students' background. International students' interaction with materials and people in this study abroad community can be a mediational process that leads to learning. It also fits in my purpose of the study to examine the learning process but not the product. This study was not to measure the students' linguistic outcomes or cultural skills; instead, it was to attain more in-depth understanding of their personal experience in learning English and multiple cultures in the United States. Findings show that participants used multiple resources to mediate learning, including tools such as textbooks and on-line technology and semiotic systems such as language, email communication and peer review. Language, including dialogues with other people and private speech, stood out as powerful mediation means. Data also showed that emotions, identities and motivation played a crucial role in mediation. They not only influenced participants' choice of materials but also became mediational means themselves. These findings have significant theoretical and practical implications for study abroad students, instructors and program administrators. Students are encouraged to become reflective learners and to raise awareness of selecting multiple resources to mediate learning through various strategies. For instructors, this study also shows the importance of various pedagogies to address students' need and the significance of understanding students as individuals in a broader sociocultural context. It is also suggested that training, guidance and mentorship should be offered through the entire study abroad journey and beyond.This project confirms findings from many existing papers that study abroad is a complex experience. There are multiple affordances for learning but there is no definite causal relationship with linguistic gains. Students' interaction with mediational means can produce learning. It also extends the discussion of mediational tools and signs, by showing evidence of how emotions, identities and motivations mediated learning. This study exemplifies efforts to break the either-language-or-culture dichotomy that is often seen as the focus of research, and to inspire more future research on both aspects.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2014. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor:Dr. Martha Bigelow. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 155 pages, appendices A-E.
International students' language and culture learning experience in study abroad.
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