Adapting to Western norms of academic argumentation and debate
The thesis explores the learning experiences of East Asian masters students in dealing with Western academic norms of critical thinking and evaluation in classroom debate and assignment writing. This is a relatively new area of research, which is becoming increasingly important as the numbers of international postgraduate students in the U. K. continue to grow. Previous research has shown that differences in expectations have resulted in misunderstanding and some confusion for both lecturers and students. However, little research has yet been done in the U. K. on the process of adjustment during this learning experience. A grounded theory, case study approach is followed, as one of the aims is for students to tell their own stories, and for theoretical concepts to be developed which reflect the perceptions and interpretations of the students. Sixty seven in-depth interviews were conducted with East Asian students across three case sites: two universities in the U. K. and a third university in China. Eleven British lecturers, five Chinese lecturers and six British students were also interviewed, for triangulation purposes. Although there is no claim to generalisation, the potential for transferability of the findings is increased by also including a vignette questionnaire, involving a further 268 students across the three sites. The thesis takes a cultural approach, and a theoretical model is developed which identifies five learning stages, with various entry and exit routes. The data suggest that the majority of East Asian students reject full academic acculturation into Western norms of argumentation, which is characterised by rigorous, `strong' critical thinking, polarised, linear logic, and `wrestling debate'. Instead, many of them opt for a `Middle Way', which synthesises those elements of Western academic norms that are perceived to be culturally acceptable, with the traditional cultural academic values held by many East Asian students. The Middle Way emphasises a more holistic, empathetic `constructive reasoning', which bridges U. K. and East Asian traditions of academic argumentation and debate. The thesis offers a significant contribution to conventional literature on the academic experiences of East Asian masters students, as it draws attention to the complexity of the adaptation process.