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Title: Managing difference : postgraduate students' experience and perspectives of multicultural group work in an internationalising university
Author: Cai, Xiaozhe
ISNI:       0000 0004 7657 7535
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2017
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With the increasing internationalisation of Higher Education, which saw the number of international students double in the first decade of the 21st century according to an OECD report (Rebolledo-Gomez & Ranchin, 2013), universities around the world have been trying to improve the learning experience and enhance student employability in order to maintain an international reputation. Multicultural groupwork, which has the power to "force" students of different cultural backgrounds to work together has been increasingly used in the name of developing students' intercultural skills and prepare them to become "Global Citizens" under this internationalisation of Higher Education agenda. However, it needs to be questioned whether simply mixing students of different backgrounds in a group necessarily leads to them working collaboratively with each other. Challenges and negative perceptions of the experience have been repeatedly reported in the literature (Summers & Volet, 2008; Turner, 2009). However, most studies in this area were conducted by academic staff who were researching their own students, which might affect how students report their experiences. Additionally, there is little research focusing on intercultural skills development within student groups. By taking a "from students, for students, and about students" stance, I will address this research gap, not only by looking at students' perceptions of their multicultural groupwork experience, but also by looking into the development of transferable skills. My research also addresses factors that influence students' attitudes in order to identify possible actions to foster a better intercultural learning environment. A mixed methods approach was adopted to answer my research inquiry, via two questionnaires involving 286 respondents and two rounds of interviews involving 19 participants, which were conducted at the early stage and end stage of a master's degree course. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected about postgraduate students' attitudes towards multicultural groupwork, their perceptions of the groupwork experience and how they coped with the difficulties they encountered in the process. While the quantitative findings indicated that overall postgraduate students showed no change of attitudes during their one-year course of study, they largely recognised the benefits and value of working in multicultural groups. The qualitative analysis allowed a deeper exploration of the quantitative findings, for example, elaboration on the difficulties they voiced and challenges they had to deal with. Participants in this study nonetheless confirmed that they did develop skills through working in groups, as well as many creative coping strategies to deal with difficulties that happened during the groupwork process, such as different levels of language proficiency and different working styles. The implications of the study are that further support by academic teaching staff and university administration is needed to promote intercultural awareness and provide intercultural skills training to help students understand culturally different communication and working styles before they undertake group projects. The findings also suggest that current assessment criteria, which largely focus on the end product of multicultural group work rather than the process, should be changed, as the true value of working in multicultural groups exists in the interaction of students studying collaboratively.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: LC Special aspects of education