The challenge of "doing discussions" in graduate seminars : a qualitative study of international students from China, Korea, and Taiwan
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The present study was an attempt to explore the experience in which international students from China, Korea, and Taiwan engage as they participate in the fast-speed exchanges commonly found in classroom discussions at the graduate level. I collected data from three graduate classes over a two-month period at an American university in the southwest. One class was in the College of Fine Arts, another in the College of Natural Sciences, and a third in the College of Education. Although the focus of this study was on the international graduate students from China, Korea, and Taiwan, the other members of the classes were also included in data gathering and data analysis in order to gather important contextual information for interpreting the experience of the focal participants. The research method utilized was a qualitative method, specifically the grounded theory techniques. I observed and audiotaperecorded classroom discussions, interviewed the selected pool of participants (18 total) and used two questionnaires that included questions about general personality tendencies, about experiences with different culture(s), and about specific incidents that I had observed in class. My results indicated that because of language limitations, it was very taxing for the focal international students to participate in oral discussions, and that just like the American students, their experience in class was moment-by-moment constructed and reconstructed in response to the physical and social environment. The focal participants seemed assiduously trying to figure out what was going on in class, when they could talk, the classroom role they had assumed or should have assumed in the class, and how well they had learned. As the focal international students developed awareness of cultural differences about how to do a graduate classroom discussion, they continuously combined their growing awareness of cultural differences about how to do discussions with their other views, such as what is allowed for any graduate student. Culture, thus, was reflected as a complex and dynamic construct that is imbedded in context.