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University of Huddersfield Repository
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Shaheen, Nisbah
International Students at UK Universities: Critical Thinking- Related Challenges to Academic
Writing
Original Citation
Shaheen, Nisbah (2012) International Students at UK Universities: Critical Thinking- Related
Challenges to Academic Writing. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.
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International Students at UK
Universities: Critical Thinking- Related
Challenges to Academic Writing
Nisbah Shaheen
A thesis submitted to the University of Huddersfield in partial fulfilment of the requirements
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
May 25/2012
University of Huddersfield
1
Copyright Statement
1. The author of this thesis owns any copyright in it (the “Copyright”) and she has
given the University of Huddersfield the right to use such Copyright for any
administrative, promotional, educational and/or teaching purpose.
2. Copies of this thesis, either in full or in extracts, may be made only in accordance
with the regulations of the University Library. Details of these regulations may be
obtained from the Librarian. This page must form part of any such copies made.
3. The ownership of any patents, designs, trademarks and any and all other intellectual
property rights except for the Copyright (the “Intellectual Property Rights”) and any
reproductions of copyright works, for example graphs and table (“Reproductions”),
which may be described in this thesis, may not be owned by the author and may be
owned by third parties. Such Intellectual Property Rights and Reproductions cannot
and must not be made available for use without the prior written permission of the
owner(s) of the relevant Intellectual Property Rights and/or Reproductions.
2
Dedication
To my Loving Family
3
Acknowledgments
Only by the Grace of Allah (Almighty) have I been blessed to complete this task.
I wish to express my gratitude to my supervisor Dr Pete Sanderson for all his help, guidance
and encouragement. His constructive criticism and comments have been highly appreciated.
My appreciation and thanks to Professor Mark Halstead for the time and assistance he has
given me. I am also grateful to Professor James Avis, Professor Ann Harris, Dr Christine
Jarvis, Lyn Hall and Sonia Munro for their interest and support whenever needed.
I would like to thank a number of people who made it possible to conduct my field work in
the selected universities: The Heads of the Language Centres, English language teaching staff,
Research support groups, technicians and library staff.
In addition, I would like to acknowledge the contribution made by the international students
who gave much of their time, completed Self-reports and Learners’ Diaries, took part in the
Interviews and in the Case study.
I would like to thank all my colleagues and friends at the Universities of Huddersfield and
Leeds for their encouragement.
I am also very grateful to the Department of Education and Professional Development
University of Huddersfield, Funds for Women Graduates and Charles Wallace Pakistan Trust
for their possible funding for the present thesis.
Finally, my most affectionate thanks go to my Family for their extraordinary patience,
unconditional support and confidence in my ability.
4
Abstract
Universities in the UK host considerable numbers of international students pursuing higher
degrees, which raises questions about the extent of their adaptation to a new academic
environment. Critical thinking is a key skill expected of university graduates in the British
education system, and it has been an increasing focus of attention in recent years. Concerns
about international students’ lack of critical thinking in academic writing have been raised by
teaching professionals. A review of previous literature shows that little research has been
undertaken on issues related to critical thinking for a culturally and linguistically diverse
range of students. Furthermore, in those research studies which have been undertaken, the
learner’s voice has not been clearly evident. The present thesis, therefore, seeks to explore the
problems faced by international students with regard to their approaches towards critical
thinking, often derived from their previous cultures where people prefer a collective style of
learning rather than an individual one, and where they respect and avoid criticizing the work
of other scholars.
The experiences of international students studying at two British universities were
investigated by means of face-to-face individual interviews, self-reports, learners’ diaries and
a case study, based on qualitative data. As a result of these findings, it was clear that the
students held various conceptions of critical thinking which were based on their socialization
and either their present experience of the practice of these intellectual skills, or the absence of
this practice in their respective cultures. Majority of the students were found to choose surface
rather than deep learning strategies. The analysis of data revealed that students from nonWestern traditions are very different in approaching critical thinking tasks such as formulating
and evaluating arguments, analysing critically and making sound judgements etc. Particular
features of their previous educational experiences were identified as major barriers in the
students’ development of critical thinking. International students, in particular, felt that their
previous educational background had not developed them in a way which encouraged them to
think analytically and creatively. However, the analysis also highlights the fact that EAP
language support programmes have been unable to address students’ specific academic
writing needs in order to bridge the skills gap of culturally diverse student bodies. The indepth findings may support developments designed to enhance students’ experiences in the
British context.
Overall, the present thesis investigates cross-cultural issues by providing explanations for
specific areas of difficulty related to students’ poor writing performance, as a result of the fact
5
that critical thinking skills are crucial elements of the basic assessment tools in British
universities. The thesis thus aims to make a modest contribution to broadening the
understanding of international students’ problems and approaches towards critical thinking,
and presents methods which may be useful to facilitate students’ learning experiences.
6
Table of Contents
Contents
Page
Acknowledgements
4
Abstract
5
Table of Contents
7
List of Tables
14
List of Figures
15
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
16
1.1 RATIONALE AND AIMS OF THE STUDY
16
1.2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
21
1.3 OVERVIEW OF THE RESEARCH CONTEXT AND METHODOLOGY
21
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
23
1.5 ORGANISATION OF THE STUDY
24
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
26
2.1 INTRODUCTION
26
2.2 CRITICAL THINKING IN THE CONTEXT OF HIGHER EDUCATION
26
2.2.1 Definitions of critical thinking in the literature
27
2.2.1.1 Overview of definitions of critical thinking
27
2.2.1.2 Consensus definition of critical thinking
29
2.2.2 Critical thinking and the SOLO taxonomy of learning
33
2.2.3 Critical thinking in the UK higher education perspective
35
2.2.4 Critical thinking in the cultural-educational context
37
2.3 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ APPROACHES TO LEARNING
40
2.3.1 Deep, surface and achieving approaches
40
2.3.2 Relationship between critical thinking, deep approaches and academic performance 42
2.3.3 Research on international students learning approaches
45
2.4 ACADEMIC WRITING CHALLENGES OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
47
7
2.4.1 Critical thinking and academic writing- a relationship
48
2.4.1.1 Role of critical thinking in academic writing
49
2.4.1.2 Critical thinking skills as core writing assessment criteria
50
2.4.2 Cultural difference in academic conventions
52
2.4.3 Pivotal issues in international students’ writing
54
2.4.4 Barriers to developing critical thinking in non-English settings
57
2.5 TOWARDS THE SOLUTIONS: HOW CAN THE GAP BE BRIDGED?
60
2.5.1 Cultural-educational support
60
2.5.2 Role of EAP language learning modes
63
2.5.3 The self-conscious approach towards critical thinking
67
2.6 SUMMARY
67
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
68
3.1 INTRODUCTION
68
3.2 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
68
3.2.1 Qualitative research
68
3.2.2 The characteristics of qualitative research
69
3.3 RESEARCH DESIGN
70
3.3.1 Gaining access into the field and ethical issues
71
3.3.2 The context setting and the samples
72
3.3.2.1 The context of the study
72
3.3.2.2 The samples
73
3.3.3 Author’s relationship as a researcher to the participants and their cultural
backgrounds
81
3.3.4 Methods and procedures of data collection
83
3.3.4.1 Data collection methods
83
3.3.4.1.1 Interviews
84
3.3.4.1.2 Learners’ diaries
88
3.3.4.1.3 Self-reports
89
3.3.4.2 Procedures for data collection
90
3.3.4.2.1 Interviewing phase one: pilot testing
90
3.3.4.2.2 Interviewing phase two: University A
92
8
3.3.4.2.3 Interviewing phase three: University B
93
3.3.4.2.4 Learners’ diaries: phase four
94
3.3.4.2.5 Phase five: the self-reports
94
3.3.4.2.6 Last Phase: case study
92
3.3.4.3 Case study
95
3.3.4.3.1 Instrumental case studies
96
3.3.4.3.2 Choice of cases and methods for data collection
97
3.3.4.3.3 Triangulation
99
3.3.4.4 Relationship between different data collection methods and their significance to
research findings
100
3.3.4.5 Reliability and validity of the research
102
3.3.4.5.1 Reliability
103
3.3.4.5.2 Validity
103
3.3.5 Procedures of data analysis
105
3.3.5.1 Transcription and coding
105
3.3.5.2 Data presentation and analysis
106
3.4 SUMMARY
107
CHAPTER 4: RESULTS FROM THE WRITING APPROACHES OF
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
110
4.1 INTRODUCTION
110
4.2 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE
TEACHERS’ CONCEPTIONS OF CRITICAL THINKING
111
4.2.1 Conceptions of critical thinking: international students’ perspectives
112
4.2.1.1 International students’ perceptions of academic writing
112
4.2.1.2 Importance of critical thinking
114
4.2.1.3 Students’ conceptions of critical thinking
115
4.2.2 Conceptions of critical thinking: English language teachers’ perspectives
118
4.2.2.1 Issues regarding teaching international students
119
4.2.2.2 Importance of critical thinking
120
4.2.2.3 Teachers’ conceptions of critical thinking
122
4.3 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ APPROACHES TO WRITING
124
9
4.3.1 Students who take surface approaches to writing
126
4.3.1.1 Passive learning experiences
126
4.3.1.2 Reproduction of ideas
127
4.3.1.3 Focus on the collection of information
128
4.3.1.4 Textbook-boundness
129
4.3.1.5 Lack of purpose
130
4.3.1.6 Routine memorisation
131
4.3.2 Students who take achieving approaches to writing
133
4.3.2.1 Efforts in organisation of writing
133
4.3.2.2 Time management
134
4.3.3 Students who take deep writing approaches
134
4.3.3.1 Being interested in wider reading in order to seek meaning
135
4.3.3.2 Being critical and thoughtful about ideas and information
135
4.3.3.3 Understanding thoroughly
136
4.4 DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
137
CHAPTER 5: IDENTIFICATION OF THE CRITICAL THINKING PROBLEM
AREAS OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
142
5.1 INTRODUCTION
142
5.2 INITIAL CRITICAL THINKING-RELATED ACADEMIC WRITING PROBLEMS
EXPERIENCED BY INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
143
5.2.1 Students’ problems: an overview
143
5.2.2 Students’ problems: the holistic picture
146
5.2.2.1 Lack of clarity
146
5.2.2.2 Lack of critical analysis
149
5.2.2.3 Lack of critical evaluation
152
5.2.2.4 Lack of supporting evidence
155
5.2.2.5 Lack of precision and drawing conclusions
157
5.3 INHIBITIONS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’CRITICAL THINKING
PERFORMANCE
160
5.3.1 Factors’ affecting students’ development of critical thinking
161
5.3.1.1 Parents’ educational background
161
10
5.3.1.2 Respect of elders
162
5.3.1.3 Fear of children’s independency
163
5.3.1.4 Dual education system
163
5.3.1.5 Authoritative learning environment
164
5.3.1.6 Weak English language foundations
164
5.3.1.7 Lack of enough institutional support
165
5.3.2 Factors affecting the application of critical thinking
166
5.3.2.1 Fear of confrontation
166
5.3.2.2 Negative attitudes towards learning
167
5.3.2.3 Passive learning environment
168
5.3.2.4 Lack of critical thinking awareness
169
5.3.2.5 Lack of valuing critical thinking
169
5.3.2.6 Lack of understanding of the concept of critical thinking
170
5.3.2.7 Differences of academic requirements between native and non-native context
170
5.3.2.8 Insufficient English language abilities
171
5.3.3 Factors affecting the promotion of critical thinking
172
5.3.3.1 Lack of critical thinking encouragement
173
5.3.3.2 Lack of the modelling of critical thinking
173
5.3.3.3 Poor methods of teaching writing
174
5.3.3.4 Unqualified teachers in English as a second language
175
5.3.3.5 Poor English language curriculum
176
5.3.3.6 Lack of questioning habits
177
5.3.3.7 Lack of debates and discussions
177
5.4 DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
178
CHAPTER 6: SUGGESTIONS TO MOVE STUDENTS TOWARDS CRITICAL
THINKING
181
6.1 INTRODUCTION
181
6.2 ROLE OF EAP LANGUAGE LEARNING MODES IN FOSTERING
CRITICAL THINKING
182
6.2.1 Negative perception of EAP courses
184
6.2.1.1 Ignore students’ expectations and needs
184
6.2.1.2 Language focused
186
11
6.2.1.3 Lack of critical thinking pedagogy
187
6.2.1.4 Limited writing practice
188
6.2.2 Positive perception of EAP courses
189
6.2.2.1 Improvement in academic vocabulary and comprehension
189
6.2.2.2 Group work
190
6.2.2.3 Introducing with academic writing notions and writing requirements
191
6.3 POSSIBLE SUGGESTIONS TO MOVE STUDENTS TOWARDS CRITICAL
THINKING
192
6.3.1 Native context
192
6.3.1.1 Encouragement for thinking critically
193
6.3.1.2 Critical thinking should be the main learning aim
193
6.3.1.3 Active teaching/learning background
194
6.3.1.4 Teaching writing through pre-writing, drafting, re-writing and feedback
196
6.3.1.5 Writing assessment criteria need to be reviewed
197
6.3.2 British higher educational context
197
6.3.2.1 Need to understand international students’ cultural-educational background
198
6.3.2.2 Encouragement, modelling and reinforcing critical thinking
199
6.3.2.3 Defining and communication writing assessment criteria
200
6.3.2.4 Constructive feedback
201
6.3.2.5 Need to integrate critical thinking in EAP: the bridging programs
202
6.4 DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
204
CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSIONS
207
7.1 INTRODUCTION
207
7.2 OVERVIEW OF THE MAIN RESEARCH FINDING
208
7.2.1 Regarding international students’ approaches to academic writing
209
7.2.2 Regarding problem areas of students’ writing
210
7.2.3 Recommendations
213
7.3 ISSUES ARISING FROM THE FINDINGS
215
7.4 ORIGINAL CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE RESAERCH
216
7.5 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
217
7.6 IMPLICATIONS AND DIRECTIONS FOR THE FUTURE RESEARCH
218
7.7 CONCLUSION
220
12
BIBLIOGRAPHY
221
APPENDICES
248
13
List of Tables
Page
CHAPTER 2
Table 2.1: Different definitions of critical thinking
27
Table 2.2: Summary of the taxonomies of cognitive skills in the consensus definition
30
Table 2.3: Summary of the taxonomies of critical thinking dispositions in consensus
definition
31
Table 2.4: CT as core assessment criteria for student writing
51
CHAPTER 3
Table 3.1: A profile of the student interviewees
74
Table 3.2: A profile of the self-reported students
76
Table 3.3: A profile of the case study participants
78
Table 3.4: A profile of the diary-keeping students
79
Table 3.5: A profile of staff interviewees (face-to-face)
80
Table 3.6: A profile of staff interviewees (via email)
80
CHAPTER 4
Table 4.1: Students’ approaches to writing
125
CHAPTER 5
Table 5.1: Evidence of the lack of CT in international students’ academic writing
144
Table 5.2: International students’ CT-related writing problems: the students’
perspectives
144
Table 5.3: International students’ CT-related writing problems from the Englishspeaking teachers’ perspectives
145
14
List of Figures
Page
CHAPTER 2
Figure 2.1: The SOLO taxonomy
34
CHAPTER 3
Figure 3.1: Data Grid
108
CHAPTER 5
Figure 5.1: [C-SS1, example taken from research method chapter, p. 5]
146
Figure 5.2: [C-SS2, literature review section, p. 10]
147
Figure 5.3: [C-SS4, literature review chapter, p. 2]
147
Figure 5.4: [C-SS1, literature review chapter, p. 5]
149
Figure 5.5: [C-SS3, data analysis chapter, p. 16]
150
Figure 5.6: [C-SS4, data analysis chapter, p. 4]
150
Figure 5.7: [C-SS2, introduction section, p. 4]
152
Figure 5.8: [C-SS3, research method chapter, p. 2]
153
Figure 5.9 [C-SS5, conclusion section, p. 22]
153
Figure 5.10: [C-SS2, literature review section, p. 4]
155
Figure 5.11: [C-SS4, research method chapter, p. 6]
156
Figure 5.12: [C-SS5, lesson plan, part two, p. 7]
156
Figure 5.13: [C-SS1, research method chapter, p. 3]
158
Figure 5.14: [C-SS5, conclusion section, p. 17]
158
Figure 5.15: [C-SS3, analyses section, p. 9]
159
Figure 5.16: Concept map of the factors affecting “Development of CT”
161
Figure 5.17: Concept map of the factors affecting “Application of CT”
166
Figure 5.18: Concept map of the factors affecting “Promotion of CT”
172
CHAPTER 6
Figure 6.1: International students’ perception of EAP language modes in terms of
fostering CT
183
Figure 6.2: Perceived categories of international students’ perception of EAP courses
183
Figure 6.3: Suggestions to facilitate international students’ CT related writing challenges
in UK HE
198
15
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1.
Rationale and aims of the study
Critical thinking (CT) is generally considered to be important, since people who can think
well/critically have a greater propensity to be good citizens and to be capable of contributing
effectively to a country’s economic and political well-being (Costa, 2001; Ennis, 1998; Paul
& Elder, 2008). However, despite such agreement, there is little consensus on what constitutes
CT and to what extent the perception of the concept differs in different cultures, which might
be the result of a lack of a common definition of CT (Mosley et al., 2005). A growing
enthusiasm for CT led the American Philosophical Association to invite a panel of experts,
under the leadership of Facione, to conduct a systematic investigation intended to achieve a
more refined understanding of the state of affairs regarding the nature and assessment of CT.
The results were later to become cornerstones of this understanding and known as the “Delphi
Report”. CT is defined by the panel of experts as to be: “purposeful, self-regulatory
judgement which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as
explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, and contextual considerations upon
which that judgement is based” (Facione, 1990: p. 2).
The panel of experts agreed that CT is based on a two-dimensional conceptualisation, which
includes not only general cognitive/intellectual skills, but also dispositional aspects.
Intellectual skills include: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inferences, explanation and
self-regulation, which are further categorised into sub-skills such as: categorization,
clarification; formulation; assessment of arguments and claims; conclusion of the information;
justification of results, and examination and correction of one’s self (Facione, 1990: p. 6).
These intellectual skills are considered to be cognitive strategies which are highly required for
reasoning and interpreting information (Lun, 2010). These skills are also known as “higher
order thinking skills”, which differentiate them from the lower-level intellectual abilities of
remembering, understanding and applying, as categorised by Halpern (1998) and Tsui (2006).
Dispositions, on the other hand, are considered to be one’s attitude, habits of mind,
willingness and motivation to employ ones’ skills in response to demand. According to
Facione (1990), CT dispositions include: eagerness to investigate different kinds of issues;
being well-informed; consciousness; believing in the reasonable; querying; confidence;
accepting divergent views with open-mindedness; flexibility; consideration of others’ views;
fairness regarding the processes of reasoning and making judgements; equanimity in
16
accepting own faults; reflection; willingness to work in a complex situation; being attentive,
and being consistent (p.2). Development of CT skills is one of the main goals of higher
education and a key skill expected of university graduates in the UK (Ramsden, 2003). This
view is supported by the National Committee of Inquiry (1997), which describes how the UK
higher education (HE) system supports a culture which requires disciplined thinking,
challenges existing ideas and encourages curiosity (para. 5). Similarly, the Framework for
Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (2008)
demonstrates that successful students must be able to “evaluate ideas, arguments, concepts,
assumptions and data critically, communicate ideas, information and conclusions effectively,
deal creatively and systematically with complex issues, act autonomously in planning and
management and implementation of tasks and be able to make sound judgements” (pp. 1525).
It has been firmly established from the extracts above that international students need
competencies not only in English language, but also in the educational practices and study
skills which lie at the core of British university education. According to Tsui (2006), CT
within the educational setting is, on the one hand, the formulation of arguments, analysis,
interpretation and making sound judgements, and on the other hand the mechanism which
these processes go through. As in other domains, CT in an academic context is also
distinguishable by its conventions, rhetoric and standards, and considered to be crucial to the
expression of scholarship. The quality of one’s thoughts, spoken or written, largely determines
the degree to which one is critical towards the construction of knowledge. These are the
factors underpinning CT, which the current author considers to be the basis for developing the
discussion in her thesis as to how these dimensions of CT can be realised in the performance
of culturally and linguistically diverse students who are pursuing their higher education
studies in UK universities.
Although the cultivation of CT is a current emphasis of UK HE policies, how different global
cultures respond to this increasing emphasis on CT remains unresolved (Merriam, 2007).
Egege and Koteleh (2004), however, argue that the standards and conventions of CT are not
universal, but may be seen as culture-specific, and practices might vary in different cultures.
Culture-specific conventions naturally come into play when determining the quality of
expressions of thought (Canagarajah, 2002). Consequently, the challenge of becoming a
critical/good thinker lies in the extent to which one’s thoughts reflect the given academic
discourse, as the mastery of such academic conventions does not occur naturally even for
native speakers of the language (English), but comes after specific training. It seems
17
challenging to enforce CT in classes in British universities, as cultural diversity, which may
have brought numerous social and economic benefits for the host economy, may also create
serious issues concerning CT.
In recent decades, research studies have been conducted in the field of CT skills, involving a
range of areas such as: cross-cultural comparison between students in Asian and Western
cultures (Lun, 2010; Salili & Hoosain, 2007) systematic differences between native and nonnative students’ preferred cognitive styles (Nisbett et al., 2002) the influence of individuals’
language proficiencies on their CT practices (Cheng, 2000; Clifford et al., 2004), and Asian
students’ lack of CT ability ( Lee & Carrasquillo, 2006; Paton, 2005). In the light of these
studies, the differences in language ability and cognitive style might also affect students’ CT
performance within the host academic cultures. Although language abilities have been
reported as one of the powerful variables in students’ academic performance, the findings of
Egege and Koteleh’s (2004) study showed that the case is more complex than just language
ability. International students encounter severe difficulties in coping with academic norms
which seem unfamiliar to them (p. 76). This is because international students come with
expectations which originate from their prior learning experiences, and which differ markedly
from those of home students. These cultural differences appear when international students
show their lack of ability to engage in classroom behaviours such as overt questioning,
challenging others’ ideas, giving their own opinions and critiquing. As these behaviours are
associated with CT abilities (Tweed & Lehman, 2002), it is important to acknowledge the
international students’ perspectives about these norms.
Several other studies have also investigated CT from international students’ perspectives, such
as Costello (2007); Durkin (2008); Ridley (2004); Turner (2004) and Wong (2004), but those
studies were limited in their implications. For example, some used different kinds of tests like
CCTST and CCTDI to measure students’ CT skills, others involved only Chinese
international students and further studies were limited to Asian students only. Similarly, some
studies involved just one discipline or just Master’s level students etc. Research in the area of
second language (L2) writing has clearly revealed the relationship between CT skills and
dispositions, focusing on international students’ CT levels, problems in ESL writing and the
importance of critical writing. Researchers have also provided substantial evidence that those
students with poor CT skills show deficits in academic writing, but no efforts have been made
to investigate the nature of the initial CT-related problems faced by international students, or
how approaches resulting from the lack of CT skills affect their studies from the start.
Generally, CT affects all the four skills of language learning but it plays a particular role in
18
writing academically. In the current study, the issues will be explored in the area of academic
writing specifically, because the written form of language is a major means of testing
student’s knowledge of the differing content of different disciplines, and because academic
writing at higher education level also involves features such as the formulation and evaluation
of arguments, reflection, analysis, synthesis of information/ideas and drawing conclusions
(Lillis & Turner, 2001). CT and academic writing are considered by writing professionals to
be inextricably linked because of the demanding nature of CT in all disciplines. Thus it is
logical to assume that orienting students towards CT would definitely be beneficial in moving
students towards analytical/reflective writing, which is also called scholarly writing (Harris,
2006). Therefore, critical thinking and critical writing will be used interchangeably
throughout the discussions of the present study.
In order to have a full understanding of the two key issues of students’ problems and
approaches in adapting to a new academic environment, this study, therefore, sets out to
consider students from different cultural traditions, such as Middle Eastern, African, Asian
sub-continental and Far Eastern traditions, as well as their British teachers’ conceptions of CT,
in order to find out the influence of cultural-educational context on the students’
developmental process and practice of CT. As recognised by previous studies (Loyens et al.,
2007; McLean, 2001), students’ conceptions are negatively or positively related to their
academic achievements. Similarly, in the case of teachers, having knowledge of what
constitutes CT and how it should be valued is a key factor in contributing successfully to
students’ academic performance (Cosgrove, 2011; Paul, 1993).
Faculties and departments that teach international students face great challenges in their
efforts to develop the effective use of CT, especially in terms of the academic writing of a
wide variety of culturally and linguistically diverse students. The previous research literature
shown here reveals a striking lack of relevant focus on the academic phenomenon of the
current demand for higher-order thinking skills at university level study, in relation to
international students’ experiences in the UK. The present study, therefore, investigates the
specific problem areas faced by international students arising from their lack of experience of
CT in writing for academic purposes. A range of qualitative studies, such as Robertson et al.
(2000); Lee & Carrasquillo (2006), and Kumaravadivelu (2003), found that faculty members
who had experience of teaching international students expressed their dissatisfaction with the
students’ poor CT abilities, and identified difficulties in the students’ ability to show CT in
their writing. These observations suggest that the students showed a lack of ability to think
critically. Therefore, it is necessary to examine what kind of problems result from the absence
19
of CT in students’ writing in UK universities.
Learning approaches are another concern of UK academics because international students are
generally perceived as passive, non-critical and rote learners (Ballard & Clanchy 1997;
Cheng, 2000), which in turn often leads to poor learning outcomes. On the other hand,
Ramburth and McCormick (2001) found no significant difference between Asian and Western
students’ use of learning approaches, and a recent study by Leung, et al., (2008) has shown
that students of the University of Hong Kong scored higher on deep learning approaches
compared to their Australian counterparts. It is, therefore, important to identify any lack of
congruence between the learning approaches of students from many different cultures in order
to investigate the weaknesses and improve the quality of learning, as the majority of the
research studies have, as illustrated in the literature review, mainly focused on Asian
international students and have ignored students from other non-Western cultures.
Studies such as Howe (2004); Tiwari et al., (2003) and Robertson et al., (2000) have
investigated the prominent role of cultural barriers in affecting students’ academic
performance. However, it is crucial to understand the factors affecting students’ development
of CT in terms of their native cultures because, without knowing the reasons for the lack of
the key competencies, it seems illogical to solely investigate the students’ problems and
approaches. Montgomery (2007) points out that investigating students’ cultural context is a
fascinating and significant inquiry that has been a focus across continents throughout the last
few years (p. 22). Otherwise, a lack of understanding may give rise to misconceptions among
UK academics and students from many different cultures.
Needs analysis has been another key area which has been addressed in relation to
international education (Hyland, 2006), in order to bridge the gap between students’ previous
study skills and the assessment demands placed on them in a new educational environment.
Needs analysis in terms of their priorities should be the starting point of EAP programmes
(Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001; Jordan, 1997). Needs analysis is also necessary with a view to
proposing suggestions and models which might help reduce the serious challenge of CT and
enhance students’ performance in higher level education in British universities. Overall, the
present thesis seeks to investigate the impact of cultural issues on the increasing importance
of CT in HE system in the UK.
20
1.2.
Research questions
The overarching goal of the present study is to identify international students’ problems with,
and approaches towards, CT in British universities. The research questions addressed by the
present study have been generated by examining the relevant literature thoroughly, as well as
through consultation with many international students and English-language teaching staff.
The following three sets of research questions were framed for the current study:
1
i. How do international students and English-language teachers
(ELT) conceptualise CT?
ii. What approaches do international students utilize or prefer to
utilize towards writing?
2
i. What are the initial CT-related academic writing problems
experienced by international students?
ii. What are the inhibiting factors to fostering international
students’ CT skills?
3
i. What is the role of EAP language learning modes towards CT
practices?
ii. What possible suggestions/models would help to facilitate
students’ experiences of CT?
1.3.
Overview of the research context and methodology
The researcher’s choice of UK universities as the context for the current study is grounded in
several factors. First of all, the UK is the country which receives the highest proportion of
international students, including a variety of ethnic groups such as European, African,
Australian, Asian, Middle Eastern and, North and South American etc., and which continues
to seek more foreign students in order to improve its international and economic situation
(Jordan, 1997). According to Higher Education Statistic Agency (HESA) (2011), of the total
428,225 incoming non-UK domicile students, 185,675 students came from Asia, 26,060 from
the Middle East and 36,710 from Africa in the year of 2010/11. This may be because of the
UK’s high quality educational system and the provision of the best academic support
available in universities for international students (Castro & Fernandez, 2005). Secondly, it is
21
useful to specifically research international students’ experiences of barriers, and also their
learning approaches, which have not been intensively researched in the context of British HE
perspectives. Two UK universities were chosen to situate this research; both have been
anonymised and coded as University A and University B. Although there are a large number
of universities in the UK, only two were chosen for the purpose of this research due to issues
of access and practicality. Furthermore, it was envisaged that two universities would be
sufficient to investigate the issues under scrutiny, as the focus of the research was to
investigate the perspectives of students from different cultural groups and both universities
had a sufficiently large number of such students. This is something which has been strongly
reflected throughout the data. The researcher is aware that the selected sample universities
provide an interesting variation between in-house and franchised ESP provision, however, the
purpose of the study is not to provide a comparative perspective between these two
universities, but primarily to access a range of participants within the target population.
As international students come with different learning experiences and expectations, another
way to attract them is to provide them with further assistance as a group, to help in meeting
their cultural and academic needs. In terms of the academic support available in the
universities, the language centres offer a range of language courses, including both presessional and in-sessional programmes, in order to meet the academic needs of culturally
diverse students. Pre-sessional courses are designed to provide students with: study skills;
practical skills for reading and writing; speaking and listening skills in researching
information; independent learning; team work, and presentation skills. In-sessional EAP
courses, on the other hand, involve individual tutorials, workshops and group teaching to
further develop students’ study skills, including academic writing according to the assessment
demands of the British education system. For the purposes of the current research, the
majority of the target sample (12 teachers and 100 students) was chosen from pre-sessional
language courses, while others (3 staff members and 5 students) were selected from the
department of International and Community Education at University A, in order to conduct a
study with a robust range. Regarding the associated methodology, a qualitative approach was
used for collecting and analysing data. A qualitative approach was chosen in order to provide
rich data on the difficulties and approaches of international learners in British universities. A
qualitative approach also allowed for the exploration of different interpretations of CT.
Multiple methods for data collection and analysis were used within this qualitative research
paradigm. For example, participants were interviewed, some self-reported and others also
kept learners’ diaries. A case study was also conducted, in order to provide a baseline for the
22
other sources of data collection. The data were triangulated with staff interviews and
documentary evidence to support the inquiry tools (Lewis-Beck et al., 2004). A grounded
theory approach (Corbin & Strauss, 2008) was used in order to generate themes, and then
coding was undertaken in a way which was designed to explore the students’ responses.
However, this qualitative study was conducted specifically for the purpose of exploration and
to fill the gap in the field, rather than to compare the different contexts.
Being an international student, the author has been well placed to investigate international
students’ perspectives, because of having a similar social and cultural-educational
background, as well as personal experience of CT related problems in writing a text. This
accentuates the need for original research in this area to provide a background to students’
problems in terms of the lack of a critical approach in academic writing. This is also an
attempt to identify the challenges and approaches encountered regarding CT, with a view to
suggesting models for developing CT at the higher level of education. Furthermore, the
dissemination of results from the current study may help to develop a clearer understanding of
the phenomenon, and so contribute to providing possible solutions to the difficulties
associated with critical thinking/writing.
1.4.
Significance of the study
Universities in the UK have aspired to the ambitious goal of diversity in representing the
world’s different cultures in their student bodies, but in-depth understanding is still limited in
terms of the major differences in cultural ideas that mean students make sense of the world in
totally different ways. The current investigation seeks to make a modest contribution to the
development of knowledge and the existing body of research in the field, by identifying the
phenomenon of the lack of CT in different cultural-educational contexts. The study
contributes by presenting a strong picture of non-English students’ problems in, and strategies
to, approaching CT tasks. This study confirms that almost all the non-English speaking and
non-Western countries (included in the present study) have the same educational culture. The
findings of the current study indicate that it would be a serious mistake to expect and require
the same approach to learning from international students as those of the home student. The
present investigation is crucially important for curriculum developers, educators and teachers
of many different non-English speaking cultures, to help them review the current issues of
higher education at a policy level, especially with regard to the development of academic
23
writing, both in general terms in the students’ native language, and more particularly where
English is a second/foreign language. This will help in the re-design of syllabi and in
improving writing instruction in order to promote CT in university level education, in line
with properly addressing students’ needs and developing CT pedagogy. It is hoped that when
it is realised, in cross-cultural countries, that there is a need to teach CT in order to tackle the
obstacles to academic writing, most of the problems associated with this aspect of second
language (L2) writing could largely be solved. Finally, of pedagogical importance, is that
Western educators and policy makers should consider the developmental nature of these study
skills when dealing with culturally diverse students.
1.5.
Organisation of the study
The current study comprises seven chapters. This chapter presents the rationale and aims of
the study, the main research questions, the context and methodology, significance of the study
and organisation of the present thesis.
Chapter two draws upon a review of the existing literature in the current field of investigation
in order to understand the definitions and importance of CT in the context of UK HE, to find
out the underlying relationship between CT and different languages and cultures, and to
investigate the problems which arise in international students’ writing because of the absence
of CT. It explores cross-cultural research on the learning approaches of international students
and their difficulties in applying CT in their studies, and relates this to EAP practice.
Chapter three discusses the research methodology adopted for the current thesis. The principal
methodology is qualitative in nature. The research methods are discussed in detail in terms of
advantages and disadvantages. Ethical issues and gaining entry into the field are also
highlighted. Sampling, data collection and data analysis strategies and procedures will then be
discussed and explained. The study makes a contribution to the field by listening to the
international students’ own voices, where English is a foreign language or L2. This
juxtaposition presents key points for comparison between CT development in the UK and that
in many other non-English speaking contexts.
Chapter four provides the analysis of data such as the international students’ conceptions of
CT as well as the analysis of students’ approaches towards academic writing, where a great
majority of international students were found to choose surface rather than deep learning
strategies.
24
Chapter five comprises students initial difficulties related to CT based on their social and
educational experiences in their respective cultures. Inhibitory factors were also investigated
amongst non-native cultures in the present study. The differences were explained by both the
students and the faculty as representing cultural factors.
Chapter six reports the role of EAP language learning courses in fostering CT and analysis of
the suggestions provided by international students themselves as well as English teachers to
overcome these inhibitions to thinking critically.
Chapter seven is devoted to discussion of a summary of the findings and the important issues
arising as a result; the contributions to research; recommendations for future work, and
concluding thoughts.
25
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1. Introduction
As the current investigation primarily focuses on the issues of critical thinking (CT)
pertaining to international students’ problems and approaches toward CT, this chapter reviews
the relevant literature about several important aspects of these key issues namely: CT in the
context of HE; international students’ previous learning approaches; international students’
problems in approaching CT tasks; and ways of bridging the gap between the learning
processes of the native context and the actual writing performance in British universities.
2.2. Critical thinking in the context of higher education
Education will not, in itself, lead to a change in constructive learning, but rather to the way in
which that knowledge is structured and conceptualized. Thus, education is not only the
acquisition of information but the continuous process of knowledge construction. Research
evidence shows that university students are not only expected to be a better workforce as a
result of the transmission of knowledge and skills, but also to make contributions in the world
as responsible citizens who are able to think well and learn independently (Barrie, 2004;
Costa, 2006: ten Dam & Volman, 2004). Pither and Soden (2000) associate CT abilities with
‘smarter’ thinking, emphasized as expected from the university graduate, not only by
government but by employers as well (p. 237). Kurfiss also points out in her book that if
education is only to teach basic facts, then CT plays only a minor role and rote learning is
sufficient. However, if the role of education is to develop greater reasoning skills in order to
cope with and make decisions about life and society, then CT plays a central position, since
reasoning is impossible without CT (1988: p. xv). This shows that the goal of HE is about
more than just ‘being knowledgeable’, and is concerned with producing critical and
independent learners.
Therefore, the focus of today’s education has moved from mere knowledge retention, to
developing intellectual abilities, and these abilities generally come under the term of critical
thinking (Halpern, 1999; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Phillips & Bond, 2004). Individuals’
intellectual development, from the authors’ viewpoint, is also necessary because of the direct
26
availability of a stream of information by means of electronic media. However, students need
to learn how to differentiate between facts and opinions. Although there is considerable
debate around the need to develop and enhance students’ CT and its broader implications,
defining the notion of CT is quite a “challenging task” (Johnson, 1992). Prior to the main
discussion, the concept and precise meaning of CT need to be clarified.
2.2.1 Definitions of critical thinking in the literature
According to Paul (1993), the movement towards CT started in North America around the
1980s as the result of rapid global socioeconomic and political changes, following which
educators began to argue for developing students’ critical and creative abilities. Subsequently,
the CT movement extended its influence to Europe and beyond. Since then, the need for
teaching CT has become a topic of debate among educators, philosophers and psychologists.
An overview of the definitions of CT in the mainstream literature is given as follows:
2.2.1.1. Overview of definitions of critical thinking
According to McPeck (1981), CT lies in active and reflective engagement (p. 8); for Paul
(1992: p. 214) CT is a self-directed, systematic and appropriate form of thinking in order to
bring perfection to a particular thinking mode, while Angelo (1995) stresses that CT includes
rationality and higher-order thinking. Though intensive efforts have been made to define CT
in the past three decades (Seigle, 1990; Norris & Ennis, 1989), most of the widely known
definitions vary in their perspectives of CT. Some of these definitions are listed below:
Table 2.1: Different definitions of critical thinking
Dewey (1933)
CT is a change in personality to become more effective and doing best
through the mental operations of thinking (p. 3)
Ennis (1987)
Reflective and reasonable thinking that is focused on deciding what to
believe or do (p. 45)
Sternberg
(1987)
The mental processes, strategies, and representations people use to solve
problems, make decisions, and learn new concepts (p. 3)
Lipman (1988)
Skilful, responsible thinking that facilitates good judgment because it 1)
relies upon criteria, 2) is self-correcting and 3) is sensitive to context (p.
39)
27
Siegel (1990)
CT includes logic, consistency, fairness and judgements, and critical
thinking could easily move towards reasoning (pp. 23-24)
Halpern (1998) CT is purposeful and goal-directed thinking, particularly using thoughtful
and effective cognitive strategies, in order to increase desirable outcomes,
to solve problems and to make decisions (p. 450)
Bailin et al.,
(1999)
Thinking that is goal-directed and purposive, “thinking aimed at forming
a judgment,” where the thinking itself meets standards of adequacy and
accuracy (p. 287)
Facione et al.,
(2000)
Judging in a reflective way what to do or what to believe (p. 61)
Paul (2004)
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or
problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking
by skilfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is
self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective
thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and
mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and
problem solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our
native egocentrism and sociocentrism (cited in Scanlan, 2006: p. 12)
Dewey’s (1933) definition of CT emphasizes improving an individual’s thinking and stresses
the capacity to weigh evidence and analyze ideas. Glaser (1941), on the other hand, sees CT
as a set of skills related to logical inquiry, while Scheffler (1973) defines CT in terms of the
ability to evaluate. Seigel (1990) sees CT as a process of reasoned and goal-directed thinking
to improve actions and thoughts. Similarly, Lipman (1995) states that CT is a way of thinking
skilfully to develop the skill of sound judgment for the purpose of self-correctness. Paul
(2004) defines CT as the art of thinking in order to improve thinking, and argues that it is
really difficult to synthesize the definitions of the complex skills of CT in one sentence. He
also notes that some definitions are incomplete and limited, while CT leads towards valid
arguments and conclusions which are substantiated and resistant to criticism. Although these
multiple definitions of CT have many different perspectives (e.g., abilities, set of skills,
process, reflection and action), they share the characterization of CT as a set of skills and a
purposeful mental activity. Mayfield (2001) also summarizes those skills as the ability to:
recognize assumptions; separate facts from opinions and make evaluations; ask questions and
question the validity of evidence; verify information and listen to observe; seek to understand
several perspectives, and seek the truth before reporting it.
Initially, most of the CT definitions focused on the individual’s cognitive abilities/skills
(Tishman & Andrade, 1996), but then attention turned to the recognition that one’s having the
skills does not assure that one is able to apply them well, when needed for a specific situation
28
(Ennis & Norris, 1990). For example, Ennis (1987) focuses on the idea of a means to an end
in defining CT. In his initial definition (1962), he identified cognitive skills and then
expanded his CT concept to encompass dispositions. Similarly Halpern (1998), Paul (1993)
and Facione (1990) also described CT in terms of skills as well as disposition. Hale (2008),
however, reports that the differences in the above definitions of CT led to a search for a more
precise definition of the concept of CT. The best statement about CT can be seen in the
consensus definition by a panel of experts under the auspices of the American Philosophical
Association (Facione, 1990).
2.2.1.2. Consensus definition of critical thinking
For the purpose of educational instruction and assessment, the American Philosophical
Association (APA) invited a cross-disciplinary panel of forty six experts, who completed a
two-year “Delphi Report”, to reach a consensus definition of CT. According to Reed (1998, p.
28), about half of the participants (52%) were related to the field of philosophy; 22% were
affiliated with education; 20% were from a Psychology background, and 6% belonged to the
Physical Sciences. The consensus definition has further become a cornerstone of CT research.
To define CT, the experts used various terminologies and framing approaches in order to gain
insight into the different disciplines. They understand CT in the following way:
“We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory
judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and
inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual,
methodological, contextual considerations upon which that judgement
is based.” (APA, 1990: p.2)
The consensus definition is to some extent similar to the definitions of CT developed by other
theorists, such as Ennis (1987; 1993), Halpern (1993), Paul (1993) and McPeck (1990). The
consensus definition posits CT as a tool of inquiry for achieving a particular purpose in
relation to decision-making and problem-solving. According to the panel of experts, CT is
seen as a two-dimensional concept incorporating: 1) general cognitive skills, and 2)
dispositions, in order to reflect one’s beliefs (Facione, 1990).
CT comes within the dimension of cognitive skills; cognitive skills are essential for reasoning,
which is a vital component of CT and can be achieved through using the cognitive abilities of
argument analysis and evaluation, and the way knowledge and information is transformed
(Lun, 2010: p.15). Evaluation and argument analysis are referred to as higher-order thinking
29
skills, in contrast to lower-order thinking skills such as memory, understanding and
application (Halpern, 1998; Tsui, 2006). Higher-order thinking skills involve higher-level
complexity, analysis and the absence of rote learning, while lower-order skills are unable to
apply well-learned rules and principles effectively (Halpern, 1998: p. 451). Similar kinds of
categorization can also be seen in Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy of educational objectives as well
as in John Biggs’s (1978) SOLO taxonomy in the cognitive domain. According to the
consensus definition of the Delphi experts, cognitive skills are further broken down into subskills, which are given in the table below.
Table 2.2: Summary of the taxonomies of cognitive skills in the consensus definition
1. Interpretations categorization, decoding significance, and clarifying meaning
2. Analysis
examining ideas, identifying arguments, and analyzing arguments
3. Evaluation
assessing claims and assessing arguments
4. Inference
querying evidence, conjecturing alternatives, and drawing conclusions
5. Explanation
stating results, justifying procedures, and presenting arguments
6. Self-regulation self-examination and self-correction
Many sub-skills in addition to the cognitive skills were identified by the Delphi experts, and
these include: clarity of meanings and thoughts; classification and categorization; significant
transformation from one context to another; identification, examination, assessment and
analysis of ideas, claims and arguments; interpretations of alternatives; justification of
evidence and procedures; self-examination; summarising, and concluding. The above list of
intellectual skills and sub-skills is an organised framework of CT which has been explained
for each particular stage. Similar kinds of cognitive skills are categorised by Pascarrela and
Terenzini (2005), such as: identifying and recognising arguments, assumptions and central
issues; referencing properly, and interpreting and drawing conclusions on the basis of
evaluative data (p. 156).
CT also comes within the dimension of dispositions; CT is seen not only as a set of cognitive
skills, but also as including dispositional aspects, which have been described differently by
the different theorists (Ennis, 1987; Facione, 1990; Halperns, 1996; Paul, 1993). For example,
Ennis (1987) identifies the following CT dispositions: 1) trying to make clearer statements; 2)
being well-informed; 3) seeking reasons; 4) identifying credible sources; 5) considering the
30
whole situation; 6) trying to be focused and open-minded; 7) being concerned with
originality; 8) identifying alternatives; 9) providing sufficient evidence; 10) trying to be
precise and relevant; 11) manually and systematically dealing with complexities, and 12)
trying to be sensitive (p. 46). Similarly, according to Halpern (1996) and Paul (1993), CT
dispositions are described as: being active and responsive; persistence and willingness to cope
with complexity; planning, flexibility and open-mindedness; focusing on self-correctness;
putting thoughts into action in order to face social realities, and intellectual commitment to
the use of CT abilities and attitudes. The writers have related CT dispositions to individuals’
behaviour, which could lead to difficulties in identifying the exact nature of CT dispositions.
The Delphi Report states that critical thinker must be:
"Habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, openminded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal
biases, prudent in making judgements, willing to reconsider, clear
about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant
information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry,
and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject
and the circumstances of inquiry permit" (APA, 1990: p. 3).
A summary of the taxonomies of CT dispositions is given below:
Table 2.3: Summary of the taxonomies of CT dispositions in consensus definition
1. Inquisitiveness with regard to a wide
range of issues
2. Concern to become and remain
generally well-informed
3. Readiness to embrace opportunities to
use critical thinking
4. Trust in the process of reasoned inquiry
5. Self-confidence in one’s own ability to
reason
6. Open-mindedness regarding divergent
world views
7. Flexibility in considering alternatives
and opinions
8. Understanding of the opinions of other
people
9. Fair-mindedness in appraising
reasoning
10. Honesty in facing one’s own biases,
prejudices, stereotypes, egocentric or
socio-centric tendencies
11. Prudence in suspending or altering
judgements
12. Willingness to reconsider or revise a
view where honest reflection suggests
that change is warranted
13. Clarity in stating the question or
concern
14. Orderliness in working with complexity
15. Diligence in seeking relevant
information
16. Reasonableness in selecting and
applying criteria
17. Care in focusing attention on the
18. Persistence though difficulties are
31
concern at hand
encountered
19. Precision to the degree permitted by
the subject and the circumstance
20.
The Delphi experts explain that a critical thinker must be able to: state the results of his or her
own reasoning; justify that reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological
and contextual considerations upon which those results were based, and present his or her
reasoning in the form of cogent arguments (Facione, 1998: p. 6). The CT dispositions shown
above are apparently related to human behaviours and are important for those who perform
CT. According to Lun (2010) it is, however, reasonable to describe CT as an individual’s
tendency to use CT skills when needed. She further summarizes the common definitions of
CT dispositions from four main theorists (Ennis, 1987; Facione, 1990; Halpern, 1996; Paul,
1993) as being: open-mindedness; being flexible in conjecturing alternatives; moving on the
basis of evidence; persistent engagement with CT, and being aware and responsive (p. 20).
Therefore a critical thinker must show flexibility, open-mindedness and consistency in
engaging CT, and they also need to explain the procedures involved in reaching judgements.
Research has also described CT dispositions in terms of attitudes, willingness, habits of mind
and motivation to employ CT abilities (Facione et al., 2000; Halpern, 1999).
Yang and Chou (2008) argue that CT skills alone are not sufficient to become a good critical
thinker but that CT dispositions are also necessary. This section, however, highlights the
relationship between CT skills, CT dispositions and cognitive strategies. According to Paul
(1992), Facione, et al., (1997) and Norris (1991), the purpose of education includes both the
development of CT skills as well as the fostering of CT dispositions. Giancarlo and Facione
(1994), in their study of 193 high school students, reported a positive correlation between
scores for CT skills and dispositions. Similarly, Colucciello (1997) and McCarthy et al.
(1990) also reported a significant positive correlation between these two variables, while the
analysis of Rimiene’s (2002) study based on pre-test and post-test, found no significant
difference between abilities and dispositions for CT. The results of these studies also suggest
that students need continuing development towards CT disposition. On the other hand,
Facione (2007) argues that critical thinking skills (CTS) and critical thinking dispositions
(CTD) are two separate variables; having CT skills does not mean that one also has the
disposition to use them. However, cognitive strategies, such as asking questions, reflecting,
clarifying, analysing and summarising are crucial in generating and developing both CT skills
and CT dispositions (Olson & Land, 2007), as well as in increasing desirable outcomes
32
(Halpern, 1998).
To sum up, considerable overlap and continuous modification can be seen in the theorists’
points of view in defining CT. A critical attitude further helps a person to reflect in a
thoughtful and supportive way in order to question, interpret, analyze and judge others’ work.
However, Paul and Elder (2008: pp. 2-3) argue that CT is a foundational set of meanings
which is applicable to a variety of settings. Although both aspects of CT (skills and
dispositions) are significant, international students whose cultures promote reproductive
approaches to learning rather than CT development may not place the same values on them
(Yang & Chou, 2008). Such approaches thus hinder the students’ thinking habits and
capacities, which can be seen as a cultural phenomenon. However, the present study is
particularly concerned with both the dimensions, which are vital in thinking critically for
academic writing since learners require specific attention to lead them to be able to formulate
their own ideas and understand the implications of using these CT skills and dispositions. In
relation to the development of critical thinking, John Biggs’ SOLO taxonomy (Biggs, 1978)
offers a useful guideline for evaluating cognitive development in terms of critical thinking.
The next section provides the relationship between concepts of critical thinking and the
SOLO taxonomy of learning, which gives a sense of where critical thinking sits in relation to
the learning process.
2.2.2. Critical thinking and the SOLO taxonomy of learning
The SOLO taxonomy refers to the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (Biggs, 1978)
which describes a hierarchy where each partial construction [level] becomes a foundation on
which further learning is built (Biggs, 2003: p.41). The SOLO taxonomy consists of a
progressive hierarchy of five levels, namely, Pre-structural, Uni-structural, Multi-structural,
Relational and Extended Abstract levels, with Pre-structural marking lower-order skills at one
end, and Extended Abstract marking higher-order cognitive skills at the other. The details of
these different levels of cognitive skills and their associated examples can be seen in Figure
2.1 below.
33
Figure 2.1: The SOLO taxonom
nomy. Adapted from John Biggs (1999:67)
At the ‘Pre-structural’ level,
el, students are not able to show logical rel
relationships in their
responses, a factor which is based
ba
on tautology and their inability to compprehend. At the next
level, ‘Uni-structural’, studen
ents’ responses contain one relevant item fro
rom the display, but
miss others that might modif
dify or contradict the responses. There is a rapid closure that
oversimplifies the issue. At the
t ‘Multi-structural’ level, responses conta
tain several relevant
items, but only those that are consistent with the chosen conclusion are stated. Closure is
selective and premature. Mos
ost or all of the relevant data is used at the
he ‘Relational’ level,
where conflicts are resolved by
b the use of a relating concept that appliess to the given context
of the display and leads to a firm conclusion. Finally, at the ‘Extendedd abstract’ level, the
context is seen as only onee instance
i
of a general case. Questioning off basic assumptions,
counter examples and new data
dat are often given that did not form part off the
th original display.
Consequently, a firm closuree is often seen to be inappropriate (Biggs & Tan
ang, 2007).
The upper two levels of the SOLO
SO
taxonomy have usually been associated
ted with the cognitive
skills of critical thinking (Tsu
sui, 2006). On the other hand, the lower three
thr levels are more
related to acquisition of know
wledge and information. However, the SOLO
O taxonomy helps to
understand and express the vvarious levels of critical thinking competenc
encies from lower to
higher. It also provides compparability and ‘alikeness’ in the standardisat
sation of surface and
deep level learning. As univer
ersity level education has higher expectationss of
o the development
of critical thinking skills, it is reasonable to assume that terms related to th
the upper two levels
of SOLO taxonomy will bee more frequently focused on in assessingg students’
s
academic
34
performance. For example, when assessing students’ writing, students’ actual knowledge
cannot be measured, therefore it is important to focus on what competencies and skills levels
the students are expected to have in terms of ‘constructive alignment’ (Biggs, 2003). The
avenue for identifying CT related educational practices lies in the assessment criteria for
students’ performance. The National Qualification Framework (NQF) (2008) demonstrates
remarkable similarities between the skills required and the upper levels of the SOLO
taxonomy in all categories, such as students’ ability to 'critically reflect' and ‘evaluate’ their
strategies in applying skills. The next section provides a more systematic discussion of the
SOLO taxonomy and its application of such levels by the NQF in the UK HE system.
2.2.3. Critical thinking in the UK higher education perspective
The UK is one of those Western countries where academic practice is rooted in the pursuit of
Socratic thinking (which is considered the main form of reasoning), such as argumentation,
logical reasoning, evaluation and seeking truth through thinking critically. Thayer-Bacon
(2000) calls it “a battlefield mentality”, which emphases a critiquing, logical and supporting
evidence approach in order to accept or reject an assumption, idea, concept or theory.
According to Paul Ramsden, a substantial voice in UK HE, teachers are seeking to develop
students’ CT abilities across subject matters and language diversity (2003: pp. 22-25). The
majority of relevant studies have also put emphasis on developing students’ CT skills at
university level (e.g. Bauer & Liang, 2003; Tsui, 2006). Davies (2003) concludes that CT is a
fundamental requirement of university education, which demands students to be critical and
analytical in their learning approach in order to achieve a deeper understanding of issues, to
evaluate evidence in support of arguments and to analyze material critically. One of the main
reasons behind the rapidly increasing emphasis on CT development is that the national
government and employers organisations argued for preparing students to be able to think
well (Pithers & Soden, 2000: p. 273).
The position of CT as a main goal can be seen in Government documents such as the National
Committee of Inquiry in the UK HE (1997), which emphasizes that higher educational culture
in the UK requires the generation of new ideas by challenging old ones, demands disciplined
thinking and encourages curiosity (para. 5). The Framework of Higher Education
Qualifications in the UK (2008) also underscores this fact. For example, students at
undergraduate level are required to evaluate different problem-solving approaches
appropriately, and demonstrate accurate, reliable and coherent arguments, using a wide variety
35
of techniques to analyze the information critically and propose alternative solutions to
problems, developing existing skills and acquiring new competences in order to make sound
judgments (pp.16-19). Similarly, to summarize the extract given in the HE Qualification
Framework, Master’s and Doctorate level students should be able to:
•
•
•
•
•
•
Critically evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts
and data (that may be incomplete), to make judgments, and to
frame appropriate questions to achieve a solution - or identify a
range of solutions - to a problem.
Communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to
both specialist and non-specialist audiences.
Deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively,
make sound judgments in the absence of complete data, and
communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and nonspecialist audiences.
Demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and
solving problems, and act autonomously in planning and
implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level.
Continue to advance their knowledge and understanding, and to
develop new skills to a high level.
Make informed judgments on complex issues in specialist
fields, often in the absence of complete data, and be able to
communicate their ideas and conclusions clearly and effectively
to specialist and non-specialist audiences
(2008: pp. 16-24)
The descriptors above show that students at the higher level of education should have a sound
knowledge of the basic theories and concepts in their field of study. They should not only
have an ability to communicate accurately, clearly and evaluate arguments and evidence but
also dispositions such as the readiness to approach CT opportunities and trust on the process
of reasoned inquiries. These NQF descriptors clearly refer to the upper levels of the SOLO
taxonomy, particularly the ability to explain causes, relate and compare, analyse, apply, reflect
and generate theory. Whilst the SOLO taxonomy offers a straightforward way to classify
instructional activities in order to assess students’ academic performance, the NQF levels also
provide a primary understanding of the practice of critical thinking within the instructional
contexts of British educational cultures. As all courses must be structured according to these
descriptors, it helps to understand expectations of students’ cognitive development in terms of
thinking critically. These expectations of learning outcomes show the importance of CT in an
educational context, while the course structures reveal the actual practices in relation to CT
development. According to Tiwari et al. (2003), in order to provide the greatest benefit to
students, the instructional contexts should provide many opportunities for students to
participate at the upper levels of cognitive engagement, where critical thinking takes place.
36
Similarly, in the context of the present study, critical thinking is deemed to take place when
students are required to perform at the upper two levels of the SOLO taxonomy.
Although cultivation of CT is a current emphasis of UK higher education, as well as that of
any culture influenced by global changes, how different cultures are affected by this
increasing emphases on CT is a hot topic for research nowadays (Merriam, 2007), because
culture has an important influence on how CT is perceived and exercised (Lun, 2010). This
raises many further questions, such as how CT is valued, as well as how it affects students’
academic performance, in different cultures. Therefore, the aim of this thesis is to investigate
the extent to which international students feel able to realize CT in their own writing and the
extent to which their perceptions of CT match the actual demands posed by assessment in the
UK HE system.
2.2.4. Critical thinking in the cultural-educational context
The increasing demand for the development of university students’ intellectual abilities is
crucial but challenging, due to the current influence of global change in terms of cultural
diversity. Definitions of culture are usually understood in terms of shared views and
meanings, behaviours, knowledge, beliefs and values (Merriam, 2007). According to Lun
(2010) “shared meanings, norms, expectations or values are cognitive phenomena that cannot
be known through one’s senses, so observable behaviours are used as indicators of the
unobservable culture” (p. 3). This aspect of culture may be a consequence of the increasing
flow of shared information among people in different cultures. This, however, moves the
focus of individuals towards new culture-specific knowledge and experiences.
Previous research literature claims that teaching and learning practice is different in different
cultures. These differences and the interplay between different cultures further lead to the
difficulties of culturally diverse students in meeting the demands of a dramatically changing
world. Due to practices brought about by social change, theorists and educational policy
makers are facing challenges (Crossley, 2000). Previous studies have confirmed that the
impact of culture on education could be best investigated by examining and relating the
existing educational concepts and theories across different cultures; for example, the wellestablished Western educational concept of CT, which has been challenged for its applicability
to non-Western cultures (Li, 2002; Salili & Hoosain, 2007). The National Council for
Excellence in CT Instruction (2003) takes the view that CT is based on universally valued
components, which are: clarity of meaning; language accuracy; precision; consistency;
37
relevance; reliable supporting evidence; logical reasoning, and depth. Egege and Kutieleh
(2004), however, disagree with this view, and state that the techniques of reasoning advocated
by Western academics seem to be cultural rather than universal. HE academics have also
acknowledged that the challenges which international students face because of their lack of
CT skills stem from the differences from their own cultural-educational context (Bacha,
2002).
Due to this growing cultural difference, the debate concerning the significance of cultural
context has turned to the question of how culturally diverse students studying in Western
Anglophone countries such as the UK, USA, Australia and Canada, approach CT tasks (Jones,
2005; Kelley, 2008; Paton, 2005). Previous studies have explained those cultural differences
in terms of two main philosophical traditions: the Confucian and the Socratic. According to
Tweed and Lehman (2002), Confucius emphasizes goal-based learning, with the goal being
self-perfection in morality and behavioural reform among individuals, which encourages
learners to be respectful to their authorities. On the other hand, Socratic philosophy, it is
alleged, is based on the tendency to constantly challenge, question and evaluate ideas, beliefs
and knowledge, in order to arrive at a rational judgement.
Hammond and Gao (2002) further explain that initially, both the philosophical traditions were
student-centred, and applied discussion and interactive approaches; however, educational
practices became the preserve of a privileged group due to historical developments in both the
East and the West, which affected the teacher-student relationship. As a result, both systems
then turned to the teacher-centred practice of education, which emphasized top-down
transmission of knowledge, and changed their focus towards rote memorisation (Lun, 2010).
Research evidence also shows that subsequently, Western educational systems then moved
towards a more interactive mode, involving independently generated knowledge, objective
thought and personal freedom, with the result that the Western educational systems now
coincide with the Socratic style of education, and tend to encourage the development of
students’ CT abilities (Paul, 1993, cited in Lun, 2010). Meanwhile, the Asian education
culture has remained the same, with a teacher-centred approach and one-way transmission of
knowledge, where questioning behaviours are not encouraged or practised (Merriam, 2007).
The observable difference in the level of CT between the educational practices of the
Confucian and Socratic philosophies seems to be a key factor in successful performance in
English-speaking universities.
Although the research literature above has classified the initial cultural differences in two
main philosophical traditions, this seems a broad brush approach in relation to the present
38
study. ‘Western’ education might be seen as encompassing some quite distinct traditions, and
the distinction between systems that do and don’t encourage CT may be seen as determined
by more national cultures and historical contexts. UK is one of the Western countries, where
HE system have traditionally based on the open discussions, critical debate and argumentation
(Durkin, 2008) and where the development of students’ CT skills is a key characteristics and
highly emphasised in the Government documents (Pither & Soden, 2000).
In addition to these views, cultural differences have been explored in terms of two lines of
theory which can be described as language abilities and cognitive styles. It has been noted in
the research literature that language has become an instrument of reasoning in the true sense
and reflects human intellectual capacity as well. According to Lun (2010: p. 126),
“behavioural manifestations of CT, such as critical debate, argumentation, or even writing an
argumentative essay, require the appropriate use of language.” Previous research (Clifford et
al., 2004; Halpern, 2006; Hau et al., 2006) has shown the significant positive relationship
between language ability and CT skills. In relation to international students, Paton (2005)
speculates that the perceived inability of Asian students to adopt CT could possibly be due to
their linguistic difficulties in second language (L2) academic discourse. Though CT skills are
equally needed by English-speaking as well as international students, language plays an
effective role in hindering international students’ expression of CT. The demand for higher
level language proficiency in academic tasks may result in cognitive overload for
international students, and this might cause them to be less expressive of critical thoughts.
On the other hand, Egege and Koteleh (2004) argue that while no-one can dispute the
importance of students’ linguistic abilities, the results of their study showed that the case is
more complex than just language abilities. Research studies which focus on the cognitive
differences between Asian and Western students suggest that analytical cognition is more
likely to have a positive effect than holistic cognition, which might be negatively related to
CT, and these preferences may result in the low CT performance of international students in
academic discourse. Most of all, these differences affect the ways students express themselves
through writing. International students often face writing challenges because they adopt
passive learning styles and avoid debate or criticism of the material raised in class (Barker et
al., 1991: p. 80). Paul and Elder (2006) suggests that CT tools should be part of everyday
routine in learning, in order to improve and deepen students’ knowledge and reasoning even
while approaching writing (p. 38). Next section deals with the learning approaches of
culturally and linguistically diverse students.
39
2.3.
International students’ approaches to learning
Learning approaches are the methods that students adopt to conduct their academic tasks,
thereby relating negatively or positively to the learning outcomes. Psychologists and
philosophers have identified different learning approaches as consisting of deep, surface and
achieving learning approaches (Biggs, 1987; Entwistle, 1997; Haggis, 2003; Marton & Saljo,
1976; Volet & Chalmers, 1992). This section reviews these deep, surface and achieving
approaches, and in particular, research into international students’ learning approaches, since
HE in the UK represents a cultural, linguistic and social diversity which is greater now than
ever in the past.
2.3.1. Deep, surface and achieving approaches
Nearly 30 years ago, Marton and Säljö (1976) introduced the two concepts of ‘deep’
(associated in meaning with construction) and ‘surface’ (associated with memorisation and
reproduction) approaches to learning; since then, the fundamental differences in students’
learning approaches have been the subject of many studies. Some have investigated the
students’ ways of approaching learning qualitatively (Marton & Saljo, 1997); while others,
such as Entwistle (1994), and Biggs (1987), look at the approaches using questionnaires in a
quantitative way. Despite the differing aims, research methods and findings of the
aforementioned studies, they were all agreed on the dichotomy between deep and surface
approaches to learning (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). Besides these two (deep and surface)
approaches, Biggs (1994) also identified a kind of mixed learning approach, called the
strategic/achieving learning approach, which can be switched to deep or surface according to
the demands of the context.
The deep approach focuses on the meaning of learning and relating previous knowledge to
newly learned materials, and to life experiences as well (Haggis, 2003). The deep approach to
learning might be adopted because of the crucial need for it in future employment. In contrast,
surface learning approaches are associated with the memorization of discrete facts,
reproduction of terms and procedures through rote learning, and viewing learning tasks in an
isolated way; this might be adopted for more peripheral components of learning. The third
approach of learning, called ‘strategic’ or ‘achieving’, is associated with the ability to switch
between deep and surface approaches, rather than being a distinct approach to learning in
40
itself. Using a strategic or achieving approach seeks an optimal outcome in which the
achievement rate could be raised higher through effort (Biggs, 1996; Entwistle, 1994; Haggis,
2003; Volet, 1999). The writers of these studies further explain that deep learners are
intrinsically motivated to learn, while students using surface learning approaches are
motivated by external factors such as the desire to obtain a qualification or the fear of failure.
On the other hand, the achieving approach to learning is motivated by visible success such as
high grades regardless of interest; it involves organising time and workspace, and the focus is
on what to expect, planning and prioritising.
Previous literature above also provides the empirical basis of the relationship between
students’ learning approaches and a particular academic context. In relation to academic
writing assessment criteria, Elander et al. (2006) suggest that assessment criteria describe the
properties of work resulting from a deep approach to learning, and that whilst skills are
amenable to training, deep approaches to learning are associated with motivational factors and
active student engagement in the discipline. Since a deep approach to learning is desirable,
and since assessment criteria codify desirable qualities of students’ work, it is perhaps natural
to assume that the criteria represent the expected outcomes of a deep approach to learning
(pp.74-75). Another study, by Scouller (1998), shows that comprehensive essays are more
likely to be associated with a deep learning approach. According to Fabb & Durant (1993),
deep approaches help in using appropriate language as well as other conventions, which are
transferable and considered as skills (p.74). Saljo (1979) identifies five learning concepts,
which are further replicated and developed by Beaty et al. (1990), who characterize the
learning concepts shown below:
1. The learning concept is a process mainly designed to gain
information and expand general knowledge.
2. The learning concept is a process that primarily repeats
information in a certain field in order to transfer it to a different
situation (a lesson or a test) by imitation.
3. The learning concept is a pragmatic process; the primary goal
of learning is applying the learned knowledge.
4. The learning process is a concept of understanding and
discovering, which produces new insights about previous,
acquired knowledge and its relation to new terms.
5. The learning process is a concept of directed interpretation to
41
understand reality.
6. The learning process is a designed and formulated concept,
which causes changes in the individual’s vision of the world
and helps him achieve greater self-realization.
Many other researchers also suggest a similar kind of categorization to that illustrated above
(e.g. Van Rossum & Schenk, 1984; Saljo, 1979), and they further explain that students whose
learning approach coincides with the first three categories tend to adopt the surface approach,
while those whose learning approach matches with the last three characteristics are considered
deep learners. Ramsden (1991) classifies the six characteristics into a first and second group:
the first group (items 1, 2 and 3) represents an approach that considers learning as a process
which is based on external factors. The second group (items 4, 5 and 6) emphasises the
personal and inner dimensions of learning (p. 76). According to this discourse of the learning
process, international students are portrayed as passive, rote learning, uncritical, surface and
reproductive learners, who are happy with the “teacher-centred” learning environment, as
proposed by Conway and Ashman (1997), which is promoted through the examination-based
system (Ballard & Clanchy, 1997). The general argument could lead to the validity of these
learning approaches in terms of the international students’ native educational context, but in
Western universities the critical and analytical approaches to study are essential, and are
features which promote independency and focus on developing the skills of arguing,
discussing and debating, both in formal assessments, and in the application and manipulation
of knowledge.
2.3.2. Relationship between critical thinking, deep approaches and academic
performance
According to Bailin et al., (1999) CT is not only the repetition of skills, but also the
development of related knowledge and skills (p. 280). Similarly, the argument aspect of CT
can be related to deep learning in terms of formulating new ideas/claims and justifying
conclusions on the basis of evidence (Marttunen & Laurinen, 2001: p. 139). Therefore it is
suggested that students should be encouraged to adopt a deep/critical learning approach rather
than a surface one, because choosing a deep strategy depends largely on the students’
commitment to reaching a complete understanding of the subject matter (Biggs, 1994). The
following characteristics are a reflection of using the deep approach: being able to present the
42
entire picture of different aspects of the study; the ability to relate new knowledge to previous
knowledge; the ability to relate the learning materials to everyday life experiences; a tendency
to use meta-cognitive skills, and the ability to use a critical perspective to obtain alternative
solutions to problems (Biggs, 1996). Learners who take deep approaches are often
academically high achievers and maintain feelings of great satisfaction in their learning.
Critical approaches towards learning have received more attention in recent years, as higher
education demands active and reflective learning in order to achieve the desired learning
outcomes (Tagg, 2003). In particular, the shift has been moved from passive to active and
from a teacher-centred to a learner-centred approach, by engaging students in a deeper level
of reasoning to make them capable of applying their skills to real life situations. Higher
education institutions are fostering deep approaches to learning because deep learning
approaches focus on substance and the underlying meaning of the information, and an
understanding of the key concepts (Bowden & Marton, 1998). In contrast, surface approaches
are based on rote memorization with the purpose of studying for a test or exam to avoid
failure (Biggs, 1989). In exploring the relationship between CT and learning approaches, the
recent study of Thomas et al. (2008) shows that students’ engagement with the analysis of
information, understanding of alternatives and synthesis is the reflection of deep learning
approaches (p. 4). Chapman (2001) examined the development of CT skills in students of an
introductory Biology course after deep approaches had been emphasized. Following the
notion that “students learn best when actively constructing their understanding rather than
absorbing it” (p.1157), Chapman found that CT skills were developed when traditional
content was removed to make room for more complex learning. In other words, when
instructors emphasized a meaning-oriented approach (deep), rather than reproducing-oriented
approach (surface), it gave students more time to deeply engage in the material, so leading to
the adoption of CT skills (Chapman, cited in Thomas et al., 2008: p. 15). It can be inferred
from the research literature mentioned in this section that CT and deep learning approaches
are inter-related, and have a significantly positive effect on students’ academic performance.
Therefore, critical and deep approaches will be used interchangeably throughout this thesis.
The findings of Thomas et al.’s (2008) study suggested that deep learning approaches also had
a strong positive relationship with CT dispositions, such as having the “habits of mind”
typical of a critical thinker. This also suggests that, “even after controlling for student
characteristics, the more a student is exposed to higher level cognitive tasks in class, thinks
reflectively about learning, and integrates ideas and concepts across contexts, the more that
student will view him or herself as a critical thinker, having characteristics like open43
mindedness and inquisitiveness” (Thomas et al., 2008: p. 15). Deep approaches to learning
are also associated with enjoyment (Tagg, 2003), better information processing (Ramsden,
2003) and personal commitment, such as discussing, understanding and constructing ideas
with different perspectives (Biggs, 2003).
On the other hand, the studies of Zeegers (2004) and Gadzella et al. (1997) show a
relationship between CT approaches towards learning and high grades, as discussed in the
section below. The relationship between learning approaches and academic performance was
also central to the cross-cultural study of Watkins and Biggs (2001), but the findings were
rather disappointing, with correlations of 0.11 for surface and 0.16 for deep approaches. These
kinds of results are generally blamed in the literature on their lack of reliability (Biggs, 1987;
Scouller & Prosser, 1994). However, the majority of studies agreed on positive correlation
between academic performance and deep approaches and negative correlation between
academic performance and surface learning approaches (McKensie & Schweitzer, 2001;
Zeegers, 2004; Zhang 2001). Entwistle et al. (2003) point out that the results of the research
vary according to the differences in the procedures. For example, study by Minbashian et al.
(2004) clarifies that that question difficulty during exam could be an intervening variable.
In contrast, the surface approaches to learning are generally seen as: resulting in low grades;
are less satisfying; are dominated by rote strategies, show minimum interest in relating to the
materials; involve studying in a linear manner, without showing an in-depth understanding,
and rely on memorization rather than comprehension in order to fulfil the task (Biggs, 1994;
Ramsden, 2003; Tagg, 2003). This approach shows less inclination to use cognitive skills, and
is motivated chiefly by students’ need to avoid failure. Besides the characteristics of both the
learning approaches, an interesting question is their relationship to learning outcomes. These
studies have shown consistent results in associating deep learning with higher quality, and
surface approaches with low quality learning outcomes. The study of Trigwell and Prosser
(1991) has also found a positive correlation between critical/deep approaches and higher
grades, and between a surface approach and low marks. Similarly another study has related a
deeper approach to higher order learning skills as well (Murphy & Alexander, 2002).
Being an international student researcher, it is really interesting to investigate the important
area of international students’ (those from non-English speaking cultures) learning
approaches, and the effect of these approaches on their academic performance in the British
HE context. Academic performance, in this case, means the general level of grades in their
written work, such as essays, assignments, dissertations and theses, which are perceived as
assessing higher levels of cognitive processing. The research reported above contributes to the
44
advancement of the current study of international students’ approaches using qualitative
research methods, as many previous studies have employed quantitative methods such as
Biggs’ Student Process Questionnaire (Biggs, 1987) and the Approaches to Studying
Inventory (Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983).
2.3.3. Research on international students’ learning approaches
The learning approaches of international students represent another area of interest which
might influence students’ academic writing performance. Though CT has become one of the
crucial learning practices and is often presented as a core academic skill for succeeding in
university education in the UK, the case is not same in all cultures (Vandermensbrugghe,
2004). Therefore, having to adapt to an unfamiliar learning approach is always a great
challenge for international students because of the expectations and experiences they bring
with them from their previous learning backgrounds. Ridley (2004) argues that in higher
education, the nature of the different disciplinary discourses can be confusing and mysterious
for students who are diverse culturally and linguistically. Huang (2006) also describes the fact
that problems arise when Chinese international students are confronted with the expectations
of UK academics. Studies have also shown the notable relationship between students’
approaches to learning and cognitive activities, which are most likely related to deep learning
methods, including self-evaluation of ideas, self-questioning and looking for a range of
alternatives (Chin & Brown, 2000; Case et al., 2002).
The research literature also shows a big difference between international students’ classroom
behaviours and educational expectations in the West (Atkinson, 1997; Davidson, 1998; Lee &
Carrasquillo, 2006). Some associate these behaviours with the Confucian values of respecting
authority (Cheng, 2000; Kumaravadivelu, 2003), considering the fact that Asian and Western
educational cultures have been influenced by Confucian and Socratic philosophy respectively
(Hammond & Gao, 2002; Tweed & Lehman, 2002). While some others consider this a
misconception (Kim, 2003), because the ability advocated in CT, to formulate arguments with
flexibility and open mindedness was the basis of Confucianism (Hammond & Gao, 2002).
Thus, on the basis of the views illustrated, it is argued that the lack of CT in students’
behaviour is more related to CT practice, or lack of it, in the students’ native cultural and
educational context.
According to Department for education and skills (DfES) UK (2007), in the British academic
context, students are encouraged to evaluate evidence by making their own judgments from
45
an early age. This intellectual tradition means that students are brought up to learn the
meaning of evaluation, as making judgment or claim about something, from the beginning of
their education. In contrast, international students are characterized as surface and rote
learners in their approaches towards studies (Kim, 2002), and this is because of the adoption
and promotion of the passive learning style and avoidance of active or discussion-based
learning in the classroom (Barker et al., 1990: p. 80). In the HE system in the UK, where a
great number of students come from culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse
backgrounds, the use of quantitative instruments can tend to obscure important variations
within samples and lead to over-generalisations. Hence, the current investigation examines the
students’ approaches towards CT in order to obtain some sense, not only of the nature of these
approaches, but also of factors that influence their academic performance negatively.
However, the present study investigates whether these differences remain the same in relation
to approaching academic writing tasks in the British universities.
At university level, learning approaches are considered the reflection of the relationship
between students and tasks. The approach paradigm was then extended to the university level
writing by Biggs (1988), following the text comprehension work of Kirby (1988) and, Marton
and Saljo (1976) which involves writing processes to investigate writer’s surface or deep
levels. Lavelle (1993) measured writing approaches along with the Inventory of Processes in
College Composition. Similarly, the research of Lavelle and Zuercher (2001) examines
university students’ writing approaches based on five factors such as “Elaborative”, “Low
Self-Efficacy”, “Reflective-Revision”, “Spontaneous Impulsive” and “Procedural”, by using
the Inventory of Processes in College Composition (Lavelle, 1993). Reflective-Revision and
Elaborative was the representative of deep approaches, while Procedural, SpontaneousImpulsive and Low Self-Efficacy were associated with surface approaches to writing. The
focus of all these previous research was to investigate that how students making meaning in
their writing. On the other hand, the studies of Poser and Webb (1994), and Ryan (2000) link
students’ writing approaches to their conceptions and beliefs and writing outcomes.
Recently, Green (2007) investigated the writing approaches of five international students in an
Australian university and suggests an embedded, holistic, cross-cultural approach to
academic skills development. The findings of these researchers have established that the basic
variation is that students who use a deep approach show meaningful and proactive
engagement in tasks, while students who use a surface approach reproduce information and
focus on memorisation. In line with other research studies, the author has come to the point of
view that knowledge is constructed rather than transmitted, and that international students
46
have different characteristics in terms of constructing knowledge, which they have learned
from their past learning experiences.
International students are usually perceived as passive, uncritical, silent, compliant and rote
learners, which further conflicts with British academic standards and results in poor learning
outcomes (Cheng, 2000; Biggs, 1996). Cultural differences in learning approaches between
English speaking and non-English speaking countries have been a topic of debate for many
years as each country is different in its educational experiences such as teaching methodology,
curriculum development and learning practices etc. Chan (1999) gives the example of the
Chinese style of learning as influenced by Confucianism, where the lecture method is the
dominant way of teaching and in consequence, limited opportunities for questioning and
discussion are available. Therefore the students are unable to express their own views and
opinions openly. Huang (2006) states that the students’ abilities to solve problems are
neglected through the examination-based assessment system in Asian countries, which does
not make them able to relate their learned knowledge to practical life experiences (p.7). Lack
of CT ability is, for international students, a key factor affecting their performance in Englishspeaking universities. Academics in HE have acknowledged that the challenges international
students face are because of their lack of CT skills, which stems from the differences from
their own educational cultures, though sometimes they blame language and stylistic issues for
their academic failure (Samuelowicz & Bain, 2001). Therefore, cognitive styles seem to be
more problematic in the cultural dimension. Keeping these differences in mind, the present
thesis will seek to investigate the initial CT-related issues in international students’ academic
writing.
2.4. Academic writing challenges of international students
International students pursuing higher degrees in British universities come with concepts of
learning which originate from their prior learning experiences, and which differ markedly
from those of home students. These cultural differences occur when international students
show their lack of ability to engage in classroom behaviours such as overt questioning,
challenging others’ ideas, giving their own opinions and critiquing. Where the development of
students’ CT skills is a key characteristic of HE in the UK, various studies demonstrate that
international students’ abilities, such as creativity, problem solving in real situations,
evaluation of situations and critical inquiry, are largely absent from their portfolio of past
47
experiences (Kim, 2003; Lillis & Turner, 2001). A range of studies (Lee & Carrasquillo, 2006;
Paton, 2005; Robertson et al., 2000) show that teaching international students is an
unsatisfactory experience for academic staff in the West, particularly with regard to the
students’ poor critical and analytical thinking skills. These studies have commented clearly on
international students’ deficiencies in terms of their ability to think critically. In the present
section, a relationship between academic writing and critical thinking, cultural difference in
academic writing conventions and international students CT-related initial writing difficulties
will be reviewed.
2.4.1. Critical thinking and academic writing - a relationship
Language in written form is a major means of testing student’s knowledge of the different
content of different disciplines. Writing skills are very important in our personal and
professional lives and something real through which people actually express their thoughts
and feelings. Generally, writing is considered a tool for the creation of ideas and the
consolidation of the linguistic system by using it for communicative objectives in an
instructive way. While, academic writing is a particular style of writing that fulfils the purpose
of education (Kelley, 2008) and used by undergraduates, graduates and lecturers in their
assignments, essays, dissertations, PhD theses and academic papers. Bereiter and Scardamelia
argue that students at the higher level of education are usually expected to go beyond
“knowledge-telling” to “knowledge-transformation” while writing (cited in Leki & Carson,
1994: p. 96).
On the other hand, CT is an indispensable ability for students who wish to generate their own
ideas and critique materials in order to relate others’ assumption to their own ideas and
thinking. People can make sound decisions on the basis of analysis and evaluation of ideas
because learning only occurs effectively when the ideas of learners are challenged. In
addition, it is of great help in preparing them to succeed in life and assisting them to use what
is learned for their future. Learning in this way is only feasible through thinking critically
Barnett (1997) claims that CT is a defining concept in the Western educational systems (p.1).
Similarly, according to Davidson (1998) the notions of CT are linked to doing well in Western
universities (p. 2). This section, however, explains the relationship between CT and academic
writing, CT as a core assessment criterion for writing, and the problems and challenges that
international students encounter in relation to this.
48
2.4.1.1. Role of critical thinking in academic writing
Writing is an assessment tool which helps to promote students’ in-depth understanding of
issues, and UK academic discourse is expected to be clear, accurate, significant and logical,
with students constructing their own voices (Matsuda, 2001). Generally, CT affects all the
four skills of language learning, but it plays a particular role in writing academically. The
relationship between CT and academic writing can be seen as a stepping stone in engaging
students in creative learning opportunities. As I established above, research evidence shows
that developing students’ CT skills is a key characteristic and a main goal of the UK HE
system (Cosgrove, 2009; North Report, 1997; Palfreyman, 2008; QAA, 2008; Turner, 2006).
According to Ramesden (2003), UK academia has historically heavily invested in the notions
and approaches of CT. Fundamental to these approaches are competitive discourse and
dialogue, which make use of a range of argumentation skills. Proof and justification are other
vital components of these academic traditions, and arguments and critical analysis are also
linear to this paradigm. This is because, as noted above, in Western cultures, individuals are
taught to evaluate ideas and events from an early age. Similarly, in their education systems,
students are encouraged towards a claim-based learning approach which argues a position of
“reflective scepticism” when it comes towards knowledge claims (McPeck 1981: p.7). Egege
and Kutieleh (2004) illustrate how the classical Chinese, for example, are different in their
educational tradition, which relies on analogy and circular reasoning. Ideas about CT, critique,
and critical being in the West are likely to be heavily context dependent, and even within local
institutions, views about what constitutes the essence of criticality will differ (p.80).
In terms of the relationship between CT and academic performance, the studies of Williams
and Stockdale (2003) investigated the positive relationship between these variables and their
findings, suggesting that students with high CT skills performed better than their counterparts
with low CT skills in university courses, regardless of the course structure. They also
suggested that students with low CT skills can improve their skills by putting in more effort.
Hyland (2003) states that academic writing tasks are very demanding and require highly
cognitive engagement to produce a good piece of writing, and that this is simply based on the
“social practice” of the target community (p. 25). Therefore, academics in UK higher
education expect students to “write to learn” and consider academic writing as a discovering
and creative process (Kelley, 2008) which not only involves linguistically good text but also
emphasises well organised
content (Samaraj, 2004). In comparing the skilled and the
unskilled writer, it is claimed that “unskilled writers” are less flexible and more concerned
49
with surface level mistakes (Uzawa, 1996), while, “skilled writers” are concerned to explore
and discover ideas and capable of using meta-cognitive skills effectively (Harris, 2005).
According to studies above, the development of these skills maximizes the performance of
writers.
Academic writing, according to Kelley (2008), is a “fundamental component of academic
literacy.” She suggests the importance of explaining the nature of academic writing to
culturally diverse students, because it includes a complex set of skills such as argumentation,
developing new ideas and building knowledge, which might be unfamiliar for the
international students. Previous research has shown that students’ cultural diversity could
have a positive as well as negative impact on their CT abilities (Deakins, 2009; Pascarella et
al., 2001), but how cultural diversity specifically influences the students’ writing experiences
is not clear. Research (Cheng, 2000; Kumaravadivelu, 2003) also shows that the perceived
lack of CT skills of international students is rooted in the difference between their behavioural
patterns and the behavioural expectations of Western academics (classroom behaviour such as
overt questioning, critiquing, and critical discussion). As Biggs (1997) suggests, considering
international students in the Australian context, “language issues aside, the problems
presented by the cultural gap between school and university are different from those
experienced by non-Anglo-Celtic international students in extent, not in kind” (p. 121).
In short, thinking critically has been acknowledged by educators as a crucial requirement of
academic writing for many years, but there are still issues to consider such as the exact nature
of the international students writing problems because of their lack of CT skills, what the
background factors are which cause these problems, and finally how to improve student
performance in these areas. CT is highly necessary to the enhancement of writing
performance, and for this purpose critical pedagogy needs to be supported.
2.4.1.2. Critical thinking skills as core writing assessment criteria
Written work for academic purposes, such as essays, assignments, projects, reports, theses and
research papers, all demonstrate highly demanding outcomes, but students are often confused
about what constitutes a good piece of writing. Elander (2003) explains that CT is not only
one of the central objectives, but also a crucial assessment criterion in British HE. His survey
of study skills showed that essay writing was the most common topic on which students
requested guidance. It was also noted that academic professionals have been struggling to
specify the criteria for good writing and to make clear what constitutes a good essay
50
(Andrews, 2003). Sadler (1987) argues that students’ success depends on the type of
initiatives or learning required for assessment criteria (p. 194), which are defined as the
distinguishing properties or characteristics expected of a piece of work in order to judge its
quality. CT has been defined in terms of skills by McPeck (1981: p. 8), who suggest that “the
core meaning of CT is the propensity and skill to engage in an activity with reflective
scepticism.” CT has been identified as one of the four core criteria from the analysis of
published assessment criteria in the fields of Psychology, Business Studies and Geography,
along with the use of language, structuring, and argument. For example:
Table 2.4: CT as core assessment criteria for student writing
Core Criteria
Critical thinking
Examples
•
Does the author present material in a critical manner? (Pain & Mowl,
1996).
•
Clear application of theory through critical analysis/critical thought
related to the topic area (O’Donovan et al., 2000).
•
Evaluation includes conceptual/ methodological critique and an
appreciation of alternative perspectives and current controversies
(Elander, 2002).
(Adapted from Elander et al., 2006: p.67)
According to Elander et al. (2006), the purpose of using assessment criteria in teaching is to
improve students’ understanding of what is required, thereby improving their performance in
assessments, and good answers should not be predicated on being right, in the sense of true,
but on the quality of the justification given for a response (p.72). Bailin (1999) argues that CT
does not include the repetition of skills but the development of relevant knowledge based on
the application of criteria (p. 280). CT skills, however, can be effectively improved by
specific training and integration with subject-matter, because it is not just a question of
knowing more about one’s discipline, but is affected by learning styles and out of class
experiences, suggesting a complex learning process (Elander et al., 2006: p. 78). They further
note that one of the aims of using assessment criteria to support learning should be to extend
the benefits of understanding assessment criteria to students with learning goals, and to
encourage those with performance goals to use the assessment criteria in ways that facilitate
learning (p. 86). Argumentative practice could have a significant effect on society. The
assessment of CT in the education system often demands the identification of issues, the
consideration of different viewpoints and response to counter arguments. Thus argumentation
51
has a positive relationship with writing in terms of academic achievement in terms of grades,
academic success, and preparation for college and employment. Students’ ability to critique,
and to show deeper understanding and analysis as well as justification and evaluation, are
considered as assessment criteria (often called marking criteria), and play an essential role in
improving marking reliability and making student assessment explicit and transparent, in
order to engage students actively in the assessment process.
Analysis of the above studies suggests that academic writing requires the learning of complex
skills, which are transferable from one task to another within disciplines, and are amenable to
improvement with practice and instruction. This also provides a conceptual framework for
maximizing the benefits of using assessment criteria as a part of teaching. From a culturaleducational perspective, CT practices at an institutional level could have a powerful impact.
Tiwari et al.’s (2003) research supports this claim by suggesting that institutional background
might affect the students’ CT abilities; for example, the way courses of study are structured,
and how instructional practice is employed. Instructional practices could offer a different
structure to reinforce students’ engagement in CT (Lun, 2010: p. 51). Furthermore, Ridley
(2004) explains that each university discipline has its own discourse, and it can be a challenge
for students experiencing the new demands placed on them by writing in these discourses or
genres. As a result they face difficulties in understanding the standards and expectations of a
new education system.
2.4.2. Cultural differences in academic conventions
Critical thinking within the educational setting is both the formulation of arguments, analysis,
interpretations and making sound judgements, and also the mechanism which these processes
go through. Like CT in relation to other domains (e.g. self and the world), CT in an academic
context is distinguishable by its conventions, rhetoric and standards. CT is considered the
expression of scholarship. The quality of one’s thoughts, spoken or written, largely determines
the degree to which one is constructively critical towards knowledge. The standards and
conventions of CT, however, are not universal but often seen as culture-specific in their
practice (Egege & Koteleh, 2004), which might vary in different cultures. As such, culturespecific conventions naturally come into play when determining the quality of expressions of
thoughts (Canagarajah, 2002). Consequently, the challenge of becoming a critical/good
thinker lies in the way in which one’s thoughts reflect the given academic discourse (Huang,
2006).
52
Regarding learning approaches, reasoning is crucial for academic success in the UK HE
system (Atkinson, 1997; Benesch, 1999). However, memorisation is still regarded as a valid
learning practice in the most of the non-English speaking countries. Richards and Skelton
(1991: 40) state that international students are less critical, which is reflection of their past
learning approaches. These cultural approaches to learning may also affect the writing
conventions. Atkinson (1997) notes that writing conventions vary across cultures and
different languages structure organise writing discourse differently. In the study of Mauranen
(1994), Finnish students encountered writing difficulties due to differences in academic
writing conventions as academics in English expect students to state main points clearly and
coherently but Finnish students could not show the compatibility. Scollon (1997: p. 353) has
summed up the previous research on contrastive rhetoric as follows:
“A very broad range of studies have shown that no language or culture
can be reduced to one or two diagrammatic structures that might be
applied across the board from internal cognitive schema to paragraph
structure…. At the same time, strong clear evidence, amply
demonstrated across the languages of the world, shows that there are
situationally, generically, or stylistically preferred compositional
forms and that these are not the same from language to language or
from culturally defined situation to culturally defined situation”.
Differences between the academic writing conventions and styles of international and home
students have been noticed since the 1960s, and it has also been confirmed that
argumentation, analytical writing and thinking critically are the dominant communicative
styles in British universities, derived from Western cultures, while international students have
already learned to write in the style of their native academic cultures. Research shows that the
writing skills of students’ first language (L1) could influence their writing in English
negatively or positively, because the Western patterns and stylistic elements of writing often
seem alien to international students (Adeyemi, 2008; Lillis & Turner, 2001). Their knowledge
about, and skills in, writing in their L1 affect the way they write in English. Because of this
influence, students may use rhetorical patterns and stylistic elements characteristic of writing
in their native language but alien to the Anglophonic writing tradition (Kelley, 2008). This
transfer impedes effective communication between the writer and the reader, and also affects
assessment of the writer’s performance negatively. Therefore, to reduce the negative effect of
the way writing was taught in their native language, students should be made aware of
Western academic writing conventions. Likewise, English language teachers (ELT) should
also consider the cultural differences in the planning and assessment of their writing.
53
To think critically underpins success in academic tasks; there is no doubt that this is difficult
in one’s native language, but the expectation has a detrimental effect on the performance of
L2 learners. In the study by Takano and Noda (1993), they found that Japanese speakers
performed less well in doing a task in English as their L2, but performed better in the same
task while doing it in their native Japanese language. Therefore, thinking in L2 might result in
greater cognitive load (Davis et al., 2005) and may impair students’ ability to solve problems.
While higher-order thinking abilities can help to increase levels of language proficiency, and
according to Renner (1996, cited in Liaw, 2007: p. 46), “developing students’ ability to reflect
on their own learning process can help them progress in learning,” these issues become more
challenging for culturally and linguistically diverse students pursuing university studies in the
UK.
Lun (2010) points out another perspective, which is that sometimes stereotypical standards of
judgement might misinterpret the international students’ ability to think critically, which is a
factor which clearly needs to be addressed in terms of cultural considerations, by explaining
the unfamiliar learning approach in intercultural classrooms and investigating the factors that
influence and cause the differences in engagement with CT at HE level. Mastery of the CT
conventions does not occur simply even for native speakers of the language (English), but
comes after specific training. However, these differences in education systems might further
lead to discussions about the issues such as how international students approach CT tasks,
which needs to be addressed carefully in university education.
2.4.3. Pivotal issues in international students’ writing
Being critical and analytical in one’s thinking is the main requirement for succeeding in many
academic disciplines in the UK HE system, but results in a great challenge for students
coming from different cultural backgrounds, who are obliged to adapt to an unfamiliar
learning approach. They are incapable of answering analytically, not only because of the
demands of writing in a foreign language, but also because these students do not actually
know what it is to make their own point, or how to create their own meanings in analytical
ways. The differences in expectations between international (non-Western) students and their
faculties are issues which deserve considerable attention. As writing in L2 is a difficult task
for non-native students, they always receive much lower ratings, not only linguistically but
also in terms of thinking critically. Davies (2003) argues that despite being proficient in
English language, international students still encounter academic writing problems and this
54
may be because the type of writing required in the English universities is complex in nature
and non-English students might not have come across such experiences in their native
backgrounds.
As shown in the study of Egege and Koteleh, academics often comment on South East Asian
students’ writing such as “lacking arguments”, having a “lack of clarity and criticality”, and
“worse still”, being “descriptive in nature”. These comments are the same even for students
with a good level of English proficiency, because in some cases a good piece of writing can
be argued poorly and being critical is related more to logic than language (2004: p. 2). Logical
reasoning was found to be another key component for academic success in his research. The
research literature shows that Asian international students are considered to be passive due to
a lack of understanding of the requirements of analysis and critique (e.g. Richmonds, 2007;
Tapper, 2004). One of the main reasons for Asian students’ assumed cognitive deficiency
could be their cultural background. Referring to the Western logical convention, Davies
concluded that the principles involved in CT and argumentation at university level need to be
taught explicitly in order to promote students’ abilities in writing essays, papers and
dissertations (2003: p.2). He also points out that the actual meaning of CT skills application
is still not clear, and most academic staff only becomes aware of CT when they notice its lack
in students’ writing.
According to Tapper (2004), with regard to the application of CT in a university context, CT
terms such as analysis, evaluation, reflection, questioning and judgements are found again and
again (p. 201). A lecturer (quoted in Creme & Lea, 1997) stated, “I can recognize a good piece
of student writing when I see it. I know when it is well structured and has a well-developed
argument but it is difficult to say exactly what I am looking for, let alone describe a good
argument more fully” (pp. 36-37). Bonnett (2001) states that argument is the defining feature
of writing critically: “Your essay is your argument and everything else makes sense because
of it.” He explains that argumentation is an advanced level attribute of education. An
argument goes to the heart of recognising one’s life, and argumentation abilities make
learning more enjoyable and comfortable. It also changes learners from passive to active
(pp.1-3).
Issues of the students’ perceived lack of CT capability are frequently indicated as a key factor
undermining students’ ability to perform successfully (Kelley, 2008). Academics have also
identified the dishonest behaviour of international students, which is responsible for problems
such as students’ inappropriate textual borrowings as instances of plagiarism. Howard (2000)
categorises such problems in terms of fraud, insufficient citation, and excessive repetition.
55
Chandrasoma et al., (2004) argue that unacceptable inter-textuality is “centrally concerned
with questions of language, identity, education, and knowledge” (p. 172). These problems and
challenges draw attention to the fact that the students’ approach to expressing their
understanding is completely different to what their teachers expect. Most of their problems
are very common, such as: repetitions; vague generalization of ideas; poor reasoning in terms
of both making the point clear, and of critical analysis and evaluation, and lack of transition
between theory and practice etc. Since CT plays a central role in academic writing and its
assessment through written assignments, Carpenter and Krest (2001) state that
“unquestionably, college writing courses ought to foster CT” (p. 46). Te-Wiata, et al., (1996)
notes that assessment tasks focusing on CT are designed to determine the extent to which
students recognise the assumptions underlying their beliefs and behaviours, and give
justification to their ideas and actions (p. 15). This strongly emphasises the fact that that
students have to demonstrate deep thinking to engage in direct critique, and must express
themselves by making concise, evaluative statements and giving literal meanings and logical
reasons. Unfortunately, international students’ particular experiences have not given them an
awareness of the value of logical thinking that lies behind the appropriate way to write in UK
HE.
On the other hand, Volet and Kee (1993) found that in Australian universities, Singaporean
students were fully aware that they were expected to analyse critically. Similarly, a study by
Huang (2006) on Chinese students demonstrated that they were good at evaluation of ideas;
however they lacked creativity and were poor in exploring new dimensions of knowledge. But
there is a general consensus that in Asian countries, the intellectual skills of comparing,
evaluating different points of view, arguing and presenting one’s point of view are not
developed. Similar views are often reported in the literature (e.g. Ballard & Clancy, 1991).
These studies noticed that students from non-Western countries often had difficulties with
“analytical writing”; they also considered that the precise nature of their writing was
“description” rather than “analysis”. The findings of these studies found in their analysis that
even intelligent and highly educated students, some of them mid-career professionals, were
also having great problems with British academic writing. This may be because, as noted on
many occasions above, growing numbers of international students come from cultures which
have strong traditions of learning by absorption, valuing the wisdom of the past, and
particularly viewing academic writing in ways that are radically different from those of the
British education system. Davidson (1998) demonstrates that the reason why CT is less
practiced in some cultures is because the practices learned from previous educational
56
backgrounds affect how students understand and approach their assignments. A big gap has
been found between the Asian and Western education systems, their requirements, their
philosophies, standards and conceptions of knowledge and the educational and cultural
problems of non-English speakers etc. (Hammond & Gao, 2002; Tweed & Lehman, 2002),
however, little is known about the international students’ poor development of analytical skills
and the consequences of the adoption of surface/non critical learning approaches by many
students from non-English speaking backgrounds, because learning outcomes may be related
to their CT development .
2.4.4. Barriers to developing critical thinking in non-English settings
Cultural background not only shapes students’ learning experiences but also determines what
we value as knowledge and learning (Ryan, 2000: p. 16). According to Richardson (1994)
learning approaches differ systematically from one culture to another. He has noted two
distinct approaches of higher educational level such as 1) transformative and 2) reproductive
orientation. Hofstede’s (1997) ‘power distance’ approach of cultural dimensions helps to
understand the reflection of different educational context on the social attitudes. Power
distance has been defined in terms of inequality in power, in which less powerful people
consider the authority of powerful person to be normal. According to Hofstede’s definition
“East Asian cultures are characterized by large power distance, low individualism and high
uncertainty avoidance, whereas the UK is characterized by low power distance, high
individuality and low uncertainty avoidance” (cited in Durkin, 2008: p. 17). In educational
settings, this power distance may affect the teachers’ role in such a way that students accept
them as authority, which often result in a passive learning environment. The societies of large
power distance are based on teacher-centred classrooms in which they are considered expert
and respected who can never be criticised and where students only speak when they are
invited to do so. On the other hand, in the educational system of low power distance
countries, students are expected to be independent, can question, can speak spontaneously and
contradict the teacher (Hofstede, 1986: p. 313).
Ballard and Clanchy (1997) argue that Asian international students belong to the examinationbased education system and the first reason for this is that Asian societies highly value
academic achievements gained through that system. The second reason, from Ballard and
Clanchy’s (1997) point of view, is the students’ respectful behaviour towards academics in
57
those societies, which affects their learning approaches, and the third reason may be the
limited teaching-learning resources due to economic fluctuations. According to Meyers
(1986), the lecture traditions in Asian countries generally foster passive learning in which CT
is either taught implicitly or not at all (p. 86). The research of Shamim (as cited in Richmond,
2007) describes the traditional style of teaching in Pakistan is as follows: “Students mostly
listen to their teachers passively because of the non-existence of active learning
opportunities.” The learners are passive listeners with virtually no opportunities to become
active participants in the teaching/learning process. During a lecture, the learners note down
every word of the lecture (or as much of it as they can) to faithfully reproduce it in
examinations (p. 106). Similarly, Somwung and Siridej (2000) also note that education in
Thailand re-enforces memory-based learning rather than enhancing students’ abilities to use
the acquired knowledge (p. 87). McVeigh (2002) argues that in Asian countries, “Students
who answer in the class cannot be a nice person and such students are imprudent” (p. 48).
Accordingly, the aforementioned cultural-deficit idea supports the views of Ballard and
Clanchy (1997), Volet and Renshaw (1996), who claim that the “reform process is very slow
in these countries” (India and other Asian countries) and the emphasis is still on students
passing their exams only, rather than on the promotion of a critical and analytical approach to
learning.
Other studies have also pointed out that in Asian countries one of the valid practices is
memorization rather than questioning and critiquing knowledge, which often leads to poor
quality learning outcomes (Cheng, 2000: Kember, 1996;). Similarly, Vandermensbrugghe
(2004) reports that the exam-based nature of the education system in Asia promotes rote
learning, while Richmond (2007) also notes that the educational methods commonly used in
developing countries, particularly rote learning by students expected to be passive recipients
of knowledge, are mostly ineffective in the training of professionals required to think
critically and creatively about the development needs of their nations. The Report of the
World Bank (2005) draws our attention to the poor quality of the educational curriculum in
Asian countries (p. 71), and Ryan (2000) further explains how the differences in students’
learning practices in the different educational systems affect their learning approaches,
learning styles and their relationship with their teachers. As CT ability is one of the crucial
requirements for success in the British HE system, and is considered a socially constructed
concept and embedded in Western culture (Atkinson, 1997), students’ prior experiences of
learning practices become barriers for them in a new educational environment. Although the
educational practices in Asian countries have been found to conflict with Western learning
58
standards (Kember, 1996; Watkins & Biggs, 2001), the area of students’ approaches to study
is of particular interest.
Previous studies further explain the reasons for the kind of learning which characterises the
Asian culture. This may be because the Western concept of the self focuses on individuals,
who are responsible for their own actions rather than depending on a group, while Asian
people are dependent psychologically on others such as parents and the immediate
community. Western people are very clear when defining themselves but Asian people have a
tendency to speak indirectly about views and feelings. In the context of international
education, views about international students’ lack of CT are based on their observed
classroom behaviours, such as rarely answering questions, lack of their own opinions, rarely
participating actively in group discussions, and lack of involvement in critiquing, challenging
ideas, argumentation or a direct style of written and oral communication. These kinds of
behaviour patterns are usually taken negatively in Western culture (Biggs, 1996; 2001).
These classroom behaviours are strongly considered as CT indicators in the Western and
British educational cultures (Durkin, 2008; Tweed & Lehman, 2002; Ennis, 1998; Atkinson,
1997) and on the basis of these behaviours, students’ CT abilities are assessed by teaching
professionals in the West. The majority of the barriers to the development and promotion of
students’ CT skills, as reported in previous studies (illustrated above) are cultural-educational
in nature. This may be because every educational culture has its own unique teaching and
learning context, so adaptation is difficult. International students’ challenges in Englishspeaking university classrooms might be due to the differences between teaching and learning
styles in their own background and those in Western educational systems. As Volet (1999)
and Crossley (2000) have pointed out, some aspects of international education cannot be
appropriately transferred to Western educational theory because of the cultural differences.
These different aspects of learning cultures in different education systems consist of some
explicit expectations and tacit criteria in evaluating the teaching-learning practices and
appropriate learning behaviour in that specific educational context. Teachers and instructors
who are acquainted with the rules and expectations prevalent in the West have developed a
tacit set of standards concerning which teaching or learning practice is appropriate in the
Western context (Lun, 2010: p. 24).
Therefore, based on Hofstede’s (1997) views, international students coming from large power
distance countries may need to take shifts from previous approaches to new ones. According
to Blue, (1993: p. 98) if international students want to succeed in the academic culture (of the
host society), they will have to assimilate to some degree the norms of that culture which may
59
or may not resemble the norms of their L1 academic culture. Adaptation of the new forms of
behaviours is interdependent with academic success as noted by O’Donoghue (1996: p. 76).
In UK academic culture students are required and encouraged to ask questions, give their own
views and justify their points with valid arguments, and discussed and debate in the class
(Shin & Lee, 2000). This will further leave the room for discussion about the appropriate
pedagogy for international students in English-speaking countries, with an emphasis on
teaching and developing CT as an educational ideal and turning their focus towards the actual
learning practices of CT. Issues
The present investigation will however, be different from those above because some of the
studies have targeted samples in Asian countries only, and some have focused on secondary
level barriers, while the current study includes samples from many different non-English
cultures as well as specifically targeting the primary barriers to CT development.
Furthermore, the present study will not only investigate the students’writing approaches,
specific problem areas of students writing but also what can help to facilitate their writing
experiences in the UK HE system.
2.5. Towards the solutions: how can the gap be bridged?
Investigations have demonstrated the low level CT performance of international students at
the higher level of education in English-speaking countries such as the UK, the USA,
Australia and New-Zealand, and the majority agree with the “single truth” view that students’
previous cultural-educational background in non-English speaking countries has hindered
their development of CT (Facione et al., 2000; Guest, 2000). A review of literature in the field
of critical thinking, on the other hand, shows that all people have the same capabilities for
critical thought, which can be taught at all age levels, from young to old (Lai, 2011). Facione
et al. (1997) also claim that CT skills can be learned as well as encouraged to develop. In this
section, cultural-educational support, the role of English for academic purposes (EAP)
language learning modes as well as a self-conscious approach in fostering CT will be
reviewed
2.5.1. Cultural-educational support
Writing for the purposes of HE involves attracting others’ attention towards ones’ unique role
and contribution as part of an academic community. Therefore, to express your own point of
60
view you need to use critical and reflective thinking, and also need to be able to analyse
others' arguments critically (Elder & Paul 2006). According to Halpern (1996) CT is the use
of intellectual skills in a manner which helps to reach desirable outcomes (p. 5). For Beyer
(1987), CT involves the skills of analysis and evaluation in order to examine beliefs and make
sound judgements (p. 33), while Kegen (2000) argues that learning is a development process
which is both informative and transformative (p. 50). Higher education is based on
transformative and constructive learning, rather than an informative approach. According to
Marlowe and Page (1998), constructive learning includes questioning and modification of
experiences. Kauchak, et al. (2002) describe how constructivism requires CT, which is why
teachers use a variety of learning experiences for students.
The difficulties which international students experience have been reported frequently, and
these are in areas such as creativity; problem solving in real situations; critical inquiry;
arguing; presenting their own points of view; critical analysis, and critical evaluation (Huang,
2006; Kim, 2003; Kumaravadivelu, 2003; Lee & Carrasquillo, 2006; Robertson et al., 2000).
The literature also points out the cultural-educational background as a main reason behind the
lack of development of students’ intellectual skills to approach knowledge critically
(Samuelowicz, 1987; Egege & Kutieleh, 2004). There is also a pool of evidence (e.g. Todd,
1996; Volet & Renshaw, 1996; Entwistle & Ramsden, 1983) to suggest that the adoption of
the reproductive approach is not restricted to Asian students, and that “students will tend to
employ a surface approach if that is what the curriculum appears to demand, or if the learning
environment is unfavourable” (Kember & Gow 1991: p. 118). It is important to recognize that
international students’ needs and expectations impact their learning experiences accordingly.
The current research, however, aims to investigate not only the international students’
problems and approaches but also suggests possible solutions to facilitate their writing
experiences. The contributions of this study will draw attention towards the learning diversity
present in UK tertiary classrooms, as well as towards the changes that may be needed in order
to maximise their learning.
Research has demonstrated that Western cultures including UK strongly emphasize studentcentred learning (Ho et al., 2004), and as a result, non-Western students’ learning experiences
do not match with this active learning process and create challenges. According to Gabler and
Schroeder (2003), “an active learning process is emphasizing on purposeful interaction and
the use of knowledge in real situations” (p. 4). Initially students need help to change
themselves from passive to active learners, and to become self-developing, where CT is
essential. There is also a need to make students aware of new learning processes so that they
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can understand how to use the learnt knowledge. Learning expectations and standards should
be clearly explicit for students to learn and perform well, and in order to bridge the gap
between their performance and the required standards, because different cultures have
different approaches to thinking and writing (Egege & Koteleh, 2004). Therefore,
international students also need to be able to develop arguments according to the English
academic convention. Feedback and small group teaching have also been mentioned in the
literature as ways to develop students’ CT skills for academic writing. Curricular development
is one of the ways to support students’ needs, in which summative assessments could be
reduced in favour of formative assessment in teaching. Students’ success largely depends on
the approach of teachers such as constructive alignment, teaching large groups, teaching small
groups, active learning etc. (Paul & Elder, 2002). The education system should produce
teachers who are confident to not only understand critical thinking but also know how to
teach it. They should also have a comprehensive sense of the whole and a realistic idea of
how to cultivate this in students while teaching the content of a subject or discipline.
Duron et al., (2006) propose a five-step model to move students towards CT which includes:
explicit explanation of the learning objectives; teaching through questioning; creating an
active teaching/learning environment; taking a process approach towards learning, and giving
appropriate feedback and assessment (p. 161). According to Paul (1993), deficiency in
reasoning skills comes from typical school experiences, which focus on covering the content,
and promote lower-order learning, and therefore result in memorisation rather than deep
understanding. Previous research also suggests that all human beings can benefit from CT
instruction, because CT skills are not just for the gifted, they are for everyone (see Kennedy et
al. 1991; Lewis & Smith, 1993). Bailin et al. (1999) suggest that instruction for primary grade
level students should include: valuing seeking for truth; respecting others’ viewpoints during
discussion; open-mindedness; willingness; perceiving differences; clarifying; considering
alternatives, and making decisions. Similar kinds of recommendations are made by the Delphi
Report (Facione, 1990: p. 27). Van-Gelder (2004) suggests that CT skills need to be practiced
deliberately, which can only occur when CT skills are made explicit and a separate part of the
curriculum, while Pithers and Soden (2000) reject this view and state that CT should be taught
generally. Halpern (2001: p. 278) suggests a “broad-based, cross-disciplinary” approach to
teach CT skills effectively. On the other hand, Bailin et al. (1999) and Lipman (1988) support
a general approach to CT skills in but argue for “hand-in-hand” instruction in basic skills,
such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In the research of Bataineh and Zghoul
(2006) it is concluded that CT abilities can be taught and learnt successfully by providing
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proper instruction, and for this purpose teachers should be trained in such skills (p. 38).
To sum up the above empirical evidence, it is clear that without reasoning, knowledge is of
limited value. Therefore, students must be active learners and able to think critically in the
classroom, because CT promotes an active cognitive process and develops an open-minded
attitude in order to deal with ideas systematically, communicate effectively and move towards
questioning, discussing and debating actively.
2.5.2. Role of EAP language learning modes
Previous research literature places a great importance to the relationship between language
and thought. For Suhor (1985) language, thinking and learning are interrelated. He
emphasizes on the integration of CT skills and English language teaching. He illustrates that
the art of the English language involves a wide range of essential thinking skills because of
the close relationship between thinking and language as established by Piaget, Vygotsky, Berk
and others. Additionally, “many aspects of reading and writing are pertinent to important
thinking skills.” (p. 2). Diller (1978) also claims that “we cannot say we know a language
until we can think in it” (p. 34). He gives an example of a singer who can sing a song in
another language perfectly but is unable to understand its meaning and think about it from
different angles. As it is challenging to develop critical thoughts in a native language, it
becomes even harder in a second language to express CT. This is due to the centrality of the
English language, because every discipline has its own language, but demands the ability to
express and understand through the target language, which makes it more difficult without
fluency in that language. According to Sadler (1989), CT skills are key skills for improving
students’ academic performance, and for the best learning outcomes it is vital to provide
explicit instruction in the system. He further argues that providing direct and authentic
evaluative experience is necessary for the development of evaluative expertise (p. 143).
According to Hyland (2006) EAP (English for Academic Purposes) courses attempts to assist
students towards their studies and research in English as a target language. He further argue
for the need and development of EAP in the following words “supported by an expanding
range of publications and research journals, there is growing awareness that students,
including native English-speakers, have to take on new roles and engage with knowledge in
new ways when they enter university. They find that they need to write and read unfamiliar
genres and participate in novel speech events” (P. 1). Therefore, the aim of EAP modes is not
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only to develop English language abilities but also the study skills of writing, reading,
speaking and listening. The main models for teaching EAP include, the product approach; the
process approach; the team teaching approach; content-based instruction approach; content
and language integrated learning; academic vocabulary approach and the genre approach.
Interestingly, these EAP models are mostly revolved around academic writing, “as academic
writing is so important for students of all kinds, and as it is such an umbrella term, it is hardly
surprising that there is range of approaches and types of practice for it” (Jordan, 1997: p.
164).
According to Flowerdew and Peacock (2001: p. 56) the product approach emphasises on “the
finished product, or text, rather than the process students go through in order to write their
text”. Jorden (1997) has noted that this approach has been criticised because it “restrict
students’ creativity”. The process approach views writing as a creative process involving
brainstorming, planning, drafting, editing, feedback, revision and proofreading in order to
determine students’ critical thinking and creativity (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001; Jordan,
1997). In this approach students are responsible for their own learning in participating
actively to make good progress. Horowitz further questioned that “whether the process
approach realistically prepared students for the demands of writing in academic context”.
According to him “the process approach gave students a false impression of what is required
of them in university settings and, in particular, its very special socio-cultural context and
expectations” (cited in Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001: p. 57).
On the other hand, the team teaching approach is a co-operative method in which the subject
teachers have to co-operate with their EAP teachers in order to deliver EAP course effectively
(Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001). The aim of this approach is to prepare students to understand
lectures and exams. Dudley-Evans (2001) has emphasised on the mutual understanding
between language teachers and subject teachers. However, this approach is also not without
problems. For example Benesch (as cited in Abdulkader, 2009: p. 48) stated that “this
approach is overly concerned with making students adhere to the established practices of the
institution and the syllabus at the expense of the students’ critical views of them. Besides, this
model strongly focuses on course content. This is why beyond Master's level, the approach
may not work. For instance, PhD is an individual study and cannot be dictated by a subject
teacher, language teacher or department. A student may well need help with some language or
subject-specific elements, but this EAP teaching model seems not to fit such programme of
study and another approach will be needed”. Content-based instruction is an American model
approach to teaching EAP which has been characterised as “a major force in English as a
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Second Language. The rationale for CBI rests on the notion that integrating language and
content has pedagogic value, as the use of meaningful language will motivate students and
enable content learning along with language learning pedagogy today” (Schleppegrell &
Oliveira, 2006: 254). Research literature also suggests that this approach did not meet the
needs of students and teachers in the EAP (e.g. Brinton & Holten, 2001).
Another approach to teaching EAP is called content and language integrated learning (CLIL),
which involves teaching course subjects through the medium of a foreign or second language
(Abdulkader, 2009: p. 50). This approach not only improves language proficiency but also
intercultural knowledge (European Commission, 2008). Besides its benefits, this approach is
limited to the subject specification. Next model is academic vocabulary approach was
proposed by Coxhead and Nation (2001) in order to improve students’ academic vocabulary
which is crucially important aspect of academic writing. But this approach was seen a narrow
model as academic writing more likely happens with sentence level and structure not only
with vocabulary. While, the genre approaches, is based on the work of Swales’s (1990) and
Bhatia’s (1993) genre analysis. According to Paltridge (2001: p. 58) genre approaches involve
“language and discourse features of the texts, as well as the context in which the text is
produced”.
It can be drawn from the analysis of above EAP models that the general aim of EAP is to
improve the two important areas of students’ learning, which are: 1) language proficiency, and
2) introducing them to academic conventions and skills (Stroch & Tapper, 2009: p. 218).
Studies of this focus have produced varying results, with a noticeable improvement in
students’ performance after EAP shown by Archibald (2001), and with no significant
difference shown by Brown (1998) and Green (2005). Some of the EAP courses were also
blamed for being problematic in terms of skills development, for example their focus on
preparing students for the tests of IELTS and TOEFL (Green, 2005; Alderson, 2000). Previous
research has also observed a slight improvement in the development of academic writing
skills through EAP courses in terms of formality (Storch & Tapper, 2009; Shaw & Liu, 1998),
but they could not find any gains for accuracy and complexity. On the other hand, James
(2006) found a significant transfer of language and study skills from a content-based EAP
programme geared towards an Engineering course. In the qualitative study of Dooey (2010),
students perceived EAP as a valuable experience in terms of increasing their confidence level
in their language abilities, and of preparing them for the kind of tasks required for their
courses.
Therefore, Diller has proposed “the guided practice” to fulfil the needs of second language
65
learners to help them to be proficient in using language (1978: p. 35). According to Vermillion
(1997), language is the most important medium by which thought is expressed, so it is
extremely important that language teachers are concerned with the interface between language
and thought. As people’s language skills develop their thinking skills need to develop as well,
because the two skills appear to depend upon one another in order to function at a higher level
(p. 11). Other studies strongly emphasise that language classes should teach students the
expected academic conventions based on faculty feedback (Zhu, 2004; Casanave, 2002).
According to Reid (2006), EAP courses should focus on CT development, which could also
influence students’ motivation significantly. To date, little is known about how EAP students’
academic writing experiences are positively affected by the writing which is required in their
courses, or about how EAP courses foster CT in their classes. This exploratory study
considers the students’ accounts of the development of the study skills which they need to
apply in their academic writing.
2.5.3. The self-conscious approach towards critical thinking
Further to the above discussion of cultural-educational influences and support, as well as the
role of EAP language courses in CT development, another important approach could be the
self-conscious approach. According to Elder and Paul (2006), CT is a self-conscious attempt
to improve the quality of one’s thoughts. She suggests following key parameters to thinking
critically, such as: one should be clear about purpose and analyse concepts and ideas; one
must support claims with sound evidence; one must present justifications logically, and
examine consequences of arguments with reasoning. As CT skills are related to ones’
motivation, collaboration, and creativity, it is more likely that students who can monitor their
own learning activities are more likely to demonstrate higher-order thinking abilities. In
addition, Lai (2011) argues that “the ability to critically evaluate one’s own arguments and
reasoning is necessary for self-regulated learning.” Motivation is another factor which plays a
very important role in encouraging students to persist in CT tasks. Similarly, one’s CT
dispositions, such as willingness to work from diverse perspectives, could enhance
collaborative opportunities, while open-mindedness and flexibility are considered strong
indicators of creativity (Lai, 2011).
Paul and Elder (2008) propose following key questions in order to apply critical analysis to
the arguments of others, for example: What is the purpose of the author? What is the key
66
question that is being addressed? What is the most important information that is being used to
support the conclusions reached? Are the data and evidence accurate and are they being
reported correctly? Is the author withholding other information that might be relevant? What
kind of inferences is the author making? What concepts are being used? What assumptions
are being made? What are the implications of this article? What point of view is being
expressed? This might help to avoid sloppy and misleading concepts, and encourage students
to be logical and fair and avoid negative critique and debates.
2.6. Summary
As a result of a review of the existing literature in the field, a number of key points have
emerged which help to address the stated research questions. The literature reviewed in this
chapter shows a general consensus that a modern globalised economy strongly requires the
ability to think critically. Critical thinking includes both a set of skills (Case, 2005; Ennis,
1987; Facione, 1990; Halpern, 1998; Paul, 1993; Willingham, 2007), and a set of critical
thinking dispositions (Bailin et al., 1999; Ennis, 1985; Facione 1990; 2000; Halpern, 1998).
Research evidence also shows that both CT skills and CT dispositions are the product of
cultural processes. The most commonly identified cultural differences are seen as being the
product of Confucian and Socratic traditions of thought, which are the most significant
influences amongst previous educational experience. It is often held that British education is
characterised by Socratic approaches, while other traditions such as Middle Eastern, Asian
sub-continental and Far Eastern traditions are more Confucian, although the picture may be
more complicated than this suggests. It is therefore commonly supposed that students from
non-Western traditions suffer a CT ‘deficit’ which is both cultural and linguistic. The research
also suggests that this CT deficit does not appear to be addressed by current EAP
programmes. This may account for issues in performance in written tasks in UK HE by
international students. Therefore the present research is designed to explore and test these
propositions. In the next chapter, the research methodology will be presented.
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CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.1. Introduction
This chapter is devoted to a discussion of the research methodology employed in the present
investigation, including issues pertaining to the data collection and data analysis. As stated
earlier, this study aims to explore the challenges encountered by international students in
relation to the absence of critical thinking (CT), and the approaches to writing adopted by
international students. Further, the study seeks to develop suggestions which would help to
minimize the challenges of thinking critically and reflectively, in order to enhance students’
academic writing performance. Specifically, this chapter deals with: the research
methodology; research design/conceptual framework (which includes gaining access to the
field, the context setting and the samples); research instruments and the procedures for data
collection, as well as data analysis.
3.2. Research methodology
The present study adopted a qualitative approach, the definition and nature of which is given
below in order to demonstrate the appropriateness of its use for the problems and issues
identified in the current study.
3.2.1. Qualitative research
There is a lively and ongoing debate concerning the most appropriate research methods for
educational research. The whole debate centres largely on the nature of the reality and
trustworthiness of research findings (Adeyemi, 2008; Cohen et al., 2007; Magagula, 1996;
Cresswell, 1994). Qualitative research is defined by Macmillan and Schumacher (2006: p. 15)
as an inquiry, in which researchers collect data in face-to-face situations by interacting with
selected persons in their settings. Qualitative research describes and analyses people’s
individual and collective social actions, beliefs, thoughts and perceptions, and qualitative
studies are important for: theory generation; policy development; improvement of educational
practice; illumination of social issues, and action stimulus. Cohen et al., (2000) conclude that:
Qualitative research is said to penetrate situations in the ways that can establish cause and
effect, in real contexts, recognising that context is a powerful determinant of both causes and
68
effects and thereby, determine the cause and effect.
These definitions suggest that qualitative research is an appropriate approach for a researcher
wishing to understand the experiences of international students confronting the problems of
learning and performing CT in the UK HE system. Qualitative research has also been
described as a multi-method approach by Denzin and Lincoln (1994: p. 2), who suggest that
“Qualitative research is multi-method in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach
to its subject matter.” In the case of the present research, concerned as it is with the
experiences of students from a range of cultural backgrounds and disciplines, and from
different learning contexts, this naturalistic approach avoids imposing an inappropriate
template on the students’ experiences. Being qualitative, the present research is less concerned
with numbers and more concerned with information expressed in words, for example
perceptions, interpretations and feelings, as described by Walliman (2006). In contrast to
formulating, testing and confirming or disconfirming hypotheses, as is usual with quantitative
approaches to research, qualitative research draws on the data collected by the researcher to
make sense of human behaviour within the research context (Burns, 1999: p. 22). Also,
qualitative data often focuses on smaller numbers of people than quantitative data, yet the
data tend to be detailed and rich (Cohen et al., 2007).
The present study draws on both naturalist and interpretive theories. It is naturalist in the
sense that the social world was studied in its natural state and situations were examined
through the lens of the participants rather than the researcher. It is interpretive because the
students’ perceptions, approaches to problems and needs are interpreted by the researcher,
which opens “the possibility for multiple perceptions” (Moses & Knutsen, 2007: p. 11). Since
the author was herself an international student, there are also interesting points of comparison
to be made between her own experiences and those of the participants.
3.2.2. The characteristics of qualitative research
According to Creswell (2007: p. 37), qualitative research begins with assumptions, the
possible use of a theoretical lens, and inquiring into the meaning which individuals ascribe to
a social or human problem. The final written report includes the voices of participants, the
reflexivity of the researcher and a complex description and interpretation of the problem; it
also extends the literature or signals a call for action. Some authors claim that qualitative
research is better understood by the characteristics of its methods than its definitions (Bogdan
& Biklen, 1992; Sherman & Webb, 1988). They provide a list of characteristics, which are
69
summarised by McMillan and Schumacher (2006), who describe qualitative research as an
inquiry that:
•
•
•
•
“is based on a constructivist philosophy that assumes that reality is a
multi-layered, interactive, shared social experience that is interpreted by
individuals;
is concerned with understanding social phenomena from participants’
perspectives, which is achieved by analysing the many contexts of
participants;
involves the collection of data in face to face situations by interacting
with selected people in their settings;
describes and analyses peoples’ individual and collective social action,
beliefs, thoughts, development, improvement of educational practice,
contributions to policy, social actions and so on” (pp. 315-316).
These characteristics (illustrated above) fit the framework of the current study of CT as a
human problem; international students’ inability to think critically at the higher educational
level was identified in their natural settings by analysing their written words and reporting the
detailed views of students and teachers. To find out the reasons for the difficulties experienced
by students, the researcher built a holistic picture of their overall approaches towards
academic writing, utilizing the multi-method focus of qualitative processing in order to come
up with the suggestions for facilitatory contributions to educational practice. Cresswell (1998)
characterises this kind of qualitative research as: “an inquiry process of understanding, based
on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem. The
researcher builds a complex and holistic picture, analyses words, reports detailed views of
informants and conducts the study in a natural setting” (p. 15).
3.3. Research design
In order to present the study design, this section describes the methods of gaining access to
the field and the associated ethical issues, context setting and the sample, as well as
participants’ background information. The researcher’s relationship with participants and
other issues related to the students’ cultural diversity are also discussed. Finally, the data
collection, as well as data analysis, techniques are explained in detail, in terms of how these
would help to answer the research questions for this study. Maxwell (1996) has described
research design as being based on the following components: the researcher’s relationship
with those he/she studies; the researcher’s planning of different times and settings; sampling;
interviewing; how the researcher collects the data and the instruments which are utilized for
this purpose; what the researcher does with the collected information, and how he/she uses it
70
in order to make sense of it.
3.3.1. Gaining access into the field and ethical issues
Gaining access into the field is one of the key issues faced by any researcher, and before the
study, it is crucial for the investigator to seek the permission of the authorities of the particular
institution or organisation where the research is to be conducted. As noted by Cohen et al.
(2005) and Blaxter et al. (2006), “the investigator cannot expect access to a nursery, school,
college or factory as a matter of right. They have to demonstrate that they are worthy, as
researcher and human beings, of being accorded the facilities needed to carry out their
investigation” (p. 53). According to these writers, access includes documents, people or
institutions. Documents can be accessed through libraries or institutions, whilst people may be
accessed in their homes, workplaces, universities or over the internet. The institutions can be
universities, schools or government departments.
In relation to this study, the researcher needed permission from: firstly, the language institutes
of two universities, which were: 1) University A and, 2) University B; and secondly, access to
the department of Community and International Education, in order to access the international
students’ written assignments as well as to interview their assessors for a case study. Official
letters and emails were sent, and personal visits were also made, to contact the heads of these
institutions in order to gain official access to carry out the research. The aim and purpose of
conducting this study were explained, and reasons were given for the prospective
participation of international students and teachers. The nature of the research was explained
in further detail, in order to request the procedures of interviewing (students and teachers),
self-reporting, keeping diaries and examining students’ written assignments. Finally, they
agreed to grant me access, conditional on obtaining fully informed consent from all
participants.
Ethical consideration is another main issue which stands out as a continuing concern
throughout the process of data collection and analysis. Consideration of ethical issues is a
necessary feature of all stages of the research project, from initial planning, through data
collection, to writing up (Blaxter et al., 2006: p. 162). The British Education Research
Association (BERA) guidelines (2004) point out several ethical requirements, such as:
•
“Participants’ understanding and agreement is needed to their
participation without any duress, prior to the research getting
under way.
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•
•
•
•
Researchers must take the steps necessary to ensure that all
participants in the research understand the process in which they
are to be engaged, including why their participation is necessary,
how it will be used and how and to whom it will be reported.
Researchers must recognise the right of any participant to
withdraw from the research for any or no reason, and at any
time, and they must inform them of this right (p. 6).
The confidential and anonymous treatment of participants' data
is considered the norm for the conduct of research (p. 8).
Researchers must comply with the legal requirements in relation
to the storage and use of personal data as set down by the Data
Protection Act (1998) and any subsequent similar act” (p. 9).
In relation to the present research, participants’ informed consent was taken verbally.
However, all the participants received an explanation of: the importance attached to their
participation; the significance of the study; their rights concerning withdrawal from any stage
of the process, and finally a request for permission to record their interviews. Participants
were also assured that all the information they provided for the research purpose would
remain confidential, data would be used strictly for the purposes of the study and their names
would be replaced with symbolic names. For the researcher, two additional ethical issues,
those of 1) avoiding bias, and 2) using appropriate research methodology, were also
considered. According to Kumar (2005: p. 214) bias on the part of the researcher includes
using a method or procedure which the researcher knows to be inappropriate, for example,
using an invalid instrument, selecting a highly biased sample or drawing conclusions which
are wrong or unethical; these issues will be dealt with in the section below.
3.3.2. The context setting and the samples
3.3.2.1 The context of the study
The two Universities of UK, which like most universities, are public sector bodies and depend
largely on government funding. International students are also a great source of funding for
these universities and, because of their importance in terms of internationalisation, these
institutions attract overseas students. According to Abdulkader (2009), most of the
universities in the UK are usually aware of international students’ different needs, be they
academic or cultural, as international students are part of the structure of all UK universities
(p. 100).
In order to specify the target population, the English-language institutions of both the were
selected as the basis for sampling. The selection of the language institutions for my empirical
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study was based on several criteria. Firstly, my status as a PhD student at University A offered
me an opportunity to conduct my research in this institution, and it was also very convenient
to get to Leeds University for the purpose of research. Secondly, both the universities are
higher education institutions that have language centres with a variety of English-language
courses for overseas students, which are very different, for example, from the ones in which I
studied in my home country. This represented a good opportunity to broaden my research in
terms of discovering how CT is embedded in learning in the universities of the UK (Englishspeaking/Western countries), as compared with the prior learning of those who come from
non-English speaking backgrounds. This study as a whole, however, will contribute to
understanding of the cultural phenomenon of CT for many other non English-speaking
cultures throughout the world. Both theuniversities and their language centres, actively
encourage overseas students. With regard to country of origin, the students came from a wide
range of countries throughout the world.
Both the language institutions were similar in the sense of students’ cultural diversity and
language backgrounds, and also had similarly qualified language teachers in terms of holding
degrees in ESL/EFL. Though it would have been possible to choose just one university for the
study, the reasons for choosing both the universities were to get rich information in terms of
differences in age group, gender, prospective degrees, subject groups and nationalities, as well
as to strengthen the results of the research findings.
3.3.2.2. The samples
According to Punch (2005), sampling is an important technique of qualitative research
because it is not possible for a researcher to do everything everywhere, or to study everyone.
Cohen et al. (2007) point out that a sampling strategy is essential for the suitability and the
quality of the research conducted, because the findings of the research depend on the method
of sampling selection (Kumar, 2005). Therefore, sampling is equally crucial for qualitative as
well as quantitative research because a researcher is unable to research everything, even about
a single case.
The participants selected for the present study were university students from the University A
and the University B, who were studying English as a second or foreign language for their
course of studies. The total sample consisted of 105 international students (different in terms
of gender, age, prospective degree, course of study, having 1st or 2nd/3rd degrees in the UK and
nationality) and 15 second language teachers (all British). The sampling techniques were used
for the present study are called ‘snowball sampling”, in which a small group of students who
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qualify for inclusion are identified and help in identifying other participants as a chain process
(Robson, 1993: 142). The sample was selected according to the following criteria. Firstly, all
the selected participants were non-native speakers and there was no set boundary in terms of
the participants’ level of education, as some interviewees were studying for bachelors’ or
master’s degrees and others were PhD students in various stages of their studies. With regards
to access, as the participants all shared the author’s experience as an international student, and
their participation was voluntary, the author adapted her research timetable to suit their needs.
To obtain participants, the researcher used different ‘snowball’ type strategies through
personal networking and communication with students and staff. Of the total sample, 50
participants were interviewed, 50 participants were asked to self-report and five students’
written work was analysed. Staff participants were 15 in number (12 were taken from both the
language institutes and three were staff members from the department of International and
Community Education at University A). Both students and teachers in the sample were given
code names, such as: interviewee students IS1-50, self-reported students SR-S1-50 and
teachers T1-12. The following table provides a description of the main student participant
interviewees.
Table 3.1: A profile of the student interviewees
Name
Code
(IS)
Gender
Age in
Years
Current
Study
Subject Groups
Doing 1st
Degree in UK
Country
1
F
25
MSc
Engineering
(Embedded system)
Yes
India
2
3
4
5
6
M
30
PhD
Accounting
No
China
M
38
PhD
Accounting
No
Pakistan
F
31
PhD
Education
Yes
Pakistan
M
29
MSc
Computer Sciences
Yes
China
M
25
MSc
Accounting and
Finance
Yes
Iran
7
8
9
10
M
25
MSc
Engineering
No
Iran
F
27
MA
English Literature
Yes
Oman
F
30
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
M
31
MSc
Mechanical
Engineering
No
Oman
11
F
25
BSc
Engineering
Yes
Saudi
Arabia
12
13
14
F
22
BSc
Computing
Yes
Japan
M
21
BSc
Computing
Yes
Pakistan
F
24
BSc
Accounting and
No
Pakistan
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Finance
15
16
17
18
19
M
23
BSc
Computing
Yes
China
F
28
MSc
Computer Sciences
No
China
F
24
MA
TESOL
No
Libya
M
26
MSc
Engineering
No
Libya
F
24
MSc
Human and Health
Sciences
No
China
20
21
F
22
BA
Social Sciences
No
Japan
M
20
BSc
Engineering
No
Saudi
Arabia
F
32
PhD
Education
No
China
22
23
24
25
26
F
26
MA
English Language
No
Pakistan
M
22
BSc
International Business
No
Japan
M
24
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
M
26
BA
(Honours)
Business and
Management
Yes
China
27
F
22
BA
(Honours)
Business Studies
No
India
28
29
F
23
MSc
Engineering
Yes
Iran
F
21
BSc
Accounting
No
Saudi
Arabia
30
31
F
32
PhD
English Literature
Yes
Pakistan
M
24
BA
Modern English
Language
No
China
32
33
F
29
BSc
Accounting
No
Libya
F
29
BSc
Business
Management
Yes
Saudi
Arabia
34
M
29
MSc
Human and Health
Sciences
No
Iran
35
F
32
BSc
Business
Management
Yes
Japan
36
37
M
22
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
F
29
MA
International
Education
Yes
Pakistan
38
M
27
BSc
Computing and
Business Solutions
No
Saudi
Arabia
39
F
34
BSc
Engineering
Yes
China
40
41
M
31
PhD
Musicology
Yes
Iran
M
22
BSc
(Honours)
Human and Health
Sciences
No
Japan
42
M
34
BSc
Engineering
Yes
Saudi
Arabia
43
F
28
MSc
Human and Health
Sciences
Yes
Japan
44
45
46
F
29
PhD
Engineering
Yes
China
M
38
PhD
Computer Sciences
No
Japan
M
25
MSc
Engineering
No
Japan
75
47
48
49
50
M
29
MA
TESOL
Yes
India
F
26
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
M
32
MA
Education
Yes
China
M
29
MSc
Human and Health
Sciences
No
Japan
The above table shows the broad representation of international students in the sample from
the language institutions of both the universities (Huddersfield and Leeds). The sample
consisted of 25 male and 25 female students. Most participants ranged between the ages of 19
and 39. In addition, 25 participants were newcomers and 25 were seniors doing their 2nd or 3rd
degree in the UK, aiming for awards of BA/BSc, MA/MSc and MPhil/PhD. The respondents
were also categorized in terms of the three main disciplines of Humanities, Computing and
Engineering and Business Studies. As can be seen, the participants came from a wide range of
countries. The Asian interviewees were the largest group of participants (30), with students
coming from China, India, Pakistan and Japan. Middle Eastern nationalities, including
students from Iran, Oman and Saudi Arabia were the next largest group (13). Participants
from Africa, including Libyan students, were the third largest (7). As far as the number of
self-reported students is concerned, the table below demonstrates their information:
Table 3.2: A profile of the self-reported students
Name
Code (SRS)
1
Gender
Age in
Years
Current
Study
Subject Groups
Doing 1st
Degree in UK
Country
M
39
BSc
Engineering
No
Libya
2
M
25
BSc
Accounting
Yes
Japan
3
M
23
PhD
Accounting and
Finance
Yes
Saudi
Arabia
4
M
21
BCom
B.Com
No
Bengal
5
F
31
PhD
Human and Health
Sciences
Yes
Indian
6
M
22
BSc
Business
No
Japan
7
M
23
BA
Education
Yes
China
8
F
22
BSc
Engineering
No
Bengal
9
M
30
MSc
ICT
No
Iran
10
F
37
LLM
Social Sciences
No
Saudi
Arabia
11
M
27
BSc
Accountancy
Yes
Iran
12
F
24
MSc
Business
No
India
13
F
26
MA
Social Sciences
Yes
Bengal
76
14
M
21
MA
15
M
23
MA
16
M
20
BSc
17
M
21
BSc
18
F
32
19
M
20
Information
Systems and
Business
Yes
Bengal
Business
No
Pakistan
Computing
Yes
Pakistan
IT
Yes
India
PhD
English Literature
No
Pakistan
25
MA
Tourism and
Hospitality
No
China
M
22
BA
Business
Management
Yes
Bengal
21
F
27
MSc
Engineering
Yes
Saudi
Arabia
22
F
28
MSc
Accounting
Yes
Libya
23
M
23
MSc
Computer Sciences
Yes
Iran
24
F
23
BEd
International
Education
Yes
Japan
25
F
22
BSc
Accounting
Yes
Japan
26
F
28
MSc
Information
Systems in Business
No
Jordan
27
F
28
MSc
Business studies
No
China
28
M
32
PhD
Education
Yes
China
29
M
27
MSc
Engineering
No
Libya
30
M
31
PhD
Engineering
No
Oman
31
F
26
MSc
ICT
No
Jordan
32
M
26
MA
Social Sciences
No
Japan
33
M
22
MSc
Computing
No
China
34
F
35
MSc
ICT
No
Saudi
Arabia
35
M
37
PhD
Computing
No
China
36
M
26
MSc
ICT
Yes
India
37
F
27
MSc
Accounting
No
Pakistan
38
M
22
MSc
Engineering
No
China
39
F
24
MA
Tourism
Yes
China
40
M
35
PhD
Education
No
Pakistan
41
M
28
MA
Accounting
No
Jordan
42
F
24
MSc
Social Sciences
Yes
Japan
43
F
29
MA
English
No
Iran
44
M
25
MA
English Literature
No
Japan
45
F
24
MSc
Human and Health
Sciences
Yes
Jordan
46
F
26
MSc
Engineering
No
Saudi
Arabia
47
M
31
BA
Business
No
China
48
F
37
PhD
English
Yes
Jordan
49
F
32
PhD
ICT
No
India
50
F
21
BSc
Computing
No
Bengal
77
With regard to the self-report participants, the above table shows the representation in terms
of the variables of gender, age, level of education, course of study and nationality. The
number of male and female participants was each 25, and the age groups were similarly
balanced, with interviewees ranging between 19 and 39 years. The major disciplines remained
the same as well, and comprised Humanities, Computing and Engineering and Business
studies. In terms of different nationalities, Asian interviewees again remained the highest
number of participants (32), including Bengali, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Japanese.
There were 15 Middle Eastern students, and these came from Jordan, Iran, Oman and Saudi
Arabia. African (Libyan) students were 3 in number.
In order to get an insight into the students’ writing skills development in EAP (English for
Academic Purposes) courses, 15 international students (from those interviewed) were also
given diaries to note instances of the demands for CT in their everyday sessions. All the
participants were enrolled in pre-sessional as well as in-sessional language courses in the
language institutions for eight or ten weeks. These students’ details are given in the table
below:
Table 3.3: A profile of the diary-keeping students
Doing 1st
Degree in UK
Yes
Country
Education
Yes
Pakistan
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
22
BSc
Computing
Yes
Japan
M
21
BSc
Computing
Yes
Pakistan
M
22
BSc
International
Business
Yes
Japan
25
28
M
F
24
23
MA
MSc
TESOL
Engineering
Yes
Yes
Libya
Iran
30
F
32
PhD
English Literature
Yes
Pakistan
35
F
32
BSc
Business
management
Yes
Japan
36
M
22
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
37
F
29
MA
International
Education
Yes
Pakistan
39
F
34
BSc
Engineering
Yes
China
40
M
31
PhD
Musicology
Yes
Iran
48
F
26
MA
TESOL
Yes
Libya
Name
Code
1
Gender
F
Age in
Years
25
Current
Study
MSc
4
F
31
PhD
9
F
30
12
F
13
24
Subject Groups
Engineering
(Embedded system)
78
India
The participants shown above were requested to keep the diaries in order to obtain rich
information about the help they were given in developing CT skills, in the EAP writing
courses particularly. The students were asked to keep diaries during their courses and chosen
on the basis of personal contact and relationship with those students. An interesting point
related to gender was that, of the diary-writing learners, ten were female and five participants
were male; because of my status as a female researcher, it made it easier to persuade female
students to participate in this particular exercise. The diary keepers were drawn from both presessional and in-sessional language courses of the EAP programmes. The purpose of presessional and in-sessional programmes is to develop not only language but study skills, such
as: academic writing skills; library and research skills; independent learning skills; group
learning skills; academic speaking, and presentation skills (ELTC, 2008). The diary-keeping
students were all newcomers and they also participated in the main interviews.
The sample of staff comprised 12 staff members drawn from both of the language institutions,
and three staff members from the Department of Community and International Education at
the University A. The participants were experienced in teaching international students. All the
12 language tutors were interviewed face-to-face, while the other three staff members were
interviewed through e-mail, and one also participated in the case study for the current research
project. Below is the description of the staff interviewed face-to-face in the research:
Table 3.4: A profile of staff interviewees
Name Code
Gender
Positions
Teaching Experience
T1
M
EAP Tutor
17 years
T2
F
EAP Tutor
10 years
T3
F
English Language Support Tutor
21 years
T4
M
EAP Tutor
31 years
T5
F
English Language Support Tutor
25 years
T6
F
EAP Tutor
35 years
T7
F
EAP Tutor
8 years
T8
M
EAP Tutor
25 years
T9
F
EAP Tutor
7 years
T10
F
English Language Support Tutor
30 years
T11
M
EAP Tutor
23 years
79
T12
F
EAP Tutors
20 years
The above profile of staff interviewees represents them as having two different perspectives:
EAP tutors and English language support tutors; they were all quite experienced in teaching
ESOL/EFL international students.
A case study was also conducted for the purposes of the present investigation. The
background of the case study participants is shown in the tables below. Table 3.5 shows the
information relating to the five Chinese international students, whose written work was
analysed in the case study of international students’ problems with CT in their academic
writing. Case study participants were also coded with names such as for the students (case
study student) CSS1-5 and for the teachers (case study teacher) CST1-3
Table 3.5: A profile of the case study participants
Subject
Groups
Education
Completed 1st Degree
in UK
Yes
Country
F
Course of
Study
BEd
F
BEd
Education
Yes
China
3
M
BEd
Education
Yes
China
4
F
BEd
Education
Yes
China
5
F
BEd
Education
Yes
China
Name Code
(CSS)
1
Gender
2
China
As is clear from the table above, all the five case study participants were Chinese and enrolled
on the same B.Ed course. Four students were female and one was male. They were all
completing their first degree in an English-speaking university in the UK. Their British
teachers also participated in the case study with detailed email interviews; whose profile is
shown in the staff interviewees (email) in the section 3.6.
Table 3.6: A profile of case study staff interviewees (via email)
Name Code
Gender
Position
Teaching Experience
CST1
F
Lecturer
8 years
CST2
F
Lecturer
6 years
CST3
F
Head of the Department
Over 10 years
80
These three staff members were interviewed via e-mail and one, who was the Head of
International and Community Education in the School of Education and Professional
Development in University A, participated in the case study along with their five Chinese
international students’ written drafts, in order to provide me with the detailed information
required about the international students; this was helpful because she had been directly
engaged with international students for the last ten years.
3.3.3. Author’s role as a researcher
According to Gillham (2000), the researcher’s role in the study is an important factor in
qualitative research. Atkinson et al. (2003: p. 62) state that researchers, as authors, frame their
accounts with personal reflexive views of the self. Their data are situated within their personal
experience and ‘sense making’. They themselves form part of the representational processes
in which they are engaging, and are part of the story they are telling. Therefore, the
researcher’s role has been questioned and seen as a ‘crisis of representation’ over the last two
decades, and there has been a focus on researchers’ struggles with how to locate themselves
and their subjects in reflexive texts (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998: p.2). Coffey (1999) argues, in
response to this critique, that the practice of ‘reflexivity’ is the workable usage of researcher
subjectivities, primarily through the acknowledgment of these and embedding them within the
research. On the other hand, Patton (1990: p. 472) states that, in order to establish an
investigator’s credibility, the principle should be to report any personal and professional
information that may have affected data collection, analysis, and interpretation – either
negatively or positively. In relation to the present study, as the author is an international
student herself, it is necessary to include her experience and perspective to understand her
inevitable connection to the research situation and informants’ responses, and the resultant
effect of this connection upon the outcome.
The author’s role in the present investigation was that of an international student in the UK,
researching the experiences of other international students in the UK; thus, she was both a
participant and a researcher. As a participant, she shared the main issues related to academic
writing and critical thinking which arose with the international students. This could have
caused bias in the study, as the authors’ personal preconceived notions of critical thinkingrelated challenges for international students may have influenced her interpretation of
students’ responses. Such bias, however, has been reported to be an unintentional
manifestation within research questioning in qualitative research. According to Mehra (2002),
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the qualitative research paradigm comprises the researcher as an important part of the process.
The researcher cannot separate himself or herself from the topic/people he or she is studying;
it is through interaction between the researcher and the researched that the knowledge is
created. Therefore, the researcher’s bias enters the picture even if the researcher tries to stay
out of it.
As previously stated, the author was fully aware of the dangers of her role in the present
study. Although, being both an international student and a researcher, her comments could
have some impact on the discussion or interpretation of students’ responses, various
techniques were adopted to minimise the influence of any potentially biased interpretation of
the data. For instance, when conducting individual interviews, interview schedules as well as
less structured strategies were adopted to establish a clear framework, to reduce bias and to
maintain objectivity within the study. Through this, the researcher was not free to go beyond
the listed questions, a factor which may enhance the reliability of the procedure. The author
found, very early on, that these techniques worked well. Students were in all cases
enthusiastic about talking to another international student and appreciated the chance to
discuss their experiences as they did not often get such an opportunity. This was also kept in
mind when framing prompts and probes during the interviews, as well as in the interpretation
of participants’ responses. Having the interviews recorded on tape was also a useful tool for
checking the reliability of the data. The interviews were listened to again a number of weeks
after they had taken place, and the author tried to critically analyse her reactions as well as
those of participants towards the questions and answers. The author also had endeavoured to
keep the interpretation and analysis fair and balanced, in order to respect the participants’
voices. This was particularly important since the author also had a similar experience of
learning in a non-English speaking background and tried to ensure her preconceptions did not
affect the research.
The self-reports can also be considered a fallible source of data, as minor changes in question
wording, question format or question context can result in major changes in the results
obtained. However, the researcher overcame this issue by carefully explaining the wording of
questions to participants and ensuring the same questions (open-ended) were used in all the
self-reports. To overcome response bias, it was important to avoid too many closed questions.
Another weakness acknowledged in the self-reporting method is acquiescent responding,
which involves participants’ agreement with the question or statement without considering
them properly. Participants were told clearly about the value of their self-reported questions,
and they were reminded many times to consider all their responses properly before handing
82
the reports back.
Similarly, to avoid subjectivity, brief and precise questions were set out in the learners’ diaries
and with regards to the case-study a lengthy time period provided the researcher with a fuller
understanding of the issues and enabled her to present them clearly and coherently. Although
bias is considered unethical, interpretivism recognises that “what we see is determined by a
complicated mix of social and contextual influences and/or presuppositions” (Moses &
Knutsen, 2007: p. 9), hence all the evidence explored was reported. The author also kept a
reflective journal in which she wrote her thoughts and ideas following each interaction with
the participants, and also at various stages of the investigation. This provided her with a
chance to reflect on the validity of these thoughts, and to adjust them in the light of new
research material.
Finally, it can also be argued that the author’s background and role may have had a positive
effect in the present study, as it allowed her to build up a relationship of trust and familiarity
with the participants, which an outside researcher may not have achieved. The international
students may have felt more able to share their experiences with someone who understood the
CT-related difficulties in the same way that they did.
3.3.4.
Methods and procedures of data collection
3.3.4.1 Data collection methods
As noted above, a qualitative approach was adopted in this study: this consisted of a range of
methods (interviews, self-reports, diaries and a case study) in order to achieve data
triangulation (Cohen et al., 2005). My approach also involved respondent triangulation
(Adeyemi, 2008) in the use of more than one group: teachers and studentsetc. (p. 62).
Interviews, self-reports and learners’ diaries were specifically used to minimise the risk of
biased conclusions and to maximise the reliability and validity of the research findings. Sells
et al. (1997) claim that the use of multiple data collection sources increases the
trustworthiness of the findings of the research. Similarly, Adeyemi (2008) concludes that a
combination of three or more data collection methods minimises threats to the validity of the
research. Cresswell (1998) also notes that:
“There are four basic types of information to collect: observations
(ranging from non-participants to participants), interviews (ranging from
83
semi-structured to open-ended), documents (ranging from private to
public) and audio-visual materials including materials such as
photographs, compact disks and video tapes” (p. 120).
Two of the types of data collection methods mentioned above, interviews and the examination
of students’ written documents (included in the case study method), were used in the current
study. In addition self-reports and learners’ diaries were also used to enrich the information
collected. Mori (2007) specifies the diary method as appropriate for language studies.
Therefore, this method was used in order to gain insight into the EAP courses.
Mcdonough and Mcdonough (1997) explain the use of diaries in the study of English
language teaching from three aspects, which are: 1) being rich, both qualitatively and
quantitatively; 2) being self-evidently subjective and introspective, and (3) being retrospective
and reflective (pp. 112-124). Nunan (1992) also mentions diaries as an important and valid
research tool (pp. 118). Similarly, self-reports are also one of the qualitative research methods
which are useful to get first hand information from participants about their beliefs and
thoughts. Various authors (Ickes, 1997; Vazire & Gosling, 2004) have reported that selfperceptions strongly influence people’s interaction with the world.
3.3.4.1.1
Interviews
Interviewing the second language staff and international students was the main method of data
collection for this study. According to Kvale (1996), interviews are the interchange of views
between people, and the method enables participants to discuss their interpretations about
themselves and the world from their own point of view. Interviews consist of various types,
such as structured or semi-structured, closed or open-ended and formal or informal etc., and
the use of these kinds is dependent on the sources available. Kvale (1996) further categorises
interviews in this way: “Interviews are different in the openness of their purpose, their degree
of structure, the extent to which they are exploratory or hypothesis testing, whether they seek
description or interpretation, whether they are largely cognitive focused or emotion focused”
(pp. 126-127).
According to Rubin and Rubin (2005), interviews are essential and can be defined as one of
the main data collection methods which include a conversation, basically involving openended questions for the purpose of eliciting information. For the purpose of this study, the
semi-structured interviewing technique with open-ended questions was selected as the main
84
method for data collection. Some of the literature (Cohen and Manion, 1995; Patton, 1990)
claims that semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions are a flexible approach,
which enables the researcher to capture the complex issues related to individuals’ perceptions
and experiences. Gillham (2000) also reports that this is the most important type of
interviewing, and could be the most productive source of data if conducted properly.
Similarly, semi-structured interviews, according to Freebody (2003), begin with a
predetermined set of questions, but allow some latitude in the breadth of relevance (p. 133).
The selection of semi-structured interviews for the current study was based on the following
rationale. Firstly, these kinds of interviews allow flexibility for the participants as well as the
researcher. As Cohen et al. (2005) note, this type of interview enables the researcher to follow
up ideas, investigate feelings and motives and probe responses. Similarly, using semistructured interviews in the current study enabled me to probe informants in order to make
unexpected responses clearer. It also enabled me to remind interviewees about missed points
(Oppenheim, 1992). Interviews can also “develop ideas and speak more widely on the issues
raised by the researcher” (Denscombe, 2007: p. 176). Secondly, semi-structured interviews
can be used to follow up unexpected results and consume less time than other kinds of
interviews, such as unstructured interviews, because unstructured interviews do not involve
prepared questions, probes and prompts to direct the flow of interviews (Kumar, 1999).
However, in semi-structured interviews, an interview schedule is used to establish a clear
framework and reduce bias in the study, since as Freebody (2003) and Kumar (1999) note,
researchers are not free to go beyond the listed questions and this may enhance the reliability
of the procedure.
a) Advantages of interviews
The most important aspect of the research is the construction of the research instruments
(Kumar, 2005), because the quality of the gathered data is dependent on the research
instrument. He further explains that each method of data collection has advantages as well as
disadvantages, and each could be used for certain situations. Some of the advantages of
interviewing are presented below:
1. Adaptability: one of the major advantages of interviews as a method of
data collection is their adaptability. It is easier to elicit participants’
85
ideas, probe their responses and clarify vagueness than is the case with
the use of questionnaires.
2. Body language: interviews help understanding by the ability to interpret
body language such as facial expressions, nods and smiles (Bell, 1999).
3. Personal information: participants can be more easily encouraged to give
their personal beliefs and views in face-to-face interviews rather than
questionnaires (Gillham, 2000).
4. The provision of insight into the students’ views: interviews are usually
conducted for exploratory types of research in order to gain insights into
opinions.
5. Richness: interview methods based on open-ended questions often yield
rich and unpredictable information (Rubin & Rubin, 2005).
The selection of the interview method for data collection helped me to answer my research
questions appropriately, and also helped me to achieve the overall aim of my study, which was
to explore the barriers and approaches to the development of international students’ CT and its
use for their courses of study. Using the interview method also helped me to gain an in-depth
understanding of participants’ beliefs and practices (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). Having discussed
the advantages of the interviewing method, particularly that of semi-structured interviews to
enrich my overall research, it is necessary as a next step to discuss some of the problems that
may arise from using this method, in order to avoid them as much as possible.
b) Interviewing problems
It is a fact that, to conduct an appropriate interview, great care and effort is required. As
O'Leary (2004) notes, to “prepare an interview schedule and data recording system; run a trial
or pilot; modify the process as appropriate; conduct the interviews; and finally analyse the
data” (p. 164) is an exhaustive process. Freebody (2003) also points out that students’ consent
should be considered properly. Good co-ordination of and between the interviewees should
ensure the success of the interview, but this method can still have some integral problems. It is
necessary for researchers to acknowledge such weaknesses in order to minimise their effects.
Some of the problems associated with semi-structured interviews are shown below:
1. Expensive in nature: interviewing can be very expensive, especially if
you have to travel from one place to another. For example, my
86
interviews in the University of Leeds were expensive, as I needed to go
whenever participants were available for interviews for the purpose of
data collection.
2. Time consuming: the second problem with the interviewing method is
that it is time consuming, as stated by Bell (1999): “if you allow one
hour to be spent at the actual interview, there is also travelling time and
time lost through any one of numerous mishaps (respondent late home,
sudden crisis with children which causes delay, unexpected visitor who
interrupts the interview, etc.”
3. Contradictory opinions over a certain point: this can happen because the
participants’ concentration is diverted, and their changing moods are
another potential problem that may affect the results of the study by
misleading researchers with contradictory responses.
This was clear in the case of the current study while interviewing three students. These
students were unable to pay full attention to my questions because of some personal
problems, such as having to meet a relative at the time of interview or, in another case, a
student having to prepare for her presentation, and so on. As a result, many of their responses
were short and not thoughtful, and this caused further difficulty in transcribing those
interviews. Cameron (2001) calls interviewing “potentially a face-threatening act”, as it
involves invading the informants’ privacy and “risks exposing the informants to negative
judgement.” This frequently leads many participants to being more reticent, as well as more
reluctant to engage with the interviewer’s questions in a straightforward manner, by
highlighting face-saving points and marginalising, or concealing, face-threatening ones (p.
147). Marshall and Rossman (1999) also note that interviewees sometimes feel reluctant to
provide all the information the interviewer hopes to explore.
In relation to my study, there were also some interviewees who were really concerned for me
to keep their information hidden and confidential. According to Maxwell (1996: p. 73), this
means that there is no guarantee that the views of participants represent the whole group. In
my study, I interviewed participants on an individual basis in the hope that their responses
would be the reflection of the views of a certain group, as the participants in the current study
represented the broad cultures that can be seen in the population.
The control of bias and the maintenance of objectivity in terms of both the research process
itself and the conclusions drawn” (Kumar, 1999: p. 12), was the problem which I faced
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throughout conducting interviews for my study. This was also kept in mind while framing
prompts and probes, as well as in the interpretation of the participants’ responses
(Abdulkader, 2009: p. 95). Apart from the problems stated above, the author had some
preconceptions based on her personal experience and knowledge, because she already had
learnt in the same non-English speaking background. Although at times her mind tried to
interpret their responses unintentionally, it was important to keep her interpretation fair and
balanced, in order to respect the participants’ voices.
3.3.4.1.2. Learners’ diaries
Another important method of data collection for the current research project is the learners’
diaries method. Using international students’ diaries, this project aimed to learn about their
experiences and perceptions of developing CT skills in EAP (English for Academic Purposes)
courses. The diaries were produced by 15 international students. For Bailey (1990), a diary
study ‘is a first-person account of a language learning or teaching experience, documented
through regular, candid entries in a personal journal and then analysed for recurring patterns
or salient events” (p. 215). According to Plana (2001), the writing of diaries helps students
become more aware of their feelings towards a specific learning situation and towards the
experience of learning (p. 174). The diary-keeping method in the present study provided an
in-depth understanding of the role of EAP courses in developing CT skills for students’
courses of study. In higher education, learner diaries have been used to shed light on the
learning process and factors that affect it (Helm, 2009). Diaries provide a valuable insight into
the many different perspectives of the learning process, such as: the learners’ anxiety; their
strategies; classroom interaction and its influence, and self-study (Yin, 2002; Simard, 2004).
This study, however, will raise awareness about CT, and the signs of criticality in language
classes designed to help students to develop these skills. Porto (2007) associates the word
“awareness” with the diary method in this way: “Awareness was realised through diary
writing, which provided a forum where learners could assess their own knowledge through a
combination of observation, introspection and discovery (p. 676)”.
The diary method is an important tool in exploring learners’ learning experiences and
processes which may be “hidden” or “inaccessible” to observation by investigators (Bailey &
Ochsner, 1983: p. 189). However, this method of data collection is also not free of limitations.
The research of Schmidt & Frota (1986) showed that subjectivity is the major limitation of
studies using diary methods. Jones (1994) also notes that this limitation may "increase the
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danger of finding what one sets out to find rather than what is objectively there." He further
argues that the goal of a study should be to find out what is involved in the learning process,
which involves subjectivity (p. 444). To avoid subjectivity, however, this study set out brief
and precise questions in the learners’ diaries.
3.3.4.1.3. Self-reports
The self-report method is another common and increasingly used method of data collection. It
is a method usually based on questionnaires, in which participants are free to report their
feelings, attitudes and perceptions without the researcher’s interference. The self-report
method is flexible and contains both open-ended as well as closed questions, in order to
obtain intensive data in a short time. McDonald (2008: p. 2) discusses the value of the selfreport method as one of the most common measures for obtaining accurate data about
individuals’ behaviours, perceptions and actions. Schwarz (1999) also points out that the
objective of using self-reports is to collect information related to a particular construct
directly from participants. He further explains that self-reports are the preferred method for
social sciences, especially in the field of psychology.
Vazire (2006) conducted an analysis published in 2003, in the Journal of Research in
Personality, which showed that 98% of researchers were using self-reports in order to assess
personality traits, and in 70% of these studies, self-report was the only method used. Similarly
in 2006, about 95% of studies also used self-reported questionnaires, as reported in the
Journal of Personality (Kagan, 2007). Robins et al., (2007) also found self-reports to be a
frequently used method in research studies (p. 677). “On the surface, the fact that obtaining
self-reported data is so popular makes complete sense, the most informative and accurate
information about wanted constructs” (McDonald, 2008, p. 2). Paulhus and Vazire (2007)
also suggested that “no one else has access to more information” than oneself, because others
might not be aware of some of the information or detail (p. 227). They emphasise the
practicality of self-report measures for the collection of data from large samples, either
directly, from face to face work with the participants, or via the internet.
In the case of the current research, it took the researcher just two weeks to distribute and
collect all self-reports from the participants. The participants were all students and were
accessed through a snowball sampling technique. Self-reports were included as a data
collection method in my own research in order to access a large sample of culturally and
linguistically diverse students’ perceptions, and to get a complete sense of their reported
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problems. In spite of the advantages and strengths of using self-reports, there are some
weaknesses in this method: “Self-reports are a fallible source of data, and minor changes in
question wording, question format, or question context can result in major changes in the
obtained results” (Schwarz, 1999: p. 93). Question wordings were carefully explained to
participants in the current study, and the same questions (open-ended) were used in the self
reports, therefore they were carefully designed.
Another problem might be ‘response biases’, as noted by Moskowitz (1986). Paulhus (1991)
reported “a systematic tendency to respond to a range of questionnaire items on some basis
other than the specific item content (i.e., what the items were designed to measure)” (p. 17).
Too many closed questions were avoided for the purpose of this study, in order to handle this
weakness. According to Paulhus and Vazire (2007), another weakness can be ‘acquiescent
responding’, which includes participants’ agreement with the statement without considering it
properly. Participants were told clearly about the value of their self-reported questions, and
they were reminded many times to consider properly before handing it back. The next section
provides the details of the data collection procedures:
3.3.4.2.
Procedures for data collection
This section describes the actual steps taken in data collection. As my study involved multiple
data sources (a case study, individual interviews,, self-reports,and learners’ diariesthere were
five main phases in order to complete all the data collection procedures. Details of these
different phases are given below:
3.3.4.2.1. Interviewing phase one: pilot testing
The international students’ interviews involved three phases: phase one included pilot testing;
phase two included student and staff interviews in the University A, and the third phase
included student and staff interviews in the University B. In the case of the students, all the
interviews were carried out face-to-face, though initially it was planned to conduct some
interviews by e-mail. E-mail interviews could have been less time-consuming and less
expensive, but the researcher soon realised that they might affect the students’ responses, in
the sense that they could be shorter and less motivated than face-to-face interviews. What is
more, supplementing participants’ answers by seeing their body movements and facial
gestures would not be possible in the case of phone or e-mail interviews. . The face-to-face
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interviews were conducted in both the universities, at a convenient place.
The interviews were carried out with 50 international students and 12 English tutors. The
student participants were all university students: 27, including five from the pilot testing, were
from the University A, and 23 were from the University B. Similarly, the English staff
members were all senior English language tutors in the two universities mentioned above. I
interviewed six staff members from the language centre of A University and nine from the
University B. The first phase of interviewing was based on the pilot testing of interview
questions on my university informant and four more university students studying for an MA
in TESOL. Testing and refining the interview questions was the main goal of this phase, and
this also helped me to be prepared for conducting the other interviews. This phase provided
me with help in circumventing the targeted information rather than hitting the key points
directly (Abdulkader, 2009: p. 122).
In this phase, the researcher firstly had to rethink and try to revise some of the sub-questions
of the interview questions. Secondly, she prepared herself to handle some of the issues which
may arise during interviewing, such as the quality of the recorder and the interviewees’
concentration, etc. Thirdly, it improved her confidence level and practical experience in
conducting a good interview. Finally, practising with someone she was familiar with gave her
chance to feel comfortable with carrying out an interview, as she was interviewing for the
very first time in her life. In the pilot phase, five students were interviewed and the interviews
were carried out on 26 and 27 June 2009 at the University A. The participants were: a Chinese
female, an Iraqi male, a Libyan female and two Pakistani females. The total time for the five
interviews was about three hours. All the interviews were recorded.
The pilot testing of interviews helped me to later conduct the main interviews with ease in
many ways: 1) it provided me with the chance of revising, decreasing, removing and adding
to the main interview questions as well as sub-questions; 2) it also helped me to ensure an
adequate place for interviewing participants in terms of avoiding noise and interruptions; 3) it
allowed me to ensure the quality of the recording, and 4) it enabled me to discover that
serving them with tea and coffee before starting an interview was very useful because this
created a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
3.3.4.2.2. Interviewing phase two: University A
On 20 July 2009, the author started to carry out the main interviews regarding international
students’ problems and approaches at the University A. She had already gained access to
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international students and staff members from the head of the language centre, on the basis of
the official letter from her supervisor, explaining the research purpose and the need for
students’ help to collect data for her PhD study. She had some Pakistani friends doing their
PhD and Masters Studies in different departments at the University of Huddersfield, and was
also enrolled in EAP (pre-sessional and in-sessional) courses in the English language centre.
She also had some Libyan friends doing their M.A. TESOL in the education department
where she herself was based. All these contacts were interviewed; they then introduced her to
some other friends and times were arranged to interview them. This became a chain which
developed further to allow meetings with other international students, and in this way all the
27 interviews were completed, including the five from the pilot testing at A University.
The researcher chose her research office, where she was currently based, to conduct all the
interviews with the international students, because it was a very silent and comfortable place.
Fortunately, all of the participants were very flexible about coming at the times they were
requested, which was when the office was available. Being international students, they were,
in fact, happy to report their problems with, and approaches towards, their course of studies in
this new educational environment. My impression of four of the participants was that they
were feeling tired and uneasy, but this might have been because of personal problems. I tried
my best to make them feel relaxed, and even assured them that they need not answer any
question they did not feel comfortable with. Otherwise, all the participants were quite
confident and preferred to use English language for the interviews. One of the interviewees
spoke very slowly, so that not all her ideas could be fully recorded. Bell (2005) also noted this
problem in his study. All the 20 interviews with international university students from the
University A were completed within two weeks; this was because of the willingness of all the
international students to be interviewed for the purpose of reporting their own views about
their study-related issues regarding CT.
The tutor interviews were conducted soon after finishing with the student participants, in the
common room of the language centre at A University. Because of the busy term, which was
filled with pre-sessional, in-sessional and many other general English language courses, it was
difficult to get time from the tutors for interviews. However, I keep contacting them and
finally five English language tutors helped me by arranging their time so that I could
interview them. Just like the students, all the tutors were also interviewed individually. It took
me ten days to complete all their interviews because of their busy schedules. The interview
with each tutor lasted for approximately one hour.
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3.3.4.2.3. Interviewing phase three: University B
Similar steps were taken to those mentioned above in order to carry out interviews with
international students at the University B. To gain access to the students as well as staff
members, the author contacted the director and the head of the English language centre by email. Fortunately they gave her a quick response and called for a meeting to explain the
research purpose and the type of data collection methods. The meetings were successful and
they granted an open access to their international students and second language staff
members. Additionally, they also provided a very silent and comfortable room for
interviewing the staff participants and a student common room to interview the student
participants whenever they were available, which was a great help for the researcher.
In preparation for the interviews, the head of the Language Institute of B University
introduced the researcher to many international students. The researcher obtained their e-mail
addresses and phone numbers, and began contacting them via e-mail; luckily most of them
replied. Accordingly she was able to call them for interviews on 8 August. Three students
were interviewed that day, and after interviewing them she took them for some tea or coffee in
a café, which they appreciated, and this enabled a very informal and friendly discussion. The
next day they introduced the researcher to two of their Japanese friends from the Engineering
department for interviews. On 13 August, a meeting was arranged to interview these, as well
as three more international students; two were studying for an MSc and a female participant
was doing a PhD in Social Sciences. In this way, all the 23 interviews of student participants
were completed within three weeks.
Soon after completing the student interviews, the researcher turned to conducting some staff
interviews at the University B. In order to interview the English language staff members, the
head of the language institute was again contacted for her help. She introduced staff members,
to whom the researcher explained her research purpose and the importance of the study, and
requested their participation. They happily agreed to be interviewed and, with the help of the
head of the language institute, two days (27 and 28 August) were arranged to complete all the
seven interviews. All the participants were very experienced in teaching international
students, and provided the researcher with a great deal of information that she needed for her
study.
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3.3.4.2.4. Learner’ diaries: phase four
As mentioned above, learners’ diaries enable the researcher to gather data in a natural human
setting, in order to examine or evaluate something and so understand the situation. For the
purpose of data collection for the current study, the diaries selected related to CT help for
international students in EAP courses. The diaries were properly prepared beforehand prior to
giving them to the students. All the selected 18 participants were enrolled in a pre-sessional
EAP course for a period of eight to ten weeks (from 13 July to 27 of September). All the
participants were instructed of the guidelines for diary writing, as reported by Richards and
Lockhart (1994). The researcher herself being an international fellow, it was easy to persuade
them to keep and write the diaries for the purpose of the study, and also to convince them of
the importance of their views. They were appropriately directed so that they only needed to
report their personal experience and feelings about the CT elements in their language
programmes, rather than the process followed by the tutors. They were also told that they just
had to write diaries during academic writing classes, not in classes related to other language
skills. Finally, they were asked to hand the diaries back soon after finishing their course. All
of them completed diaries during their academic writing sessions, and the researcher collected
them in, in order to analyse their views and feelings.
3.3.4.2.5. Phase five: the self-reports
Self-reports were conducted after completing the interviews and diaries data in Oct 2009. As
this study demanded the inclusion of international students of different ages, gender,
nationality, level of education and subject group, accordingly the sample grew to 105
international students, including the self-reports. At first the researcher had planned to
interview all the students, but it proved difficult to manage 100 interviews listening to the
students’ own voices. Instead, it was decided to conduct 50 self-reports, along with 50 faceto-face interviews, in order to save the time and ensure the robustness of the study findings.
During the process of interviewing the international students, the researcher had built good
connections with many students already. This helped her to find students quickly, distribute
self-reports and clearly explain their purpose. On 3 October, she met the students personally
and handed out all self-reports within three days; most promised to return them the day after
distribution. Only a few students were unable to return them the next day, but handed them
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back after three days. All the self-report data was collected within one week, which was a
great advantage.
The next section deals with the notion, methods and procedures of the case study.
3.3.4.3. Case study
Initially, the present study aimed to gain in an in-depth understanding of international
students’ problems and approaches related to critical thinking in their academic writing, by
means of interviews, learners’ diaries and self-reported methods. After completing the
interviews, learners’ diaries and self-reports, the researcher found a large gap between theory
and practice, especially in relation to the second research question. The collected data
provided a rich analysis of international students and English teachers’ perspectives in terms
of: their conceptions of CT; students’ preferred approaches to academic writing; their main
difficulties in relation to academic writing; the barriers behind those problem areas, and what
would help to facilitate their academic writing experiences. However, the data could not
exemplify the reported jargon of CT-related problems, or explain how teachers realised the
lack of CT in their students’ writing, thus helping answer the second research question. This
left the researcher trying to understand how ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ fit together. It was
addressing these issues which prompted the author’s choice of using a case study. This was
also justified by Yin (1984: p.23), who suggests that: “Case study research excels at bringing
us to an understanding of a complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength
to what is already known through previous research”. Therefore it was decided to employ a
case study design in order to make complete sense of the data. The present study assumes that
critical thinking is the product of a tradition of thought and of educational discourse, and
therefore a more constructivist approach needs to be adopted, for example, exploring how
students utilize CT in their writing, how their teachers see it as relating to their previous
experience, and how teachers, through the process of assessment, reach judgements on
whether students’ writing exemplifies it
Cohen et al. (2007: 170) define a case study as “the investigation into a specific instance or
phenomenon in its real-life context”. The case study method, is generally used to investigate
‘what?’ and ‘how?’ questions (Yin, 1994: p.1), and the present case study is concerned with
the question of ‘what’ the international students’ initial CT related problems are, and ‘how’
teachers realise the lack of CT in students’ writing. The focus was on the process rather than
outcomes, in context rather than a specific variable and in illumination rather than
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confirmation (Merriam, 1998: p.19). Furthermore, insight gleaned from the case study was
intended to influence policy, practice and future research.
3.3.4.3.1. Instrumental case studies
According to Stake (2000: p. 437), case studies can be categorised into three types: intrinsic
case studies, instrumental case studies and collective case studies. He explains that the
intrinsic case study is usually used for gaining a better understanding of an interesting
phenomenon. On the other hand, an instrumental case study is frequently employed for
providing insight into a particular issue, often to rebut a generalisation which aims at
supporting a rival thesis, whilst the collective case study is normally based on a number of
cases which indicate some common characteristics of phenomena, such as populations or
other large groupings. Although an instrumental case study is undertaken for the purpose of
providing a comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon by using a particular case, it does
not depend on the researcher being able to defend its typicality; the researcher does need to
provide a rationale for using a particular case (Stake, 1995). However, as the development and
application of the key skills of critical thinking vary within the cultural-educational context,
the researcher could not find an individual case from which to take data. Therefore, the
present case study is categorised as an instrumental case study, because the chosen cases are
based on students’ writing samples and their teachers’ feedback comments. The cases were
studied with an intrinsic interest, however, the researcher had no interest in generalising her
findings as the focus was to understand the issue. The cases would offer me specific new
perspectives to understand the academic phenomena related to the lack of CT in international
students’ writing.
This case study was designed as an exploratory study aimed at understanding the specific
problem areas of students’ writing that exemplified their lack of CT. An empirical case study
investigation was conducted, as a study of a case is a systematic way of looking at what is
happening (Davey, 1991). The idea was to discover what might be important to look at more
extensively in future research. Thus, the present case study is especially well suited towards
generating, rather than testing, hypotheses. The potential advantage was that understanding of
the students’ areas of difficulty was more likely to be gained from their written extracts, and
that these should also provide a more comprehensive understanding. An initial challenge was
that of defining the cases. The author r understood that this would involve getting students’
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writing samples, in order to study linkage. The identification of such writing samples became
the first task for case selection.
3.3.4.3.2. Choice of cases and methods for data collection
The case study was conducted in the department of International and Community Education
at University A. The case study was based on the written documents of five Chinese
university students and three e-mail interviews with their tutors, together with analysis of the
feedback comments on the students’ written drafts. The students’ academic writing drafts
were examined to discover the problems that resulted from their lack of CT. It was very
important for the researcher to find international students from a suitable cultural-educational
background to “confirm the basic process or constructs that underpin the study” (Voss et al.,
2002: p. 202). Therefore the chosen cases were carefully selected: firstly, all five of the
Chinese student participants were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Secondly, they were doing their first degree in British HE, and they were enrolled in the same
academic year (2008/09) on the same BEd programme. Thirdly, the three teachers, were in a
better position to provide an in-depth insight into the target issues. The profiles of case study
participants have been given in the Sample Selection section (3.3.2: p. 79-80).
It has also been argued that case studies are typically based on either qualitative, quantitative
or multiple methods (Yin, 1994)). The methods used in the present case study are qualitative.
Analysis of the students’ written samples and individual interviews with their English
teachers would provide different perspectives. In the current exploration, emphasis is placed
on the contrast/similarities between evidence in students’ written samples and the detailed
responses of their teachers. There was an initial encounter with all the students’ writing
samples in order to evaluate the cases in the study; having an initial encounter with the eight
case study samples was to make sure that this would help to attain the objectives; for
example:
1. it allowed the author to obtain a profile of each of the
participants;
2. it was important to have gone through the students’ writing
samples in order to have a quick look at the target phenomenon
and to know exactly what was to be expected from evaluation of
these writing samples;
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3. it also gave the author a chance to familiarise herself with the
materials;
4. it provided the opportunity for testing the English tutors’
reactions to talking about the target issues.
Two instruments were used in the case study: document analysis and interviews. According to
Punch (2005), documents, whether historical or contemporary, are a rich source of data for
social researchers. Documents can include: letters, diaries, biographies, brochures,
government publications, academic and publicity materials, websites, regulations, policy
statements, writing extracts, statistical reports, guides and so on (Gillham, 2000). Gillham
further points out that documentary source of data can be used in different ways, depending
on the nature of the study. For example, some studies might use only documentary evidence,
while research based on case studies or grounded theory studies may use documents in
conjunction with interviews and observations. In relation to the present case study,
documentary evidence was used in conjunction with interviews, which were, as Gillham
(2000) suggests, not expected to answer a research question, but to form part of the evidence.
The three teachers participating in the case study evaluation were individually interviewed.
The format of the interview questions for this later stage of the investigation is included in the
Appendix. The interviews were carried out via e-mail because of the teachers’ busy term-time
schedule. Similar interviews were carried out for the initial investigation; the content of these
was less personal, so it was appropriate to provide a more formal, less intimate context. The
purpose for carrying out these interviews was:
1. to provide insights into teachers’ perspectives about international
students’ initial CT-related challenges in academic writing;
2. to identify teachers’ reactions on these problem areas, and
3. to obtain suggestions for improving the materials.
A semi-structured format was used, based on questions formulated in advance. As open-ended
questions provide no restrictions on the content or manner of the reply other than the subject
area, Cohen and Manion (1989: p. 313) list the advantages of open-ended questions: they are
flexible; they allow the interviewer to probe, so that he may go into more depth if he chooses,
or clear up any misunderstandings; they enable the interviewer to test the limits of a
respondent’s knowledge; they encourage cooperation and rapport, and they allow the
interviewer to make a truer assessment of what the respondent really believes. In relation to
the case study, Stake (1998) points out that “As a form of research, case study is defined by
interest in individual cases, not by the methods of inquiry used.”
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To gain access to the students as well as staff members the author firstly contacted the head of
department via e-mail to arrange a time for meeting. In this meeting, the author explained the
purpose of the case study and the nature of data needed, and she granted her willingness to
provide the researcher with all the necessary data for the study. A week later, an e-mail was
received, with attachments of the students’ written drafts in electronic files. After gaining
permission to interview all three tutors, including the head of department, the research
emailed the interview questions and replies were received within ten days. By the end of
November all the data had been collected and the researcher could start thinking about
analysing it appropriately.
As the collected data was already in written form, the method for translating the discussions
into results was a key decision to make. However, the relevant meanings were captured in
writing, to allow appropriate analysis to be carried out. Each written transcript was read
several times in order to come to a better overall understanding of each participant’s
experience. Analysis of the case study data was further combined with responses from the
main data collected through interviews, learners’ diaries and self-reported methods.
3.3.4.3.3. Triangulation
The tendencies to report personal bias and to be unrepresentative are the main problems
reported in literature relating to the case study method (Yin, 1994; Burgess et al., 2006). The
discussion of information gathered can depend largely on the researcher's interpretation.
Kumar (2005: p.214) notes that ‘subjectivity’ is related to a researcher’s educational
background, training and competence in research, and his or her philosophical perspective; in
contrast, ‘bias’ is a deliberate attempt to either hide what a researcher has found in his or her
study, or to highlight something disproportionately to its true existence. Cohen et al. (2000)
point out these problems as limitations in that they may be, by definition, inconsistent with
other case studies or unable to demonstrate a positivist view of reliability (p.184). As bias is
considered unethical (Moses & Knutsen, 2007, p.9), in order to avoid these negative factors,
triangulation strategies were adopted.
Triangulation is considered a very useful strategy for ensuring the validity of the research
process by using multiple methods (Cohen et al., 2000; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). According
to Cohen et al. (2000) it can be utilised at different levels, such as time, space, combined
level, theoretical, investigator and even methodological triangulation (p.113). With reference
to the present case study, triangulation might help to eliminate the issues in question.
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Triangulation was used in relation to three concerns: firstly, to evaluate the same phenomenon
by using multiple qualitative approaches and in order to provide alternative perspectives on
the same phenomena. The second concern was to include different sample groups, such as
students as well as teachers, in order to provide richness in the data. A third concern regarding
the case study method is that it is time-consuming (Yin, 1993). The current authors’ response
to this concern is that a lengthy time period provided her with a fuller understanding of the
issues, and enabled her to present them clearly and coherently through triangulation with the
other data.
3.3.4.4. Relationship between different data collection methods and their significance to
research findings
Interviews, self-reported methods and learners’ diaries have long been staple features of
qualitative educational research. Their relative capacity for generating large samples, and the
opportunities which they offer for in-depth analysis, often render them highly attractive to
researchers who may be uncertain about the scientific credibility of qualitative approaches. In
the present study, however, the researcher has noted that the seductiveness of a combination
of methods can result in a tendency to overlook complexities that may only be revealed when
a single method is employed. Multi-method research, as described by Tashakkori and Teddlie
(2003) involves the use of more than one method, but should be restricted to methods selected
from within either quantitative or qualitative approaches. Multi-method designs are generally
intended to supplement one information source with another, or to ‘triangulate’ an issue by
using different data sources to approach a research problem from different points of view.
Multi-method approaches might combine student interviews, observations, self-reports, diary
methods and a case study, for example, where again the key design idea is to cross-check
between sources and to supplement one kind of data with another.
In the present research, data was collected from a combination of different qualitative sources,
which raises the question of how these different data collection sources are related to each
other, and how they significantly and comparatively contribute to the overall research
findings. Interviews, learners’ diaries, self-reported methods and a case study were used as a
combination of qualitative data collection sources. Previous literature suggests that these
methods can either be used alone, or combined with other qualitative methods, or with
quantitative approaches (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003). Although a great number of studies
have conducted multi-method research strategies with interviews, observations, self-reports
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and diaries etc. (e.g. Elliott, 2007; Mamlin et al., 2001; Hofton et al., 2003), no study has
been found to use a combination of qualitative approaches along with a case study.
Even though it is difficult to provide justification as to the richness of using this combination
of qualitative methods in a short description, the researcher hopes that she has been able to
make clear that these methods can capture the complexity of educational practice in cultural
contexts. Whilst such approaches are all academically respectable, and can offer some
valuable insights (Elliott, 2004), the authors concern was that they should be appropriate for
studying complex issues related to ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions, as in the case of the present
study. Initially, only two methods, interviews and learners’ diaries were selected for the
purposes of data collection according to the nature of the research questions. As the aim of the
study was to explore international students’ approaches and problems related to the lack of
critical thinking in academic writing, it was thought best to explore both students’ and their
teachers’ perspectives by interviewing them, in order to get an in-depth understanding. On the
other hand, learners’ diaries were used in order to supplement one of the research questions
(question 3(i)), which set out to investigate the role of EAP language modes in developing CT
in academic writing courses. The present study also intended to raise awareness about CT, and
the signs of criticality in language classes designed to help students to develop these skills.
Porto (2007) associates the word ‘awareness’ with the diary method in this way: “Awareness
was realised through diary writing, which provided a forum where learners could assess their
own knowledge through a combination of observation, introspection and discovery. The diary
method is an important tool in exploring learners’ learning experiences and processes which
may be “hidden” or “inaccessible” to observation by investigators” (Bailey & Ochsner, 1983:
p.189).
Overall the interview and diary methods helped to answer the research questions
appropriately in order to achieve the aims of this study. However, the researcher found, at
some points in the students’ responses during the interviews, that an in-depth understanding of
students’ beliefs and practices in relation to CT might be best illustrated through written rather
than spoken responses. For example, one of the student participants, in response to the first
research question, reported that “There is much more in my mind about critical thinking but it
is difficult to explain verbally; it will be very supportive if you ask me to write in order to
show my full understanding with the concept” (IS14). Another student similarly stated: “I’ll
try my best to conceptualise what critical thinking is, but if you provide me chance to write it
down that would help more” (IS29). Yet another student participant answered in response to
other research questions: “Let me think…I know well where I do make mistakes in my writing,
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but unable to explain because I need some time to think; its better if you say me to write this
answer” (IS43). Other students also indicated similar views.
Keeping this in mind, the researcher decided to utilize some self-reported methods, based on
the same research questions as those of the interviews. The self-report method is flexible in
terms of obtaining intensive data in a short time. McDonald (2008: p.2) discusses the value of
the self-reporting method as one of the most common methods for obtaining accurate data
about individuals’ behaviours, perceptions and actions. Regarding the case study, readers
might be puzzled to find a case study discussed in the context of the present study as one of
the source methods. As Gillham (2000) states, case studies are not usually expected to answer
a researcher’s research questions, but they can form part of the evidence. The uniqueness of
the case study method lies in the in-depth study of an issue. Furthermore, the case study
method is generally used to investigate ‘what?’, ‘how?’ or ‘why?’, and it is also used “when
the focus is on a contemporary event within some real-life context” (Yin, 1994: p.1). A more
detailed discussion of the purpose of choosing a case study has been given above, in section
3.3.4.4.
Finally, as a researcher, my purpose was ultimately to shed light upon the complexities of
educational practice and understanding, in order that critical thinking may be developed and
enhanced. Using more than one method also accommodates triangulation, whereby, for
example, claims from different data sources can be compared. Findings from research of
cultural-educational studies ought to speak clearly to the intended readers and should also be
transparent to anyone who may be peripheral to the study, but still interested in its findings.
The readers of such studies are often highly influential in relation to progressing outcomes
from stated research findings. Combined methods may enhance acceptability in cases where
readers may not be convinced of the findings from merely one or two data sources. Although
such investigations are often time-consuming, expensive and difficult to manage, particularly
when working cross-culturally, they result in precision, objectivity and the rigour of
traditional research approaches. Interviews, self-reports, learners’ diaries and a case study
were specifically used in order to minimise the risk of biased conclusions and to maximise the
reliability and validity of the research. Furthermore, Sells et al. (1997) claim that the use of
multiple data collection sources increases the trustworthiness of the findings of the research.
3.3.4.5. Reliability and validity of the overall research
In order to conduct effective qualitative, as well as quantitative, research, consideration of the
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validity and reliability of the research is a very important factor. According to Cohen et al.
(2005), reliability means the accuracy and precision of the research, and its quality, while
validity is concerned with honesty, depth and richness, and objectivity (Adeyemi, 2008). This
section, therefore, deals with the validity and reliability of the current study.
3.3.4.5.1. Reliability
Joppe (2000) defines reliability as: “the extent to which results are consistent over time and an
accurate representation of the total population under study is referred to as reliability, and if
the results of a study can be reproduced under a similar methodology, then the research
instrument is considered to be reliable” (p. 1). Paton (2001), similarly, considers validity and
reliability as crucial while designing research study. This leads to the question “How can an
inquirer persuade his or her audiences that the research findings of an inquiry are worth
paying attention to?” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985: p. 290). Healy and Perry (2000) answered the
question by suggesting that the quality of a study should be judged in each paradigm in terms
of: credibility; neutrality or conformability; consistency, and applicability. Lincoln and Guba
(1985: p. 300) use the term “dependability”, in discussing qualitative research. According to
Seale (1999), the “trustworthiness of a research report lies at the heart of issues
conventionally discussed as validity and reliability” (p. 266). When judging (testing)
qualitative work, Strauss and Corbin (1990) suggest that the "usual canons of ‘good science’
require redefinition in order to fit the realities of qualitative research" (p. 250).
3.3.4.5.2. Validity
According to Joppe (2000), validity determines whether the research truly measures that
which it was intended to measure or how truthful the research results are. In other words, does
the research instrument allow you to hit "the bull’s eye" of your research object? Researchers
generally determine validity by asking a series of questions, and will often look for the
answers in the research of others (p. 1). In qualitative research, validity is defined in many
different ways, such as by describing it as “rather a contingent construct, inescapably
grounded in the processes and intentions of particular research methodologies and projects”
(Winter, 2000: p. 1). Although some scholars, such as Creswell and Miller (2000), argue that
the term validity is not applicable to qualitative research, on the other hand they feel that it is
necessary to measure their research. They further conclude that the validity affects how it is
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perceived by other researchers. Others have suggested their own terms, such as quality, rigour
and trustworthiness as alternatives (Davies & Dodd, 2002; Mishler, 2000; Seale, 1999;
Stenbacka, 2001).
In relation to the present study, the adopted approach necessarily means that there is limited
generalisability, but that the author was more concerned to generate insight. The research
questions of the interviews, self-reports and learner’s diaries derived from the researcher’s
personal experiences of being an international student, as well as from the current literature in
the field. The case study check list was drawn from the current model of assessment criteria
for students’ writing for academic purposes. In addition, the teachers’ feedback was examined
for comments on relevance and proof. In short, to ensure the validity and reliability of the
research, the following strategies were employed:
1. Triangulations were used throughout in the data collection process, using
many different research instruments in conjunction with students’
artefacts, teachers’ feedback, field notes and the literature reviewed in
Chapter Two.
2. Purposive sampling techniques helped me to easily target the
participants with similar key characteristics, in order to get as much
important information as possible from the process which could also
apply to the majority of similar settings.
3. To make the findings more substantial, verbal quotations from
participants’ actual responses were included in the text.
4. The researcher’s experience as an international student also informed the
choice of questions to be explored.
5. The feeling of international collegiality between the researcher and the
international student participants helped to promote a friendly
atmosphere. This enabled them to respond more openly and naturally.
The research questions used in this study consisted of: interview questions for teachers;
interview questions for students and self-report questions for students; diary checklist for
students, and writing assessment criteria and teachers’ feedback comments for examining
students’ written work. In ensuring the credibility and reliability of the research, the designed
research questions (main and sub research questions) were shown to: my supervisor, as an
English education expert; many other experts of English language and international education
teaching, and to the expert faculty members as promoters of this study, in order to get their
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input and to check its validity and reliability. This exercise assured the author that the
designed research questions were capable of measuring the needed data pertaining to the
study aims, and that these could be used in any other research setting as well. Some
modifications were made according to the experts’ suggestions, in order to enhance the
relevance, significance, understanding, clarity and applicability of the research questions.
Some of the items were also removed after being pre-tested, as they did not bear relevance to
the study. After pre-testing, a few items were refined again and, after that refining process, the
questions were fully ready to use for data collection.
3.3.5.
Procedures of data analysis
Data analysis procedure is based on two steps: data analysis preparation, and data presentation
and analysis. The first step of data analysis preparation includes transcriptions and coding,
while the second step includes the presentation and analysis of data. These steps are discussed
below.
3.3.5.1. Transcription and coding
By November 2009, the author had completed all the data collection. It took about two
months to organise all the collected data into different categories in different files in order to
start analysis. First of all, all the data were transcribed and then coded the responses
appropriately. Transcription was started in January 2010. The author agrees with Walliman
(2006) and May (2001) that transcription is a very lengthy process, and one hour of interview
can take eight or nine hours to transcribe. Another issue, described by Cohen et al. (2000), is
the inevitable loss of data because “a transcription represents the translation from one set of
rule systems (oral and interpersonal) to another very remote rule system (written language)”
(p. 281). For example, the facial expressions of the participants were missed in my
transcriptions of interviews. According to Rubin and Rubin (2005), precise transcripts include
“grammatical errors, digressions, exclamations, profanity, and indications of mood such as
tears or laughter” (pp. 203-204). For this study, Rubin and Rubin’s (2005) model of
transcription was followed, which includes some grammatical errors, silences and pauses.
Those were further indicated as interruptions by ellipses (dots). As all student participants in
my research were second/foreign language learners, words repeated because of language
difficulties were deleted. Facial expressions of the participants were also not transcribed or
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added to the data.
The next step towards data analysis was coding the transcribed data. A systematic coding of
the transcript data allows major categories or themes to emerge. An inductive approach was
used to analyse the data for the current study. This approach of data analysis is evident in
several qualitative studies, such as Strauss and Corbin (1990), Miles and Huberman (1994: p.
9).These studies claim that an inductive approach helps the researcher to understand the
meaning of complex data through categorizing and coding the data. The transcripts were read
several times to identify themes and categories. After discussion a coding frame was
developed and the transcripts coded. If new codes emerged the coding frame was changed and
the transcripts were reread according to the new structure. This process was used to develop
categories, which were then conceptualised into broad themes after further discussion. The
themes were categorised into three stages: initial impact, conflict, and resolution.
The specific approach for data analysis follows the Grounded Theory Approach (GTA) of
Strauss and Corbin (1999). GTA has been described as a production of the in-depth
relationship between phenomenon and the situation which is reflected in the data. Three
interrelated activities such as; open coding, exile coding and selective coding were suggested
for GTA analysis. Open coding is directly derived from the data and based on conceptual
rather than descriptive codes, axial coding describes relationships, while selective coding
formulates these concepts and relationship into a coherent theory. A coding scheme was
developed specifically for identifying appropriate themes of the reflection of students and
teachers’ responses. The main themes were categorised and were then defined, described and
re-written until the author felt assured of their appropriateness and inter-relatedness. Using
the above approach, all the transcripts were categorized/ coded. A coding framework was
developed. Responses were analysed to identify the emergence of the main themes and then
coded accordingly. All the responses for the five main and sub-questions were coded carefully
into many different stages, in order to condense the raw texts into the brief summary.
3.3.5.2. Data presentation and analysis
Presentation and analysis of qualitative data varied is based on the issue of “fitness for
purpose” (Cohen et al., 2007: p. 461), which means that the kind of analysis performed
depends on the kind of research undertaken. For example, Cohen et al. (2007) point out that a
suitable analysis for a case study could be descriptive. They further explain that the nature of
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data collected also influences the kind of data analysis. Magagula (1996: p.11) provides the
following guidelines for the data analysis process:
1. The investigator’s statements should accurately reflect the respondents’
perceptions.
2. The findings should be a function of the informants and the conditions of
inquiry, rather than biases, motivations, interests and perceptions of the
investigators.
3. The results must be transferable to other similar situations.
These guidelines are the key points to keep in mind during analysis. In relation to the current
research, based on Kumar’s (2005) approach of thematic analysis, I applied a thematic
analysis for my study. Drawing upon this, all the responses were clustered under each
question. Emerging themes were identified and coded accordingly. “Elaborated description”,
suggested by (Brown & Dowling, 1998: p. 83), was used for the writing up process, by
describing and providing direct quotations from the participants’ responses. Some tables of
descriptive statistics of frequencies and percentages were also produced to supplement with
the elaborative descriptions in order to present the readers an appropriate picture of data
analysis. According to Abeyasekera, et al., (2000) such approaches to qualitative data
presentation and analysis are meaningful and of great value to the researcher who is
attempting to draw meaningful results from a large body of qualitative data. The main
beneficial aspect is that it highlights all the factors may remain confound from the readers’
eyes. Overall analyses were carried out manually, without using any analysis software such as
QSR Nudist or N-Vivo. One possible disadvantage of handling the data manually was that it
was a more tiring and physically demanding process, but it provided me with close access to,
and in-depth understanding of, the issues explored.
3.4.
Summary
To ensure the credibility of the research findings, mixed methods were used for triangulation
purposes, which were: interviews, self-reports, learners’ diaries and a case study. Purposive
sampling techniques were used to choose a sample, in order to enable the advantage of
applying the participants’ information to a similar setting. Face-to-face individual semistructured interviews were carried out with student and teacher participants, combined with
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self-report based on similar questions to those of the interviews. Learners’ diaries and a case
study were examined to explore the participants’ conceptions, perceptions and feelings about
CT and the related problems and approaches. The QAA report of UK HE and the standard
writing criteria used by teachers were also examined. Being an international student, the
researcher’s experience also informed the choice of elements to be discussed and examined
with both students as well as teachers. Furthermore, the feeling of international collegiality
that existed between the researcher and the international students as participants helped to
ease the data collection procedures, such as by encouraging the participants to open up with
their natural feelings and perceptions about the issues. To sum up the data collection methods,
Figure 3.1 is given below in order to clearly shown the research questions, location of the
data, how it was obtained and the form of data that was collected for analysis.
Research Question
Data Location
How Data Obtained
Form of Data
CT conceptions
Teachers
Interviews
Qualitative
Students
Self-reports
Students
Interviews
Approaches
Qualitative
Self-reports
students use
Challenges
Teachers
Interviews
encountered
Students
Self-reports
Qualitative
Case Study
Inhibitions to CT
Teachers
Interviews
performance
Students
Self-reports
Qualitative
Role of EAP
Students
Learners’ Diaries
Qualitative
Interviews
language modes
Self-reports
Suggestions or
Teachers
Interviews
solution models
Students
Self-reports
Qualitative
Figure 3.1: Data Grid
To summarise, the methodology adopted, theoretical considerations, different research
strategies and the tools used for data collection have been discussed in this chapter. The study
contexts and ethical issues were also discussed, as well as: the actual research design,
including my relationship with the participants as the researcher; the sampling issues; the
actual procedures of data collection; issues of reliability and validity, and procedures of data
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analysis. The results will be discussed in the next three chapters.
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CHAPTER 4: RESULTS FROM THE WRITING APPROACHES OF
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
4.1. Introduction
It was established in the conclusion to the literature review chapter that there is a strong need
for a study of international students’ approaches to academic writing. This is important to
observe the difference between higher and lower order cognitive engagement with writing tasks in
terms of CT development between different cultural groups, since there has been regular
criticism of these students for being passive rote learners and non-critical thinkers because of
their lack of a critical approach towards their studies (Samuelowicz & Bain, 2001; Tanaka,
2004). Previous research studies have been identified three kinds of learning approaches as
consisting of deep, surface and achieving learning approaches (Biggs, 1987; Entwistle, 1997;
Marton & Saljo, 1976; Volet & Chalmers, 1992). The deep approach focuses on the meaning
of learning and relating previous knowledge to newly learned materials, and to life
experiences as well (Haggis, 2003). In contrast, surface learning approaches are associated
with the memorization of discrete facts, reproduction of terms and procedures through rote
learning, and viewing learning tasks in an isolated way; this might be adopted for more
peripheral components of learning. The third approach of learning, called ‘strategic’ or
‘achieving’, is associated with the ability to switch between deep and surface approaches,
rather than being a distinct approach to learning in itself. Richmond (2007) found that Asian
countries tend to focus more on surface learning approaches, in which students are not
expected to employ analytical and critical views. On the other hand, it is firmly believed that
analytical approaches are prevalent in the UK cultural-educational context (Pither & Soden,
2000).
This may be because international students pursuing higher degrees in British universities
come with concepts of learning which originate from their prior learning experiences, and
which differ markedly from those of home students. These cultural differences occur when
international students show a lack of ability to engage in classroom behaviours such as overt
questioning, challenging others’ ideas, giving their own opinions and critiquing. As these
behaviours are associated with the concept of CT (Tweed & Lehman, 2002), it is important to
acknowledge the international students’ and English language teaching staffs’ perspectives on
these norms of CT. According to Clark and Moss (2005), students/teachers’ perspectives are
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vital in considering their teaching/learning practice, as ones’ conceptions are negatively or
positively related to their teaching/learning approaches. Therefore, there is a great need to
understand students-teachers’ understanding with the concept of CT as well as approaches to
writing academically adopted by students who are culturally diverse, in order to examine the
exact influence of CT practices in cultural-educational context.
On the other hand, the SOLO taxonomy of learning, suggests that in order to succeed
academically students must engage in writing as a process of knowledge construction rather
than information production. Watkins has argued that using the deep, surface and strategic
approaches as analysis framework, students’ approaches to writing can be researched in the
cross-cultural context (1996: p. 9) because these perspective will allow the researcher to
address the cultural factors. However, previous research in the field of students’ writing
approaches has mainly focused on the students of Confucian heritage (e.g. Watkins & Biggs,
2001) and none of them has considered the academic writing approaches of a group of
culturally and linguistically diverse group explicitly. Therefore, the present study was
designed to target this gap.
In order to investigate this effectively, two research questions were set out as follows: 1) how
do international students and English-language teachers (ELT) conceptualise CT? And 2)
what approaches do international students utilize or prefer to utilize towards writing? A
combination of interviews and self-reported methods were chosen to gain a deeper insight
into the teachers’ and students’ views, and to enable an in-depth examination of the effects of
different cultural-educational contexts on the phenomenon.
4.2. International students’ and English language teachers’ (ELT)
conceptions of critical thinking
The main purpose of investigating international students’ and English teachers’ was to
explore the potential differences in students’ (with different cultural backgrounds)
understanding of the concept of CT, and to determine how their understanding was different
from that of their English language teachers in the two UK universities. The interviews and
self-reported answers provided an in-depth perspective from the participating international
students as well as the English teachers in terms of their understanding of the concept of CT.
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4.2.1. Conceptions of critical thinking: international students’ perspectives
The main issues regarding the students’ conceptions of CT emerged as three sub-themes,
namely: students’ perceptions of academic writing, the importance of CT, and students’
understanding of the notion of CT. The responses are outlined below for subsequent analysis.
4.2.1.1. International students’ perceptions of academic writing
The findings of the study show that almost all the students had a good understanding of what
academic writing is, so this may help them to understand the academic conventions of CT
properly. Students viewed academic writing mainly in terms of formal writing and institutionbased writing, which is normally done in schools, colleges and at university level. The
students’ perceptions of academic writing appeared to be consistent with how academic
writing has been presented in the previous research literature (e.g., Kelley, 2008; Bowker,
2007). The students’ answers in response to the general question included, for example:
“writing for assignments, dissertations, reports, proposals and thesis etc”; “planned and
structured writing”; “writing that scholars use in their research”; “quality writing”; “clearly
and accurately written”; “involve academic vocabulary and coherence”; “academic writing
helps to generate new ideas”, and “academic writing deepens ones knowledge.” Writing for
particular purposes is an important element of academic writing; otherwise it remains
effortless (Storch, 2009). Similar ideas were found from the student sample:
“All written work that is done for the academic purpose such as assignments,
projects and thesis is academic writing” (IS7).
“Academic writing includes the kind of writing we do in school, college and
university for our assignments, reports, proposals and research projects is academic
writing” (IS31).
The goal of achieving an outcome through academic writing requires proper planning and
organisation. Many students, for example IS12, IS27, S-RS55, S-RS72 and S-RS89,
perceived that academic writing is a structured form of writing, organised in such a way that
the information makes sense. These perceptions support the view of Spandel (2005), who
argues that writing involves organising and communicating information. Some of the
participants put forth similar ideas, for example: “academic writing is at once a structured
and properly organised form of writing” (IS42), and “academic writing involves planning
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and organisation; further, organised information helps you to produce quality work” (IS21).
Writing in an academic context is considered as the language of scholarship (Kelley, 2008),
because scholars’ work largely determines a higher degree of quality in their writing. Some
other students supported this argument, as follows:
“The kind of writing used by scholars in their research work is called academic
writing in my point of view” (IS18).
“Academic writing would be identifying by its quality because academic writing
demands higher quality work” (IS9, IS47).
On the other hand, some other participants overlapped clarity with accuracy in academic
writing, in this way: “writing must be grammatically accurate, and use academic vocabulary
because this has a strong impact on academic writing” (IS5), and “academic writing should
be clearly and accurately written” (S-RS96). It was also noted in the previous studies by Fox
(1994) that grammatical accuracy is crucial for academic writing, particularly second
language writing. Another student reported that “academic writing is interrelated with clarity
and accuracy and without those writing is not academic writing” (IS83). An emphasis on
clarity and accuracy can be seen in Paul and Elder’s (2008) intellectual standards for quality
enhancement. Almost all the students possessed similar perceptions about the nature of
academic writing, regardless of their age, gender, level of study, discipline, nationality or
whether they were studying or their first or second/third degree in the UK HE. Some
participants offered the view that academic writing helps to generate new ideas and sharpens
one’s knowledge, which is very similar to the findings of the studies conducted by Adeyemi
(2008). According to participants such as IS2, S-RS59 and S-RS64, academic writing helps
students to generate and develop new ideas and then defend them with arguments. Another
said:
“Students construct new ideas in writing their assignments and project, which
deepens their knowledge and creativity” (IS13).
This shows the international students experiences, as they look through their writing into the
academic world. Furthermore, it strongly affects their ability to write in a different
educational environment. According to McLean (2001), students’ prior learning conceptions
and experiences affect their future learning in a more flexible way. The findings showed that
international university students from many non-Western cultural backgrounds articulated a
similar understanding about academic writing. Although a few differences could be observed
on the basis of individuality, they were essentially the same in terms of their understanding.
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The above responses were followed by another question to determine the international
students’ understanding of academic conventions.
4.2.1.2. Importance of critical thinking
The results of the present study indicate that the student sample perceived CT as core skills
for academic writing in either a first or a second language. This shows their awareness that
the development of CT is fundamental to the academic writing requirements of UK HE. This
was the theme ignored in the discussion of students’ conceptions of CT in the mainstream
literature. The range of key skills mentioned by students was as follows. A great number of
students were agreed that CT is crucial for university education (see also Howe, 2004), which
included the skills of “analysis”, “logical organisation”, “inferences”, “judging and deciding”
and “synthesising”. The participants highlighted the importance of CT by focusing
particularly on the necessity and demand for it in the UK HE system, in comparison with in
the educational systems in their native countries. For example:
“In my point of view that skills such as critical analysis and giving my own
judgement, are more important because when we come to study abroad, especially
in UK, they focus on critical thinking skills in academic writing. I look at my course
and some assignments of my friends they just demand for high level thinking skills”
(IS12).
Critical analysis of presented material and deciding what to believe or do (Paul & Elder,
2008), are important components of CT and core criteria for academic writing at the higher
level of education in the UK (Elander et al., 2006). Other, similar views given by the students
were: “In fact, to give the supporting evidence in order to justifying your statements are the
important skills to write well in UK universities” (S-RS62), and: “you must have the skills to
clarifying (sic) the meaning what you have written and to conclude your ideas are the more
important here (UK) I think” (IS40). Sufficient knowledge is also considered an
interdependent skill of cognitive abilities (Garside, 1996; Ten Dam & Volman, 2004), as one
of the participants stated:
“You should have fully grasped on the knowledge about your subject for writing
your academic assignments and dissertations etc. because it is necessary to use your
thinking abilities” (S-RS77).
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According to Ivani (2004), writing correctness and accuracy is associated with grammar,
punctuation, spelling and referencing. Some of the participants in the present study, however,
emphasized only the importance of linguistic skills, including grammar, vocabulary and
paraphrasing. For example, “language skills such as grammar and vocabulary are very
important for writing assignments because I am studying Science subjects and I need to use
academic vocabulary properly” (S-RS93). Another student stated:
“For writing academically, it is very important to ignore spelling mistakes as well as
use appropriate grammar and punctuation” (IS1).
“Language abilities, for example choosing right word for right situation, perfect
grammar and enough vocabulary are very important” (IS15).
Aside from language abilities, a few student participants also reported the importance of
structuring skills in academic writing. For example: “basically it’s important to know that
how to write introduction, how to manage your literature and then conclusions” (IS96) and
similarly, another international student said: “being speaker of other language, structuring
looks very important to me because academic writing should be well organised and properly
structured” (IS21). These views support the most important rules for writing an academic
essay suggested by Peck and Coyle (cited in Elander et al., 2006), in association with writing
structure, which are divided into three stages: introduction, body and then conclusion (p. 80).
The next section shows the students’ conceptions of CT.
4.2.1.3.
Students’ conceptions of critical thinking
Similar to the CT definitions in the research literature (Ennis, 1987; Facione, 1990; Halpern,
1998; Pennycook, 2001; Paul, 1993), different points of view were identified in the student’s
responses regarding their conception of CT. The students perceived various terms to be under
the umbrella of CT, such as: interpretation, making judgements, supporting evidence, critical
evaluation, critical analysis, presenting alternative perspectives etc. Based on the students’
previous experiences and understanding, a frequently highlighted concept was “critical
evaluation”. Critical evaluation appears to be a fundamental skill for academic writing at
university level (Lillis & Turner, 2001). The idea that the nature of CT is the accomplishment
of critical evaluation can be seen in some of the participants’ responses, such as: “in my
opinion to evaluate the process of the subjects and comparing it to old experience and
checking your results and matching your results with others” (IS22).
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Another student conceptualizes that: “critical thinking is to analyse the situation critically to
solve a problems” (IS59). Though some educators like Onion (2009) strongly equate critical
evaluation with CT, this basic concept of CT is vague in many ways. It is certainly vague in
the respect of CT standards. One important issue is what students mean by critical evaluation
when they talk about it. As interviewee IS79 stated:
In my point of view critical thinking is basically an examination of some of the
information and evaluating and analysing the assumptions and different things which is
related with that information.
It can be seen from the above quotation that the student has overlapped many skills with
evaluation. For the most part, terms presented as “critical evaluation” by learners seem very
limited in their meaning, as this respondent shows: “one’s ability to evaluate different
situations and evaluate the subject matters” (IS57), whilst in its strongest sense, critical
evaluation also includes methodological critique and presenting alternative perspectives
(Elander & paul, 2002).
“Analysis” is another main concern of academic writing in the West (Lillis & Turner, 2001),
and perceived as a core cognitive ability of critical thinkers (Tsui, 2002; Paul, 1993). Many
students presented similar views:
CT must be the analysis of a problem or an issue in order to differentiate good and bad
points and analysis skills are really important to think in critical way (IS82).
All the information and ideas can be organised through critical analysis of the situation
to produce quality academic writing (IS57).
Another said, “Analysis is another face of critical thinking and analysis skills are very
important to be succeeding” (IS14). Though many students suggested that analytical skills are
a necessary aspect of thinking critically, they were not labelled in detail as similar in the
literature (Halpern, 1998).
According to some other students, CT can be achieved through “interpretation” in order to
clarify things and provide alternative solutions for problems and situations. Facione (1990)
identified interpretation as a cognitive skill, and further divided it in terms of categorisation,
decoding, significance and clarifying meanings. It was noted from the student sample that:
“when we interpret an issue or problem to clarify the hidden meanings and motives, it shows
our critical thinking skills” (IS5). Interpretation was also offered in Pascarella and Terenzini’s
(2005) list of cognitive skills. Similar views were also notable:
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I think, looking at the different perspectives of the problem or situation through
interpretations is critical thinking, which helps to focus on the important issues to come
to the conclusions (IS73)
Presenting “argumentation” (Durkin, 2008) and “referencing” in order to support your
arguments are further skills aspects of CT (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005), and seen as the
basis of quality academic writing (Kelley, 2008). Many of the participants offered general
ideas of CT in terms of argumentation and querying evidence. According to them, “art of the
language and art of the thinking lies in how to organize your arguments and express your
ideas” (IS80) and “Critical thinking is giving your arguments but not for bad reasons just to
explain the things to avoid some mistakes in future” (IS19). Similarly, referencing is seen as a
common strategy of CT. For example, “if we want to show our critical thinking for academic
writing, we need to provide proper evidence to support our ideas” (IS77). Another also
suggested:
Students need to give references to justify their arguments because this shows their CT
skills. Referencing is a skill that is essential to think critically because we have to give
arguments against and for about other authors’ work (IS16)
The issue of meaning matters a great deal in terms of the quality of the concepts that the
students described, because some students conceptualised CT as “problem solving”. For
example “Critical thinking is how to solve our problems” (IS55) and “if someone knows how
to solve his/her problems, he/she is critical thinker” (IS12). These views can be rejected for
many good reasons, because one may solve a problem critically but another can do the same
uncritically. As Halpern (2007) suggests creative thinking is the basic requirement for
thinking critically in order to solve problems.
On the other hand, some of the participants conceptually confused CT with criticism of
others’ work. For example; “critical thinking means to criticise others’ work” (IS33);
similarly, another was found to say: “It does not to follow some reference or books but to the
evaluation of different studies to correct where mistake is” (IS41). For another student; “CT is
to find faults from others work and correct them” (IS95). These views can be seen as negative
thinking, in the sense of seeking to find others’ mistakes and then criticise. Satariyan (2006)
explains that CT is not negative thinking, and criticism should be offered in a constructive
manner with sound arguments. It is always positive, productive, friendly and developmental.
Finally, some other students in the present sample were not aware of the concept of CT at all,
and they clearly answered that they didn’t know or were not clear about what CT is. For
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example, one student admitted that he didn’t know much about critical thinking, but assumed
that, “actually I am new in UK and I do not know much about critical thinking but I think
focus on important information is critical thinking” (IS73). This was an unexpected finding,
as I would have expected that most of the participants would at least be aware of the concept
of CT. It was surprising to note that about one third of the participants either had vague
conceptions of CT, or they were not aware of the notion at all. It was also noted that
participants who replied with ‘don’t know’ or ‘not sure’ seemed reserved, silent and less
expressive about discussing CT, and this could be a possible attribute of their cultural values
of social harmony (Chiu, 2008).
Furthermore, this research was specifically designed to examine the cultural-educational
influence on the cultivation of CT and its effect on students’ writing in a second language, as
well as their writing approaches in English-speaking universities. King and Kitchener (1994)
explored the idea that conceptions and understanding of knowledge generally developed over
time. As one of the interviewees said,
I didn’t understand and sure what it means by critical, actually it was not important in our
back home country and I think now I am getting idea with the increment of educational
level that what critical thinking is (IS86).
The students’ conceptions of CT presented above could be seen as reflections of the students’
aptitudes for CT. The best way to judge these conceptions is to consider what kind of thinking
educators would and would not judge to be CT. According to Bailin et al. (1999), CT must be
directed towards some purpose, such as answering a question, making a decision or to solve a
problem or situation. These clarifications suggest the mental formulation of an aim, in order to
be able to make a reliable judgment.
4.2.2
Conceptions of critical thinking: English language teachers’ perspectives
The present section presents the analysis of the English language teachers’ (ELT)
perspectives. In relation to the English language teachers’ conceptions of CT, various
categories of themes were identified, for example, issues regard tutoring international
students, and the importance of critical thinking and what constitutes CT.
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4.2.2.1. Issues regarding teaching international students
Almost all the teachers described themselves as experienced in teaching English as a second
language. The majority of the L2 teachers reported that they had above 20 years experience of
teaching ESL students. On the other hand, two teachers had eleven and seventeen years
experience, while a further two had three and eight years teaching experience respectively.
Common themes in the teachers’ responses regarding their role included: “adjustment of
international students in new educational environment”, “understanding students’ culturaleducational backgrounds and their English language proficiency” and, most importantly, “to
provide them with the skills they need for success in their academic courses”. These views
appeared consistent with the previous research literature (e.g. Ryan, 2000; Wisker, 2000).
Helping international students to adjust to an unfamiliar learning environment is an important
aspect of facilitating students’ learning experiences, as one of the teacher participants stated:
“the main issue is I think to adjust them in new educational environment, to understand their
level of English language and most important their cultural background” (T2). This unfamiliar
environment can lead them to higher stress levels (Burns, 1991) because of the fear of failure.
Other teachers strongly focused on understanding the students’ language proficiency: “The
main issues are language in terms of spoken and written English” (CST1), and “I think the
main issue for me is the range of level of understanding of English within each group”
(CST2). However, as Jepson et al., (2002) argued, international students’ proficiency levels in
English language do not ensure that they are well prepared for academic success in the new
educational system. Similar but more detailed ideas were notable from CST3; she reported her
concerns in this way:
“I think the main issues for international students are interconnected and include:
academic writing, language, critical thinking and relating new knowledge taught in
UK universities to their own country specific context. In terms of academic writing,
international students are generally not used to extensive writing that requires
structuring and building up of a logical and coherent argument.”
The adjustment problems mentioned in the above quotation could possibly be the
consequence of the need to meet Western cultural-educational norms such as “questioning,
criticizing, refuting, arguing, debating and persuading” (Major, 2005: p. 85). She further
explained that ‘constructivism’ is widely endorsed in ‘Western’ education, but for
international students from a different cultural, social, political, economic and academic
context, tutors may fail to really understand their existing ‘mental models’ and this can cause
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difficulty. Similar kinds of adjustment problems were also identified by Mehdizadeh & Scott
(2005). They added that this can make international students socially and intellectually
incompatible with their Western counterparts.
Some teacher interviewees also suggested the issue of needing to “satisfy students to fulfil
their needs and expectations”, in order to give them a good experience in the UK HE system.
This study, however, strongly emphasises the importance of providing students with quality in
their education, and guaranteed outcomes for a successful academic life in English-speaking
universities; as Biggs (2003) stated, only to explore students’ problems is not enough.
4.2.2.2. Importance of critical thinking
The common answer to this question was that CT skills are vital and absolutely important for
achievement at the higher level of undergraduate and postgraduate study. The importance of
CT can be seen in one teacher’s response, that: “CT skills are very important because it is the
essential part of the university study in the UK and the international students have not had
much exposure to critical thinking and it’s really very important to teach these skills” (T2).
This supports the views of many studies, which report that the teaching of CT is a main
emphasis in today’s higher education (Hayes, & Perry, 2008; Lun, 2010; Ramesden, 2007;
Tsui, 2006). Interviewee T5 added that the reason for the importance of CT is specifically
related to writing academically:
“Critical thinking is very important for academic writing because the essence of
academic writing study it is central to be able to analyse critically somebody’s work
and come to conclusions and then possibly base your own work on the analysis.”
The views reported above uphold the argument of Pithers and Soden (2000), who indicate that
the main focus of HE is to develop the “key skills” of university graduates. Onion (2009) and
Pennycook (2001) state that CT is a set of skills which involves the questioning, critiquing,
evaluation and systematic analysis of problems expected of university study. T7 further
demonstrated the importance of CT skills across disciplines, as follows:
“They are vital in every academic course and it is same and need for all subjects
arts, science, etc. It is not something that you just study a course and you have to
prove it but it’s vital for every academic study and should be taught across the
discipline. It’s absolutely heart of writing I think.”
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There is a debate in the mainstream literature, for (Ennis, 1987; Halpern, 1998, 1999) and
against (McPeck, 1981, 1990) the idea of teaching CT across disciplines. However, the recent
studies of Ten Dam & Volman (2004) and Moore (2004) suggest that CT skills are general,
applicable and transferable across fields or subjects. The teachers’ views in the present study
also suggest that it would be more beneficial to teach CT skills generally. One cannot deny
that CT helps to decide what to believe or do (Ennis, 1987); in a similar way, interviewee
CST2 noted that: “thinking critical is incredibly important otherwise a student will believe
something just because it has been written in a book or a teacher tells them it is a good idea.”
The importance of CT has also been reported in terms of academic writing assessment
criteria. Focus on this importance shows that CT skills are essential for achievement at the
higher levels of undergraduate work and for all study at Masters and PhD level. CST3
reported that:
“Assessment criteria at the Honours level have the four broad criteria for
assessments such as: knowledge and understanding, analysis & critical awareness,
research and reading and presentation (including language). Whilst many
international students (and tutors of international students) may get pre-occupied
with the latter, it is the critical thinking that is required in the other three that is vital
for demonstrating higher level thinking abilities. CT skills required for the Honours
marking criteria are: an ability to question issues, to fully rationalise analytical
techniques, synthesising conflicting elements of an argument, critical and evaluative
discussion and use of reference material, solving ‘real world problems’, critical
reflection on experiences and context, innovative and original use of knowledge and
understanding, presenting a balanced argument and sensitivity to a particular
audience when being assessed. At Masters level the QAA benchmarks require
students to be able to contextualise knowledge and understanding, see interrelationships, apply theoretical perspectives, realise and utilise integrative links,
reflect, apply learning from previous experiences to new situations, and to show
strengths in analysing, synthesising, and solving complex problems and evaluating
alternatives.”
The descriptors from the academic infrastructure, the Quality Assurance Agency (2008) for
HE level, also strictly underscore similar assessment criteria to those mentioned in the above
quotation. According to Elander et al. (2006), assessment criteria in teaching serve the
purpose of improving students’ performance. Rust et al., (2003) also note that: “inviting
students into the shared experience of marking and moderating should also enable more
effective knowledge transfer of assessment processes and standards” (p. 152). On the other
hand, CST3 focused on form-driven approaches to writing. She thought that:
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“Developing students’ ability to write in good academic English can to a limited
extent help them develop critical thinking skills. For example, we usually give a
suggested writing frame to students when presenting them with an assignment: this
offers students a form to structure their work, and therefore, in a sense, to structure
their thinking. We encourage them to structure their paragraphs logically, and so in a
sense, this could help them work on structuring their thinking in order to get good
grades.”
Peck and Coyle (1999) associate form-driven approaches with structuring techniques that can
be learned by answering questions such as: how to build an essay? Does the essay have a
clear, logical and well-defined structure? Are the sections obvious? Is material organised
well? And are the arguments well developed? (Elander, 2002; Pain & Mowl, 1996). The
teachers’ views and conceptions above also support the previous literature which suggests that
student’ conceptions of CT are negatively or positively related to their academic
achievements (Buckely et al, 2010; Loyens et al, 2007; McLean, 2001).
4.2.2.3.
Teachers’ conceptions of critical thinking
The understanding of the concept of CT shown within the teachers sample appeared to be
consistent with the CT definitions which have been presented in the literature by theorists.
CT was conceptualised in terms of skills/abilities and dispositions. CT as a set of skills
included an ability to: challenge, examine and analyse data/information; evaluate arguments;
decide what to do or believe; judge independently, and present alternatives. In dispositional
terms, critical thinkers were seen as creative, flexible, open-minded, well informed and
willing to experiment and play with ideas. The consensus definition of CT is also twodimensional, involving skills and dispositions, as explained in the literature review chapter.
Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) had drawn a similar list of skills from different definitions of
CT: identifying and recognising issues; finding out relationships; referencing, concluding and
interpreting etc. The majority of the participant teachers were agreed that critical analysis
helped students to apply theory/materials in a critical manner. Other, similar ideas shown by
the teacher participants were:
“CT is an ability to analyse text and engage in a critical way to break down the piece
into argument to reach to conclusions” (T5).
“CT involves the skills of analysis of given information in order to show their broad
understanding and knowledge of the subject and ability to discuss alternative
perspectives on the issues with open-mindedness” (T12).
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This supports the findings of the study of O’Donovan et al. (2000), which identified that CT
is the clear application of theory through critical analysis. Evaluation of arguments and
assumptions is a crucial element of CT; otherwise the aim of CT is not best achieved. Hale
(2008) has stated that, regardless of all the different aspects of different definitions, all the
theorists are agreed that CT entails a process of evaluation and critical analysis in order to
improve one’s thinking. Many teachers offered this general idea about the evaluation process,
and suggested that CT can be best defined in terms of the evaluation of
arguments/assumptions/ideas/information etc., in order to demonstrate a deep understanding
of the issues and balanced judgements. For example: “CT is intellectual engagement and
evaluation of the arguments/ideas, which includes challenging ideas and assessing claims”
(T2). Another teacher participant suggested:
“CT is critical evaluation of arguments and assumptions to be able to evaluate them
and make an informed and balanced judgement” (T10).
The teachers’ conceptions were very similar to those reported by Paul and Elder (2001) and
Halpern (2007). Other skills mentioned include: critiquing and appreciating alternative
perspectives: “CT skills are the ability to critique and assess the information you have and to
look at it with different angles” (T2); skill in “going beyond the text and kind of see more
evaluation and shed light on them” (T9); skills in argument analysis and inferences (Facione,
1990); “CT means an in-depth understanding of the content you studying and supporting your
opinion with logic argumentation” (T11), and finally, the skills of deciding and making
judgements (Ennis, 1987). One of the teacher participants responded that deciding what to
believe or do, is very difficult to describe, because “It’s to do with analysing whatever other
people have written and evaluating in an objective way, and the thing is it’s quite important
not to accept everything written” (T4). He elaborated by giving the example of Wikipedia,
which people think is golden, but in fact “that’s rubbish”. Another teacher reported:
“I would say it’s where people don’t accept the first answer that they have given,
they question at it, and they look at it flexibly. They are not negative but they are
finding more about it. And don’t just accept the first thing they read, meaning if they
are reading an article, they just accept that here all the things are correct; rather to
think about particulars that are given in that article” (T3).
According to CST1, “CT is the ability to develop knowledge through analysing text and
conventionalising belief systems, from there to be able to evaluate them and make an
informed and balanced judgement”. CT cannot be promoted simply through the repetition of
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thinking skills, but rather by developing the relevant knowledge, commitments and strategies
(Bailin et al., 1999: p. 280). CT in relation to academic writing was particularly emphasised
by CST3, who was also the Head of Department of International Education at the University
of Huddersfield, as follows:
“CT skills include “challenging ideas/ arguments/ theories” that have been presented
at university (lecture, books, seminars etc), “demonstrating a deep understanding”
that there are arguments for and against many of these, and to be able to
“intellectually engage” with those arguments and “make judgements” about the
validity of the cases. It also means to be able to apply “originality in analysing” into
a completely different situation (either to indicate its applicability or inapplicability).
In terms of academic writing they should be able to present an integrated discussion
with a strong and consistent thread or line of argument that links understanding,
knowledge, ideas and references in critical perspective” (CST3).
The ideas mentioned in the above conceptions of CT are best called the “evidence of success” in
the academic world, because academic writing strongly emphasises such aspects of CT (Kelley,
2008). Critical thinkers, according to the above conceptions of CT, were also viewed as those
who are “flexible, open-minded” and “willing to engage critically.” These characteristics of
critical thinkers are seen as essential in the research literature as well (Halpern, 1996; Facione,
1990; Ennis, 1987). According to Lun (2010), these dispositions are necessary in order to
present an alternative perspective, thus broadening one’s information. Despite the conceptions
illustrated above, one of the teachers (with 30 years teaching experience) was unable to define
the term of CT. She answered “it’s really hard to conceptualize critical thinking so could you
please go to the next question.” To summarize the conceptions of CT, as it is typically
understood by English teachers, it would appear to have at least the following three features: 1)
it should be done for the purpose of making up students’ mind about what to believe or do; 2)
they should try to fulfil standards of adequacy and accuracy, and 3) the critical thinking fulfils
the relevant standards to some threshold level.
4.3.
International students’ approaches to writing
Based on Biggs’ (1993) conceptualisation of learning approaches, themes were categorised
into surface, strategic and deep level writing approaches. He has revealed that at the “surface
level” students are unable to approach ideas and facts critically, relying on memorisation to
pass their exams and surface level is usually associated with low academic achievements (. At
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the “strategic level” students try to manage and organise their studies in order to get good
grades and strategic approaches can be switched to either surface or deep levels, depending
on the students’ efforts. While, at the “deep level” students look at the central arguments,
connecting ideas and using evidence, and examining the situation critically, and which is
associated with a higher level of academic success (Biggs, 1996). On the other hand, For UK
academics, it is reasonable to expect students to adopt deep approaches, because CT
development is their main focus.
When the international students were asked about the approaches which they used or
preferred to use in academic writing, they reported a range, from surface to deep. A total of
97 student participants out of 100 (including interviewees and self-reported responses)
answered the question, while 3 students replied with “do not know/unable to recognise” etc.
The responses can be seen in the table below:
Table: 4.1: Students’ approaches to writing
Descriptions
Frequency
%
Reproduction of ideas
50
51.5
Focus on collecting information
62
63.9
Textbook-boundness
74
76.2
Lack of purpose
81
83.5
Routine memorisation
14
14.3
Achieving Approaches
Efforts to organise
29
29.8
(AA)
Time management
10
10.1
Interested in wider reading to seek meanings
17
17.5
Critical and thoughtful about ideas/information
7
7.2
Understanding thoroughly
11
11.3
Surface Approaches (SA)
Deep Approaches (DA)
When all the analysis was completed and put together, it was found that the approaches which
the majority of the international students utilized or preferred to utilize in their writing for
academic purposes were mainly surface oriented. It is obvious from the data above that the
majority of the students preferred to build their work on others’ ideas; tried to put in as much
information as they could; relied on memorisation; focused mainly on textbooks; regarded the
purpose as being to pass the exams, and some did not even care about the writing assessment
criteria. On the other hand, some of the participants emphasised their efforts to achieve good
marks; organising the information for writing; managing their time to meet their deadlines,
and memorising in order to understand the materials etc. Some students, however, also
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showed their attention to utilizing deep approaches, such as: being interested in wide reading;
seeking meanings; being critical and thoughtful about ideas; following assessment criteria,
and wanting to understand thoroughly. Therefore, it is important to discuss in detail
international students’ approaches towards academic writing in the host educational context,
because this might directly affect the students’ learning outcomes (Norton, 2003).
In responses to the second research question, comments made by culturally diverse students
are categorised in deep, surface and achieving approaches to writing as an analysis
framework, which further revealed differences between these three approaches.
4.3.1 Students who take surface approaches to writing
Based on the analysis of students’ interviews and self-reports a great majority of the students
has been characterised as taking surface approaches to writing. Many inter-related variables
were also identified to be associated with students’ cultural-educational backgrounds, which
reflect the findings of the previous studies in the field. Details are presented below:
4.3.1.1. Passive learning experiences
International students who take or prefer to take surface approaches to writing generally bring
passive learning experiences with them, which can be seen from the students’ statements
below:
“In Saudi Arabia, we have to sit in the classrooms quietly to listen our teachers
carefully. We cannot argue, we cannot question because it is considered as
misbehaviour” (IS14).
“We join schools/ colleges and universities to get knowledge so we have to sit
longer, listen the lectures and note the important things to write in exams” (S-RS6).
The teaching styles in non-Western cultures were reported as being teacher-centred, and
lectures were the main source of information. One of the students said that “teachers provide
us all the necessary information that we need to pass our examinations” (IS22). Another
student remarked that “In Pakistan universities and colleges are very small with limited
resources, so the lectures are the best way to get more knowledge and information” (S-RS13).
Although students find it the best way to get information, some of them also reported the
drawbacks of this teaching style:
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“One of the problems with lecture method is that they are used for big class sizes
usually 40-50 students so we can never get chance to ask our teachers anything if we
do not understand something” (IS34).
“Our teachers try to cover too many things in lectures so sometime important
information is overwhelmed and class feel bored” (S-RS18).
One participant also called the lecture method a “...easy-way style which helps students as
well as teachers to make fewer efforts and get more” (S-RS17). In addition to the “easy-way”
teaching/learning style, many students also showed disappointment at the lack of tutorials on
their teaching practice in their home countries. As one participant explained, “one of the
characteristics of the UK higher education system is the tutorials, which we do not have in our
country. In my point of views tutorials are the best way to enhance students’ understanding
with subject matters” (IS44).
4.3.1.2. Reproduction of ideas
Copying the ideas or words of other scholars without proper referencing is strongly
condemned in UK academic conventions, and this is known as plagiarism (Norris, 2007);
however, a significant number (51%) of the international students reported it as their main
writing approach, which shows the “dividing line” between English and non-English speaking
cultures. Some of the participants reported this issue as follows:
“In my point of view our knowledge is always an extension of others’ work, so I
always try to follow some good writers’ ideas in my assignments” (S-RS14).
“I follow others work to write perfectly but my teacher here doesn’t like and always
comment that it’s show your own views. And I do not know what she means by it?”
(IS42).
This may because, as Dryden (1999) noted, the “Japanese students are not asked for
producing original ideas or opinions. They are simply asked to show a beautiful patchwork (p.
5). Some other students mentioned that they are taught to strictly respect other authorities and
this is the main reason to follow others’ ideas and build their writing on those. One student
said that “our scholars are our honour and it is their respect when we build our work on their
ideas as sometime we do not use the reading material as it is and reproduce it” (IS6). This
supports the views of Buranen (1999) and Liu (2005), who claim that “using other sources is
a sign of respect for the received wisdom and knowledge and also a way of demonstrating
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one’s own learning or accomplishment” (p. 69). It notable, however, that the students are
aware of the importance of citation and referencing, for example:
“Although the ways and methods of citations in China are very different from here
(UK), we usually provided the list of references at the end of our writing drafts
without mentioning in between, but here we have to support our every word with
evidence. It is difficult but I think it is the best way to refer others’ work” (IS26).
“I think it is entirely wrong to copy others’ ideas and words and paste them without
proper citing like in the Universities in Libya” (S-RS33).
Some participants also stated the reasons for copying others’ ideas, as follows: “one of the
reason to copying other work is that we (international students) cannot properly trained for
English language writing so this prevent us from linguistics mistakes” (IS10). While some
others also responded that they copied different ideas from previous books, articles and the
internet, and then utilized them in their own work, because it helps them to write critically.
Interviewee IS38 pointed out that: “I find out some examples of previous work to write like
that because it gives us idea how to write critically.” Similar kinds of responses were found in
the study of Rinnert and Kobayashi (2005), which compared Japanese and American students
across disciplines and academic levels.
4.3.1.3. Focus on the collection of information
Another surface approach towards writing academically, reported by majority of the students
(62%), was collecting information. It is important, in their view, to collect as much
information as possible when write critically; for example, one student said: “In my point of
view to write critically, it’s important to collect much information about topic and to
memorise that information because then you can write easily, that’s the thing I do” (IS2).
Other participants also stated the reasons for collecting information;
“My main approaches for assignment writing etc. are to collect different information
on the same issue from different books and articles because without information one
cannot use own thinking for writing” (S-RS44).
“I think we should have proper information about the given topic in order to present
different perspectives of the presented issues. But sometime it makes me depressed
when my teachers comment my writing with lack of connections between ideas or
lack analysis or lack critical reflection because I try my best to present proper
information” (IS19).
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Draper (2009) describes such learners as shallow learners, who understand the material
correctly but are unable to connect the different learning concepts. International students’
responses have shown them to be generally “less spontaneous” in accepting the UK’s
academic learning style (Wong, 2004), but Wong also strongly believes in the learners’
flexibility, which can be seen in one student’s response below:
“It is common in Oman to write long essays without interpreting and analysing like
here (UK) and we know that we are always pointed out as poor writer in the English
speaking countries. Reason is not that we are poor in writing but actually we are
used to write this way since schools and this does not mean at all that we are unable
to perform better. If we get proper training, courses and workshops like here we can
also master the skills of writing” (S-RS12).
The evidence overall, however, showed that the kinds of writing approaches students used or
preferred to use were surface rather than deep, which may lead them to descriptive rather than
critical writing.
4.3.1.4. Textbook-boundness
According to the international students’ previous experiences, dependence on textbooks is
related to the quality of their writing. 76% of the participants thought that they learnt well
through textbooks. It is clear from the information provided by the international students that
their previous assessment criteria had required them to present taught materials. Responses
showed that “textbooks are the main source of information in Korea and it is very difficult for
the students to write outside the books because our teachers do not accept it” (IS4). Another
said that “I think learning through course books are the best way to get knowledge” (S-RS46).
Similarly, some other students said:
“My basic approach is to read through all the book material and then utilize it for my
assignments because our teachers demand to write from books not from any other
sources” (S-RS40).
“In my country the most important thing is to answer the question rather than to
discuss it, so it is easy for students to write from textbooks” (IS16).
Notably, they were aware that these kinds of approaches led them into writing problems such
as plagiarism, lack of creativity and lack of critical analysis etc., because the education
systems in non-English speaking countries, as reported by the international students, do not
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require or acknowledge the substance of ideas and CT like in the UK. Therefore, some drew
attention to this: “we are asked to provide some quality information in our assignments but
never asked for where those come from and to justify the source and this cause problems of
plagiarism when students go in the English speaking universities for higher education
purposes” (S-RS50). Another student said that:
“Students follow course books only because in India our teachers do not promote
research skills, they like “quick solutions” of the problems and course books fulfil
that purpose. But the difficulties such as plagiarism, critical analysis and arguments
we face in UK are the reflection of our writing problems. I like the writing strategies
being taught in the UK” (IS11).
The previous experiences of the international students clearly showed cultural differences in
educational practice, as knowledge and skills are interpreted differently in different cultures
(Wong, 2006). The UK education system promotes active learning and encourages CT
development, but non-English cultures seem to value passive learning, without giving
opportunities for questioning and debating, which is not helpful in terms of developing
students’ CT skills in order to compete as global citizens.
4.3.1.5 Lack of purpose
The different writing approaches mentioned above by students depend on whether learning
cultures focus on and encourage surface or critical/deep strategies. It was found from all the
collected data that the approaches which the international students utilized in writing were
mainly surface in nature. The students’ preferred approaches showed a lack of
value/importance placed on CT in their writing. The data indicated that these kinds of
approaches make students less motivated. As one of the interviewees said:
“Academic writing is just a go through process in my country. You cannot imagine
that still we are struggling without proper guidance for writing and it is totally
depends on teachers’ mood, the way they assess our writing. The drawback is that
sometime we receive disappointed marks and this makes me unhappy with my
education system” (IS16).
A vast majority (83%) of the participants indicated that their educational cultures were mainly
exam-driven and therefore they had to write purely with the goal of passing their exams. They
could not perceive other valuable purposes for their writing. One of the students reported that:
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“we are prepared for exams and not for development and I totally disagree with these policies”
(S-RS21). Another said that “learning can never occur with exam-based systems; students
need skills to solve their problems” (IS15). The reasons given were:
“Students are never challenged for constructing the knowledge and creativity; they
are only assisted with books and lectures, no research, no knowledge” (S-RS5).
“Examination system is easy for teachers themselves as education system is totally
teacher centred that is why they trying to keep going with old traditional teaching
methods but we want change now” (S-RS38).
Some of the students reported that the purpose of academic writing in their home countries
was to show or display the information which had been put in their minds, for example: “The
main purpose of writing assignments in my home country was to display the information
provided by my teachers which is totally wrong and promote descriptive writing” (IS32).
Some other students confirmed this:
“Interestingly writing in my country is just to show our “information bank” to our
teachers and nothing else, students have to write big essays and teachers give good
grades to their favourite ones” (IS18).
“My teacher always wanted to check how much I know about the given topic, she
never asked to show my own thoughts and arguments. This is, in my point of views
is the main drawback of non-English speaking countries education system” (SRS37).
Based on the analysis of the students’ approaches, it is safe to assert that, overall, the nonnative and non-Western international students failed to approach writing by thinking critically.
One positive sign, however, was that the students realised the weaknesses of their home
cultural-educational experiences, though it appeared that the students had never been asked to
value CT for writing beyond its immediate objective to pass an exam or get good grades.
4.3.1.6 Routine memorisation
The education system in Asian countries has been criticised as passive and as promoting rote
learning (Huang, 2004; Richmond, 2007; Campbell & Li, 2008). Rote learning is usually
described as “learning without understanding” (Wong, 2004). The students’ responses in the
current study could perhaps be the reflection of passive education systems, not only in Asian
countries, but in many other non-Western countries as well, which negates the stereotypical
view of Asian students as “passive learners”, because the case seemed to be similar in many
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non-English regions. Some students responded that they memorised any reading materials
because it helped them to write quickly. One of the participants said:
“I try to write in many different ways but memorizing the good piece of work and
writing in my assignments is the thing I prefer because that helps me in my writing
assignments quickly” (IS21).
Some other students stressed the problems of learning by memorisation in their studies in the
UK: They stated:
“I am used to write by memorization from my childhood experiences but here (UK)
the system is totally different and because of this learning approach my written work
is always without arguments and justification.” (S-RS17)
“For me, when I start writing my assignments I try to remember what our teachers
taught us and then try to write in similar way because majority of the teachers do not
like us to quote same they have taught rather than from other recourses such as
internet or books” (SR-S39)
“I always try to memorise all the lectures of my teachers in order to write my
assignments. I always get good marks writing this way because this makes my
teachers happy. But such methods are strictly condemn here in the UK education
system, while in my back country for me actual problem is not how I approach
writing but why I approach writing this way”( IS2)
The responses shown above follow the argument of Kember et al. (2008), who claim that
approaches to learning are markedly influenced by the teaching and learning environment.
Some other students followed similar rote approaches towards their writing, because: “In my
home country [Pakistan] we usually have write too much to make our teachers happy to get
good marks and it is difficult for me to write according to the new system’s demand...”
(IS25). To sum up, students’ (who take surface approach to writing) views refer to the
“knowledge telling” approach to writing as categorised by Scardamalia and Bereiter (cited in
Green, 2007), who views the basic conceptions of writing in terms of ‘knowledge telling’ and
‘knowledge transforming’. ‘Knowledge telling’ refers to a process of simply telling what one
knows about the subject; there is little reflection, interpretation or integration. In contrast,
those who view academic writing as ‘knowledge transforming’ understand the constructive
nature of knowledge; they see issues of content and issues of rhetoric as inter-related. For
these students, the research and writing process is reflective and iterative.
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4.3.2. Students who take achieving approaches to writing
Along with taking surface writing approaches, a moderate number of students reported their
efforts to organise their writing as well as time management in order to meet their deadlines.
These approaches has been characterised as achieving or strategic approaches following the
concept in the previous research literature as under:
4.3.2.1. Efforts in organisation of writing
Based on the analysis, some international students also mentioned their efforts to organise
their writing and time management, which were put forward as strategic approaches. Strategic
or achieving approaches are usually known as a “well-organised form of surface approach”
(Gibbs, 2001), in which the learner struggles and becomes motivated to achieve good grades
in their studies (Jones, 2005). Some of them said that they focused on writing and re-writing,
and always kept notes to get good marks in assignments, such as “...listening lectures carefully
and making notes to get good grades in my assignment” (IS20). Another two answered that
they fully concentrated on improving their organisational skills in terms of writing in a
creative way, as follows:
“I prefer to follow the work of outstanding writers and always search for different
kinds of organisational strategies such as organising ideas and information to
improve my academic writing to pass my assignments because I am weak in these
skills” (S-RS46)
“I always spent enough time on the organisation of my assignments because if
writing is well organised you can have good grades easily” (IS6)
A few also added that they depended on the internet to organise their writing because it is the
main source of providing guidelines. Interviewee IS19 complained about not having proper
guidance for academic writing, and said that:
“As internet usage is increasing day by day and a big source of information
throughout the world I get all the guidance from internet to manage my writing work
because I am very conscious to pass with good marks and I do not have proper
guidance how to write. Teachers on the one hand never encourage us for quality
writing but on the other side sometime they do not accept what we have written our
own. This is very strange for students.”
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The majority of the participants who reported strategic approaches directly linked them to
getting good marks in their assignments and exams. However it has been suggested in the
research literature (Byrne et al., 2002; Diseth & Martinsen, 2003) that higher grades are
achievable by using the kind of strategic approaches mentioned above.
4.3.2.2. Time management
Time management is another main factor which is reported by students those take achieving
approaches to their writing. For example:
“I try to write like academics and for this I follow some books and my main strategy
are to focus on managing the time to meet my deadlines and this motivates me for
study” (IS11)
“For me the most important thing is to complete work in time. Some students do not
care for deadlines but for me time management is main thing” (IS29)
Some students on the other hand, also highlighted the rude behaviours of some of their
teachers when speaking about their writing approaches in the British universities as follows:
“I think we all (students) try to submit our assignments in time but sometime if there
is misshapen by GOD, some teachers react very rudely and this is not only case in
my back home country but in the UK as well, which is very painful sometime.
Teachers should be polite in those cases” (SR-S2)
It is of no wonder in the teacher-centred authoritative teaching environment but looks at odds
with student-centred pedagogical settings. This clearly supports the argument of Ho (2001),
who has noted that such kinds of behaviours de-motivate students and move them towards
surface learning approaches rather than deep ones.
4.3.3. Students who take deep writing approaches
Unlike the students who have been reported above in terms of taking surface and achieving
approaches to writing, some international students talked about their interests in wide reading
and research as follows:
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4.3.3.1. Being interested in wider reading in order to seek meanings
Seventeen per cent (17%) of the student participants reported that they preferred to undertake
wide reading and researching from different angles in order to seek meanings, which is a clear
indication of a “deep” approach. Self-reported student (S-RS3) pointed out that: “mostly I like
to consult with broad reading before writing because I am too much interested to present
meaningful ideas not the chunks of information. I also prefer to copy Western style writing.”
Similarly, interviewee IS14 always tried to understand the material in-depth to find out the
hidden issues:
“Think really deep to understand what the material is about to find out the hidden
issues. I just prefer reading books and articles. That helps me a lot. Actually I am
always interested in wide range of reading and then think about it with different
angles. Its best approach towards writing I think.”
This supports the view of Duran et al., (2005) that progression from the passive to the active
learner and from a surface to a deep approach is considered essential and highly appropriate to
higher education, and which was confirmed by another student who said: “reading is the main
part of academic writing, students need to read meaningful text in order to write best essays
otherwise writing is just a piece of writing without attraction and nobody would like to read it
and you won’t be able to compete with other classmates in exams ” (IS15). Others stated:
“If one’s wants to write comprehensive essays or assignments, they need to read lots
of material and especially when students move here in UK because academic writing
demands too much reading” (S-RS27).
“It is important to read much material and search internet to compare and contrast
different concepts to use your thinking differently and critically” (S-RS6).
A deep learner can easily transfer and connect different learning concepts according to their
knowledge and understanding (Draper, 2009), and other studies have also found links
between “learning approaches and academic achievements” (Jones et al., 2003; Mattick et al.,
2004).
4.3.3.2.
Being critical and thoughtful about ideas and information
On the other hand, only 7% of the students preferred to be critical and thoughtful before
writing any ideas or presenting information. Criticality has consistently been associated with
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deep approaches (Egege & Koteleh, 2004; Cosgrove, 2009) but, disappointingly, only a few
participants reported this kind of approach towards writing academically. The students’
responses were as follows:
“In my point of view, writing should be more innovative and critical. Although it is
not required from the learners to show critical thoughts about an issues, but
personally I like to write such way because everything we read is not trustworthy so
we need to be careful before writing” (IS16).
“Students are not motivated for thinking creatively, may be they are not encouraged
for this from their teachers like me, but at least they should try to be critical to cope
with writing problems in higher level of studies especially in English universities
like England etc.” (IS34).
Another student mentioned that it is best to be critical because then you can analyse from
different perspectives: “Thinking deeply and critically helps to analyse with different angles
on things. The more you have ideas you can write well comparatively” (S-RS21). Leung and
Kember (2003) argue that there is a significant relationship between being critical and deep
approaches.
4.3.3.3.
Understanding thoroughly
From examining the students’ responses, it was determined that 11% of the participants,
preferred to understand the material thoroughly before writing. Understanding the underlying
theories is another approach to deep learning (Bryne et al., 2002). Interviewee IS13 stated:
“Every time I try to understand different ideas and then summarize to utilize them in my
writing.” Another international student, S-RS4, emphasized cultural aspects in enhancing
critical thinking skills, and this approach was mentioned by other respondents as well: “I
prefer to join forums like English forums to talk about different culture to understand new
information and relate it with my previous ideas is the best way to think critically, and then
we can use our analytical thinking in our writing with many different angles.” Further
examples of responses include:
“Academic writing is not just to put everything in it but it is very formal in nature so
I think we should understand the hidden issues of every matter we read or try to
write afterwards” (S-RS47).
“In-depth understanding is the best way to show your reflective thoughts. Only
reading without understanding does not mean and then you cannot write
appropriately at the university level” (IS13).
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It can be seen that the students who prefer deep approaches to their writing held higher-order
motivation to learning and they see academic writing not just routine process but the
development of arguments and justifications of the evidences. These approaches follow the
line of Scardamalia and Bereiter’s (1991) views, who promote constructive approaches to
learning rather than informative. The data presented above is unique in terms of identifying
students’ approaches to academic writing in a large sample of non-English speaking students,
and shows the practical nature of their approaches in the cultural-educational context.
4.4.
Discussion of results
Assessing international (mainly Asian) students’ conceptions of CT and comparing them with
those of their Western counterparts has been the focus of many recent studies, such as Lun
(2010), Jones (2005) and, Phillips and Bond (2004). On the other hand, although other studies
such as Huang (2006) have explored the CT conceptions of both students and teachers at
postgraduate level, this study differs from those previous studies in the way that it not only
explores the conceptions of international students, but also those of their British teachers, in
order to find out the differences and similarities regarding general conceptions, values and
cultural-educational context. Both the samples, of students and teachers, articulated
conceptions of CT which revealed varying degrees of understanding. Both the samples
seemed to hold similar views about the nature of CT in terms of the skills dimension, but the
students could not acknowledge the dispositional dimension of CT; this could lead them to a
disparate articulation of CT, which is called a “tick-box approach” (Cosgrove, 2009), where a
student understands CT in a formulaic way with limited potential for applying it in practice.
In relation to the SOLO taxonomy of learning, students’ conceptions of CT are more related
to the lower levels, which use terminology such as recite (remember things), paraphrase,
identify, name, count, enumerate, describe, classify etc.
On the other hand, Durkin (2008) suggests that learning to think critically is a learning
journey and equally applicable to all students. Starting points may be different for students of
different cultures, but achievements are usually based on the requirements of the educational
context. Meanwhile, the conceptions of the teachers in the present study were clearly
associated with upper levels of SOLO taxonomy and seemed focused on a broader level of
understanding of the significance of the CT terminology they were using. These differences in
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perception between the samples might help in assessing the cultural and universal
understanding of CT.
In addition to the students’ and tutors’ conceptions of what CT is, both the samples (of
students and tutors) seemed to place a high value on the higher order competence to compare,
relate, analyze, apply theory, explain in terms of cause and effect, generalize, hypothesize,
criticize, theorize, etc in terms of the development of CT for university study (see also Howe,
2004). Students and tutors appreciated the importance of having skills of analysis, evaluation,
synthesising, referencing and concluding in order to produce quality academic writing. CT
also provides the lens to engage with ideas intellectually. Most importantly, both the samples
reported in their interviews that CT skills are the main assessment criteria for academic
writing. However, cross-cultural differences were also observed in terms of CT awareness; for
example, the majority of the participants who were newcomers were not aware at all, or had
very poor conceptions, of CT, while the students who were doing their second or third
degrees in the UK were somewhat more aware of the term CT. It is, therefore, argued that the
students’ conceptions of CT might have been influenced by the UK educational culture which
places a great importance to the higher order-thinking skills.
The findings of the present study show that all the non-Western students (included in the
present study), not just Asian students as discussed by Durkin (2008) and Jones (2005), are
equal to adapting to the conventions of different educational cultures. As explored in the
present study, although the international students and English teachers were different in terms
of their conceptualisation, the students might still be capable approaching CT skills in their
writing for their courses of study. This speculation has been developed to resolve the next
research question by demonstrating students’ approaches to writing. Investigation of students’
writing approaches is an essential component of educational practices, because it offers
opportunities for the students to show how they have learnt, and in order to promote transfer
of knowledge. The results suggested that surface approaches to writing were the preference of
the majority of the non-Western students, regardless of their nationality. Exploratory
questions were used to emphasise the significance of using CT as a writing approach, yet the
majority of the students were found to utilize or prefer to utilize non-critical and rote-learning
approaches. Consequently, it was not surprising to find their performance lower in terms of
academic writing. According to Brabrand & Dahl (2008), surface learning implies that the
student is confined to performance at the lower SOLO levels, where the student does not have
any kind of understanding, but instead uses irrelevant information and/or misses the point
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altogether. Scattered pieces of information may have been acquired, but they are unorganized,
unstructured and essentially void of actual content or relation to a topic or problem.
Previous studies also showed a positive correlation between students’ approaches and
academic performance (e.g., Bowles, 2000; Collins & Onwuegbuzie, 2000). The current
investigation is important in demonstrating that the students’ approaches were a significant
and predictable variable in their academic writing performance, regardless of the effect of
other cultural and educational barriers. More importantly, the students’ writing approaches
differed in relation to the extent to which they had adopted British academic culture, and it
appeared that only a few of the students were motivated to apply CT approaches for academic
writing purposes. This clearly conflicted with the expected and suggested critical thinking
approach of UK HE system that place higher importance on the development of CT skills, and
where it is reasonable to expect that terms related to the upper two levels of SOLO taxonomy
is more likely for deep learning outcomes. The QAAs’ description of CT articulates the
expected outcomes for university level students as follows:
•
To evaluate arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts critically in
order to make judgements, and to frame appropriate questions to
achieve a solution to a problem.
•
To communicate information, ideas and problems appropriately and
effectively.
•
To deal with complex issues systematically and creatively, to make
sound judgements and to communicate their conclusions clearly.
•
To demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving
problems (2008: p. 15-25).
The extracts above provide the new learning context for these students from a non-nativespeaking background, and their approaches to writing at the higher level of education seem
unable to meet the UK HE ideals. It is evident from the literature (see Chapter Two) that UK
HE places much emphasis on CT development for the four language skills generally and for
writing particularly. The present findings have also increased and enhanced knowledge by
investigating the direct relationship between students’ writing approaches and their academic
writing performance. Previous literature has investigated the link between surface learning
approaches and lower outcomes, and linked deep learning approaches with higher quality
learning outcomes, for example Prosser and Trigwell (1999), and a significant positive
139
relationship has been observed between deep-processing learning approaches and CT skills
(Gadzella et. al., 1997; Egege & Koteleh, 2004).
Interestingly, students with achieving or strategic strategies demonstrated both higher and
lower CT skills. This drew our attention to the findings of the study of Williams and Worth
(2003), who noted that note-taking is a study habit and does not have any relationship to CT
abilities, and suggested that students could engage in effective study skills regardless of their
CT abilities. In another study, by Williams and Stockdale (2003), it was found that even
students with a lower level of CT skills perform better at times. Nevertheless, it seems that
encouraging students to engage in deep-processing learning, with the goal of cultivating their
CT skills, is highly desirable. On the other hand, students who reported their preference for
utilizing deep approaches were able to perform at upper SOLO levels, in which the student
can understand relations between several aspects, has the competence to compare, relate,
analyze, apply and generalize structure beyond what was given, to perceive structure from
many different perspectives, and to transfer ideas to new areas (Biggs, 2003). These were the
students who had already completed their first degree in the UK; therefore, it can be argued
that their writing approaches might have been somehow influenced by the British educational
culture. This was also observed when a moderate number of the non-Western participants
were not even aware of the term of CT (answered in the first research question). These
findings further indicated the international students’ adaptive nature (see also Durkin 2008 &
Elander, 2002).
The present study suggests that CT approaches could be the remedy for the students’ writing
problems. As the development of CT skills is the main outcome of university level education
(e.g. Pither & Soden, 2000), the findings show that this development involves deepprocessing learning and deep approaches. The findings also appear logical, as non-Western
educational culture discourages students’ CT approaches, and it is suggested that behavioural
adaptation to the UK academic context might help to overcome the students’ experiences of
difficulties in writing at the higher level of education. For instance, senior students (second or
third degree in the UK) showed greater interest in deep learning than did the beginners (first
degree in the UK), and this was because of the practice of the behavioural norms of the UK
educational culture. Williams et al., (2003) also found international students scoring more
highly at the end of a psychology course than at the beginning. Therefore, it is important to
highlight that, due to the explicit nature and practice of such academic conventions, nonEnglish speaking students can learn to apply CT approaches regardless of their cultural
140
backgrounds. The implications in this situation are that international student’s previous
learning backgrounds must be considered in assessing their CT skills.
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CHAPTER 5: IDENTIFICATION OF THE CRITICAL THINKING
PROBLEM AREAS OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
5.1. Introduction
It was ascertained from the reviewed literature that one of the main goals of UK higher
education is to foster in university students the capacity for the expression of critical
perspectives on received knowledge. Argumentation, proof and justification, and critical
analysis are all vital components of the UK academic tradition (Soden & Maclellan, 2004),
which are the reflection of higher order cognitive engagement in relation to the SOLO
learning domain. On the other hand, previous research has reported that faculty members with
experience of teaching international students have reported dissatisfaction because of the lack
of critical thinking (CT) expressed in the texts produced by international students (Huang,
2006; Kim, 2003; Kumaravadivelu, 2003). These studies have illustrated the fact that the
problems are especially acute for students coming from non-English speaking backgrounds,
where cultures encourage highly traditional views of authority and do not support critical and
analytical thinking (Jones et al., 1999). This perception has also served as the basis to argue
that deep-level learning may not be encouraged and practised in international culturaleducational context. However, there has been little recognition of the students’ own reflection
on their initial CT-related problems, their struggle to deal with the dominant academic writing
conventions and the possible underlying reasons for the difficulty.
The present chapter not only identifies a specific area of critical thinking problems, but also
addresses the possible causes underlying them. The participants were asked the following
questions: 1) what are the initial CT-related academic writing problems experienced by
international students? And 2) what are the inhibiting factors to fostering international
students’ CT skills? This chapter presents the findings from the interviews, self-reports and a
case study of fifteen teachers and one hundred and five students described in Chapter Three.
The case study was conducted in the department of Education and Professional Development
at the University A, in order to triangulate documentary evidence, and to support the other
inquiry tools (Burgess et al., 2006). The case study was included the analysis of written
samples of five Chinese international students enrolled on a B Ed degree, together with the
feedback comments of three of their tutors. The case study was categorised as ‘instrumental’,
which is a type of study used to accomplish something other than understanding a particular
142
situation. It provides insight into an issue or helps to refine a theory. This case is of secondary
interest, which plays a supportive role in facilitating our understanding of the issues. This
kind of case is often examined in depth, its context is scrutinized, its ordinary activities are
detailed, and it is used because it helps the researcher pursue the external interest. The case
may or may not be seen as typical of other cases (Stake, 1995, cited in Baxter & Jack, 2008:
p. 549).
Thematic approach was used to analyse the case study results. For example all the written
samples were coded, and themes were generated, reviewed and named in order to write the
results. A table of descriptive statistics of frequencies and percentages was produced and then
supplemented with students’ written extracts as well as their interviews and self-reported
responses afterwards. Abeyasekera, et al., (2000) has stated that such approaches to qualitative
data presentation and analysis are meaningful to draw meaningful results. As the case study is
based on the limited nature of sample, analysis would be illustrative rather than conclusive.
Similar data analyses and data presentation methods were applied on students’ and teachers’
interviews as well as students’ self-reports. The results of a case study were then combined
with these interviews and students’ self-report responses, in order to contrast their views with
the actual CT-related initial problems found in the students’ written samples. Qualitative
methods were chosen in order to get deeper insight with the teachers’ and students’ views and
to determine an in-depth examination of the effects of the different cultural-educational
context on the phenomenon as follows:
5.2. Initial critical thinking-related academic writing problems experienced
by international students
This section presents an overview as well as the holistic picture of the analysis of the
students’ and teachers’ perspectives, as shown below.
5.2.1. Students’ problems: an overview
Students’ written samples yielded the following results: as academic writing is often seen as
“culturally determined” in previous research (Belcher & Connor, 2001; Li, 2006), the research
questions set out to identify international students’ problems in coping with academic writing
in an “unfamiliar” and “intellectually independent” academic environment. All five
participants seemed to experience great challenges in the following major aspects of CT: 1)
143
clarity of writing; 2) critical analysis; 3) logical organisation; 4) supporting evidence; 5)
precision and drawing conclusions. The following evidence (either teacher’s comment or
mentioned words) of the lack of CT was identified and analysed as follows:
Table 5.1: Evidence of the lack of CT in international students’ written samples
Evidence of the lack
C-SS1
C-SS2
C-SS3
C-SS4
C-SS5
Frequency
Percentage
Lack of clarity
16
12
18
13
15
74
21.8
Lack of critical
23
16
19
19
11
88
25.9
17
14
14
15
13
73
21.5
15
11
9
10
8
53
15.6
16
9
7
12
7
51
15.0
Frequency
87
62
67
69
54
339
100%
Percentage
25.6
18.2
19.7
20.3
15.9
100%
Total
of CT
analysis
Lack of logical
reasoning
Lack of supporting
evidence
Lack of precision&
concluded thoughts
It is shown above that in total, 339 indications of the lack of CT were identified from the five
students’ written samples. The incidences of evidence related to the lack of clarity were 74 in
total; those related to the lack of critical analysis were 88; those suggesting a lack of logical
reasoning were 73, and those related to the lack of supporting evidence and the lack of
precision & drawing conclusions were 53 and 51 respectively.
Results of the students’ interviews and self reports indicated the following: that the problems
due to the lack of CT reported by students were categorised into four broad themes, namely:
lack of critical analysis; lack of critical evaluation; difficulty in clarifying meaning, and lack
of supporting evidence or proper referencing, as shown in Table 5.2:
Table 5.2: International students’ CT-related writing problems: the students’
perspectives
Description
Frequency
Lack of critical analysis
Lack of critical evaluation
Lack of clarifying meanings
Lack of supporting evidence
Total
144
61
72
57
83
92
%
66.3
78.2
61.9
90.0
100
A total of 92 students out of 100 reported their writing difficulties clearly. The majority of the
respondents (66%) reported that critical analysis was usually lacking in their academic
writing. 78% of the respondents reported that they felt unable to evaluate material critically,
while 61% admitted that they faced problems in clarifying meanings. Furthermore, 90% of the
participants stated that they encountered problems with providing appropriate evidence. The
remaining 8 students comprised those who either considered themselves good critical thinkers,
or who responded with “Do not know” or said they were unable to think critically.
The tutors’ interviews yielded the following results: all fifteen (15) teachers admitted that their
students found great challenges with using CT in academic writing. In answer to the question
of what the international students’ CT-related writing problems were, and how they (the
teachers) would identify the lack of CT in the students’ written work, they replied as shown
below:
Table 5.3: International students’ CT-related writing problems: the English-language
teachers’ perspectives
Description
Lack of clarity and
understanding what is expected
Lack of critical analysis
Lack of critical evaluation
Poor referencing
Total
Frequency
%
9
60.0
14
12
10
15
93.3
80.0
66.6
100
Table 5.3 shows that 60% of the teacher participants pointed out problems with students’ lack
of clear understanding of what is required of them; 93%, on the other hand, said that students
lacked critical analysis in their writing, and lack of critical evaluation and interpretation was
reported by 80% participants. Similarly, 80% responded that international students were
unable to provide proper evidence to support their arguments or to make value judgements,
while 66% found that poor referencing was the common problem of international students due
to the lack of CT. The CT-related writing problems found in the students’ written sample, the
interviews/self reports and the tutors’ interviews were further merged with each other as
follows.
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5.2.2. Students’ problems: the
th holistic picture
Analysis of the students’ and
nd teachers’ perspectives suggested a more complicated
c
picture
than reported in previous stud
tudies. They further explain that students’ wri
riting usually seems
vague when they are askedd tto write. They also suggest that this might
ght be because these
elements of CT are pervasive
ive ideas of the Western communication style
yle. The specific and
direct effect of the lack of CT was significant and clear, indicating
ng that the culturaleducational context of learning
ing is an important factor in poor CT performa
mance. The problems
observed were similar among
ngst almost all the non-Western participants,
ts, regardless of their
age, gender, level of education
ion, nationality or subject speciality. The stude
dents’ problems were
categorised into five main aspe
spects of CT.
5.2.2.1. Lack of clarity
This concerns the clarification
on of the meanings of thoughts, ideas, assumpt
ptions or arguments,
and was found to be one of the
th major issues of concern, not only in alll fi
five of the students’
written samples, but also ass reported
r
in the students’ interviews, self-rep
reports and teachers’
interviews. This coincides wi
with the views of Facione (1990) and Lillis
is and Turner (2001)
which emphasise the lack of ability to clarify meanings, purposes, idea
eas and information.
Frequently articulated commen
ents were: “I am not sure I understand it, wha
hat are you saying?”,
“Be clearer, can you give m
me an example?”, “Can you explain it furt
urther?”, “Could not
understand what you mean” an
and “Explain a bit more”, etc. Some of the extracts
ex
(copied from
the students’ assignments) are
re given below to exemplify their writing diff
ifficulties in terms of
clarity in university level writi
iting:
Figure 5.1: [C-SS1, example
le taken from research method chapter, p. 5]
146
Figure 2 above shows that C-S
SS1 is having difficulty in explaining the val
validity and reliability
of the sample selection for her project and does not seem to be clear in connecting
co
the reason
given to the validity. Though
gh C-SS1 gave quite good reasons for validi
idity, the explanation
lacked connection between th
those reasons and validity. The teacher, on the
th other hand, also
marked appreciation of the las
last sentence, in order to motivate the student. Another
A
extract was
taken from C-SS2’s assignme
ments. This student also encountered a simila
ilar kind of difficulty
while communicating about th
the characteristics of curriculum resources in China,
C
for example:
Figure 5.2: [C-SS2, literature
re review section, p. 10]
at Chinese curriculum resources have specific
ic characteristics, and
The writer here has stated that
has also mentioned “Shantou”
u” as one of the cities in China which have benefited
be
from those
resources as well. But soon aafter this, the writer began another sentence
ce without clarifying
where those resources come from,
fr
which would leave the reader wondering
ing. Similar problems
can also be seen in the writing
ing of C-SS4. This writer probably wanted too w
write about the role
and importance of the hotell industry
in
in the Chinese market, but seemedd unable
u
to explain it
adequately, as shown below in figure 3:
Figure 5.3: [C-SS4, literature
re review chapter, p. 2]
Insufficient clarity was an obv
bvious flaw: this has been defined as the use of meaningless words
or expressions, or language wh
which is ambiguous (Caroll, 2002). Similarly,
y, in weaker pieces of
writing, arguments were usua
ually given without explanation. As writing is called a mirror of
147
one’s thoughts, academic writing should be written clearly and cohesively (Hyland, 2003).
Similar kinds of weaknesses were reported by other student and teacher participants. IS2, IS14
and S-RS39 reported that a lack of clarity of ideas was their main problem, for example:
“Being an international student, I have many writing problems in analysis and
arguments but the main problem in my writing which is often pointed out by
my tutor is clarifying what I meant and what I wanted to write” (IS23).
“I try my best to formulate ideas according to my teachers’ expectations but
when I write down those ideas; they look vague to the readers” (S-RS17).
The findings of the present study support the views of Fujioka (2001) and Izzo (2001), which
have identified the fact that international students encounter more CT difficulties than lexical
problems. Some of the students linked their lack of clarity to writing in English as a second
language; for example, one student said: “I was used to write in Urdu in my home country so
when I came here I could not think in English. My mind always thinks in Urdu and then
translates it into English and this is why I am unable to make my ideas clear” (IS33).
Similarly, T13 thinks that the problem may be the difference between the language they are
using to think in and the language they are asked to write their assignment in. She stated:
“I think that some students who are weak at writing in English may well be
able to think critically in Mandarin or Cantonese, but may not be able to
express the complexity of their thoughts in the target language of English. I
think that sometimes these students have written their assignment first in their
home language and then tried to translate it, and that for a variety of reasons,
does not allow them to convey the quality of their thinking in English: an awful
lot gets lost in translation.”
Consequently, international students are regularly criticised by UK academics due to their lack
of CT (Huang, 2006). According to T9, the method of working in the new educational
environment is basically difficult for the international students; they can never produce critical
text until they are able to understand what is required. He stated: “I think they are very new
skills for almost all of the international students; the basic problem is that they cannot
understand what is required, such as clarity of thoughts, critical analysis and critical
evaluation.” When asked about how he would find evidence of CT in students’ written work,
he explained;
148
“I think in students’’ written
w
work I would be looking to see if I can obs
observe that
they have written the
th text clearly in their own words, so thatt they can
understand the text and
an not just parodying the text”
Interviewee T1 also pointed oout similarly, that: “one of the great problems
ms is they need to be
able to write clearly, evaluate
te the
t text critically and able to predict what is going
g
to be there to
make links. They need to bee able
a
to summarize properly and logically in order to reach to a
sound judgment of the issue
ues.” Clarity was also considered one of the eight intellectual
standards identified by Paul and
an Elder (2008), in order to assess one’s thoug
oughts.
5.2.2.2. Lack of critical analys
lysis
Critical analysis is another highly
h
demanding CT skill required to mee
eet the standards of
academic writing, which inclu
cludes examining ideas and identifying and analysing
an
arguments
(Facione, 1990). To analyse cr
critically, students need the ability to organise
ise their arguments in
a systematic and logical way, presenting information in a critical manner and
an giving their own
voices (opinions/views/argum
ments), and this was reported to be another
her main problem in
students’ writing. Some of th
the extracts which show a lack of critical analysis
an
in students’
writing are given below. For
or example, C-SS1 is stating the reasons why
hy HRM practice is
necessary, but she is lacking her
h own voice while referring to other works:
Figure 5.4: [C-SS1, literature
re review chapter, p. 5]
on of the important aspects of writing whic
ich is a concern for
Showing critical voices is one
teachers. Students seemed un
unable to present their own independent voic
ices in writing. This
problem is continuously pointe
inted out by their teachers, by asking: “Could you
y say bit more by
giving reasons?”, “Could youu follow up your thinking/arguments on the implication?”,
im
“What
are the similarities and differe
rences?” and “Could you comment critically?”
y?” etc. C-SS3 had to
149
analyse the teaching-learningg methods
m
in public and private schools in Chi
hina, but skipped the
most important information in this way:
Figure 5.5: [C-SS3, data ana
nalysis chapter, p. 16]
The teacher commented that
at the student should keep going by giving m
more explanation in
order to justify her arguments
nts. A similar kind of inability to analyse from
om the student’s own
point of view can be seen in C-SS4’s writing. Although critical analysis
sis has been strongly
emphasised in previous litera
erature, as well as in government policy doc
ocuments (Ramsden,
2007; QAA, 2008), it is not
otable from the students’ written drafts thatt they do not have
sufficient skills of analysis, for example:
Figure 5.6: [C-SS4, data ana
nalysis chapter, p. 4]
C-SS4 has compared the eval
valuation process by Helena and Betty, but fa
fails to provide any
critical commentary about the
he evaluation process in her analysis. Presentin
ting one’s own voice
in a critical manner is a vitall aspect
a
of academic writing pedagogy (Scanlo
nlon, 2006), but great
numbers of respondents report
orted this as a problem. For example, IS2 thou
ought that “The main
150
problem we people face in academic writing is explaining ideas and express them in own
words and formulate our arguments on the basis of that analysis.” While some students
reported their inability to examine different ideas and compare different authors’ points of
view, the majority of the responses also show that they were unaware of such practices in
their home countries. This was also strongly pointed out by the English teachers; for example,
T5 reported that “Students’ written work should be analytical rather than descriptive; they
should explain what is right and what is wrong on the basis of evidence, not simply describe
the process.” Some students view their problem as shown below:
“To analyse the different point of views in order giving the reasoned argument
is main writing problem for me and my teacher mostly commented with lack of
critical analysis” (IS19).
“In academic writing you don’t just write but you really need to analyse
critically with pros and cons before giving you own argument which is very
difficult for me to handle in my assignments” (S-RS8).
Problems with the lack of analytical skills not only hindered the international students’
academic writing development, but also led them towards failure in meeting “institutional
literacy expectations” (Zhu, 2004). One student stated: “I am very weak in analysis and this is
the reason I always get less marks in my assignments” (S-RS26). Similarly, IS3 reported that:
“I did not get good grades in my assignments because of the lack of enough critical analysis
and this is very stressful for me as I am already facing homesickness.” Students also explain
the reasons behind this as follows:
“I think the main problem is critical analysis in terms of examining one’s ideas
to sort out that which point arguments should build in and then you make sure
your judgement that should I stay here and why I should not stay there. What
kinds of shortcoming and limitations you need to handle because it is a cultural
problem for us” (S-RS22).
Similar reasons were stated by T11, for example: “the main problem from my experience is
that they may not be aware and understand what critical thinking is. They are not used to
doing such kind of tasks before, so it is difficult for them to understand what is actually
required for academic writing,” while a powerful description was given by the CST3 in these
words:
“One of the main problems of international students in demonstrating critical
thinking is that they may not realise what it actually requires of them. They are
expected to do it, but what it is they are expected to do is often not explained or
151
demonstrated. It can
an in fact be difficult to explain and guide students
stu
in
developing this skill,
ll, but once it is made clear to them what is requi
uired, most
international students
ts can (within their own academic abilities) apply
ly it. When
students have been raised
ra
in a society that is largely centrally contro
trolled, and
where challenging bbureaucracy and the ideas from the centre ar
are overtly
discouraged, it can bbe very difficult for international students to ‘switch
‘sw
on’
such ability and to limit
lim its application to an academic context.”
Although students and teache
hers view the characteristic features of critic
tical writing such as,
inferential relationships amon
ong statements, concepts and ideas; examining
ing ideas; identifying
arguments, and analysing arg
rguments etc., all of which are highly necess
essary to achieve the
purpose of university level ac
academic writing, their statements also suppor
port the arguments of
Casanave (2002) and Lun (20
2010), who have viewed academic writing as culturally-specific.
In similar vein, T2 reportedd that “most of the students write about the
he topics rather than
analyse the topic assessing it critically,
c
so the biggest problem for students
nts.” These responses
are worrying because this may
m
result in students’ “emotional and pphysical” stress, as
discussed by Braine (2002).
5.2.2.3. Lack of critical evalua
luation
Evaluation is the process of weighing
w
up the strengths and weakness of a lo
logical argument, or
the robustness of evidence sup
upporting an argument or theory, or the extent
nt to which evidence
does actually support the argum
gument it is attached to (Paul & Elder, 2006).. Therefore,
T
students’
written work should be highly
hly relevant and logically organised according
ng to the themes of a
given topic or task, and key co
concepts should be presented in a clear and comprehensible
co
way
in order to identify the signifi
ificant issues. The lack of such skills is obvio
vious in the students’
writing sample, for example:
Figure 5.7: [C-SS2, introduc
uction section, p. 4]
152
The studies referred to above
ve also suggest that linking theories to practi
ctice is an important
component of CT. Similar view
iews can be seen in the teacher’s comment onn the writing draft of
C-SS3, as below:
Figure 5.8: [C-SS3, research
ch method chapter, p. 2]
Arguments must be followed
ed by the supporting evidence in effective and
a logical writing
(Durkin, 2008), but this was
as largely found to be missing in the studen
dents’ work. Logical
organisation is not simply giv
iving reasons for the arguments, but also the
he ability to maintain
sentences and paragraphs in a logical order as well. Another example of the lack of logical
organisation can be seen in C--SS5’s writing:
Figure 5.9 [C-SS5, conclusion
ion section, p. 22]
In academic writing, students
nts need to possess a certain level of critica
tical evaluation skill,
because this is one of the four
ur key academic writing criteria (Elander et al.,
al 2006). However,
a significant number of partic
rticipants reported that they had problems in terms of assessing
arguments, ideas, claims or assumptions, and also with comparingg the strengths and
weaknesses of different perspe
spectives and drawing credible conclusions. Fo
For example: “I don’t
understand how to evaluate my
m arguments and statements to judge whatt is
i right and what is
153
wrong in order to make decisions” (S-RS23). Other participants also reported their problems
regarding a lack of critical evaluation, for example:
“In our assignments we have to make compares and contrast of each idea so it
seems hard to me to explain and express the information with many different
angles which is my main writing problem” (IS18).
“Judging the strengths and weaknesses of the argument either my own or other
authors, in order to assess its credibility is one of my weak points and
sometime it makes me stress to handle it” (S-RS41).
Failure to demonstrate evaluative skills is also common with domestic group of students but
international students drew our attention to the important cultural issue of unfamiliarity with
UK academic conventions. This clearly supports the view of Braine (2002), who claims that
international students are not adequately prepared for Western academic life. For example:
“My teacher always comments on my assignments drafts with the “lack of
proper evaluation, give strong arguments to support your views and evaluate
critically etc”, but I do not know actually how to do evaluation and formulate
proper arguments because I never taught about evaluate critically and basically
I was never been asked such kind of writing in my home country but in the UK,
it is one of the main writing requirements I think, so it is my main problem”
(IS27).
The above responses from the students’ interviews and self-reports were interrelated with
those of the English teachers’ views. T3 reported that: “the main problem of international
students is to form the systematic arguments and critical analysis, and it is in my point of view
just because of their culture, that does not encourage such kind of thinking. I think there is
need to transfer more formal setting that everything that published is not necessarily true.”
This was supported by Bizzell (1982), cited in Kelley (2008), who notes that deficiencies in
students’ previous writing training can hamper their abilities to succeed in the Western
academic environment. The students also further suggested that critical evaluation should be
taught explicitly, because sometimes students are unable to understand the meanings clearly.
For example, S-RS36 stated that “I am unable to “evaluate critically” as my teacher comment
usually, but actually I do not know what is critical evaluation and how to do it and this is
worrying situation for me.” Similarly, another reported:
“For me, main problem in writing my assignment is to evaluate all the good
and bad points critically and to provide trustworthy summaries on the basis of
our arguments. My teachers always comment like “poor arguments”, “evaluate
154
critically”, “lack off your own judgements about the issues” andd “lack of
alternatives” etc, but
ut you know majority of us do not know prope
perly about
those feedback comm
ments. I think teachers should first teach us abou
out critical
evaluation rather than
an ask to do it” (IS14).
Some other students argued th
that: “critical evaluation is not only difficultt but
b very complex in
nature so how can we do that?
at?” (IS40). This supports the view of Elander
er et al., (2006), who
also suggests that evaluationn is
i a complex skill. Supporting the above argu
rgument, CST2 stated
that she used the university’s
’s honours marking sheet as follows: “I’m usin
sing my judgement to
identify the extent to whichh the
t student has produced writing that puts
ts forward a coherent
logical argument with critical
al commentary relevant to the chosen assignm
nment title; using the
marks sheet helps to ensure
re that my ‘A’ is comparable with otherr tutors’
t
“A’ grade.”
Therefore, familiarising stude
dents with the assessment criteria could bee very beneficial, in
fostering their CT skills.
5.2.2.4. Lack of supporting evidence
ev
Another highly important consideration
con
in relation to CT, and one whi
hich should help to
prevent students from commi
mitting plagiarism, is the development of the
he ability to provide
proper evidence in support
rt of arguments. Students may not alwayss appreciate that an
argument which is not suppor
orted by any reliable evidence is just an opinio
inion and cannot be a
claim (Stapleton, 2001). Lack
ack of supporting evidence was seen as ano
nother common CTrelated problem, as can be see
een in C-SS2’s writing. This student is critiqu
quing teacher-centred
teaching methods, but without
ut supporting evidence, as shown below:
Figure 5.10: [C-SS2, literatur
ture review section, p. 4]
Providing proper evidence not
ot only supports arguments, but also helps too justify
j
arguable and
controversial claims (Stapleton
ton, 2001). He explains that if sufficient eviden
dence is not provided
to support one’s point of view
ew, then the writing will lack a clear direction.
n. Another important
issue of referencing is that only
o
reliable resources should be used as supporting
su
evidence,
155
rather than Wikipedia or simil
ilar, for example. Students may give many re
references to support
their arguments but those shou
ould be well founded. The quotation cited belo
elow is an example of
“un-authoritative web-basedd evidence”
e
evidence, which does not have any
a author’s name,
date or page number etc.
Figure 5.11: [C-SS4, research
rch method chapter, p. 6]
It is important to ignore such
ch kind of references, because they would no
not be acceptable for
academics because of their un
unreliability. As ELT8 stated “I would focuss oon their feeling for
what’s written in an essay or any piece of text, which kind of source ma
material they use and
how they evaluate it.” This shows
sh
that source material matters. A similar
lar problem was also
faced by C-SS5, and the teache
cher commented in this way:
Figure 5.12: [C-SS5, lesson plan,
p
part two, p. 7]
It is characteristic of academic
ic discourse that supporting evidence needs to be logically linked
with arguments, claims or opi
pinion (Scanlon, 2006), a factor which was ignored
ig
by C-SS5 in
the extract shown above. Stu
tudies show that if there is any logical falla
llacy in the evidence
provided, then it does not demonstrate
de
CT, and this happens when a reference does not
support your viewpoints (Dav
avis & Davis, 2000). According to the interv
erviews and the selfreported sample, the studen
ents encountered problems with appropriat
iate referencing, for
example: “problems in referri
rring others’ work” (IS13); “lack of paraphra
rasing others’ ideas”
(IS25); “Lack of supportingg evidence” (S-RS24), and “support yourr vviews with proper
reference” (S-RS37) etc. They
ey also explain how these problems lead them
em to plagiarism, but
the reason is that they are basic
sically unaware of this kind of writing practice
ce. Some stated:
“A main problem tha
that I face in L2 academic writing is to show the
he evidence
properly to justify m
my view point because I do not have guidance
ce to refer
156
others’ work appropriately and in my back home country writing assessment is
totally different from here UK” (IS14).
T4 reported that: “When students are coming through they may not properly reference others
work and sometimes they repeat and copy. They cannot show their own voices, their own
points of view, when they go around the problem to tackle the problem,” which causes them
trouble. Similarly, CST1 stated: “If students gave a reason for making a statement to me that
would be a sign of criticality and if they disagreed with a writer’s point of view and then
justified it with evidence that would be fantastic.”
On the other hand, some students stressed that it was difficult for them to “paraphrase the
other’s quotes and then relate those ideas with their own work” (S-RS40). Another said: “In
my country we are not used to write in our own words because our teachers demand quantity
of writing rather than quality so how can we write longer essays in our own words” (IS42).
Norris (2007) and Hu (2001) also support this view. Another student said:
“Referring other scholars’ work is problematic for me because it is very
different from China. It is considered much respected to pick up the ideas from
good scholars’ work and show it as it is in your writing” (S-RS29).
Similar kinds of reasons behind plagiarism issues in Japanese students’ writing were
examined in the study of Rinnert and Kobyashi (2005). On the other hand, Liu (2005) blames
“linguistic matters” for student’s poor writing skills. Participants’ views in the present study,
however, demonstrate “cultural attribution” for their problems, rather than language issues.
5.2.2.5. Lack of precision and drawing conclusions
According to Paul & Elder (2008), precision includes responding to the following questions:
Could you be more specific? Could you give more detail? Could you be more exact? The
inclusion of precise information while writing academically would persuade readers, but
analysis of the students’ writing in this study shows that they are facing challenges in terms of
making given information specific and summarising it well, for example;
157
Figure 5.13: [C-SS1, research
rch method chapter, p. 3]
In the extract above the stude
dent is attempting to discuss qualitative and qu
quantitative research
methods, but seems unable to specify which methodological approach she
s has used in her
study, and how. This was anot
other main problem found throughout the case
ase study sample, and
imprecision was frequently po
pointed out by their teacher in comments su
such as: “Could you
make it specific?” or “Could
ld you explain a bit more?” This was because
use the students may
have skipped the answers to questions
q
like what, why, how and which? This
Th is obvious from
the written sample of participa
pant C-SS5, an extract of which is given below
w:
Figure 5.14: [C-SS5, conclus
usion section, p. 17]
Academic writing demands the
th ability to make valuable judgements about
ab
what has been
written (Swales, 1990), yet international
in
students show an inability to di
discuss and evaluate
issues from different perspec
ectives, or to explain implications and summ
marise their writing
task, and these issues were highlighted
h
by their teacher. An extract from
rom C-SS3’s written
work is illustrated below:
158
Figure 5.15: [C-SS3, analyses
ses section, p. 9]
These inabilities are directly
ly linked to poor decision-making and judgm
gment. On the other
hand, although these proble
lems were not directly reported by the st
students or teacher
participants, some evidence of
o the interrelatedness of these issues with ot
other problems were
found. For example, IS45 said
id:
“My main writing pr
problems in relation to CT are looking for the reasons
rea
and
justifications for mak
aking a statement or argument in order to draw
raw a valid
conclusion.”
Similarly, T6 responded that
at staff “would like students’ engagement of
o deep and critical
thinking through their interpre
pretations, analysis, synthesis and referencing,
ng,” while T12 stated
that: “How they analyse, synt
nthesise, evaluate, combine and conclude info
formation coherently
and cohesively shows their C
CT.” Another teacher reported wanting to see
se if students could
synthesize the text in their own
wn words, for example:
“Good critical thinkin
king shows in written work for me because it has a clear line
of argument; it is info
formed by wide reading, good level of synthesis,, it
i presents
a balanced and info
nformed set of perspectives, it critically challe
llenges the
concepts in the essa
ssay and can make clear and critical connecti
ctions with
practices, beliefs and
nd values in their own society. They can criticall
ally engage
with the knowledgee and
a evaluate it in the real context of their own countries”
c
(CST1).
Apart from these CT-relatedd w
writing problems, students also mentioned some
so
other problems
related to the use of language
ge, writing structure and writing style, but to analyse these was
beyond the scope of the pre
present study. The National Council for Exc
xcellence in Critical
Thinking Instruction (2003)) cclaims that CT is based on universal intellec
llectual values, which
159
are: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons and
depth. Therefore the lack of these universal intellectual values in students’ writing could lead
to failure in terms of global competition. Of the 8% of the student participants who were
categorised as “others”, two of them responded that they were very good critical thinkers and
did not think they had any problems related to CT, which is an arguable response because
thinking critically is not just thinking, but involves “logical reasoning” (Bailin et al., 1999).
Three participants were unable to identify their CT-related problems in their writing, while
three other students answered with disappointment that thinking critically is very difficult and
they could not do it, which seemed a clear sign of de-motivation.
It is, however, ascertained from the analysis of the present research question that international
students encountered severe writing difficulties due to the absence of CT. The next research
question was sought to identifying barriers which influence students’ writing performance.
5.3. Inhibitions to international students’ critical thinking performance
Academic adjustment is seen one of the main problems of culturally and linguistically diverse
students (Egege & Koteleh, 2004). It was ascertained from the analysis of the above research
question that students were experiencing major difficulties related to CT in academic writing.
These included poor analysis of the arguments, lack of critical evaluation, poor logical
organisation and inability to generate their own ideas, lack of synthesis and poor judgements
and so on. This follows the views as argued by Major (2005) that non-western students always
encountered with difficulties adjusting Western culture where “questioning, criticizing,
refuting, arguing, debating and persuading” are the common learning features (p. 85). Other
studies have also mentioned the factors that influence student cultural adaptation (Campbell,
2008; Mehdizadeh & Scott, 2005), such as; previous learning experiences, cultural values and
beliefs, motivation and language skills (Berno & Ward, 2002). It was therefore, important to
determine the kinds of barriers which are responsible for students’ poor development of
critical thinking and writing at the higher educational level. Influencing factors were identified
in the three broad categories of the themes such as; 1) development of CT, 2) promotion of CT
and 3) application of CT as given below;
160
5.3.1 Factors’ affecting stude
dents’ development of CT
The development of univer
ersity students’ CT appeared consistent with
w
how the CT
development has been emphas
asised in the literature (e.g., Pither & Soden, 2000;
20
Elander. et al.,
2006; Scanlon, 2006; Cosgrov
ove, 2009). The following responses were elic
licited in answered to
the general question of “wha
hat factors affect international students’ dev
evelopment of CT”.
International students as well
ll as English-language staffs’ responses can be classified such as,
1) familial factors which inclu
cluded; parental education, respect of elderss aand parents’ fear of
Childers’ independency and
nd 2) institutional factors included; duall education system,
authoritative learning environ
onment, poor English language foundations and
a lack of enough
efforts from colleges and unive
iversities. Themes are given in the Figure 5.166 below.
Figure 5.16: Concept map of the factors affecting “Development of CT
T”
5.3.1.1. Parents’ educationall background
b
The participants from both stu
tudents as well as tutors’ samples reported that
at parents’ education
is one of the greatest hindranc
nces to the students’ CT development. This is perhaps because of
the limited knowledge and li
limited exposure of the social experiences.
s. Therefore, parents
might feel the need to underst
rstand what a person means and how to evalua
uate ones’ arguments
in order to judge the truth. Both
B
sets of participants (students-tutors) wer
ere agreed upon the
incredible importance of thee development
d
of CT because; it is essential pa
part of the university
study in UK (T2), it is centra
tral to academic writing (T5), CT is the core
re writing assessment
criteria (CST3), without CT one
o cannot judge what to believe or not (IS6
IS6), without CT one
cannot get good job (IS32),, C
CT helps to compete with globally (S-RS19
19) etc. Students and
teachers reported as follows:
161
“Initial development and learning of the children’s starts from home so the
development of CT as well but for this purpose parents should be educated enough to
develop CT skills of their kids” (T8)
“For me when I think about my poor CT abilities, it comes in my mind that this may
be because my parents are not much educated. My mother’s education is primary and
father with undergrad so I think they were unable to push me to think critically”
(IS20)
“I think parents are responsible for developing basics of children and one of them
should be thinking critically and creatively. But parents of that time were not
educated enough to accept such behaviours I think” (S-RS47)
The majority of participants reported that CT development starts from home at the early
childhood level and parents are the main source of children’s development at that stage.
Parents’ education was, therefore, cited one of the main factors in the students’ development
of CT.
5.3.1.2. Respect of elders
Students and teachers both revealed that why international students are less critical in their
approaches to study, and respect of the elders was found another main factor in the
development of students’ CT. Responses suggested that passivity is deeply set in the students’
home cultures deeply. They seemed “psychologically dependent on the in-group” (Richmond,
2007), for example;
“The “self revolves” concept is very different in the non-western cultures in my
experiences as I have spent more than 10 years in Asian countries in teaching
international students. Children are expecting not to be out-spoken because of the
elders respect” (T5)
“We are been taught our elders’ respect since our birth so we are not allowed to do
according to our desires basically. This might affect our development of CT as it
involves questioning and critiquing” (T9)
“Interestingly I always have to listening my parents and siblings as I am younger in
the family and the disadvantage is that I am unable to argue them for whatever they
say due to their respect” (S-RS28)
Although responses above support the arguments of Ng (2001), who noted that “the cultural
emphasis on filial piety means that children from traditional Asian families are raised in terms
of whether their conduct meets some external moral criteria e.g. not being rude to one’s
162
parents or not treating them in a disrespectful manner...” (p. 29), the case was found similar of
many other cultures rather than only Asian students.
5.3.1.3. Fear of children’s independency
Some of the student participants also reported that parents in non-Western cultures kept their
children under rigid control because of the fear of their independence. As Ng (2001) argues,
“dependence of the child on the parents is encouraged, and breaking the will of the child, so
as to obtain complete obedience, is considered desirable” (p. 29). Some of the responses are
illustrated as below;
“Actually majority of the parents (especially from rural backgrounds) believe that if
their children would be thinking independently than they might be neglected. These
kinds of beliefs do not students let independent ever and this could be an important
factor in the children’s development of CT” (S-RS41)
“As parents play very important role in the children’s initial development, they could
mould their children’s behaviours and thinking either dependent or independent. This
further might affect their learning the way they brought up” (IS25)
“Elders at home specifically parents want their kids listen them, respect them and do
not make their own decisions so they keep them under control which is bad for their
development” (IS9)
The responses above showed that dependency is emphasised in some cultures rather than selfreliance, in contrast to Western educational theorists who have emphasised “individual
uniqueness” in terms of following their own interests (Richmond, 2007).
5.3.1.4. Dual education system
Institutional factors were also reported by both of the samples in terms of the hindrance of CT
development. Dual education system (such as private and Government education systems)
was found one of them, which might affect students CT development. For example, private
schools are more focused on students’ creativity (IS62), students in private schools are more
active than state schools (IS35), the education system of private schools is good in terms of
quality of education I think (S-RS34). Some of the participants said that;
“In my country (China) two education systems private and GOVT are in
practice. It is general perception that students in private schools are clever
163
and active. One of the reasons is that teachers pay individual attention to the
students but this might an assumption” (S-RS8)
“In Pakistan there are some very good private schools but only elite class can
access them. I personally think that education system is much better in some
private schools not all and they might be well in developing CT as well”
(IS12)
Similar kind of views was seen from one of the teacher such as “elites in Asian countries have
realised that education is more than memorisation therefore, they always send their children
either to the West or to quality private schools” (T6). As Richmond (2007) also noted that
“Western-style private schools have mushroomed in Asian capitals” (p. 3).
5.3.1.5. Authoritative learning environment
Authoritative learning environment in the schools is another main factor emphasised by
students as well as teachers. It is a firm belief in the modern world that learning cannot occur
through solely authoritative approaches (McVeigh, 2002; Richmond, 2007). One of the
participant teachers reported that “I get the feelings that the school system in many countries
doesn’t give students these skills and this may be because of their authoritative nature. Many
students are unable to think even out of their work so this is the root of this problem I think”
(T1). Similarly a student said; “not only home culture but when we start school teacher also
show and keep their full hold on students and same at colleges and university levels. I think
teachers should accept students’ independent point of views. This would help” (S-RS38). It
has been noted that authoritative environments often promote a passive learning environment
which in turn leads to the poor development of analytical thinking in students (Somwung &
Sujiva, 2000). As one of the students pointed out “in schools we are not allowed to ask some
questions because teachers considered this in the misbehaviours. They want us as “yes man”
that is not good for our future learning habits” (IS29).
5.3.1.6. Weak English-language foundations
Performing thinking related tasks is considered to be difficult in second language (Takano &
Noda, 1993; Lun, 2010). Proficiency in the English as a second language was also perceived
one of the leading factors behind international students’ lack of CT in the Western academic
environment (Clifford et al., 2004; Halpern, 2006; Paton, 2005). International students as well
164
as English teachers stated that the weak foundations of English as a second language in the
non-English speaking cultures play an important role in the students’ poor development of
CT. Some of the responses are given below;
“In home country, background of English language was not good at all. We don’t
learn English as a second or dominant language of the world but just to pass it as
compulsory subject in our exams so academic writing is totally a neglected skill so
this may affect in developing CT in second language” (IS10)
“In our English language classes, we were never asked for practice of any of skills in
home country. Our teachers should develop skills including writing and thinking not
simple teaching lessons from books” (S-RS28)
Paul and Elder (2008) noted a strong relationship between positive performance in thinking
and writing. One of the teacher participants extended students’ views in the following words
“I think that some students who are weak at writing in English may well be able to think
critically in Mandarin or Cantonese, but may not be able to express the complexity of their
thoughts in the target language of English. Sometimes these students have written their
assignment first in their home language and then tried to translate it, and that for a variety of
reasons, does not allow them to convey the quality of their thinking in English: an awful lot
gets lost in translation. On the other hand, some students who do not think critically could be
fluent in English in the sense that they can structure sentences and paragraphs, but they could
write mainly descriptive assignments: that’s a different problem” (CST2). This showed the
relation of thinking and writing and language do not perfectly correspond. English language
foundations was indicated as the most powerful and main barrier. This study suggested that
implicit practices and procedures (reported by the students) in the learning process are the
inhibitions to the development of critical writing skills.
5.3.1.7. Lack of enough institutional support
A few students also mentioned that their school, colleges and even universities are not doing
enough to develop students’ study skills both general, and CT skills in particular. For example
one respondent stated; “we do not have good libraries and internet facilities properly like here
in UK, so we just have to consult with course books. At colleges and university levels, at least
enough materials should be available to get information from many different ways” (IS50).
Another student reported; “background was not quite good, main reason for me is like that I
used to study in communication and not education so I need to aware that which kinds of
165
differences and similarities of series behind the education phenomenon that
th is I think across
discipline. I think the way we
w learn language in home country because
se there are a lot of
problems in Chinese Englishh learning
l
because our institutions do not effor
fort to make us aware
of things” (IS3).
5.3.2. Factors affecting the ap
application of CT
Influencing factors were repo
ported not only in the development and prom
motion of CT but in
applying these skills as well.
l. B
Both student and teacher samples held theirr views
v
relatively and
consistently. Both the samples
les found three kinds of factors, namely; 1) fam
amilial factors, which
included fear of confrontation
on; 2) individual fact, which were further cate
ategorised in the two
contexts native and non-nat
native. Native institutional factors included
ed passive learning
environment, lack of CT awa
wareness and lack of valuing CT; on the othe
ther hand, non native
institutional factors included a lack of proper understanding of the concept
pt of CT, differences
in academic conventions andd requirements and language abilities. Related
ted themes are given
below in Figure 3 in order to provide a clear picture of identified catego
gories of influencing
factors;
Figure 5.17: Concept map of the factors affecting “Application of CT”
5.3.2.1. Fear of confrontation
on
Fear of confrontation was fo
found to be the only familial factor whichh was seen as more
important in applying CT at home
ho and which further coincided with the institutional
ins
practices.
This was clearly illustrated by one of the student participants in the follow
owing extract: “home
is the first institution for thee children
c
where they start learning differentt things
th
which shapes
166
their conceptions so the process of the application of critical thoughts also start there but as
we are strongly emphasised to respect of authorities which develops a fear of confrontations
with others when applying argumentative thoughts” (S-RS22). Similarly some other said;
“It is difficult to apply CT easily because we are brought in very passive way and
now even if I am studying in the university but still I am unable to express my
thoughts freely because I feel that might it hurt someone or might it is offensive for
someone to critique his/her thoughts” (IS45)
“We are always taught to be obedient to elders and never argue for anything because
it is rude attitude to other and I think CT can be applied in free, open and friendly
environment not like where children are brought up under tight rules of
obedienceness etc so there is major risk to apply such thinking because of the fear of
confrontations with elders” (IS10)
Some of the participants suggested that there is an urgent need to change students’ beliefs
concerning, and concepts of, CT in order to apply them; “students’ conceptions are developed
differently in non-English speaking countries than UK. Environment there is very congested
in terms that you have to think about many people before speaking something because nobody
likes outspoken persons and similarly the educational environment stick on which is strictly
need to change to form students’ conceptions” (S-RS11).
5.3.2.2. Negative attitudes towards learning
Students’ attitudes towards learning are another factor which could affect their application of
CT negatively as well as positively. As students’ attitudes are strongly linked to learning a
language. According to Karahan (2007: p. 84) “positive language attitudes let learner have
positive orientation towards learning English”. Therefore, attitudes may play a very crucial
role in applying critical thinking abilities in the target language. On the other hand, in the
present study, two of the students also argued that learning depends on students attitudes
totally, because some students do not take learning seriously and just pass their times in the
classes; “let me tell you about one of my friend when I was in middle grades, one of my
friend was used to come to school to escape from house chores and she never tried seriously
to learn something. She was used to bunk the classes and go back home so I think it depends
much on ones’ behaviours and attitudes for learning and especially active learning which
involve CT as well” (IS5). Similarly another said that;
“It is true that our education system promotes passive learning but some students
have quest to explore something new and it does not matter that if you get chance in
167
classroom or not, there are too many ways to apply CT. On the other hand some
students do not like even to think so. They love to pass their times in classes rather
than learning and thinking” (IS33)
This supports the views of McVeigh (2002 who stated that “some students had negative
attitude towards those who answered in the class because they think that such students are
imprudent and showing off that they are bold” (p. 99).
5.3.2.3. Passive learning environment
Passive learning environments in native cultural-educational context were targeted as the
other important barrier to students’ application of CT by both the samples. Whereas active
and critical learning is a major current emphasis of the higher education in the English
speaking countries (Lun, 2010; Pither & Soden, 2000), the passive academic style is still an
inheritance of most non-English speaking cultures where CT is implicit rather than explicit,
and educational background could not provide students sufficient attention to improve their
study skills. One of the teacher participants reported for example;
“It is very cultural thing, I have experience with some Middle Eastern students in the
degree of sociology and religious education in their dissertation, I mean they believe
that everything they have read from books is correct but like Western they are not
active to interpret and look with different angles. So I got the expression that
education system in those countries are less flexible and do not encourage students to
think critically. Secondly their English language background, they never been taught
academic writing and how to use their thinking skills creatively in second language so
on. It’s mixed cultural and educational” (CST1)
One of the students pointed out the passive learning in relation to lecture methods: “lectures
are the common teaching methods in my country and students have to sit quietly to listening
teachers only so there is not active engagement with learning” (S-RS24). As reported by
Meyers, (cited in Richmond, 2007), that “the lecture tradition generally fosters passive
learning in which critical thinking is taught either implicitly or not at all” (p.3). Another
student noted that “I am not against the traditional methods of teaching, as they are also used
in the UK but here students are provided with tutorials which are usually based on critical
discussion but not at all in my back education system. For me this is the main reason of being
passive in new educational environment” (IS16). Foreign students’ reluctance to participate in
group activities has been often pointed out by Western academics (Kelley, 2008).
168
5.3.2.4. Lack of CT awareness
The current sample of university students illustrated that CT featured less in their previous
educational background than in the UK. Being critical is considered very differently, not in
the sense suggested by Halpern (1998), that criticality of thinking involves “evaluation and
judgements” in order to improve one’s thoughts. Lack of CT awareness was reported as an
important consideration by the student sample in terms of the application of CT. Some of the
participants responded as follows;
“I think it is necessary to have full awareness of what is CT and then how to apply it.
In my point of view it is very new concept out of UK or English speaking world. I
have been never realised and taught in my 16 years of my previous education that
what is critical thinking so how can we apply it” (IS19)
“If you do not know what is CT than how can it be developed promote and apply. It
is the thing need to make of aware first than you can expect its outcomes” (IS44)
In a sense mentioned in the responses above, it is necessary to make the academics at least
aware of the notions of CT, and that debate around its appropriateness could be suggested.
Another participant stated that “I got to know about CT after coming here, I do not think so
that our teachers are enough open-minded and know about CT and how to teach it well” (SRS13).
5.3.2.5. Lack of valuing CT
International students’ responses showed that CT did not seem to be valued in their culturaleducational context of origin. Students reported that teachers in their back home countries
never focused on the critical academic engagement. They also felt that they were never
provided with opportunities which engage intellectually. This can be seen in the students’
response such as, “I personally think that CT has not yet been as much important as here
because the concepts like critical analysis and critical evaluation might be new (IS20). The
skills of critical analysis and critical evaluation have been called assets of CT in the research
literature (Lun, 2010; Cosgrove, 2011). Another said; “for me the main barrier in applying CT
is my previous language learning background, which did not value CT skills and so here we
are having troubles to apply those skills in our studies” (S-RS5).
169
5.3.2.6. Lack of understanding of the concept of CT
Lack of familiarity with CT notion was found to be an important barrier in applying CT in
non- native educational context by both the samples. A powerful example was given by
CST3. She reported that international students may not realise what it actually requires of
them. They are expected to do it, but what it is they are expected to do is often not explained
or demonstrated. She explained; “students have commented in the past that we comment on
their assignment that they need to show more critical thinking, but they can’t really
understand what it is we are expecting them to do, it can be very difficult for international
students to ‘switch on’ such an ability and to limit its application to an academic context.
It can in fact be difficult to explain and guide students in developing this skill at the higher
level of education, but once it is made clear to them what is required, most international
students can (within their own academic abilities) apply it. Similarly one of the students said;
“it is difficult to apply the skills which are never been encouraged and developed students’
own cultural and academic norms” (S-RS38). Similar kinds of views were found in the study
of Huang (2006) but in terms of quite different perspectives and context.
5.3.2.7. Differences of academic requirements between native and non-native context
The fact that there are cultural influence on students’ CT skills and related capacities is not
new in the literature. The findings of the present study, however, confirm that culture was one
of the main barriers in the students’ application of CT. The surrounding non-Western
educational culture played a marginal role in students’ use of CT skills in order to write
academically. As indicated above, the students do not necessarily come from a culture
(academic and social) where critical thinking is the norm, or encouraged. Similar views were
found in students as well as teachers’ responses for example;
“When students have been raised in a society that is largely centrally
controlled, and where challenging bureaucracy and the ideas from the centre
are overtly discouraged, it can be very difficult for international students to
‘switch on’ such ability and to limit its application to an academic context.
Applying it more broadly can be regarded as seditious” (CST3)
Although writing is the hallmark of UK higher education, conventions and standards vary
between different cultures (Kelley (2008; Lillis & Turner, 2001). Consequently, international
170
students face challenges in applying CT skills when come in the English universities for the
purposes of higher education. This can be seen in students’ responses; “I have taken some
English language courses in my home country to improve my academic writing skills.
Although our teachers were from UK graduates but they also didn’t told us how to write
academically and actually system here is totally different from home country where we read
and then write as it is. We were not guided about the differences in academic writing
conventions such as critical analysis, evaluation and sound arguments etc” (IS6). Similarly
some other students reported that;
“I found big differences in academic writing requirement in between UK and
my background educational culture. In my previous education our teachers
mostly focused on the quantity of writing not writing quality. We do not have
to show our critical thinking skills like in the UK”. (S-RS15)
“I think difference in educational system in both countries my home and UK
because I don’t have idea of critical thinking sometime our teachers gave us
advantages and disadvantages and sometime compare things but not
specifically about critical thinking. I don’t think that this can help in
developing critical thinking skills. Its cultural difference maybe that’s why,
like sometime I know the things but don’t know how to use it or express it in
this culture” (IS8)
5.3.2.8. Insufficient English language abilities
English language proficiency was considered an important factor related to international
students’ application of CT. One of the teachers said “the barrier is not having the ability to
read and understand in the first place and then not having the language skill to express their
ideas critically. The problems for International students will multiply because of the language
barrier” (T12). This quotation clearly shows the second language teachers’ perceptions and
understanding of the students’ previous linguistic backgrounds. Interviewee T4 also clearly
stated that the main barrier is students’ previous linguistic background in the sense that it
could not provide them with the sufficient attention to improve their study skills in;
“Previous educational background and enough practice of study skills in
target language in my opinion, basically they are struggling with two
different languages, language they are thinking and language they are writing.
This makes them unable to structure their thinking in target language”.
171
Some of the students reported
ed that the issue was not language proficiency
cy but thinking in the
second language. She stated “I have studied in the English medium throug
ughout my education,
for me the issue is not the lang
nguage proficiency but how to structure my thinking
thi
in English as
a second language”(S-RS45)
5). This view reflected the Kabilan’s (200
000) communicative
approaches to language teachi
ching which emphasises using CT in the targe
rget language as well
just knowing about it.
5.3.3 Factors’ affecting the p
promotion of CT
Both international studentss aand English teachers perceived that the cultural-educational
c
context in non-English speakin
king countries have not made enough efforts to promote students’
CT. Aspects of this included;; lack
l
of CT encouragement from home, lackk oof modelling of CT
at home, poor teaching writing
ing methods, the prevalence of unqualified teach
achers in English as a
second language, outdated curriculum, lack of questioning and lack
ack of debates and
discussions in the classrooms.
s. The influencing factors found in the present
nt study were related
to the traditional cultural pract
actice. My findings showed that students’ promotion
pro
of CT was
also heavily affected by cultur
ural elements such as discouragement and de-m
motivation for using
CT from the childhood and home.
ho
The studies of Robertson et al. (2000) and
an Lun (2010) have
investigated the prominent role
ro of culture on the international students
nts’ perceptions, the
relationship between language
ge abilities and CT and other related issues. Lun
Lu (2010) has found
somewhat similar kinds of related
re
themes in terms of the Chinese stude
udents’ promotion of
critical thinking. The related th
themes are shown in the Figure below;
Figure 5.18: Concept map of the factors affecting “Promotion of CT”
172
5.3.3.1. Lack of critical thinking encouragement
Both the participants were concerned about encouraging environment in order to promote
students’ CT. Some second language staff members highlighted students’ cultural
backgrounds and stated that these represented a major barrier to their critical thinking
development. Interviewee 14 emphasize that cultures in non-English speaking countries do
not encourage critical thinking like western cultures. She stated that “the students do not
necessarily come from a culture (academic and social) where CT is the norm, or encouraged
at home or schools, colleges and university levels. Their way of doing might be the new
concept for them; actually they are the coming from the background where you do not
question the answer. It seems they do not want to question because they think that it would be
very rude to question”. Although the findings of the present research support the results of
Lun’s (2010) study, she investigated the different problems in different context. One of the
students also noted that their culture never encouraged them to think in a critical way.
Interviewee IS37 pointed out that:
“In our culture we just read book and start writing from books, no motivation
to think well n order to explore something deeply. Basically our culture never
encourages us to think like Western and to critical. I am sure if we have
encouraging environment than CT is not difficult to foster”.
Lun (2010) argued that “an encouraging environment is to provide students a positive
reinforcement in order engaging them in critical thinking” (p. 100). Similar kind of views can
be seen from another students’ response for example;
“I strongly agreed that if we are encouraged for thinking critically from
home, we would be able to express our own independent ideas and thoughts
to our teachers freely if they accept or reject but at least we would be
confident to show and promote our own voices” (IS19)
In the present study, both students as well as teachers reported the significance of an
encouraging family environment but this could be strongly encouraged by institutions also as
was reported in the study of Lun (2010).
5.3.3.2. Lack of the modelling of critical thinking
Lack of the modelling of the CT approach was found to be another familial influence on the
students’ development of CT. providing a model that supports CT would appear to be a key
173
factor. A modelling approach would be really useful to increase the students’ motivation
level. The idea was best illustrated by some of the student participants such as S-RS15
reported “critical thinking is not whatever we say openly but under limits so it would be best
help if some of our elder like siblings or uncle etc should be role model for us”. While of the
teacher participants said this way “I think there are several reasons; I think some cultures
encourage critical thinking than others like western cultures, European cultures. I think
critical thinking is the central in any cultures and that transit in to the education system like
British” (T2). Similarly another student stated;
“Some families like mine do not accept change easily but I can give you an
example of my friend’s family environment which is very friendly and her
older sister is really supportive and encouraging. She tells her what is right
and what is wrong and how to convince somebody with arguments. I think if
we all have any role model like her it is good to promote our way of
thinking” (IS18)
These kinds of familial influences through role models were also seen in the study of Lun
(2010) but in different contexts. Similarly, some others related CT modelling to educated
persons only for example; “ I think promoting CT by providing role modelling is good but
only educated people can do that because if someone is not educated enough or thinker, how
can he be a role model to present CT in positive way” (IS47). The familial influences
mentioned, seemed fundamental in promoting students’ CT.
5.3.3.3. Poor methods of teaching writing
Teaching methods always influence one’s CT promotion by offering active instructional
support which is crucial (Kelley, 2008; Richmond, 2007), but the finding of the present study
does not support these arguments and show inadequate instructional support from teachers in
non-Western educational-cultures. Student as well as teacher samples reported that majority
of the teachers are unqualified for English-language teaching and unable to promote CT. They
seemed to teach English not as the second language and how to use it but just help students to
pass their exams. For example, McBride et al., (2002) found American teachers more
motivated in using CT skills than those of Chinese. Interviewee student IS16 responded;
“Academic writing is taught with traditional methods by just telling not use
any critical activities and any group work so in academic writing classes they
174
just use to write questions and tell answers that’s main problem. I did my
Bachelor degree in English language but my academic writing is still poor”.
Most of the students’ stated that in their previous experiences of English language learning
were limited to grammar and vocabulary learning because their teachers mostly focused on
these linguistic skills rather than teaching of how to use the language in different ways.
Interviewee IS5 stated that;
“For me the main barriers are my previous language learning background, it
was not helping. Our teachers don’t think and teach about critical thinking
and how to critique and etc. Our English was limited to just some
vocabulary and some grammar”.
On the other hand one of the teachers reported “most of the students do not have critical
thinking skills when they arrive here. I think their previous learning experience in which they
are not asked or taught to think critically about things so it’s difficult for them to thinking in
the way that required here for academic writing and also some cultural elements, because it
plays a part in your learning experiences” (T7). This, however, leads to the “lower level of
endorsement of CT skills” (Kelley, 2008; Scanlan, 2006), also these kinds of attitudes are
directly linked to the students’ inabilities to generate and develop ideas for critical writing.
This resulted in passive learning in the case of the majority of students, few students, on the
other hand, might be able to cope with the critical writing issues effectively.
5.3.3.4. Unqualified teachers in English as a second language
Teachers’ qualification in teaching English as a second language was found to be another
important institutional factor mentioned by some of the students’ participants only in order
promoting their CT skills. In short, the majority of the students become acquainted with their
teachers’ English language qualification in order teach them and have considered it to be the
main reason for their promotion of CT. Therefore it is suggested that course materials for
teaching English as a second language should be designed carefully in order to improve
existing educational practice. One of the other students said;
“We don’t learn English as a second or global language but just to pass it as
compulsory subject so academic writing was especially a neglected skill. One
of the reasons is that our teachers are not well educated and qualified in
English language and they only teach us Grammar and sentences which are
175
not enough for academic writing. I think my previous experiences are the
main barriers in promoting CT” (IS10)
Students seemed dissatisfied with the qualification of their teachers. As S-RS24 pointed out
that, “Educational background was not good because teachers were not qualified and up to
date in teaching English such a level so I am not satisfied. Experience of academic writing
was not like here because they were not focusing on academic writing, they teaching just
some written instructions for writing stuff and giving some information”. The findings of the
current investigation, however, showed that non-Western teachers might hold different
attitude towards CT. These differences might then influence their teaching-learning practices
in order to developing their CT skills. Previous literature (Howe, 2004; McBride et al., 2002)
has focused on the Asian teachers’ lower level of motivation and emphasis on CT skills.
5.3.3.5. Poor English-language curriculum
Student participants reported that it should be important goal of any educational system to
develop and enhance students’ ability to think critically and it should be a main focus of
curriculum, either in native language or in English as a second language but unfortunately in
my country English language curriculum is really old and useless so how can we improve our
skills in academic writing. One of the students stated that “our education system has failed to
prepare us for the changing world and the reason is that our curriculum are not well developed
and up to date” (IS1). Similarly another student said;
“English language curriculum we were taught from early educational level
until college level is not at the satisfactory level because still old kind of
lessons are in practise and not different kind of activities to promote our
thinking skills in relation to the academic writing” (S-RS2)
As the role of English language is becoming important in most of the developing countries in
the world (Abdulkader, 2009), and is a global and dominant language. It is also suggested,
however, that CT should be one of the main learning outcomes in order to meet the needs and
requirement of the competitive world like UK where a great number of the students come
every year for the purpose of higher education.
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5.3.3.6. Lack of questioning habits
Apart from the poor curriculum material available to teach all four skills generally and
academic writing specifically, limited or absent practice in questioning also influences the
development of one’ CT abilities. CT is often driven by questioning not by answers (Paul &
Elder, 2008). Questioning is considered one of the reflective practices of UK higher education
(Soden, et al., 2008) but is still neglected in most of the non-English speaking context.
Students and teachers responses confirmed this point as for example when one of the students
said that “ students are never encouraged for questioning to the teacher no matter what
happens, we understand the lecture or not, questioning is not thought as good behaviours” (SRS42). One of the teachers reported her views in the detail in the following way;
“I think the first reason is that the way of doing it is the new concept for
them, I think very often they are the coming from the background where u
expects the teachers to tell you the answer and you do not question the
answer. I think that’s the impression I get, could be wrong but it seems to me
that they want to question the teachers answer but they think that it would be
very rude to question the teachers. I think it’s a cultural problem. It is a
reality I think everybody has the ability to think critically, and the students
themselves doing always looking at different courses to find that what is
good, what is not, that’s not helping me maybe they are wrong but certainly
thinking critically. I think there is need to transfer more formal setting that
everything that published is not necessarily true. I think that is the first step,
teachers and professors should encourage students to questions and think the
both aspects of the question” (T9).
A response of the English-language teacher showed that questioning is one of the main
teaching-learning practices which are missed in most of the non-English students’ background
education, and questioning has a strong relationship with CT, as argued by Paul & Elder
(2008) and Lun (2010) . Some other students reported that it is very cultural thing that they
are not allowed to interpret and look with different angles. So it gives the impression that nonEnglish-speaking cultures are less flexible and do not encourage students to think critically.
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5.3.3.7. Lack of debates and discussions
Another major reason for weaknesses in developing international students’ CT is the lack of
debates and discussions in their back countries classrooms, which were also, pointed out some
of the student participants for example “I think another drawback of education system in nonWestern countries are the lack of debates and discussions which fail to promote CT” (SRS38). As Kennedy (2007) pointed out that debates promote students’ active engagement
with learning, though unfortunately these kinds of activities are still lacking in most of the
non-English speaking countries. Similarly another student noted that;
“Education system in the countries we belong is still having traditional
lectures and not other like discussions, specially group discussions and
debates which lead students to the completive and critical learning and this
could be very useful to emerge in teaching-learning methods in Pakistan”
(IS30)
Discussions and debates were not only suggested as vital components in teaching-learning
practice but it was also argued that it should be compulsory for every student to participate at
the higher educational level in order to enhance students CT skills. As one of the student
stated that “for me classroom debates and group discussions are best way to learn knowledge
critically and this would be the best teaching strategy to prepare students for higher level
studies in the English countries but unfortunately in my country there is still no efforts to start
such activities so how can CT be promoted” (IS13). These views support the claim of Vo and
Morris (2006) who stated that the short-term objective of acquiring knowledge should be
tempered with the long term goal of training the mind to think analytically and critically.
5.4.
Discussion of results
The response to the first research questions reveals that students from non-Western traditions
are very different in terms of approaching CT tasks, which seems to affect their academic
performance adversely. The findings of the present study are best contextualised by indicating
the students’ CT-related writing problems, such as: lack of clarity; lack of transition between
theory and practice; lack of critical analysis of arguments; lack of critical evaluation, and
trouble with making sound judgements/conclusions. The results showed surprising gaps
between the Western educational expectations indicated by English teachers, and the
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difficulties that students from non-Western cultures encounter as a result of the fact that
university students must be able to present an integrated discussion, with a strong and
consistent thread or line of argument that links understanding, knowledge, ideas, references
and a personal and critical perspective. Through examining the international students’
problem areas in writing, it is expected to reveal the possible influence of levels, as described
in the SOLO taxonomy, on university students’ practice of critical thinking.
From the teachers’ as well as the international students’ experiences, it seems that one of the
main problems in demonstrating CT in their academic writing, is that they may not realise
what it actually requires of them. They are expected to do it, but what it is they are expected
to do is often not explained or demonstrated. They also explained that, though it can in fact be
difficult to explain and guide students in developing this skill, once it is made clear to them
what is required, most international students can (within their own academic abilities) apply
it. The spectrum of achievement in this is quite varied, as it is with home students, but the
challenge of operating in a manner which is against their own cultural and academic norms is
quite difficult. When students have been raised in a society that is largely centrally controlled,
and where challenging bureaucracy and having ideas which diverge from the centre are
overtly discouraged, it can be very difficult for international students to ‘switch on’ such
ability and then to limit its application to an academic context. This is because, as students
and teachers reported, British university education shows a relatively stronger and more
explicit emphasis on CT development than those in other cultures. These findings suggest that
the educational expectations of students’ development in critical thinking, in terms of the
higher order thinking levels of SOLO taxonomy, may be more explicitly valued in the British
academic context.
Based on the analysis of the Research Question Four, international students and Englishlanguage teachers showed similar views about the influencing factors on the students’
development, promotion and application of CT. Their views were supporting the findings of
the studies available in the literature. Interestingly, the barriers identified by students and
teachers were somewhat similar to those identified in the previous studies and supports the
results of their findings (Phillips & Bond, 2004; Huang, 2006; Kelly, 2008; Lun, 2010). Both
the samples pointed out that CT is strongly affected by cultural aspects of the non-English
speaking countries which involve familial, institutional and individual factors. The findings of
the present Research Question found that international university students who had completed
their education (whatever level of education) from non-English speaking regions in order to
maximize the possibility of their cultural-educational experiences. It is, however, argued that
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students’ writing approaches are strongly influenced by the cultural-educational barriers.
Although majority of the students were never been engaged with CT, encouraged for CT or
been taught explicitly, no one can dispute on their adoptive nature (see also Durkin, 2008;
Lun, 2010). Both the samples agreed that parents’ educational background, extreme emphasis
on the elder’s respect and parents fear of children’s independency were important familial
influencing factors in developing CT, while institutional influences included; dual education
system (private and GOVT), authoritative learning environment, weak bases of Englishlanguage and the lack of enough institutional support.
It was also interesting to note that some of the participants reported that individual behaviours
could be also the significant barriers in the application of CT. Apart from these the
institutional factors were perceived in the two different educational context native and nonnative. Passive learning environment, lack of CT awareness and lack of valuing CT were
found the influencing factors on the CT application in the native context of international
students, while lack of understanding of the concept of CT, differences in academic
requirements and academic conventions and language abilities were perceived to be the main
barriers in the non-native educational context. Inhibitory factors also highlight that the
instructional context in the cultural context is different to the British academic culture and
they do not similarly endorse higher-order cognitive skills as educational objectives.
On the other hand, lack of CT encouragement and modelling of CT were found to be
powerful familial factors which play an important role in hindering the development off CT.
At institutional level, poor teaching writing methods, unqualified teachers and poor Englishlanguage curriculum were also pointed out as main barriers in cultural-educational context.
Although participants highlighted the increasing importance of questioning, critiquing and
debating activities in order to promote students CT, these instructional strategies were found
to be absent from students’ background educational cultures. Both the samples of students and
teachers also perceived the similar kinds of barriers in the application of CT. The most
significant barrier reported by the student participants only lay in the fear of confrontation
with elders. In fact, respect of authority/obedience has been strongly emphasised in the
majority of non-English speaking countries, which hinders students’ analytical and critical
abilities. However, it has been evident clearly from the responses that the identified barriers
are the attribution of the cultural values.
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CHAPTER 6: SUGGESTIONS TO MOVE STUDENTS TOWARDS
CRITICAL THINKING
6.1. Introduction
The previous chapter presented an in-depth analysis of students’ academic writing problems
related to CT It was ascertained from the initial analysis in Chapter 4 that international
students’ conceptions of CT are still undeveloped and majority of the students prefer surface
approaches to writing rather than deeper constructive approaches. Hence, it was established
that international students will be expected to conform to unfamiliar norms in developing
their CT skills. International students will also highly appreciate the assistance provided by
the host institutions. Therefore, the present chapter seeks to elicit the students’ and teachers’
suggestions as to how it might be possible to move students towards CT in order to minimise
their CT related writing challenges at the higher level of education in UK universities. The
use of the SOLO taxonomy showed that competency in terms of CT development does indeed
exist within the context of academic writing from undergraduate to postgraduate level, as
emphasised by the NQF (National Qualification Framework, 2008). However, it seems
illogical to explore students’ and teachers’ suggestions without considering the role of English
for academic purposes (EAP) language learning modes, which are specifically designed to
address and serve international students’ problems and needs related to their course of studies.
For this purpose, my Third Research Question was qualified by two subsidiary research
questions: 1) what is the role of EAP language learning modes in contributing to CT
practices? and2) what possible suggestions/models would help to facilitate international
students’ experiences of CT? The first research question is addressed by mean of interviews
and self-reports, complemented by the use of learners’ diaries, which are considered an
important tool for studying language classes and programmes in order to explore students’
learning experiences and processes which may be ‘hidden’ or ‘inaccessible’. The second
research question, on the other hand, is addressed through the students’ and teachers’
interviews and self-reported methods only.
The provision of EAP courses and the analysis of students’ and teachers’ suggestions in order
to tackle CT-related initial challenges to academic writing would not only be valuable for
culturally and linguistically diverse students, but also for teachers of English as second or
foreign language, in order to be able to understand and comprehend issues successfully.
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6.2. Role of EAP language learning modes in fostering critical thinking
The purpose of EAP courses is most commonly to attempt to develop a broad level of
academic literacy including reading, writing, oral presentations, note-taking and study skills.
According to Kelley (2008) academic writing courses are designed to prepare second language
international students for the kinds of writing they might be expected to produce in their
respective programs (p. 9). As academic writing in UK academic culture requires
argumentation, analysis, evaluation, reflection, synthesis and summary (Lillis & Turner,
2001), international students might not be familiar with, or fully prepared for, grappling with
new academic norms. Thus the main objective of EAP courses is to introduce students’ to
such academic conventions and help to facilitate their writing challenges through teaching and
practicing cohesive writing of different genres, writing and re-writing, paraphrasing and
synthesising (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2004). Therefore, it was important to investigate that to
what extent, EAP language modes help in fostering CT in academic writing classes.
To gain insight into the EAP courses, eighteen (18) learner diaries were formulated and then
students were requested to take and complete them regularly after each session of academic
writing. Some diaries were kept for ten, others for six weeks (depends on EAP courses
length). At the beginning of the EAP (Pre-sessional or In-sessional) courses, students were
given small files which contained diaries and were also given guidelines as to how to write
diaries. They had to complete pre-formed sentences after every academic writing session.
These sentences help students to write only relevant information within the given framework.
The analysis of student’ diaries help to explain the scenarios that prevailed in EAP courses.
Learners’ diaries were then triangulated with students’ interviews and self-reported responses
to investigate students’ in-depth understanding with the role of EAP language modes in
relation to CT. The implication of the responses in terms of the help and supports related to
CT provided in the EAP courses is shown as under;
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771%
29%
N supportive
Not
Supportive
Figure 6.1: International sstudents’ perception of EAP language modes
m
in terms of
fostering CT
ourses negatively and
Disappointedly, seventy onee ppercent (71%) students perceived EAP cour
only twenty nine (29%) resp
sponded with positive perceptions. The cate
tegories of students’
perceptions (either positive or negative) of EAP courses are given below in Figure 6.2:
Perc
rcieved categories of students' perception
Negativ
tive perception
Positive perception
Ignore
ore students'
expect
ectations and
n
needs
Improve academic
vocabulary, and
comprension skills
Langua
uage focused
Group work
Lac
ack of CT
ped
pedagogy
Introduced
academic writing
conventions and
requirements
Limit
ited writing
pra
ractice in
cla
lassroom
Figure 6.2: Perceived catego
gories of international students’ perception
n oof EAP courses
Among the negative perception
tions were the following; the lack of relationship
hip between students’
expectations and needs and EAP
EA writing practice, the exclusive focus on la
language, the lack of
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critical pedagogy and limited opportunities for classroom practice in academic writing. On the
other hand, positive perceptions included the view that EAP courses help to improve academic
vocabulary, grammar and comprehension skills, the support provided by group work and the
introduction of conventions used in the UK academies for academic writing.
6.2.1. Negative perception of EAP courses
It can be seen from the above chart that most of the perceptions about fostering CT were
negative inside the EAP class domain. Details are as follows:
6.2.1.1. Ignore students’ expectations and needs
Among the negative perceptions which were reported, the majority of the students reported
that EAP courses were not helpful in terms of CT development. They stated that students
come to EAP classes with the expectation that they will improve their study skills in order to
utilize them in their assignments, projects, reports and thesis. However, unfortunately they did
not find EAP supportive in relation to the CT required for academic writing in their studies.
Interviewee IS17 stated for example that “it was absolutely a bad experience; they do not care
students’ needs for academic writing. I just wasted my time. They are just passed some
popular information. They don’t focus on specific needs”. Similarly, some other specified
their needs and explained that;
“EAP course did not improve my skills that I was expecting to help me in my
academic studies. Course also did not help me how to use my CT abilities in writing
my MSc project” (S-RS15)
“This course was very simple and just some repeated materials, not anything new
and constructive that could help me in my assignments and projects” (S-RS3)
“As EAP pre-sessional language course was a part of my admission in the
university, I was expecting some helpful activities for my course assignments but I
did not get anything. My assignments were very demanding in the sense that, they
should be coherent and argumentative, which I was not able to understand properly
as it was my new experience of such kind of writing in the UK, but I was happy to
get into the EAP course to learn these conventions there, which made me very
disappointed later on because nobody focused on such kind of writing issues”
(IS18)
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It is clearly seen in the students’ responses above that academic writing is a difficult and
challenging skill for them, which supports the argument of Murray and Moore (2006: p. 6)
that “writing involves starting, progressing and finishing a complicated, challenging
combination of tasks. It requires you to activate lots of different skills and orientations,
sometimes at different stages and phases in the process, sometimes all at the same time”. But
students’ views presented do not support the argument of Aktas and Cortes (2008) in terms of
EAP courses, who claimed that “one of the most important objectives of writing in an
academic environment is to create texts that are coherent and cohesive in order to establish
successful communication within an academic community” (p. 3).
On the other hand, some students demonstrated that EAP courses should be linked to their
study needs; “as I have mentioned in my earlier answers that usually we (international
students) come from passive learning backgrounds and with limited writing practice and we
realise our difficulties soon after starting our studies because of different and advanced
educational environment of UK. Therefore, majority of us join EAP courses either presessional or in-sessional for our skills improvement but majority stay dissatisfied with EAP
experience especially in relation with academic writing because there is a big difference
between the writing requirement at university level for our assignments and dissertations, and
EAP academic writing course” (IS22). Some other students reported in a similar vein for
example:
“I think academic writing for our courses is very different from those we are taught
in the EAP courses. Writing for the course requires our abilities to analyse and
evaluate the information as well as we have to show and justify each and every
comment and argument. Therefore, we need a lot of practices of these skills but in
EAP courses we are taught writing processes not the skills improvement strategies.
So we have to learn our own, even we (students) do not get proper feedback on our
written stuff from EAP teachers” (S-RS15)
“Writing courses of EAP is not the same I need for actual writing for my study. It is
just a language course in which teachers are not much concerned to improve
students writing abilities and most of the times students are waiting for their
feedback but no response till weeks and so….” (IS29)
“In my point of view academic writing is not an easy skill, which needs not only
proper guidance but also some kind of moral support to complete it. But
unfortunately it is missed from EAP portfolio. I personally do not feel that it can
fulfil academic writing needs” (IS31)
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Writing has also been considered to be one of the most difficult skills in a previous study of
Levine’s. He argues that “writing can be experienced as one of the most difficult of all skills,
requiring an intricate combination of neurological, physical, cognitive and affective
competencies” (cited in Murray & Moore, 2006: p. 6). Students’ views above are similar to
those of Klapper (2006: p. 307), who stated that “students usually end up tackling written
tasks on their own without the moral and linguistic support of a partner or interlocutor, as in
oral work, and that any feedback students receive on their written work tends to be delayed”.
Students not only emphasised the role of EAP courses but also the teachers’ role within those
courses. According to McDonough (2007) “the teacher's role in all of this is central and
difficult. It goes far beyond the provision of reward. It involves providing a supportive and
challenging learning environment, but also facilitating the development of the learner's own
motivational thinking, beyond simply identifying their original orientation” (p. 370). Cohen
(1998: p. 97) also stated that the teachers should be as facilitators and partners in the learning
process, which is not supported by the international students in the present study.
Another student reported here has differentiated academic writing in both the native and nonnative countries as follows: “academic writing process is very different in my home country
from the UK, so I basically need to improve academic writing skills like how to analyse and
evaluate different point of views, but there was nothing to do with it in the pre-sessional
courses.” (IS23). This referred to the Lillis and Turner’s (2001) articulation of the differences
of academic writing conventions in different academic cultures.
6.2.1.2. Language focused
Although the goal of EAP is not only to improve students’ academic language proficiency but
also to develop their study skills (Terrachke & Wahid, 2011), preparatory courses for UK
study have tended to focus more on t language improvement and not on the academic skills
and CT, according to the majority of international students reported in the present study.
Interviewee IS10 remarked that; “basically writing material is not of good quality, there are
just bogus activities that don’t match for academic writing needs at all. They give us lots of
useless activities such as match/mismatch, grammar accuracy and advantages and
disadvantages etc in very short time that never helps us in academic writing but some kind of
language learning”. Similarly some other students said;
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“Pre-sessional course was just waste of time and money. There was not even little
help to improve or promote our critical skills that are really necessary for academic
writing. Still they focusing on grammatical rules and sometime compare and
contrast small activities. No practice of academic skills improvement at all” (IS12)
“Mostly activities emphasizes on language but not thought provoking. Some
activities like comparing and contrasting activities helped to think critically. But
they are doing just few. In my opinion course improved our language skills but
didn’t any help to improve our critical thinking ability which we need most and
more than language in academic writing” (S-RS2)
As it has been confirmed by previous research literature that international students’ problems
are not simply language based, but also come as a result of differences in academic norms
such as critical and analytical thinking (Egege & Koteleh, 203). Some other students reported
that “honestly, EAP help to improve language but not critical thinking. Most of activities were
just language based nothing to improve our academic writing skills. They told us little bit
about writing style and structure it. I really liked the one assignment our tutors gave us as
home work. I need this kind of writing and then teachers’ feedback to improve my writing but
they just gave once at the end of the course” (IS17) and “it’s not good unfortunately. They
gave us topics to write essays every week but don’t tell that how to analyze information and
evaluate critically. This course helped to improve our English but not critical thinking ability
for academic writing. They don’t use any kind of strategies for critical skills. They still teach
us tenses and their explanation of what is academic writing not how to write” (IS8). The
students’ responses reinforce the emphasis on the necessity of teaching CT skills in EAP
courses by Davies (2003) who has emphasised that the main aim of EAP language mode is
not only to improve students’ language proficiency but also study skills and academic
conventions.
6.2.1.3. Lack of critical thinking pedagogy
Although CT pedagogy entails CT elements in teaching methods/instructions as well as in
curriculum/course materials (Hyland, 2006), some of the students also reported that EAP
courses lacked CT pedagogy such as critical discussions on the given topic before writing,
tutors teaching-writing techniques and writing materials. This can be seen in the students’
responses for example Interviewee IS19 commented “I am shocked ....we still could not
improve our academic writing even after completing the language course like pre-sessionsl
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EAP; it did not fulfil the needs for our academic writing preparations. The reason for me is
that tutors were not interested to focus on the skills development. They introduced us with
writing styles, writing conventions but never taught us how to analyse the arguments etc”
Similarly some other student participants criticized such as;
We are just provided with some papers for information. Most of activities were like
label the diagram, compare/ contrast/ advantages /disadvantages so. They inform us
that plagiarism is unfair in writing but did not teach proper way to write in
academic study and proper referencing and paraphrasing (S-RS11)
Classes were very large and our tutors always introduced us with academic writing
but not how to do the analysis and use proper evidence and arguments (S-RS44)
The development of these aspects of academic writing have been strongly emphasised by
Benech (2001) and Gieve (1998). But students’ quotations have demonstrated their
dissatisfaction with the capacity of EAP programs to foster CT pedagogy and practice in
classrooms. As noted by another student that: “I think if teacher uses questioning techniques in
teaching all the language skills not for only academic writing, this would help to turn our
thinking from passive to active. They should engage us in active writing assignments” (IS4).
6.2.1.4. Limited writing practice
As academic writing has been considered to be one of the most difficult skills (Hyland, 2006)
its practice seemed an important factor in students’ CT development. Perhaps allocating more
time would be appropriate in order to cultivate and enhance the skills of critical thinking and
writing. However, the idea was not supported in the EAP and students felt that they need
enough practise to deal with the complex skills but EAP did not provide enough time for
writing practice. Some students stated;
“In EAP course, there were very limited writing practices. Tutors sometime teach
us the note taking skills exercises but you imagine can these kinds of skills be
improved in just one or two exercises. But they had allocated very short time to
teach writing skills therefore they only focus on different kinds of little exercises
but not writing practice of essays and reports because they demand more time” (SRS15)
“I think skills of academic writing can be improved only through lots of practices
which are totally ignored in the in-sessional courses for academic writing” (IS12)
“You see that students are not satisfied with academic writing courses of presessional and in-sessional programs and the reason is that they do not give any
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preferences to students’ needs for their writing but just tell some rules. I strongly
recommend writing more and more practices to develop theses skills are necessary
for academic writing” (IS30)
“For me more practises would help students to develop their thinking and
confidence in writing to achieve academic success” (IS4)
The above quotation has highlighted the fact that the EAP tutor focused on useless and short
exercises. It also demonstrates that self-confidence plays a positive role in learning as
emphasised in previous studies. For example, Cavani (2001: p. 35) notes that “clearly selfconfidence also has a major role to play in encouraging any student to stay on the path leading
towards their ultimate goal”. A similar point was emphasised by another student;
“It is true as my friend said that in there is very limited time for academic writing
practice in EAP course, I think writing is a lengthy exercise and takes time but
teachers spent very short time on it so how can they teach the skills we needed. But
I’ve much experience to learn academic writing on language websites. I think they
are good source to improve our English language and academic writing because
there are lots of samples of argumentative essays and techniques to evaluate and
analyze critically and much more activities to improve these skill” (IS25).
In general, most participants did not seem satisfied within their EAP experiences in terms of
the extent to which the courses had assisted in developing their CT skills. Therefore, they have
proposed the internet as a better resource to support the acquisition of academic writing skills.
These findings do not support the findings of the previous research literature which has
emphasised on the creativity and criticality of these language modes (Hyland, 2006; Davies,
2003).
6.2.2. Positive perceptions of EAP courses
On the other hand, twenty nine percent (29%) students perceived EAP as a positive influence
on their CT skills. The positive experiences reported by student participants included the
following;
6.2.2.1.Improvement in academic vocabulary and comprehension
Parker (2004) noted that that students’ positive experiences of language learning always have
an equally positive influence on their general learning and this must be considered in teaching
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EAP. Interviewee IS24 stated that course was very helpful in terms of academic vocabulary
for example;
“Course was supportive especially in terms to improve my academic vocabulary
which is very necessary to write a good essay and assignments as well” (IS24)
“Course was so so....generally but very good in terms of improving my academic
vocabulary. You know when I came here [UK] I was very naive to use academic
words in my writing and my writing always look so simple kind of, but after having
academic course in EAP, I personally think that at least it improves my vocabulary”
(IS13)
The students’ responses given above draw our attention towards the academic vocabulary
approach, which was proposed by Coxhead and Nation (2001) in order to improve students’
academic vocabulary. Although academic vocabulary is an important aspect of academic
writing, this approach was seen as a narrow model because academic writing occurs at
sentence level and macro-structure and therefore concerns more than vocabulary.
Some students reported that EAP course helped them to improve their comprehension skills,
“course was very good and we were given very useful activities such as we were given some
reading passages and we have to understand them properly and then find out the appropriate
answer for the given questions. These kinds of exercises help me to improve my thinking
skills” (S-R24). Other students commented for example:
“I am shocked that why some students complain for language courses. I tell you
truth that they are 100 times better than that of my home countries. They improve
language very much for example language comprehension and sometime
paraphrasing skills, they also teach academic vocabulary and tell us how to organise
our writing. I think it was good course” (IS30)
“It was good, I am happy that its improving my language skills very much.
Teachers are very co-operative and they listen and tell us everything we need for
our academic studies” (IS4)
These students’ views do not support the findings of the studies Alderson 92000) and Green
(2005) which have blamed EAP courses for being problematic in terms of skills development,
for example their focus on preparing students for language development.
6.2.2.2. Group work
Some participants with positive perceptions of EAP academic writing courses have illustrated
the way EAP helped them a lot to improve their critical thinking/writing such as IS14, IS27
and IS48, who pointed out that;
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“Course was helpful and good in some points like group work was very good in
doing group work. All students liked it. These kinds of activities promote active
learning and so enhance thinking skills because in group work we had an
opportunity to discuss issues with each other’s”.
“I liked group work in my pre-sessional course. This provides many interesting
experience to working on the same issue together. Our teachers divide all students
in small groups, then give collaborative work like reading passage and we have to
find out the answers. We can discuss the issues together than write right one on the
paper. Similar some teachers do this in the speaking classes and we prepare our
topic together to debate with other friends”
“Group work was very excited for me because I was not used to do such kinds of
activities in my country [Oman], so I liked it, its good one”
These views support the argument of Vo and Morris (2006) who claimed that group
discussions are key aspects of active learning and critical thinking. Similarly another student
reported that “in the EAP courses we were given different kinds of topic to discuss with each
others to write our assignments, which was really helpful to motivate me for thinking on
different perspectives on the same issue. It also helped me to improve my language skills for
writing well” (S-RS13)
6.2.2.3. Introducing with academic writing notions and writing requirements
Some other students also stated that EAP was really useful in terms of introducing academic
writing conventions and writing requirements at the higher level of education in UK. One of
them responded that “I was came here for undergrad studies with limited knowledge of UK
academic writing and I got to know about critical thinking, critical analysis etc in the EAP
courses” (S-RS2). While other noted that;
“Academic writing sessions introduced us with what is critical thinking and
evaluation and what would be required from us in assignments and projects, which I
was not familiar before” (IS31)
“I noted that there were some very good exercises in this course, which have
introduces us with the terms that we are used to do in our assignments writing” (SRS22)
Interviewee IS46 found EAP a useful and different learning method from those prevalent in
his home country. He said that the “course was good and introduced me the idea of critical
thinking. It is new learning method for me so I found it useful”. While another reported that “I
did not know what kind of writing is needed for my studies and what the writing criteria
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means how to practice according to the given criteria. This all was told in EAP academic
writing courses. I found it very useful but this is not enough for academic writing. As EAP is
called the Bridging Programmes so they should do beyond this and taught us exactly what we
needed and how to write it in order to succeed in our exams” (S-RS35). Students answered
that at least they get to know the conceptions of CT in this course.
Students’ positive perceptions were somewhat encouraging that EAP courses might be on the
way to achieving their goal of developing not only language competencies but also study
skills and academic writing conventions as well, as emphasised by Hyland (2006), Davies
(2003) and Gieve (1998). According to Rimiene (2002: p. 18), EAP courses should focus on
CT development, which could also influence students’ motivation significantly. The next
research question sets out to investigate students’ and teachers’ perspectives on the process of
moving students towards critical thinking.
6.3.
Possible suggestions to move students towards critical thinking
International students as well as English language teachers were asked about their suggestions
as to how to overcome their CT-related academic writing challenges in UK universities. They
had various answers which included many useful suggestions. Students’ and teachers’
responses can be categorised into two different categories such as; 1) native context, and 2)
non-native/ British higher educational-context context as below:
6.3.1. Native context
Student participants placed a very strong emphasis on the need for educational change in their
home countries. Students suggested that in the native context, familial as well as institutional
support is necessary to encourage students to think critically from their childhood because CT
is not limited to academic writing but is rather taught through encouragement initially from
home, followed by giving students tasks in the classes that required CT. They were also
agreed that CT should be the main learning goal of HE, CT should be inherent in the
pedagogical practice, writing exercises should be based on writing and re-writing with
teachers proper feedback rather than the ‘product’ approaches which were often prevalent.
Finally they suggested that writing assessment criteria needed to be changed.
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6.3.1.1. Encouragement for thinking critically
The majority of the students reported that students’ CT behaviours should be necessarily and
initially encouraged from the early age: generally at home but specifically in the institutional
level. The majority of the student participants accepted in response to the previous Research
Question (RQ4) that they belonged to cultures where passivity was favoured, and where they
were not allowed to ask enough questions in home as well as cultural-educational context in
order to satisfy their curiosity. It was recognised that these kinds of attitudes are not helpful in
fostering CT, and that therefore students definitely need institutional support and
encouragement to foster CT behaviours.
“Students should be encouraged for critical thinking at home as well as institutional
level. I know parental support is also necessary but it is the basic responsibility of
schools, colleges and universities where we go for learning. Learning environment
should be very flexible and focused” (IS13)
“Encouragement is very important to motivate students to be open-minded and
flexible” (S-RS4)
On the other hand, one of the students said that “our teachers need to be patient when I want
to ask something; they should encourage us for showing our own point of views” (S-RS15).
Similarly another student reported “If our education systems really want to prepare us for the
global competition, they need to encourage their students to thinking creatively and
positively” (IS22).
6.3.1.2. CT should be the main learning aim
Considering the importance of CT overall and its placement in the course of studies and its
role in knowledge building, key learning objectives are vital to identify in order to know
students’ exhibited as well as target behaviours, including the target skills of academic
writing. According to Duron, et al., (2006) “a well-written lesson plan should target a specific
behaviour, introduce and allow for practice of the desired behaviour, and end with the learner
exhibition of the behavioural response and the development of well-written questions will
greatly accelerate a learner’s movement into critical thinking” (p. 162). A moderate number of
student participants reported in the following vein;
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“I think that CT should be the main aim of learning in our native cultures as it is
here in UK because when we go English countries for higher education it is basic
requirement” (IS7)
“As CT included analysis and evaluation skills, if these skills would be the main
objectives of any educational system, students could use them more easily
everywhere they need” (IS20)
On the other hand other students responded differently: “for me learning is only to get some
knowledge and information but how to use them in our everyday life. I think to make students
able to be critical about themselves and around should be the main goal of learning” (SRS34). This view was complemented by another student who argued that “students should not
be provided with knowledge only but how to use that knowledge critically in problemsolving” (IS2). Two of the student participants also reported that once they had developed CT
then it could be easily applicable towards targeted skills such as reading, writing, speaking
and listening successfully. For example as reported by these students:
“Critical thinking skills are not only necessary for academic writing but also for
reading, speaking and listening. And if once students learn and develop these
abilities they can apply on other areas too” (S-RS3)
“The main problem is that no efforts were made from our universities to make us
aware of skills that are highly required in the foreign countries. I think that thinking
abilities should be developed in the way that they become ultimate. I believe that if
once these skills are developed properly than students would be able to use them in
the new learning context as well” (S-RS16)
Considering this importance, CT should be the key learning aim in order to make it happen in
the classrooms as well as to assess students’ writing at the higher level of education.
6.3.1.3. Active teaching/ learning engagement
A great number of the students also suggested that learning practices in their home
educational-cultures need to be changed from passive to active. It can be seen in the following
student response: “teachers should not only teach through pre-packaged lessons in the books
but they should use questioning techniques and questions should be developed purposefully
and effectively” (IS33). While self-reported student (S-RS12) extended this view: “teachers
should realise that no learning happens by just sitting in the classes and listening to them,
therefore they need to engage us with learning through thought provoking questioning”. As
questioning is one of the crucial parts of fostering CT (Duron et al., 2006) it should therefore,
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be the crucial part of teaching and learning process. While some other students reported for
example;
“Students must give chance to discuss the ideas with each other and with teachers.
Tutorials are the best way to engage students towards critical discussions in order to
move them think critically” (IS31)
“Students need to be provided with the opportunities of critical discussions and
classroom debates to move them curiosity and creativity” (S-RS18)
“In order to improve students’ critical thinking skills, the best way is that a forum
should be created at university level where students can have opportunities to
discuss their ideas and put them into practises” (IS2)
Some of the participants suggested that the subject matter needed to be reformed because
there is a big gap between the curriculum they are currently being taught and the skills
required for HE in the English speaking world, especially in the UK. One of them averred that
the “curriculum we people are being taught does not seem relevant with our needs, which
does not help us to move towards innovations and creativity”(S-RS2). Similarly another said
that curriculum needs to be changed towards a more practice-based model;
“Subject matters usually based on the very lengthy and boring exercises which do
not support active learning. I suggest exchanging those with some practice-based
activities and specifically questioning techniques, which would help students to
extend and apply their knowledge in life problems” (IS10)
This support the results of a study by the World Bank (2005) which claimed that secondary
curriculum in the developing countries is “abstract, fact-centred, de-contextualized and
irrelevant, which is one of the great obstacles to successful expansion of the secondary
education” (pp. 77-78). The questioning technique suggested by the student above to be
essential was also cited by Duron et al., (2006) who claim that “questioning techniques allow
the teacher to establish what is already known and then to extend beyond that to develop new
ideas and understandings”.
Other students respond that “active classroom engagement not only depends on teachers but
students as well, students should be responsible for their studies and should not leave
everything to the teachers” (IS46). Similarly, another student reported that “the problem is
that students want to be “spoon fed” but this is very wrong concept I think. They should learn
their own: they should use their efforts to improve their own writing, they should practice
alone and ask for help where it is needed” (S-RS5). These views support the argument of
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Copland (2004: p. 42) who has stated that students have as much responsibility for the
learning process as the teacher.
6.3.1.4. Teaching writing through pre-writing, drafting, re-writing and feedback
Some student participants clearly appreciated that thinking critically is a vital part of
academic writing and allows the students to establish a link between previous experiences and
development of new ideas. Paul and Elder (2008) have categorised thinking in eight
overlapping parts. They elaborate that “whenever we think, we think for a purpose, within a
point of view, based on assumptions, leading to implications and consequences. We use
concepts, ideas and theories, to interpret data, facts, and experiences (information) in order to
answer questions, solve problems, and resolve issues. Supporting these arguments, one of the
students suggested that;
“Students should provide enough time before writing like we do in UK. In my
country we have to hand writing assignments in very short time and we just write
them whatever we find useful and submit them. Teachers should give enough time
to students to think carefully about the purpose of what they are going to write” (SRS19)
Students also suggested that in order to write critically they need writing practice such in the
form of drafting and re-drafting. One of them said “the way writing is teaching in our country
is wrong and writing should be process-based for example pre-writing, writing and re-writing
then we can improve it effectively “(S-RS38). Another reported that;
“As I have mentioned in the earlier questions that we are always been taught what
to write, not how to write? Writing is a process and it is been best teaching in UK. I
want the similar process in my own country for example here before writing we are
been told writing criteria clearly which helps to think what and how we have to
manage the writing tasks, then writing and submission, then we are given feedback
then we re-write and then submit it final draft” (IS42)
One of other students mentioned that “we are asked to write only once, no chance to improve
our writing further because teachers do not return us with feedback and in mostly cases they
just marked it without checking properly”(S-RS44).
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6.3.1.5. Writing assessment criteria need to be reviewed
The quotations discussed above demonstrate that international students are quite impressed
with the academic writing teaching style and want the similar kind of approach implemented
in their native cultural-educational context. They further suggested that writing assessment
criteria need to be changed. They argued that;
“Writing assessment is being done very bogusly; in most of the cases teachers never
read our assignments carefully and mark it. It should be changed and teachers
should not only focus on the presentation but they should assess our arguments and
clarity of writing” (IS25)
“Writing assessment is very different from the UK, you know our teachers never
care for our own point of views which should be the basic principle of students
writing that how we presented our own ideas” (S-RS45)
Students drew our attention towards the Intellectual Standards of Paul and Elder (2008) in
terms of their writing assessment. This could be very helpful for the teachers as well as
students themselves in order to assess their writing for example they could strive that “is the
presented information clear, accurate, important, relevant, precise, coherent and logical? Does
the writing deal with the complexities in the issue and has alternative viewpoints are
considered? And to what extent is the author using manipulative language or other intellectual
trickery to convince the reader that the argument is sound? (cited in Cosgrove, 2011: pp. 1112). Following these patterns to monitor students’ writing, the teacher can look for the
incorrect responses and find out the possible underlying causes.
6.3.2. British higher educational-context
Academic writing (assignments, dissertations, thesis and reports etc) at the university level in
the UK is highly demanding in terms of students’ deeper understanding, interpretations of
secondary literature, critical awareness and sound judgements (Elander et al., 2006).
Although today’s higher education has much emphasis on curiosity, self-expression and
critical thinking (Pithers & Soden, 2000) international students’ limited CT abilities are bound
to be highlighted (Kelley, 2008). This does not mean at all that international students are not
bright, talented, observant and critical but rather that the analysis of the First four Research
Questions indicated that they surely had “very limited practice of critical thinking” because of
the limited CT awareness and value in their cultural educational context, which has been
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evaluated as unfavourable acc
ccording to the Western educational standards
ds (Watkins & Biggs,
2001). However, it was impor
ortant to explore what can help to facilitate international
int
students
CT -related difficulties in thee U
UK academic environment.
Students and tutors suggeste
sted many steps which could help ease th
the transition from
descriptive to critical writing.
ng. Both the samples suggested that there it vital to understand
international students’ cultura
ural background. Both sets of participants also
al agreed that CT
should be integrated into the
t
EAP language modes. Students andd teachers strongly
emphasized the encouragemen
ent, modelling and reinforcement of CT in the
th classes delivered
in a non-native educational context.
co
Both suggested that writing assessmen
ent criteria should be
defined and communicated cle
clearly and in detail before assignments. Finall
ally both the samples
suggested that feedback shou
ould be constructive rather than judgemental.
al. These steps were
shaped into the following Mod
odel;
Integeration
of CT into the
EAP courses
Need to
understand
students'
cultural
background
Encouraging,
reinforcing
and Modelling
CT
Con
onstructive
fe
feedback
Defining and
communicati
ng assessment
criteria
Figure 6.3: Suggestions to facilitate international students’ CT
T related writing
challenges in UK HE
6.3.2.1. Need to understand international
in
students’ cultural-educationall background
b
The findings explored in RQ
Q4 illustrated that the cultural-educational ccontext of the nonEnglish speaking students induces
ind
a clear focus on knowledge acquisiti
sition rather than the
development of CT abilities.. T
The majority of the students in the present study
stu reported culture
as a real challenge for their de
development of critical writing skills. Therefor
ore, it is important to
198
analyse what can help to facilitate international students in their efforts to meet CT related
writing challenges at the higher level of education in UK. For this purpose, students and
teachers’ suggestions were combined to develop recommendations as to how to help students
to improve their writing. The first step evolves by understanding international students’
cultural-educational learning experiences in order to relate their previous knowledge and
experiences with new ones. Teachers reported that;
“I think understanding students’ cultural background at the first place is very
important because constructivism is widely endorsed in ‘western’ education, but
for international students from a different cultural, social, political, economic and
academic context, tutors may fail to really understand their existing ‘mental
models’” (CST3)
“Understanding international students’ background experiences are really very
necessary for me in order to make links to that which they already know or have
experienced in their own country” (CST2)
Similarly, student participants strongly emphasised the need to develop understanding of their
cultural background; “it would help to understand students’ writing background” (IS4),
“teachers could be able to note students’ weaknesses easily to target them” (IS23), “ this
would be helpful to linkage our previous knowledge with new one” (IS14), “to extend our
previously learned knowledge” (S-RS8) and “it would be helpful for the teachers to
understand students particular problems to improve it” (S-RS35). These suggestions might
help to draw the educators’ and teachers’ attention to the important issue of cultural
differences and avoid expectations that they are similar to home students: this could help
students to overcome anxiety and other related barriers in the way of writing in the mode
required at the higher education level in the UK HE. These views are also supporting the
findings of the study of Duron, et al., (2006) who have suggested the five-step model to move
students towards critical thinking.
6.3.2.2. Encouraging, modelling and reinforcing CT
At this stage students need to be encouraged and reinforced for CT. Students reported that
“teachers should encourage us to move towards CT because it is new for us” (IS10), “we need
to be encouraged from staff members and EAP teachers where do we practice our skills and
also teachers should present some samples of previous assignments which have shown CT”
(S-RS26), “students should be given some examples of phrases and analysis to apply them”
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(S-RS45). Teachers should then introduce a model of critical writing: for example apiece of
work in the written form that motivates the students’ curiosity.
Teachers on the other hand stated that “students should be guided with some good academic
writing books for outlining what is meant by CT skills and how to build these into academic
writing for example Fisher (2001) ‘Critical Thinking an introduction’, Bailey (2006)
‘Academic writing: a handbook for international students’, Reinder (2008) ‘The international
student handbook’ and Cottrell (2003) ‘Study Skills Handbook’ and another (2008) ‘Critical
Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument”, but it is suspected that that
without tutor explanation and encouragement their use may be limited. Similarly some others
responded giving their own examples;
“Students need to be encouraged to think critically during the classes, and then to
develop that style in their writing. For example I try to set class activities that
encourage critical thinking about a particular educational issue so that students start
to realise that there is often no wrong or right answer, but that they must produce
evidence and support their perspective” (CST3)
“It is taught through encouraging and giving students tasks in class that require
them to think. I encourage them to listen to each other and to debate different view:
often students think that it is only the tutor who should be listened to. This can be
difficult when teaching the first module, when students are usually more used to
listening to a lecture, rather than being prepared to debate in class” (CST2)
I think these suggestions would be very helpful in indicating international students’
challenges in meeting expectations of academic writing in the UK and specifically would help
in critically analysing the data the authors have collected in their research.
6.3.2.3. Defining and communicating writing assessment criteria
The Fourth important stage is to show and explain writing standards and criteria. Duron et al.
(2006) reported in their study, “teachers should spend ample time helping students to
understand what the criteria and standards are and what they mean” (p. 162). At this stage
students should be provided with some time in order to discuss important features of critical
writing with their peers as well as with the tutors. That would might be help them in
generating the main ideas for writing, forming their own arguments, providing proper
evidence to defend their arguments, analysing, evaluating and synthesising the written
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information and many other features that are necessary to write critically. C-ST presented the
powerful description for example;
“Prior to setting an assessment task should be given to the international students
quite structured writing frames and oral (and sometimes written) guidance on
expectations in terms of showing their own thinking about the issue presented. The
assignment topics should be written in a way that requires students to make a link
between theory and practice in their own country, and thus to demonstrate some of
their critical thinking. I usually give students examples of what I expect them to do
to show their critical understanding of what they have read and good practice in
academic writing. This can be oral or in writing, or both. I would not say I have
mastered this, but I try to continue to develop new ideas”.
Another teacher reported that international students need to be motivated to read chapters
and/’or sections that focus specifically on an issue that is being discussed. She stated “many
of the Chinese B.Ed students have what I would call a textbook mentality: they expect to be
given one textbook that will have all the knowledge they need to pass the module. Instead,
I’m trying to encourage them to read several different writers discussing the same topic”
(IT10). Defining writing criteria also help to move students towards debating different views
and focusing specifically on an issue that is being discussed. It is also important to give
students tasks in class that require them to think. In order to move towards CT as an
individual, students have to continue thinking, and reading, and preferably discussing the
issues too as reported by the student participants; “if we know and understand the criteria
clearly, it would easy to move towards critical writing” (S-RS34), “teachers should explain
the criteria in detail that what we have actually do in assignments” (S-RS16).
The responses of the both the samples showed that students need to see examples of work that
displays good skills of CT and also examples where CT is lacking. They need to do small
written activities…half a page on giving their point of view and justifying it on a subject that
is quite controversial, preferably something within their experience.
6.3.2.4. Constructive feedback
Teachers’ feedback and assessment of writing is an effort to evaluate and enhance the writing
quality of students in terms of their performance. Previous research suggests that teachers
should be thoughtful and purposeful when providing feedback to the students. Teachers
responded as under;
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“First getting students statements which are illogical and place feedback asking
them to discuss in pairs what is wrong with the statement and why…that are the
first step to critical thinking” (CST1)
“Teachers should provide constructive feedback frequently for whatever they are
expecting from their students in order to assess their learning” (T8)
On the other hand, some students also emphasised on teachers’ feedback in the following
words: “Teachers should feedback properly and comprehensively; this would be helpful to
improve our writing” (IS38). Similarly another student reported that “teachers should provide
feedback frequently to keep their students focused” (S-RS22). Participants’ views support the
arguments of Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, who state that “teachers should provide feedback that
is informational rather than controlling, based on agreed-upon standards, specific and
constructive, quantitative, prompt, frequent, positive, personal, and differential” (as cited in
Duron et al. 2006: p.162).
6.3.2.5. Need to integrate CT in EAP: the bridging programs
International students placed more stress on the cultural factors behind the absence of CT in
their academic writing and the negative consequences of this. Students’ responses also
provided an insight as EAP learners, and this provides an insight into their approach to study
(Walters, 2007: p. 56), which reflects the students’ understanding of academic conventions
and their values ‘as the basis for discussion about the expected outcomes of the course, and
the … aspects required for meaningful and successful study at higher education level’
(Walters, 2007: p. 61). With regard to the current study, students’ and their teachers’
suggestions are generated by their need for university level writing which mainly required CT
skills. The majority of participants proposed the integration of CT skills integration into EAP
because language and thinking are inter-related skills and could be best taught through
integration in the way they are perceived For example;
“I think CT and language integration would be helpful: learning languages could
involve learning to solve problems, working independently, working together, and
being a member of a team and so on. I think learning to be fluent in another
language in it-self lays the foundation for critical thinking: being able to express
thoughts in a different language means that you are expressing thoughts that are
different, and taking on board difference is an aspect of critical thinking” (CST2)
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Similarly another teacher reported that “in my point of view both skills are interrelated and
we should focus on students needs that they require for their course of studies. Critical
thinking skills are more important than simple language activities” (T12). While T1 said “I
think language doesn’t mean grammar and vocabulary. It is development process that makes
someone able to express their thoughts in target language” (T9). Almost all the teachers were
agreed on the need for CT integration with EAP but majority of the language teachers
indicated the reasons that why they are unable to do it for example T6 reported the following;
“Yes I agree with you but because of the shortage of time we cannot cover everything. That’s
limited; I do try to cover but can no”. On the other hand, one of the students pointed out that;
“First of all EAP tutors should help us to develop reading habits of international
students because usually we have limited knowledge about the subject this would
help to improve critical thinking when we will look at the issues on different
perspectives. Secondly Tutors should use questioning techniques frequently in
classrooms. They should present different examples of arguments used in other
essays and issues or topics and then give us to write same on another topics. They
should not teach us the rules of writing but how to write practically in academic
world” (IS29)
In the sections above, the majority of students were found to be dissatisfied with the type of
activities and support EAP classes are providing currently. Students further emphasised on the
need-basis academic writing practice and strongly emphasised on the integration of CT and
EAP. Finally, the assessment of the proposed suggestion/model itself, is important to note.
Direct quotations of students’ and teachers’ provide an immediate and significant source of
information for its effectiveness in order to use it to continually improve students CT skills
for their course of studies. It is believed that critical thinking and writing can provide basis for
integrated learning in this way. The author believes that these suggestions would definitely
help international students to cope with the writing challenges they and their tutors have
reported. These findings raise the following questions for future research; what are the
implications of these findings for the different people involved? What are the consequences of
the findings in the short and long term? Does something need to change? If so, who should
change it and why?
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6.4.
Discussion of results
In the first part of the present chapter, the analysis of students’ perceptions of EAP language
learning modes for academic writing was delineated. The research literature shows that the
main aim of EAP courses is not only to improve students’ language abilities but also to
develop their study skills (Stroch & Tapper, 2009). But international students’ responses have
produced varying results, with a noticeable improvement in their language learning but not in
their skills development. The majority of the student respondents perceive academic writing
courses in EAP modes to be not-supportive specially in terms of fostering CT in their classes.
The students also noted that this does not help them in their writing in their courses of studies.
According to the majority of the students, EAP courses are totally language focused and this
focus does not help with skills development. They highlighted the fact that teachers as well as
writing teaching materials were not facilitating their academic writing needs. The students’
responses support the findings of the previous studies of Green (2005) and Alderson (2000).
Students also clearly reported that EAP language programmes were more focused on the
lower level thinking skills, for example the ability to define, remember, describe, enumerate
and paraphrase etc., as categorised in the SOLO taxonomy. Some students perceived EAP
courses positively as well, and these students observed a great improvement in the
development of academic vocabulary and comprehension skills. They also appreciated the
group work strategies and wherever teachers introduced them with academic writing
conventions. However, the overall role of EAP in fostering CT was perceived negatively by
the international students, which would be help to explore the new dimensions of EAP in the
higher educational research and development.
The analysis of the final research question based on the students’ and teachers’ suggestions
was presented in an analysis of two different learning contexts: native and non-native.
Important factors in the suggested solutions to problems raised by the international students’
native context are as following: students can be more motivated if the objectives of critical
writing are explained clearly. For instance, it looks inappropriate to ask students to write for
academic purposes without an objective especially in a second language learning setting.
Presently in non-English speaking cultures, the way academic writing is taught seems
designed just to complete a question answer exercise in certain time. No matter whether they
plan, research and critique or not, they only required completing a largely descriptive essay.
While in critical writing, students need to write creatively and reflectively. The process of
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critical writing includes proper planning, research, analysis, and the use of supporting
evidence and synthesis. Re-writing in the process of critical writing supports students’
development of clear and accurate ideas. Re-writing further develops and improves depth,
breadth and significance in students’ writing. As for the purpose of academic writing, the
skills of analysis and reasoning demand high levels of CT practice, and unfortunately
questioning approaches in class are avoided in most of the non-English speaking countries. If
the cultivation of such skills is deemed necessary, it would be important to familiarise
students with CT and the behavioural norms of these CT skills. As critical writing is a
complex process it requires more writing practice and therefore a critical writing/modelling
approach implies spending more time spent on writing in the second language classrooms.
Students should also be provided with proper constructive feedback from their teachers. It is
believed that positive and thought-provoking comments can go a long way help in developing
students’ critical writing abilities. Formative as well as summative feedback and assessment is
also suggested.
On the other hand, in the foreign or non-native context, a model was built on the students-tutors
suggestions that the critical thinking approach in writing is complementary and assures the
improvement of critical writing skills in a second language context. Therefore, there is strong need to
understand students’ cultural-educational background. Modelling of CT encourages students to
brainstorm, gather, generate, organise, analyse and synthesise information. Therefore, the
implementation of these higher order cognitive skills within the SOLO levels might hopefully
result in a clearer explanation of students’ surface or deep engagement with writing tasks.
Defining and communicating the writing assessment criteria was also strongly recommended
by both the sample of students and teachers. Teachers’ constructive feedback was another
important area of suggestion, which was highly emphasised by both teachers and students in
order to enhance the quality of students’ learning and performance and this, will also help
students to assess and improve their own performance. Teacher feedback, like assessment,
compares criteria and standards to student performance in an effort to evaluate the quality of
work. However, the purpose of feedback is to enhance the quality of student learning and
performance, rather than to grade the performance, and, importantly, it has the potential to
help students learn how to assess their own performance in the future. Feedback allows the
teacher and student(s) to engage in dialogue about what distinguishes successful performance
from unsuccessful performance as they discuss criteria and standards (Fink, 2003). Finally,
both the samples suggested integrating CT into EAP language learning modes. In their view,
this would not only help them to improve their English proficiency but would help to develop
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their study skills generally, and writing skills particularly.
Previous literature (see chapter two) at one point suggested CT practice in written
communication is needed to reduce these difficulties and the implication is that if students
practice more CT tasks in second language writing, they would be more able to perform
relatively better and better day by day. Otherwise the writing of students with les experience
of CT tasks would be lacking CT skills. In the presented modelling approach, the role of the
teacher is to facilitate their experiences of difficulties, guide them properly and provide them
with helpful feedback. The adaptation, the author believe, would help to ease critical writing
difficulties in the higher education context.
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CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSIONS
7.1. Introduction
The present study has sought to explore the nature and extent of the challenges faced by
international students in relation to their academic writing and how they express critical
thinking in text. Critical and analytical expressions of thought are widely endorsed in the UK
HE system, but have presented tremendous challenges for international students coming from
different cultural-educational backgrounds. Whilst that is also a demanding expectation for
many ‘home’ university students, especially in the context of widening participation, it means
that international students are dealing with ‘multiple challenges’ new knowledge accessed
through a second language, often delivered at speed and using (colloquial) vocabulary that
can hinder accessibility, and then being expected to apply critical thinking to their assignment
task. Therefore, an evaluation of their academic writing approaches was undertaken to
identify the value and actual practice of CT in the cultural-educational context. This study,
then investigates the specific difficulty areas of students’ writing as well as possible
suggestions as to how to facilitate students’ writing experiences.
Overall, the present investigation considers the role of CT in writing for academic purposes
and its link to deep learning as defined by the SOLO taxonomy. The hierarchies of the SOLO
taxonomy as defined in the cognitive skills domain were examined in relation to the NQF UK
Framework (National Qualification Framework, 2008) to deepen the theoretical basis for the
analysis of the present study. Whereas academic assessments in UK universities (and in
‘Western’ higher education) tend to assume that students have developed these abilities,
international students are not generally used to extensive writing that requires the structuring
and building up of a logical and coherent argument using higher order thinking skills. The
study suggests that CT development must be placed at the heart of the education system by
offering worthwhile academic writing provisions and ensuring that students with CT abilities
would be able to show their expertise not only in the field of academic writing but throughout
their career development.
International students from three different non-English speaking cultures, i.e. Asian, Middle
Eastern and African, were involved in the present study, which also comprised participants
who varied in terms of age range, gender, educational level, subject group and whether they
were doing their first or second degree in a UK university. Regarding the associated
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methodology, a qualitative approach was used for collecting and analysing data, in order to
provide richness and depth in the responses and in order to allow for the exploration of
different interpretations of CT. The multi-methods strategy comprised semi-structured
interviews, self-reports, learners’ diaries and a case study. The sample included 50
interviewees and 50 self-reported and 15 diaries keepers international students. The
informants also included 12 English teachers, who were interviewed individually and face-to
face. The Study was conducted in two UK universities which are coded for the purposes of
anonymity: 1) University A, and 2) University B. On the basis of the findings a number of
recommendations were made: for example, the staff and students were encouraged to consider
the importance deep learning engagement and the development of higher order reflection in
order to evaluate quality of students’ writing. An analysis of the results further showed that
the key factors in improving the quality of student thinking were the reinforcement of active
learning rather than passive and an institutional culture of feedback and assessment. Below is
a reiteration of the research questions addressed in the study:
1
i. How do international students and English-language teachers
(ELT) conceptualise CT?
ii. What approaches do international students utilize or prefer to
utilize towards writing?
2
i. What are the initial CT-related academic writing problems
experienced by international students?
ii. What are the inhibiting factors to fostering international
students’ CT skills?
3
i. What is the role of EAP language learning modes towards CT
practices?
ii. What possible suggestions/models would help to facilitate
students’ experiences of CT?
The present chapter will provide and discuss an overview of the main research findings, issues
arising from the findings, original contributions to the research, limitations of the study,
implications and future directions of the study and conclusion.
7.2. Overview of the main research findings
Below is the discussion of the main research findings in relation to the proposed research
questions.
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7.2.1. Regarding international students’ approaches to academic writing
The combination of qualitative methodology in the present study produced a holistic picture of
the international students’ understanding of critical thinking, and their approaches to academic
writing. The confirmatory evidence shows that students’ familiarity with this notion is still
vague and at an abstract level. International students from many different non-Western regions
have a relatively narrow view of CT, an issue which mainly resides in their previous cultural
domain. While some of the views expressed resemble important features of the conceptions of
other well-known educators, such as Ennis (1987), Paul (1990) and Lipman (1995), they also
indicate key differences. The reasons stated for not being fully aware of the concept may be
unfamiliarity with it in their native cultures. Asian countries have an exam-based system which
promotes rote learning. This view was also confirmed by some of the students in this study.
Therefore, it does seem to be a cultural practice which emerges from their early learning
experience. The students’ learning experiences in the early stages could probably help them to
consolidate many basic issues in using their CT skills, by setting up some simple principles.
It has been confirmed that effective learning can only take place when students are encouraged
to use new ideas and theories, but as the above findings show, a large number of new entry
students in UK universities come with no clear understanding of this concept. Though,
developing students’ academic skills and abilities are a major responsibility of any education
system, it was neglected in the international students’ previous academic writing experience. It
was also surprising to note that about one third of participants clearly answered that they did not
know what CT was. It was noted that participants who replied with ‘don’t know’ and ‘not sure’
seemed reserved, silent and less expressive about discussing CT, and this could be a possible
attribute of their cultural values of social harmony. The majority of the tutors, on the other hand,
who were experienced in teaching international students, were fully aware of the issues and had
a well-formed and deep understanding of the concept of CT. The teachers not only highlighted
the crucial issues related to CT which they encountered when tutoring international students, but
also articulated the deeper value of teaching CT. They expressed the significant value of CT in
terms of cognitive abilities as well as in terms of CT dispositions.
In relation to the students’ writing approaches, the findings of the study support Biggs’ (1993)
theoretical work on processing strategies, based on deep and surface-level processing and
corresponding to the different levels of the SOLO taxonomy of learning. The students who
preferred to use deep approaches did this thorough understanding, seeking for meaning, looking
for logical connections, and making critical judgments. In the case of the surface learners,
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however, attention was directed towards reproduction of received material, memorisation, rote
learning and passive strategies. Some other students preferred to utilise achieving approaches by
making efforts and time management strategies. It was found from the analysis of evidence that
most international students preferred to take a surface approach to writing, whereas the academic
writing outcomes demand deep learning (NFQ, 2008).The present study found that the majority of
university students defined and approach critical thinking tasks with surface strategies or methods
(revision, defining, memorising, describing and paraphrasing etc.), and strongly agreed that learning
involved knowledge construction rather than knowledge telling. In contrast, teachers demand a deep
engagement with writing tasks, usually focused on cognitive development. The students’ preferred
approaches showed the lack of value/importance placed on CT in writing. The data indicated
that these kinds of approaches make students less motivated, but a positive aspect is that they
are also fully aware about the issue of using such approaches in British Universities.
The present findings have increased and enhanced knowledge by investigating the direct
relationship between students’ writing approaches and their academic writing performance. In
terms of the significant relationship between deep approaches and CT skills, the study further
showed that students who reported that they chose deep writing approaches were generally
more likely to express fewer CT-related problems in writing for academic purpose. On the other
hand, some students can also achieve good grades in their studies by working hard through
note-taking strategies, putting in efforts to attend extra sessions and seeking help from their
tutors. Interestingly, the students who utilized achieving or strategic strategies demonstrated
both higher and lower CT skills. Overall, the findings indicated an association between writing
approaches and cognitive engagement, leading to the understanding that frequent use of upper
levels of SOLO learning can enhance the quality of thinking. The present study, however
suggests that improving the standard of teaching writing could be a significant lever for
increasing the quality of academic writing as acknowledged by international students. For
example, the critical and deep engagement seemed to facilitate students’ writing performance
by enabling them to have a better understanding of the written text. This exposed the actual
reasons for the difficulties inherent in international students’ lack of a CT approach towards
their studies. The findings also indicate that it would be a serious mistake to expect and require
the same approach to learning from international students as from the home student.
7.2.2. Regarding problem areas of students’ writing
The analyses of students’ and teachers’ perspectives indicate international students as being
very poor in terms of CT competency, which is reflected in their CT-related difficulties, such
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as: lack of clarity; lack of logical organisation; lack of critical evaluation and critical analysis;
failure to provide proper evidence to support arguments, and failure to develop synthesising
arguments. The results showed surprising differences between UK academics’ expectations
and the difficulties that international students encountered. Although academic conventions
such as CT are treated as “common sense” in Western educational cultures (Kelley, 2008), a
great majority of the students reported their own inability to understand the language used in
common feedback from their teachers, such as “clarify”, “support your argument”, “analyse”
or “evaluate critically”, etc. This is because international students may have a completely
different understanding of these conventions (Lillis & Turner, 2001), arising from
pedagogical practices in their own cultural-educational context.
The students’ and teachers’ responses show that, in academic discourse, learning occurs when
there are opportunities for students to use and share their ideas and opinions, to link them with
theories and to lead them to practical implications, which can be feasible only by using
critical thought. Students at higher educational levels must be able to think critically, not only
for educational purposes, but in order to enhance their life and employability skills. Students’
difficulties related to the lack of CT seemed to make them enormously confused in the
Western academic context, and the resulting struggle in coping with an unfamiliar academic
approach was reported by both students and teachers. The lack of CT practice in their
previous cultural-educational context was reported as one of the main reasons for this by both
the students and their teachers. The students’ responses also show a mismatch between
teacher training programs of teaching writing between their countries of origin and academic
writing requirements in the UK HE system. As today’s higher education has placed much
emphasis on curiosity and self-expression, international students’ limited writing abilities are
bound to be deficient, and this might be because university teachers are strongly concerned
about scholarly writing, as reported by the teacher participants.
The results showed surprising gaps between ‘British’ educational expectations indicated by
English teachers, and the difficulties that students from non-Western cultures encounter as a
result of the fact that university students must be able to present an integrated discussion, with
a strong and consistent thread or line of argument that links understanding, knowledge, ideas,
references and a personal and critical perspective. From the teachers’ as well as the
international students’ experiences, it seems that one of the main problems in demonstrating
CT in their academic writing, is that they may not realise what it actually requires of them.
They are expected to do it, but what it is they are expected to do is often not explained or
demonstrated. They also explained that, though it can in fact be difficult to explain and guide
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students in developing this skill, once it is made clear to them what is required, most
international students can (within their own academic abilities) apply it. The spectrum of
achievement in this respect is quite varied, as it is with home students, but the challenge of
operating in a manner which contradicts their own cultural and academic norms is
problematic. When students have been raised in a society that is largely centrally controlled,
and where challenging bureaucracy and having ideas which diverge from the centre are
overtly discouraged, it can be very difficult for international students to ‘switch on’ such
ability and then to limit its application to an academic context. When the students and their
tutors were asked about the barriers to students’ CT development, previous language learning
experiences were indicated as the most powerful barrier. This study suggested that implicit
practices and procedures (reported by the students) in their native learning process are the
main inhibitions to the development of CT. Teachers’ support, in terms of an instructional
context, is crucial, yet the findings of the present study show inadequate instructional support
from teachers in non-Western educational cultures.
The students also reported that the majority of the teachers in their home countries were
unqualified for English language teaching and never taught them about CT skills and their
importance. They seemed to teach English, not as a second/foreign language and how to use
it, but just to help students to pass their exams. This resulted in passive learning in the case of
the majority of students. These responses clearly indicated that the cultural-educational focus
is more related to the lower level cognitive skills such as memorising, paraphrasing and
comprehension of learnt information, comprehending main idea, describing and enumerating
etc., rather than deep processing of relating to principle, applying: near problems, explaining
and arguing, reflecting, applying for problems and hypothesising. In the context of the current
study, CT is deemed to take place when students are required to perform in the relational and
extended abstract levels (Biggs, 1999: p.55). Therefore, the education system must have the
teachers with high quality skills and experience to deliver excellent academic writing teaching
programs in order to improve students’ abilities to cope with CT related challenges.
A few students, on the other hand, might be able to cope with CT issues effectively. In short,
the majority of the students regarded their previous English language learning experiences in
their home countries as the main reason for problems in their CT development. Therefore it is
suggested that course materials for teaching English as a second language should be designed
carefully, in order to improve existing educational practice in non-Western academic cultures.
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7.2.3. Recommendations
The final research question set out to determine the students’ and tutors’ suggestions for
overcoming and minimizing students’ CT related challenges at the higher level of education.
In order to answer the final research question, the findings of research questions one to four
(students’ CT conceptions, problems, utilized approaches and cultural-educational barriers)
were analysed carefully. The lack of CT skills does affect the academic writing performance
of international students; this study provides significant insights into their challenges at
British universities. There is a need for greater understanding of students’ academic writing
challenges. University faculty should make pedagogical adjustments to support the learning
needs of international students. Interventions should be designed to specifically address the
needs of international students by demonstrating cultural-educational awareness.
The students and tutors both suggested that one should be encouraged to think critically from
childhood. Both the samples agreed that teaching and learning should be designed to meet the
students’ needs, and should provide them with proper guidance and appropriate practice. They
also suggested that CT must be the main aim/goal of any HE system, and CT should be taught
through presenting and modelling CT examples in the classroom. For this purpose,
Continuing Professional development (CPD) programs based on the ‘reflective practice’ are
highly emphasised for language teachers in order to enhance teaching academic writing
quality. English language staff that have teaching experience with international students
across disciplines have identified an urgent need to develop their critical thinking skills in
order to design appropriate support. As the material often focused on language issues rather
than skills development, students did not feel it met their needs. They also preferred more
focus on CT skills such as critical analysis and evaluation. Another approach to improving
students’ CT skills involved the embodiment of academic writing content and CT
instructions. Universities need to establish support services to assist international students
learning experiences. These include academic writing courses and supplemental training that
focuses on specific CT skills. These interventions will help to determine their effects on
international student academic writing performance. Evidence suggests that the instructional
context in terms of curriculum and teaching methods may affect CT skills and retention.
Furthermore, the students and tutors reported that the numbers of students in writing classes
should be reduced, and that students should be taught writing through quality materials
(curriculum improvement) in order to enhance their CT skills. Questioning techniques and
group work should be focused on, and CT skills must be embedded in, English language
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courses generally and EAP (English for Academic Purposes) courses specifically. The
implication is that if students practised more CT tasks in their L2 (second language) writing,
they would be more able to improve their performance day by day. As for the purpose of
academic writing, the skills of analysis and reasoning demand a high level of CT practice, and
unfortunately questioning and other methods to cultivate CT are very much avoided in most
non-English speaking countries. If the cultivation of such skills is deemed necessary, it is
important to familiarise students with CT and to encourage the practice of these skills as
behavioural norms.
Given these insights, university personnel can take steps focused on the transitional
challenges of international students within current provision by giving additional training and
redesigning of existing academic writing courses. Although such kinds of interventions for
international students have not been widely reported, those reviewed in the present study are
excellent examples of what can be accomplished. Another key area to international student
adjustment is faculty training in fostering CT in their classes. Long term and strategic faculty
training programs should be started to improve innovation and skills in teaching writing
professions. Finally, helping international students to be successful requires universities to be
proactive in demonstrating their commitment and belief in the contributions of international
students by engaging in related research and offering appropriate programmes and services.
To provide the best possible learning experiences to students, teachers should provide
opportunities to engage in the higher order levels of the SOLO taxonomy, where CT takes
place. The following model will be helpful once implemented in any classroom in order to
move students’ towards critical thinking. Teachers should enhance active learning approaches
to engage students and make the course more enjoyable. Active learning involves students in
activities that cause them to think about what they are doing, it also enhances the overall
learning experience of students by enabling them to reflect on the meaning of their learning
experience. Fink (2003) states that, in reflective writing, students should address the following
questions: What am I learning? What is the value of what I am learning? How am I learning?
What else do I need to learn?
In an attempt to recommend a possible suggestions model for critical writing, based on the
students’ and tutors’ suggestions, it was felt that the critical thinking approach is
complementary to writing and greater instruction in this would assure an improvement in
critical writing skills in both first and second language contexts.
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7.3. Issues arising from the findings
The findings of the current study show that social, cultural and educational backgrounds could
have important implications for students’ CT development. This section, however, focuses on
the issues arising from the findings, and the possible implications of the current research in
relation to theory and practice are discussed. It was noted that the majority of the students
were unable to express CT because of their lack of awareness of the notion, which further led
them to encounter challenges in terms of critical thinking and writing in their courses of
study. This reflected on the educational-cultural practices in non-Western regions, where there
has not yet been an emphasis on developing and practising CT skills. This results in the
promotion of descriptive forms of writing rather than creative, reflective and critical writing.
The same situation was reported by the majority of the students from almost all of the three
non-Western regions represented. It is clear that little effort is made to encourage CT
development in these regions, and nothing is apparently being done to amend the situation.
The difficulties which students confronted, in the students’ and teachers’ views, included:
students’ inability to generate their own ideas and formulate their own arguments; inability to
analyse ideas, information, concepts and arguments from different perspectives; inability to
evaluate arguments critically; lack of logical organisational skills, and an inability to
synthesise and conclude information.
The surface-oriented approaches towards academic writing used by many of the students were
inappropriate to the discursive nature of critical writing in the UK academic context. This led
to the failure of non-native speaking students, in the new educational environment, to achieve
the objectives of university education. Focus on what to write rather than how to write was
extremely noticeable in the students’ descriptions of their previous learning, with the result
that the skills of analysis, evaluation, argumentations had been ignored and critical thinking/
writing had been replaced with descriptive writing. To understand the students’ lack of CT
development, therefore, it is necessary to understand their cultural-educational barriers.
Furthermore, the students, in their home contexts, were not allowed to ask enough questions
to satisfy their curiosity. This is somewhat shocking but is nevertheless a fact expressed by a
range of international students about their cultural-educational context. These kinds of
attitudes are not helpful in developing the skills of CT. Students not only need parental
support to encourage CT behaviours, but teachers’ feedback is also crucial and most
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beneficial. Summative feedback was mostly used by teachers in the non-Western educational
cultures described, and this was criticised by the international students.
It was also found from the students’ responses that the examination based method were
generally not designed in the way to assess students’ critical thinking and cognitive skills, and
this promoted rote learning rather than deep learning. They also responded that their teachers
demanded quantity in writing rather than quality. It is obvious from the students’ responses
that the teachers’ feedback and assessment methods had a negative impact in terms of
developing the students’ skills of CT and writing. Unfortunately, the curriculum for ESL/EFL
was inadequate to fulfil the students’ critical writing needs. Repetitive and out-dated exercises
were used in practice for teaching second language writing in many of the non-Western
countries. The students’ responses showed disappointment, and they reported that insufficient
efforts were made to develop their CT skills and prepare them for the world of work as a
global citizen.
7.4. Original contribution of the research
Universities in the UK have aspired to the ambitious goal of diversity in representing the
world’s different cultures in their student bodies, but in-depth understanding is still limited in
terms of the major differences in cultural ideas that mean students make sense of the world in
totally different ways. The current investigation seeks to make a modest contribution to the
development of knowledge and the existing body of research in the field, by identifying the
phenomenon of the lack of CT in different cultural-educational contexts. The current study
aims to reveal international students’ familiarity with the notion of CT, as well as their
approaches to academic writing. This study may also draw the attention of educators and
curriculum developers of the non-Western countries towards making their students aware of
these highly demanding and essential components in order to compete in the globalized
world. It is the general consensus that once students are able to understand academic
conventions in their native language, it is likely that this can be applied or transferred into a
second language or perhaps to a third language as well.
The study also contributes by presenting a strong picture of non-English students’ problems in
approaching CT tasks. This study confirms that almost all the non-English speaking and nonWestern countries have the same educational culture. The findings of the current study
indicate that it would be a serious mistake to expect and require the same approach to learning
216
from international students as those of the home student. It is also important to note that some
students who had reported themselves as successful writers in their home countries, also
stated similar problems when studying in UK universities, and this could possibly be a
consequence of rote learning and imitation. This also clarifies the misjudgement which has
been indicated in the previous research literature (Buck & Hatter, 2005; Granello, 2001), that
writing skills are easily transferable from the undergraduate to other levels without culturaleducational consideration.
The present investigation is crucially important for curriculum developers, educators and
teachers of many different non-English speaking cultures, to help them review the current
issues of higher education at a policy level, especially with regard to the development of
academic writing, both in general terms in the students’ native language, and more
particularly where English is a second/foreign language. Solutions suggested by international
students themselves and by English teachers would help in the re-design of syllabi and in
improving writing instruction in order to promote CT in university level education, in line
with properly addressing students’ needs and developing CT pedagogy. In order to provide
outstanding learning experiences, this study contributes and provides a reference point for the
curriculum developer and educators. It is hoped that when it is realised, in cross-cultural
contexts, that there is a need to teach CT in order to tackle the obstacles to academic writing,
most of the problems associated with this aspect of second language (L2) writing could
largely be solved.
Specifically, this study contributes to knowledge in an academic perspective, because the
current issue of international students’ familiarity with the concept of CT and its relationship
to the background variables has never been researched so far. On the other hand, the
difference in the role and value of CT between non-English speaking cultures and the UK can
perhaps be best understood as a mismatch of educational cultures, whereby in one culture CT
is strongly required, and in the other it is poorly neglected. This does not mean in any sense
that international students are not bright, talented, observant and critical, but they have
probably had little CT exposure in their native learning environment, a factor which will be
researched intensively in the next stage. Finally, of pedagogical importance, is that Western
educators and policy makers should consider the developmental nature of these study skills
when dealing with culturally diverse students.
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7.5. Limitations of the study
The present study, however, is not without its limitations. First of all, the current study was
limited to the specific group of international students; this could be expanded to both home
and international students in order to make comparisons between the experiences in different
cultural-educational context. Secondly, there are limitations resulting from the sample
included in the current study which has hindered the consideration of perspectives from a
wider range of study levels. Although the sample was gender balanced, it also involved many
different disciplines, levels of education and assessed having first or second degree in the UK,
therefore representativeness on these variable bases could not be evaluated due to the large
amount of qualitative responses. Further, as the majority of the students were Arabicspeaking, asking about their experiences in their first language could be an advantage.
7.6. Implications and directions for the future research
The important factors of the suggested solutions, as described in the previous chapter, would,
I believe, help to ease CT related difficulties in the native educational context of non-Western
countries. Moreover, the academic norms of CT that were justified in the research literature
could be applied in non-Western educational contexts in terms of the teaching and learning
process. For example, teaching and assessment methods at university levels could be rethought. This would help in the re-design of syllabi and in improving writing instruction in
order to promote CT in university level education, in line with properly addressing students’
needs and developing CT pedagogy. Developing the higher order skills of the SOLO
taxonomy of learning objectives can be managed by developing appropriate questions,
designing specific learning activities, and giving feedback on and assessing student learning
outcomes (Duron et al., 2006). Therefore, teachers should give consideration to current
pedagogical issues by implementing the CT framework suggested mutually by both
international students and their English teachers. Following Fink (2003) feedback can be used
to enhance the quality of student learning and performance, rather than to grade the
performance, and, importantly, it has the potential to help students learn how to assess their
own performance in the future. However, teachers should provide constructive, positive and
specific feedback not controlling (Ginsberg, 1995). Deep learning is also linked to the nature
and quality of how teachers structure their lessons to allow the opportunity for deep processing.
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Tasks should be set that encourage the development of active learning processing, and provide
feedback and challenges for students to attain such deep processing.
Pedagogical change can occur only if institutions are interested in CT development,
application and promotion. To achieve this effectively, they might need monetary investment
to send their teachers’ teams to conferences and workshops in the English-speaking countries
where CT is fundamental. They could also import those ideas used by English academics to
develop CT, in order to achieve innovation. It has been found that effective strategies could
be developed even through small changes (Cosgrove, 2009; Scanlan, 2006; Cordingly,
2005a). Alternatively, a team of external experts could be brought in to support the
application of CT. Curricula should be re-assessed in order to determine the CT standards.
The current study has illuminated many different possible future directions. For example, on
the one hand it has shown that long-term efforts are needed from both students and teachers to
cultivate CT in their native cultural-educational contexts. On the other hand, it has confirmed
international students’ difficulties in approaching CT and suggested the students’ engagement
in active learning. The current study has also emphasised the teacher training programmes
required to best foster CT instruction in order to develop students’ abilities and traits of mind.
This research has highlighted the obstacles to developing and implementing CT, but also
raised many questions about how teacher training programmes should be structured and
designed to support the need for CT. This important issue should be discussed in future
research.
Improvements could also be made by placing greater emphasis on the need to understand
international students’ cultural background in the non-native context of UK universities. Both
groups of participants agreed that CT should be integrated into EAP language modules. Both
students and teachers strongly emphasized the encouragement, modelling and reinforcement
of CT in classes in a non-native educational context. Both groups suggested that writing
assessment criteria should be defined and communicated clearly and in detail before setting
assignments. Furthermore, techniques for promoting CT should not be limited to academic
writing. Students need to be encouraged to think critically during classes, and then to develop
that style in their writing in order to produce evidence to support their perspective. Through
class discussions and activities they can be required to develop and apply critical thinking.
Good use of questioning skills as a tutor can be an effective tool for helping students to
develop CT skills.
Having researched this field, the present study has explored the new dimensions of the
research in the higher education. Future research could employ mixed methods to investigate
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the students’ perspectives. This study argue for the improvements, which could be made
through non-Western countries arranging a variety of collaborative study programmes with
Western universities, where students can practice CT according to the Western academic
conventions. The exploration of the suggested applications could be crucial in the students’
development of CT skills, in order to bridge the study-skills gap between Western and nonWestern teaching and learning in higher education. Moreover, it would inform the educators
and policy makers about the importance and implications of CT, so that future courses would
be developed accordingly, which would help to enhance students’ learning experiences and
better prepare them for a global context which is culturally and linguistically diverse.
7.7. Conclusion
The present study analyses international students’ writing approaches, and problems related to
critical thinking which international students initially face in their academic writing. This
study also addresses the possible suggestions to facilitate them. The findings reveal that
students from non-Western traditions approach and perform CT tasks differently, which
seems to affect their academic performance adversely. The results of the study suggest that
these difficulties can be attributed in large part to students’ lack of cultural-educational
practice in intellectual skills. Therefore, it is recommended that explicit efforts should be
made to raise awareness of the need to enable overseas students acclimatise to the new
academic environment, so that they might become more productive and effective users of
second language. These findings call for a more comprehensive understanding of the extent to
which international students feel able to realise critical thinking in their own writing.
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APPENDICES
APPENDIX 1: List of guiding interview/self-reports questions (Students)
Pre-Interview Questionnaire
1. Name (Optional)...
2. Email address...
3. Gender...
4. What is your age?
5. What is your current study?
6. Subject group?
7. Nationality...
8. Doing 1st or 2nd degree in the UK?
Interview/Self-reports Questions
1. What is academic writing in your point of views and how was your academic
writing experience in English in your home country?
2. How important is critical thinking to academic writing?
3. What are your conceptions of critical thinking?
4. What are your main approaches to academic writing?
5. What are your initial critical thinking-related academic writing problems?
6. What are the main reasons behind these problems in your point of views?
7. What is the role of EAP language learning modes towards critical thinking
practices?
8. What possible suggestions/models would help to facilitate your critical
thinking-related challenges in academic writing?
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APPENDIX 2: List of guiding interview questions (Teachers)
Pre-Interview Questionnaire
1. Name (Optional)...
2. Email address...
3. Gender...
4. What is your qualification?
5. Current position?
6. Teaching Experience
Interview Questions
1. How would you explain the concept of critical thinking
2. How important is critical thinking to your teaching?
3. What are the initial critical thinking-related academic writing problems
experienced by international students?
4. What are the inhibiting factors to fostering international students’ critical
thinking skills?
5. What is the role of EAP language learning modes towards critical thinking
practices?
6. What possible suggestions/models would help to facilitate students’ experiences
of CT?
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APPENDIX 3: Learners’ diaries scheduale
Total session per week ___________
Sessions you have attended ____________
Length of writing activities ____________ minutes per session
Complete these sentences
Overall students’ engagement is....
Academic writing exercises include.....
My difficulties are.............
I would like to know..........
Critical thinking engagement....
Teachers’ role in fostering critical thinking.....
I did not like........
I appreciated.............
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Appendix 4: Students’ written sample
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