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Current demand for adult students to learn English on an international scale has become a function of necessity. As an illustration, global enrolment of mature students at English Language centres has increased exponentially over the last decade. To clarify, adults have predominantly sought to learn English to communicate within informal contexts, but with the English language developing as a valuable commodity, that enables privileged access to financial markets and business deals, institutions offer courses that promote real-world (authentic) learning. For this reason, the theory of situated learning forms the conceptual framework of authentic learning (Herrington et al 2000: 1). The intention of the proposed ethnographic study is to investigate adult Qatari students perceptions of their learning experiences using a reputable English - teaching curriculum based on a situated learning framework. The learning environment involves a curriculum for English-as-a-second language (ESL) students. Twenty students will be observed and interviewed to explore their perceptions of the authentic English language learning environment.
2.1. Rationale & Background
Research findings derived from the perceptions of adult English language learners are significant within the context of Arab learning. Dr. Abdelwahid Yousif, in his report titled 'The State and Development of Adult learning and education in the Arab States", (2009) divulges the failure of Arab nations to adequately share appropriate information with UNESCO about public and private educational institutions in their national reports. In specific terms, 17 of the 21 Arab nations submitted reports. Of these 17 reports, various research efforts by academic institutions, as well as the collective contributions of cultural programmes and part-time courses offered by private academies were not published. At the same time, the need for research within the domain of an 'untraditional approach of learning' is firmly bolstered by Yousif's reference to the reports:
"However, they (the Arab reports) were all confined to the narrow focus of a traditional approach to literacy and adult education putting the whole issue in a ''strait jacket."
Hence a critical need exists for research of Arab adult education that diverts from the confines of the explicit or written curriculum.
2.2. Research Problem
Many companies expect a high level of English language proficiency from their team members. With this in mind, an increasing number of employers are enrolling their employees in courses to remain competitive in an English - dominated business world. Furthermore, understanding how students perceive English language learning as a component of mandatory professional development, can assist instructors and teachers to empathize more in their interactions with their students and may also inform educators of methodologies or approaches that they can adopt to enhance motivation and participation.
With this in consideration, the primary research question for the investigation is as follows:
Í How do adult Qatari students perceive 'authentic' English Language Learning?
In addition, secondary questions are stated:
Í To what extent do the students experience 'true' situated learning?
Í What additional findings can contribute to the existing body of knowledge regarding 'situated learning theory ?'
2.2.1. Foreshadowed problems
Traditional, quantitative research is regularly undertaken by researchers to test a theory. In addition, quantitative research is a deductive process i.e. research hypotheses emanate from theoretical assumptions (Mouton: 2011). Hence, hypothesis formulation initiates the testing of theories. In contrast, ethnographic research embraces the use of foreshadowed problems; factors or issues that are essentially assertions of definitive research problems that guide the research focus (Baron: 2012). However, foreshadowed problems do not foresee or predict research outcomes (Baron: 2012). Ethnographic research diverges from traditional research due to its inductive inferential approach (Mouton: 2011).
2.3. Research Aims
The primary intention of the proposed research will be to discover the perceptions ( opinions and feelings ) of adult Qatari students towards English Language Learning.
The secondary objectives of the ethnographic study are:
Í To determine the extent to which students believe they are experiencing 'true' situated learning
Í To reveal any additional findings that can add to the body of knowledge pertaining to 'situated learning theory'
2.4. Preliminary Literature Review
Learning and Curriculum
The proposed study will concentrate on the learning experiences of adult English Language students of Qatari citizenship. Under these circumstances, referral to the concept of curriculum is important. Specifically, Ornstein and Hunkins (2004: 11) iterate the challenges faced in defining the term curriculum. In the broadest sense, curriculum is closely associated with the learning experiences of the student; a theoretical perspective originally postulated by Dewey (Ornstein & Hunkins 2004 : 11). To put it differently, learning is defined as a moderately lasting alteration in an individual's behaviour influenced by his or her interaction with the environment (Johnston:2009). To summarize from a situated learning perspective, learning involves an individual's interaction with the external environment and the reinterpretation and reanalyzation of information within the real world context (Brown et al.; 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991 in Mims: 2003)
Culture and Learning
Since the proposed ethnographic investigation focusses on the authentic learning experiences of adult Qatari students, the role of culture in the learning process is closely scrutinized. Darling - Hammond et.al emphasizes the necessity for an enhanced understanding of the cultural influence of students on learning:
"Much of what we know about learning has been based on research in psychology and sociology. However, the picture is incomplete without an understanding of anthropology, whose major focus is culture."
For this reason, situated learning theory is suitable in helping to illustrate how adult students acquire a second language. By the same token, it will assist in the conceptualization of the learning experiences of adult Qatari students at the Lingo* Language Learning Centre. Situated social practice, as it is also referred as, was first theorised by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger.
The Tenants of Situated Learning Theory
A number of assumptions underpin situated learning theory (Herrington et al. 2000), and include the provision of:
â€¢ Authentic learning environments
â€¢ Authentic tasks
â€¢ Access to adept modelling
â€¢ Multi-faceted roles and perspectives
â€¢ Collaborative group work
â€¢ Abstractive reflection
â€¢ Articulation of implied knowledge
â€¢ Teacher instruction and support
â€¢ Accurate assessment
Moreover, the nine tenants mentioned above encompass the 'body of knowledge' mentioned in the research question.
A Community of Practice
A community of practice is a concept that derives from the actions of a group of people who collaborate in the learning process within the context of specific domains ( 5* ). Above all, the notion of 'community of practice' is integral to situated learning processes. For example, a group of adult students who simultaneously enrol in an English language course will share a domain that characterizes a specific community of practice; they will share experiences and ideas unique to that particular group. Further, once the domain is established, the students will feel confident to share opinions, discuss ideas and disseminate information within the classroom setting. Identically, learning occurs through student interaction; the instructor acting as a facilitator within the community of practice. In the words of Jean Lave, learning should not only explain the internalization of knowledge by individuals through socio-cognitive mechanisms, but also as a conduit through which participants become adherents to a community of practice (Lave:1991).Given these points, obtaining a complete ethnographic description of the subjects involved in the study, will involve the researcher considering those aspects of the community of practice that direct the learning process. To enumerate, Mouton (2011: 148) iterates the significance of applying ethnographic research within the context of communities (learning) and cultures.
Cognitive Apprenticeships and Authentic Learning
Student interaction and the facilitatory role of the instructor may lead to the formation of cognitive apprenticeships (Brown, J et. al in 2* ). For one thing, becoming a cognitive apprentice forms the basis for authentic learning. Equally, student collaboration and facilitator guidance help students to solve - problems based on real - world situations. At the same time, the processes underlying the concept of cognitive apprenticeships relate to Vygotsky's socio-constructivist theory, whereby students operate within the parameters of 'proximal zones of development.' ( 3* )
Legitimate Peripheral Participation
Finally, students will become practitioners (5*) as they negotiate the curriculum. Generally speaking, each group will develop particular methods of dealing with specific tasks and during problem - solving activities; although these socio-cognitive tools are usually only acquired over a lengthy period. In the same way, the process whereby members of the community of practice become increasingly confident to collaborate with one another defines the term legitimate peripheral participation.
Situated Learning and Conventional Learning
Lave and Wenger suggested that situated learning differs from conventional learning due to the interwoven complexities of activity, context and culture (2*). In contrast, traditional classroom learning includes the transmission of abstract knowledge that is often taught out of context. Lave and Wenger (2*). Situated learning often occurs in the classroom as a non - deliberate process, whereas traditional learning is prescriptive and measured in its approach.
The Significance of Situated Learning Theory
Lave and Wenger's theory of situated learning forms a framework for reliably describing the learning processes of adult Qatar students. To demonstrate, Lave poignantly describes the relevance of the theory to an ethnographic study of students ( Lave:1991)
"â€¦â€¦â€¦this view also claims that learning, thinking and knowing are relations among people engaged in , with, and arising from the social and culturally structured world.
2.5. Research Design
2.5.1. Research approach
A qualitative, ethnographic case study will be undertaken by the researcher. The choice of this particular design is justified by two factors. Firstly, the research will involve Qatari students; which refers to a specific cultural grouping. Likewise, ethnographic research is typically linked to the concept of cultural anthropology. Secondly, twenty students will participate in the research study. In the same breath, Mouton (2011: 149) defines an ethnographic case study as qualitative in description and involving less than fifty participants.
2.5.2. Site Selection
Lingo* Language School is the site where the ethnographic research is conducted. The choice of site selection is validated by the learning which occurs in natural settings i.e on -the- job - training. In addition, there will be no interference from the researcher. i.e. the researcher will act as "participant - as - observer."
2.5.3. Sampling and Participants
According to Mouton (2011: 150), participants are selected using theoretical or judgement sampling. Essentially, theoretical sampling is purposeful sampling (Smith et al. 2001). Mouton (2011) in his publication, How to Succeed in Your Master's and Doctoral Studies, indicate his preference in using the term 'selection of cases' to replace the term 'sampling' in ethnographic studies. Adopting theoretical sampling relies on the deliberate formation of categories (4* and Smith, A & Stewart, B ). Selection of categories occurs before the investigation or are modified as the study proceeds (4*). Although categories exist in ethnographic research, the analysis of the data must not result in a 'compartmentalised' view of reality. Hence, ethnographic should adopt a holistic approach (Baron:2012). Smith et al (2001) refers to Strauss' (1991) suggestion that theoretical sampling involves the simultaneous processes of conducting data - collection and data analysis.
Thus, the primary motivation for using theoretical sampling in ethnographic case studies is to accommodate for the emergence of patterns derived from interviewing the various participants and then adjusting the further selection of participants to continue identifying new theoretical trends. All the participants will be of Qatari nationality. In addition, they will be at least 18 years of age ( to confirm their adult status ). Depending on the gender composition of students, an effort will be made to select 10 female students and 10 male students, thereby making the gender composition 50 / 50. Qatari female students generally request a female teacher, so making the gender composition varied may prove challenging.
2.5.4. Reliability and Validity
To enhance the internal validity (interpretability) of the research findings, triangulation is implemented. i.e. multiple data collection methods (Baron:2012). Equally, reliability is possible by adopting appropriate methodology and sufficient access to information and participants (Baron:2012).
The lack of generalizability (external validity) of results is the most frequently mentioned limitation of ethnographic research ( Mouton 2011: 150 and Hodkinson et al : 2001 ). Despite a potentially weak external validity, (Baron:2012) mentions the obligation of readers and other researchers to interpret results and ascertain the generalizability of the results. In addition, numeric representation of data is mostly lacking in ethnographic research (Mouton 2011 : 150 and Hodkinson et al : 2001), and therefore, it is almost impossible to predict that similar research findings will exist in a larger population.
Mouton (2011:150) comments on the strength inherent in the high construct validity of ethnographic research. Mouton and Hodkinson et al also share a common belief that ethnographic case studies enable the researcher to gain deeper insights into human behaviour; a factor often overlooked by quantitative research.
2.5.7. Ethical Considerations
Ethnographic research has a direct relationship with human behaviour and insights (Genzuk: 1999) Therefore , the researcher must consider some pertinent issues relating to ethics. Firstly, permission to undertake research is obtained from the Language Centre Director. Full details of the purpose and process of the study is shown to the managerial team at the language school. Secondly, the researcher must obtain informed consent from the students. All details of the research (and its potential implications) are disclosed to the participants. Upon completion of the research report, the managerial team and students should are permitted to have full access to the details of the final dissertation. Anonymity and confidentiality is always guaranteed to the students and these issues are reiterated to the students on the questionnaire forms and verbally by the researcher before the interview process. If tape recording during the interviews is involved, consent is obtained from the management and students.
2.6. Research Methods
The research methods adopted in ethnographic research differ from other more traditional forms. More specifically, ethnography does not simply entail the collection, coding and analysing of data (Lindsay: 2006) for the sole purpose of validating theories or hypotheses, but is a primary mechanism by which new theories emerge.
2.6.1 Data Collection
Abdulwahed et. al ( 2010 ) in their ethnographic case study of ESL student's views of ESL grammar learning, utilize three forms of primary data collection instrumentation, Similarly, in the proposed ethnographic study of adult Qatari students, , three types of instrumentation will be employed. Firstly, the researcher will observe the students' interaction. Key (field) notes of observational information will be recorded in a reflective diary. The primary role of the researcher in the observation process will be as 'participant observer' (Mouton 2011: 150). The process of participant observation implies that the researcher is not involved in any learning or curricular activities within the context of the classroom, but acts purely as an observer and collector of data ( Herrington et al. 2000). According to (Baron: 2012), observation is the principal method of collecting data in ethnographic studies. Secondly, semi - structured interviews will be used to assist in identifying for the emergence of topics or patterns during the interviewing process (Abdulwahed, S: 2010). Abdulwahed also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the questions included in the semi-structured interview match the ideas of the questionnaire, as well as the research questions. Lynn Calman, in her doctoral article titled 'What is Grounded Theory?' emphasises the value of modifying interview questions so that they can reveal emerging theoretical trends. Although the students' mother-tongue is English , interviews will be conducted in English. In addition, interviews will be conducted by the researcher i.e. the English language instructor and they will take place after the lesson. Under those circumstances, students will be interviewed separately. Finally, students will be asked to complete a questionnaire. Again, questionnaires should allow for open-ended answers, so that student responses are coded and analysed accordingly to reveal emerging trends. Questionnaires will be translated into Arabic, as it is easier for the Qatari students to comprehend textual information. Guion, A et al. (2011) summarise the value of using interviews and questionnaires as an adjunct to observational field notes: " Thus, using interviews, as well as questionnaires added a depth to the results that would not have been possible using a single - strategy study, thereby increasing the validity and utility of the findings." To prompt students' perceptions of English Conversational learning, most of the questions were based on opinions and feelings (Herrington et. al) and were thus open-ended in their approach. Selecting the correct form of data collection instrumentation can help the researcher to triangulate the data.
Triangulation is essentially a process of cross - referencing qualitative data derived from the convergence of a variety of data gathering techniques (Baron:2012). The process of triangulating sources of data assists in obtaining validity (Abdulwahed:2010). Finally, data collection instruments in ethnographic research should have a negligible impact on the observed participants ( Baron: 2012) Ethnographic Research ). 2.1.3. Duration Data will be collected over a period of three months. The duration of the researcher's time spent with the participants will be subject to the research question (Johnston: 2009). Essentially, the data obtained from fieldwork needs to encompass the observation and recording of all appropriate occurrences and behaviours Data will be collected over a period of three months. The average length of a course for a selected level ( 1 - 10 ) at Lingo* Language Centre is approximately 38 hours. Most students opt to complete their course over a period of three months. In hourly terms per week, this adds up to 3 hours per work of English tuition per student (Johnston: 2009 ). The average length of a course for a selected level ( 1 - 10 ) at Lingo* Language Centre is approximately 38 hours. Most students opt to complete their course over a period of three months. In hourly terms per week, this adds up to 3 hours per work of English tuition per student.
2.6.2. Data Analysis
Hsieh and Shannon (2005) in Wildemuth et al. allude to three forms of qualitative content analysis. The first form of analysis; conventional qualitative analysis uses raw data to formulate new theoretical frameworks. This analysis embraces grounded theory development. The second form of content analysis (which is used in the proposed research dissertation ) is termed directed content analysis. Essentially, this form of analysis is guided by a pre-existing theoretical framework i.e. situated learning theory, but during the analysis process, the researcher identifies themes that emerge from coding and sub coding. By doing so, existing theoretical frameworks can be extended or validated. The final analysis - summative content analysis aims to record the number of words and to identify latent connotations and themes. Data analysis in qualitative research is an iterative process (Hartley: 2004 in Carol: unknown), implying that data collection and data analysis is reactive , interactive and cyclical ( Ismail: 2010). The simultaneous occurrence of data collection and analysis provides the unique opportunity for the ethnographic researcher to identify emerging theoretical patterns. Ethnographic data analysis practice is underpinned by the grounded theory approach (Mouton 2011). The definition of grounded theory is: 'the discovery of theory from data systematically obtained from social research' (Glaser and Strauss 1967: 2 in Calman). This qualitative data analysis approach involves three phases. The data collected from the field notes, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires will be analysed using the method proposed by Miles and Huberman (Herrington et. al 2000). This method involves data reduction, data display and conclusion drawing and verification.
2.6. 3. Data Reduction
Before data analysis is undertaken by the researcher the data collected from the original data collection instruments need are transcribed. NUD*IST software will be used to transcribe the data collected from the various forms of instrumentation. At its most basic level, transcription involves selecting data that has been recorded in different formats (i.e. paper) and processed into an electronic format. The first phase, namely data reduction involves the coding and sub coding of data. Coding involves the placing of data into categories. These categories will be based on the nine assumptions of situated learning theory that underpins the research question. Sub-coding involves the identification of subcategories that emerge from the categories during the study. NUD*IST software will be utilized to qualitatively analyse the categorical and sub categorical data.
2.6.4. Data display
The second phase of analyse, namely data display involves the organising of data into patterns and generalizations (Herrington et.al), that facilitates the process of verifying data.
2.6.5. Conclusion Drawing and Verification
Miles and Huberman's last stage, referred to as conclusion drawing and verification, entails the assessment and evaluation of data. The primary purpose of this stage is to obtain meaning from the process and to confirm the validity of conclusions made by referring back to the initial data.
3. Time Line
The length of the research proposal is tabulated as follows:
Analysis and Interpretation
4. Chapter Division
The dissertation of limited scope will be divided into the following chapters (Source: UNISA Tutorial Letter 301 / 2011 ):
â€¢ Background / Introduction
â€¢ Problem Statement and sub-problems
â€¢ Aim of the investigation
â€¢ Investigation method description
â€¢ Value and Significance of the investigation
â€¢ Concept Explanation / Terminology
â€¢ Literature Review
â€¢ Theoretical Assumptions
â€¢ Description of research design
â€¢ Explanation of research methods
â€¢ Description of results
â€¢ Analysis and discussion of results