Investigating How and When International First-Year Second Language Undergraduate Students Deal with Academic Literacies Challenges in the Early 21st Century: A Longitudinal Case Study
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Previous research has investigated challenges facing international second language (L2) first year undergraduate students in their attempts to adapt to the norms of academic writing at higher education (HE) institutions with English as the medium of institution (EMI). However, there does not seem to be a great deal of longitudinal research that investigates academic discipline-specific writing experiences of such students in New Zealand (NZ) in the early 21st century. Therefore, the main aim of the present research is to explore the challenges that international L2 speakers encounter throughout the first year of their university studies and the strategies they employ to deal with these challenges. The study details the changes in students’ perceptions of these challenges and the accompanying changes in strategies over the period of an academic year. Furthermore, the research investigated students’ earlier learning experiences on preparatory academic English courses, such as IELTS, and discusses the usefulness of such courses for students’ subsequent academic writing. This study uses the academic literacies approach as a theoretical framework as this approach recognises the influence of the sociocultural context in which students undertake university study on the development of their academic writing skills in HE. The design of the research is informed by a social constructionist worldview and adopts an embedded multiple case study approach. The data collection method involved interviews with the study participants at set times during the academic year and the scrutiny of assignment instructions, marking criteria, students completed assignments and lecturer feedback. The data was analysed using the NVivo software which allowed for the rise to the emergent themes. This research identified key challenges that international second language (L2) first year undergraduate students encounter with regards to their writing practices in HE institutions in NZ. They involve challenges following academic writing conventions, challenges understanding and following assignment requirements, challenges interpreting feedback, and challenges involved in completing assignments on time. Students identified that although some of the skills and knowledge acquired in their English for Academic Purposes courses and the Foundation Programme, such as the knowledge of the APA norms, were somewhat relevant to their current undergraduate writing practices, the knowledge and skills acquired in IELTS courses was not seen as relevant. Furthermore, the findings show the importance of socio-psychological phenomena, i.e. students’ self-efficacy, agency, and motivation, when dealing with their writing challenges. The research findings also indicate the relationship between these socio-psychological phenomena and the time constraints under which most students operate. The research contributes to empirical knowledge by identifying the challenges that international L2 first year undergraduate students encounter in HE institutions in NZ and suggests practical steps that may assist students in better preparing themselves for the academic writing demands of English academy. The research offers insights to university lecturers, as well as for pre-degree educators as to how and when, during their first year of study, these students could best be helped.