To meet the need for research on the needs and experiences of English language learners (ELLs) in higher education, a team of undergraduate students with experience as ELLs themselves have spent much of the last year working together as research assistants (RAs) on a Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP*) project that leverages their unique expertise. The undergraduate researchers first explored their own experiences via interactive journals on Google Docs, responding to questions posed by project leader Christopher Stillwell (School of Education, PhD candidate). This process helped the RAs to reflect upon challenges and critical incidents in their own educational experiences, and to identify specific aspects of ELLs’ experiences that needed further investigation. As they did so, they gained experience as interview participants, and they generated questions for interviews they would subsequently conduct with ELLs at UCI. The RAs then observed large lecture classes and recruited ELLs for interviews about the students’ experiences in the classes, about the challenges they face in higher education, and about the strategies they use for meeting those challenges. These interviews are now in the process of being translated, transcribed, and coded.
Nine of the undergraduate researchers - Qiyu Chen, Yuhua Fang, Pauline Ho, Dorreen Sun, Ryan Wang, Rui Ning, Jade Vasconcellos, Danwei Wang, and Jerona Yu - presented preliminary findings from these interview at UCI's MPD Symposium on May 13 and later at UCI Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Symposium on May 20. Their presentations were titled "English Language Learners in Higher Education: What do they need?"
The presentations sparked a great deal of discussion as audience members shared from their own experiences as international students or as friends of international students, and as all in attendance contributed what they could to enhancing understanding of the needs of English language learners in higher education.
Faculty mentorship for the research team was provided by Dr. Judith Sandholtz, Dr. Brian Sato, and Dr. Julio Torres.
*MDP is a collaboration between the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and Calit2, with much of the funding coming from Calit2.