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Using focused ethnography to understand brokering practices among international students

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The academic challenges of international students, particularly those with English as an additional language (EAL), have been mostly researched in the context of the formal curriculum (e.g. classroom communication styles, reading and writing skills). These challenges include inadequate English proficiency and differing educational expectations, and being isolated from the host community. However, little is understood about students’ informal academic learning outside the prescribed curriculum, in particular, their brokering practices. Brokering practices are help-seeking interactions that bridge gaps in the seekers’ knowledge and understanding of new cultural practices thus enabling them to access resources they would find difficult to do so on their own. For EAL students, these help-seeking interactions may involve getting others to translate, interpret or explain particular aspects of the host academic environment. In this research, focused ethnography is used to investigate the nature of brokering practices among ten international EAL tertiary students during their initial academic semester of fifteen weeks. Focused ethnography specifically addresses constraints in the research context (e.g. time and access to informants), as well as capitalizes on technological tools such as digital recording devices. In seeking to understand brokering interactions and relationships students have with their brokers, conventional ethnographic methods were adapted, for example, digital ethnographic methods were used instead of participant observation. Digital ethnographic methods allows a large amount of data to be recorded and reviewed, a feature of focused ethnography known as data intensity. While this form of intensity has been argued to compensate for a short period of research activity, this research suggests that another form of intensity – relational intensity – is just as important in addressing research constraints. Relational intensity refers to the researcher’s ongoing responsiveness to the needs of research participants. The article concludes that future focused ethnographic research should consider both data-related and relational forms of intensity in addressing research constraints.
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Keywords: academic learning; brokering; focused ethnography; informal learning; international students; methodology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Waikato

Publication date: 01 October 2017

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  • Transient migration due to the global movements of people for work, study and lifestyle is part of everyday life. This journal thus aims to provide a platform that explores and investigates the complexities of transient migration and to map the experiences of the growing number of transient migrants as they engage and interact with communities that are linked both to their home and host nations. This journal seeks to look at the ways in which transient migrants cope with transience and how transient migration affects individuals and communities in this transitional yet significant period. The scope of the journal will include but not be limited to themes of belonging, identity, networks, nation, culture, religion, race and ethnicity, gender and memory while incorporating the roles played by various platforms to facilitate these themes such as media, politics, policy, economy and the creative industries.
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