Students’ experiences of learning English as a foreign language: a case study of an undergraduate EFL programme at a Saudi university

Althubaiti, Haitham (2018) Students’ experiences of learning English as a foreign language: a case study of an undergraduate EFL programme at a Saudi university. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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In the light of falling oil prices, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has launched a multifaceted vision for 2030 that seeks to modernise the country’s economy and diversify its revenue base. A key goal of this vision is developing the country’s education system in general and higher education in particular (Reardon, 2016; Vision2030, 2016). The government is determined to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all its citizens. Within this context, there is an increased focus on improving the quality of English language teaching and learning in higher education institutions and in the education system generally. However, the lack of essential linguistic and pedagogic skills amongst many Saudi graduates remains a major concern (Albaiz, 2016; British Council, 2016).
The aim of this thesis is to investigate students’ learning experiences in an undergraduate English as a Foreign Language (EFL) programme at City University (CU), KSA from three different perspectives. The first viewpoint draws on Bourdieu’s notions of field, capital and habitus to examine the influences that CU as an institution has on teaching and learning in the EFL programme. The second perspective uses the concept of cultural capital to analyse the influence of family educational background on students’ learning. The third perspective provides insights into the teaching approaches adopted by EFL lecturers and the effects these approaches have on students’ learning. Thus, this study is guided by one main research question: How do students experience learning in the undergraduate EFL programme at CU?
The study uses a qualitative case study approach. Data was gathered from multiple sources: namely, semi-structured interviews with students and lecturers, observations, and a documentary review. The analysis is based on the three research sub-questions that guide this inquiry.
The key findings related to the first perspective highlight the ways in which CU’s institutional policies and practices impact teaching and learning in the EFL programme. The analysis reveals that CU defines its capital as ‘accessible higher education’, which translates into large numbers of students enrolling in its colleges and departments each year. As a result of this open admissions policy, the College of Arts and Humanities (CAH) has been forced to lower its entry requirements to the EFL programme in order to accommodate the number of students. This has resulted in the admission of students who do not possess the minimum entry requirements, and has adversely affected the quality of education in the EFL programme, as manifested in relation to class size, student-teacher relations, the use of English in teaching, and assessment practices.
The second set of findings analyse the influence of family educational background on students’ learning experiences. The findings indicate that this background plays an important role in students’ success in the EFL programme. It was found that families with higher education backgrounds use their learning experiences and resources to support their children’s education. The findings further demonstrate that students from families with no higher education background and a lack of cultural capital have low levels of English language competency. As such, many of them struggle with the linguistic and academic demands of the programme.
The third set of findings reveal the influence of teaching approaches on students’ learning experience. The findings show a distinction between native English speaking (NES) and non-native English speaking (NNES) lecturers in relation to their teaching approaches and interactions with students. It was found that NNES lecturers adopt a teacher-centred approach in their teaching which minimizes students’ interactions. Many students were critical of such practices and felt that it denied them the opportunity to develop their language skills. In contrast, NES lecturers use a student-focused approach and integrate communicative practices into their teaching. These lecturers emphasise the importance of building positive relationships with the students in order to facilitate their learning. Generally, students reacted positively to such practices and were more encouraged to participate in the classroom.
This study provides important insights into students’ learning experiences in higher education in general and EFL programmes in particular. It contributes to existing debates and literature on EFL teaching and learning in higher education, particularly in KSA. The study also provides important suggestions for policymakers to consider, and recommendations to CU and its faculty members, and for further research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Education
Subjects: L Education > LG Individual institutions (Asia. Africa. Oceania) > LG021 Asia > LG359 Saudi Arabia
P Language and Literature > PE English > PE1001 Modern English > PE1065 Study and teaching
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 31 Jul 2018 15:58
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2018 15:58

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