An Activity Theory Study of Higher Education International Students' Use of Computers and the Internet for Academic and Non-Academic Purposes

An Activity Theory Study of Higher Education International Students' Use of Computers and the Internet for Academic and Non-Academic Purposes

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4590-5.ch007
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Abstract

This chapter reports on a survey of 87 graduate and undergraduate international students at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The survey was focused on the components of the activity system of subject, tools, object, outcomes, community, division of labour, and norms. The international students represented 31 programs or fields of specialization and 21 different first languages. The chapter presents a comparison of the findings of the study with the literature on higher education domestic and international students and technology. It identifies the contradictions that would need to be overcome in order for expansive transformations to occur.
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Introduction

In the previous chapter, we reviewed Activity Theory studies of higher education domestic and international students and technology. In this chapter, we present our Activity Theory study of higher education international students and their use of computers and the Internet for both academic and non-academic purposes. The dual focus is in recognition of the fact that higher education students’ activity with technology “is not directly linked to their education” (Oliver & Goerke, 2007, Discussion section, para. 3).

The purpose of the study was to portray the activity system of international students using technology for academic and non-academic purposes and to identify contradictions and opportunities for expansive transformations in this system. To achieve this purpose, we surveyed 87 graduate and undergraduate international students at Memorial University of Newfoundland, located in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The survey was broadly focused on the components of the activity system of subject, tools, object-outcome, community, division of labour, and norms.

The reference to international students relates to their immigration status. These students can also be identified as students who pay international student university tuition fees, as opposed to domestic student fees. For purposes of this chapter as well as Chapters 8-10, we adopt the following definition:

International students are those who, for the specific purpose of pursuing their education, go to a country other than their country of residence or the country in which they were previously educated…. In Canada, this concept includes students who are not Canadian citizens and who do not hold a permanent residency permit in Canada. (Statistics Canada, 2009, p. 64)

At the higher education level, there was an increase of 57% between 1999 and 2009 globally in the number of students studying outside of their countries (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2009). In Canada, the number of higher education international students has increased significantly in recent years. In 2011, more than 98,000 international students entered the country (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2012). There were 48,000 full-time visa students enrolled in undergraduate programs in 2006, which represented more than three times the number of full-time visa students one decade earlier. In graduate programs, the number of students over the same period of time doubled from 11,000 to 22,000 (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, 2009).

As indicated by a 2007 report, visa students represented approximately 7% of full-time undergraduate students and almost 20% of full-time graduate students (The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 2007). In the period between 1992 and 2008, some changes were identified in the characteristics of international students at Canadian universities, such as a greater proportion of younger students and students enrolling in a first degree program (McMullen & Elias, 2011). The increasing numbers of international students in higher education institutions are the reflection of a trend towards greater efforts to recruit these students (Kim, 2010; Lee & Wesche, 2000). In 2011, the Canadian government announced a significant investment in the promotion of the country as an education destination of choice (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2011a, b; Government of Canada, n.d.).

At the same time as institutions are moving towards greater internationalization, higher education students are studying in technology-mediated contexts in which they are relying extensively on computers and the Internet as part of their learning. As Nasah, DaCosta, Kinsell, and Seok (2010) observed, young people “have been exposed to technologies never before seen” (p. 532). In a study of incoming students at an Australian university, almost 87% of participants indicated that they “frequently use online resources for study purposes” (Oliver & Goerke, 2007, Access section, para. 2). Online learning is growing, with over 20% of all higher education students in the United States taking at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2008).

The intersection of these two phenomena of internationalization combined with increased technological mediation necessitates reliance on an analytical lens that can make sense of the many complex variables at play. Activity Theory is a lens that is particularly well-suited to this purpose. The activity system components support holistic, systemic, and simultaneous consideration of many variables. The principles of contradictions and expansive learning support analyses of the challenges that must be overcome in order for the affordances of the tools to transform learning into a more culturally and socially advanced form.

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