Date Thesis Awarded
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Anne H. Charity Hudley
This research sought to determine the sources of communicative difficulties that exist between undergraduate students and international faculty (the communication gap) specifically within the field of mathematics. The hypotheses were as follows: 1) The communication gap results from students' perceptual difficulties in understanding their professors and their own biases against international faculty. 2) The communication gap can be addressed by administering to students a training program that not only provides instruction on accent features, but also attempts to confront accent bias and persuades the student to adopt a more accommodating view of their professors' accents. Fifteen experimental sessions were conducted in October 2009, in order to collect both quantitative data and qualitative data on the communication gap and students' views thereof. Quantitative data was collected through testing sessions that assessed students' baseline performance on mathematics assessments and their performance on one of three assessments after completing either the linguistic training program, a program meant to simulate bias creation, or a control program. Eighty-one undergraduates at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, took part in one of six testing sessions. Each assessment was tied to a video lesson taught by a professor from India, and the training program was specifically engineered to address the features of this professor's accent. The variable of interest was each student's improvement in scores between the baseline and post-training assessments, as following from Hypothesis 2, I hypothesized that the students who participated in linguistic training program would produce greater improvement scores than the control group. I also hypothesized, on the basis of Hypothesis 1, that students who participated in the bias program would produce significantly worse improvement scores than the control group. An analysis of the data resulting from the testing sessions revealed no significant difference in improvement scores arising from membership in one of these three testing groups. Qualitative data was collected through discussion sessions with testing session participants two weeks after the testing sessions and through questionnaires administered at the end of the testing sessions. Fifty-seven undergraduates from the original sample of 81 participated in discussion sessions. The discussion sessions addressed issues surrounding the communication gap, including classes with international professors, frustrations with communication breakdown, and suggestions for solutions to the communication gap. Data from these sessions were analyzed using an ethnographic approach, revealing substantial cross-group trends and themes. While students did not universally embrace the idea that they contributed to the communication gap and so bore responsibility for closing it, almost all agreed that further research on the issue was vital. A quantitative analysis of response data on the post-testing questionnaire revealed a significant effect of linguistic training on linguistic attitudes. Therefore, although it was not reflected in assessment scores, the use of linguistic training did have a positive effect on students. Further research in this area is vital to determine a reliable application of this result to greater professor-student communication.
Villarreal, Daniel James, "Closing the Communication Gap Between Undergraduates and Mathematics Professors" (2010). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 667.
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