Strengthening the intercultural communicative competence of international undergraduate engineering students for co-op work term placement

Fabretto, Cristina (2018) Strengthening the intercultural communicative competence of international undergraduate engineering students for co-op work term placement. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Co-op programs pose unique challenges for international students without a strong command of the English language and sufficient familiarity with the professional context. This research investigates the challenges faced by international students enrolled at Memorial University in the Bachelor of Engineering co-op program, and the efforts of the faculty (FEAS) in addressing these students’ needs. With a rise in popularity of co-op programs in Canada and a projected steady growth in foreign enrolment, it is crucial to understand better how this cohort’s ability to communicate in professional settings impacts their mandatory co-op employment. The following study was designed as a qualitative case study. It includes 18 semistructured interviews with FEAS international undergraduate students, key informants from FEAS and the university, and representatives from the engineering industry directly involved with work term placements. In discussing the findings, I draw on the conceptual framework of communicative competence (Hymes, 1972) and examine employers’ language expectations through the lenses of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB), as internationally accredited scales of English language proficiency currently in use in Canada. I rely on these two frameworks to discuss implications for practice and formulate possible directions for future research. The study indicates that significant differences in the quality of communication (Spitzberg, 1989) among FEAS international students reflect in large disparities in recruitment rate and in long-term career prospects. Findings revealed that certain behaviours and levels of communication are required for successful hiring and placement. Given the high stakes of work terms, international students’ language ability (Bachman, 2010) and intercultural competence (Deardorff, 2011) need to be evaluated specifically against co-op program requirements. Furthermore, as current pedagogical practices are not always effective, alternative approaches are needed that promote greater transparency, consistency and continuity of learning and progress from enrolment to graduation. Program mandated co-op employment of international engineering students is still an under-researched area which, as this research shows, warrants greater interdisciplinary attention. This dissertation represents a first step in that direction.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 13264
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 212-266).
Keywords: Engineering education, Co-op education, Undergraduate International Students, Communicative Competence, Intercultural Competence, Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
Department(s): Education, Faculty of
Date: April 2018
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Engineering students, Foreign -- Language; Engineering students, Foreign -- Social conditions; Intercultural communication in education

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