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«ABSTRACT his paper reports on a group of 70 students of English as an T Additional Language (EAL) studying New Zealand culture and language at a ...»

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PP. 201 – 215

European Journal of Business and Social Sciences, Vol. 1, No. 12, pp 201-215, March 2013.

URL: http://www.ejbss.com/recent.aspx

ISSN: 2235 -767X




Dr. Martin Andrew

College of Education, Victoria University, Footscray Park,Australia.


his paper reports on a group of 70 students of English as an T Additional Language (EAL) studying New Zealand culture and language at a tertiary institute in Auckland who became volunteers during community placement. Of the original cohorts, 16 of the students, from a wide range of backgrounds, became regular volunteers as a result of a community placement they were required to do for a unit in their BA (EAL) degree. The concept of community placement is valuable in the EAL sector, where work placements are commonly used as a way of acculturating EAL students, whether they are international students, migrants or refugees, into the linguistic, cultural and practical aspects of workplace experience. Community placements allow such learners to explore their linguistic, cultural and practical learning in supportive, community-based contexts such as rest homes, advice bureaux or charity shops. Backed by an investigation of the concept of “community”, this study identifies the students’ experiences of cultural, linguistic and practical learning in their communities. This project gave learners access to “communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger 1992; Wenger 1998) that aligned with the kinds of communities they imagined as valuable to their future identities; in other words, “imagined communities” (Anderson 1983).

The data in this project consists in the reflected journals of participants in community placements that are analysed thematically. They reveal the cultural, linguistic and ontological value of community work for invested learners. As an educational study, it shows how community placements can prepare learners both for their future work as volunteers and for their imagined communities, where they see themselves as contributing to their “host” culture but able, as one participant writes, “to make a difference”.

Keywords: learning communities, communities of practice, investment

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Community and belonging Peter Block’s Community: The structure of belonging (2008: 1) opens with an opportunity for fragmented communities of disengaged individuals everywhere: “The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole”. The need to belong, he maintains, comes from the isolation that has come to characterise our silo-separated lives, institutions and communities due to the dominance of “our individualistic narrative” (2). The need to belong arguably characterises anyone entering higher education, but may be particularly marked among students of English as an Additional Language (variously migrants, refugees and international students). This paper reports on a project in which learners experienced connectedness within learning communities, and hence experienced some of the transformation Block describes. The study aims to identify the cultural, linguistic, and transformative capital of community placement (volunteering in a community context for a specified period, detailed below) for advanced level students studying English as an Additional Language (EAL) within a Bachelor of Arts program in a tertiary institute in Auckland, New Zealand. I begin with an investigation into what “community” is in the context of this study.

Broadly, Foster (1996: 25) argued, “community” comprises “a set of voluntary, social, and reciprocal relations that are bound together by an immutable ‘we-feeling’”. To examine their features, communities’ elements are mutual interdependence, sense of belonging, connectedness, spirit, trust, interactivity, common expectations, shared values and goals and overlapping life histories (Rovai 2002a: 4). Communities can be real or imagined, real or virtual. They can be communities of practice (CoPs), which can in turn be communities of interest, purpose and passion (Tu & Corry 2002: 209). Communities are constructed by interaction and are sites of individual and collective identity (Cohen 1985). “Community” involves invested social capital (Bourdieu 1986, 1991; Putnam 2000). This refers to connections among individuals and social networks and “the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (Putnam 2000: 19).

Gaining a “sense of community” begins with feelings of membership, a sense of wanting to belong. As Dudley (2007) has shown in her study of volunteer EAL immigrants in Canada, creating links to communities contributed to students’ language development and their social integration into the target culture. In this New Zealand project, “sense of community” involves the Wengerian concepts of support, common goals, shared discourse and desire for membership and relatedness (Rovai 2002b: 321). This paper argues that successfully gaining such a sense can be viewed within three prisms: that of “investment”; the notion of “community of practice”, and the concept of “imagined community”.

First, the project required motivated “investments” on the part of the learner (Bourdieu 1986, 1991; NortonPierce 1995, Norton 2000, 2001, 2006, 2009; Pittaway 2004; Pavlenko & Norton 2005), investments that need in part to be sold to the student by the enrolling institute and the instructors. A learner’s desire for affiliation to a chosen community enhances their investment in performing, learning, becoming a member, and developing confidence to engage in future imagined communities (Kanno & Norton 2003; Pavlenko & Norton 2005). Investment in a discourse practiced in a learning community can lead to advances in selfknowledge and to individual and collective cultural capital (Norton 2000). Pittaway emphasised that when learners perceive a return on their investment, there is a concomitant feeling of empowerment (2004: 204).

Murphey, Chen and Chen (2005) used EAL learners’ language learning histories as charters to project their investments in their future imagined communities. There is, Norton (2000, 2001, 2006, 2009) suggests, an immediate connection between learner investment, desire to belong and to become, and the construction of identities as learners and members of communities and society. The study shows that learners who invest in sense of community, motivating themselves to seek cultural and social capital within community contexts, report positive even transformative educational experiences.


PP. 201 – 215 Second, the study can be conceptualised in terms of the social constructivist notion of “community of practice” (Lave & Wenger 1991, Wenger 1998; Brown & Duguid 2000), where potentially expert learning can occur through initially peripheral participation in such a community. Learning communities share the properties of communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Researchers of learning communities have applied this model to real world contexts (Morita 2004; Andrew & Kearney 2007). In such communities, new members move from being spectators or “apprentices” with “legitimate peripheral participation” (LPP) to being potentially in possession of a deeper, engaged, invested interest involving “the whole person acting in the world” (Wenger 1998: 98). Like the new members of CoPs, learners in community placements are participants in the evolving practices of social communities (Rovai, 2002a).

Persistent investment in participation can motivate learners to reach their learning goals more effectively through the forming of strategic alliances with and within appropriate communities.

Thirdly, the concept of “imagined community” (Anderson 1983; Norton 2001; Kanno & Norton 2003;

Murphey, Chen & Chen 2005) can be applied. EAL learners imagine communities they wish to belong to, but as yet do not. A culture’s sense of community is envisaged as an imagined space and individuals idealise community and create a sense of self through these imaginings (Anderson 1983). Kanno and Norton (2003) believe the analogy of nationhood and community helps would-be belongers feel a sense of community with people not yet met (2003: 241). In 2009 Norton, summarizing literature on imagined communities in

language education, wrote:

–  –  –

“Imagined community” describes learners’ investment in learning as it is likely to impact on future goals, ambitions, dream communities and desires for belonging and recognition. These imagined communities, Murphey, Chen and Chen (2005: 85) suggest “as learners want to belong to a community and construct their identities as members of the group, they invest energy and time into learning how to be like those members”.

In my study, the learners have in their minds idealised visions of themselves as members of future academic, national or professional communities. The learners voice desires to become closer members of a target community or citizens of their new country; to achieve a good job (either in New Zealand or their home community), participate in higher education or go to a better university. Many imagine themselves speaking better English within more native-speaker-oriented contexts. The concept of imagined communities provides a framework to understand that learners’ investment in a present community can impact both on future membership in a desired community and on the individual and personal education they need to undertake in order to warrant future membership. This framework allows, then, for desire to belong to be connected to desire to become.

All three of these concepts, “investment”, “CoP” and “imagined community” fit with frameworks focussing on linguistic and cultural learning through the kinds of participation and socialisation that characterise volunteering. The situating of learning in the social world where identities are figured derives from the work of Lave and Wenger (1991, 1998). Norton’s poststucturalist notions of investment by learning in community and its connection with evolving learner identity (Bourdieu 1986, 1991; Norton 2000) sit alongside constructivist models of identity negotiation. The poststructuralist analysis of second language acquisition as “language socialisation” (Pavlenko 2002; Duff 2007) provides a further framework for understanding


PP. 201 – 215 connections between participation in community and identity. Within environments of real world learning in Humanities, learning in community is a participative and learning is situated. Packer and Goicochea (2000) summarise: “the sociocultural conception of identity addresses the fluid character of human beings and the way identity is closely linked to participation and learning in the community” (2000: 229).

Background to the study Community learning, learning community and community placement The terms “community learning” and “learning communities” share some overlap. In community learning, educational value is brought to both the members and the community through community engagement, and learning is both horizontal and vertical. Participating together, sharing the same outcomes and learning horizontally characterise learning communities (Tu & Corry 2002: 210). Interactions are, Brown and Duguid (2000: 251) maintain, demand-driven, a social act and an act of identity formation.

Students undertaking a community placement are participating in both community learning (because there is mutual benefit between participant and community) and a learning community because the communities in which students are placed share the defining features of CoPs. Community learning can involve participants of any background, but in my study, I examine the cultural and linguistic learning acquired by EAL learners participating in community placement as a method of real-world experiential learning beyond the classroom.

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