The Ethnographic Encounters project was carried out in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Southampton, with the overarching aim of engaging students in an ongoing process of research and reflection during their period of Residence Abroad. It was funded through a departmental teaching development grant from the Higher Education Academy from February 2014 to September 2015.
Why did we do it?
Most Modern Languages degrees in the UK include a Residence Abroad component, one of the key aims of which is to help students acquire a greater understanding of a new language and culture. Students may also be expected to develop research skills through an independent research project; at the University of Southampton this takes the form of a 6000-word project written in the target language (the Year Abroad Research Project, or YARP). Through the Ethnographic Encounters project we aimed to engage students more deeply with the use of ethnographic methods for their Year Abroad projects, providing them with key skills and support before and during the period of Residence Abroad. We also wanted to help them reflect on their research processes, and their processes of cultural engagement, so as to document the progress they made abroad, not just linguistically, but also in terms of intercultural and academic research skills.
In carrying out this project we drew on, and took inspiration from, a number of related projects at Southampton and elsewhere.
We also built on materials developed from the LARA project for a semester-long module delivered at the University of Southampton (Ethnography for Language Learners, taught by Heidi Armbruster). Some of the students in the project also took the semester-long module. Although the module is able to present a much more thorough exploration of ethnographic methods and writing, the shorter programme developed in our project can be more easily presented to students within or alongside existing provision for Year Abroad preparation.
What did we do?
The Ethnographic Encounters project worked with 10 students who had opted for an ethnographic Year Abroad research project. We provided research skills and support before and during the residence abroad, through face-to-face sessions and a group blog.
Before the students went abroad we ran training sessions for students. More information about these sessions can be found here and in the documents below.
While the students were abroad they were asked to post reflective research updates on the group blog established for the project. Although not all students engaged consistently with the blog, those that did explored a number of issues related to their research progress, their positions as researchers, and their developing research skills and intercultural engagement. As students posted on the blog, the academic staff involved in the project provided comments and further guidance on methods and the research topics as they progressed. Guidance was also provided by e-mail when requested.Each student also had an individual meeting with one of the project staff to discuss their projects, methods, and plans. Students were provided with digital audio recorders and some were also given digital video cameras for their period of residence abroad.
You can read some of the blog posts here.
This project has highlighted many of the advantages of encouraging students to engage with ethnographic methods and research during their period of residence abroad. With the help of a recent Modern Languages graduate, we have established a range of resources so that staff and students at Southampton and elsewhere can build on our experience.
• Our website providing resources for staff and a range of information and personal reflections for students to help them throughout the process of carrying out ethnographic research abroad.
• The Ethnographic Encounters research repository, which includes examples of student research materials that will be of interest to staff supporting student researchers abroad.
• For students and staff at Southampton we have also developed a number of resources housed on our internal Blackboard site to help students choose their research topic and methods before going abroad, and to carry out their research while away.
Can I do this at my own institution?
Yes! You are free to use the documents below and the resources elsewhere on this site to create a similar programme at your own institution. The main resource needed is staff time for the initial training sessions and to respond to blog postings while the students are abroad. These sessions can be adapted to fit into existing provision for study abroad preparation and to institutional needs in terms of the kinds of projects typically carried out during the year abroad. Please contact us with any questions or for further information.