My learning from a pilot study

I conducted a pilot study titled “English Language Teachers’ Perceptions of Intercultural Competence: An Exploratory Case Study in a Thai University” in Thailand in June 2013.The main purpose of my pilot study was to try out data collection methods which included semi-structured interviews with English language teachers, a chat with Department Head, classroom observations and documents collecting. In addition, I hope that the preliminary data will inform areas I should further study in my PhD research.

Methodological issues

I conducted semi-structured interviews with three teachers as the main data collection method. Although I felt satisfied with the results of the interviews, there are still details which need to be taken into account to maximize the findings from the interviewees’ perspectives. For instance, as a newbie interviewer, I did not know how to encourage my interviewees to talk as much as they can. I had prepared an interview guide with sets of questions in a hope that I would not forget things I aimed to ask. During the interviews, I could not help peeking at the questions and ask quite the same questions to my interviewees. This certainly resulted in the data I obtained in a way that what they said were driven by me and my questions rather than what they really wanted to say. It will take time for me to master semi-structure or unstructured interviewing skills and to develop my confidence as a researcher.

Topical issues

After the data collection phase, I listened to the recorded interviews and took notes on points which I felt important to me. I also revisited the notes I took during the interviews (this is also another detail spotted by Richard regarding the methodological issues as I might have lost eye-contact with the teachers and affected the way they feel toward our conversation!) to see if what I thought to be important during the interview have changed. I also obtained some documents from the university such as a teacher’s manual, newsletters from the Western Languages Department and from the Language Institute and a unit workbook. I read through the documents and highlighted points I thought to be related with my topic. Then I listed my initial findings, revised them and tried to put them together using my background knowledge of the elements of Intercultural Competence I have from doing some literature review, from completing my first year’s MSc assignments as well as my professional experience as an English teacher working at a Thai public university for almost seven year. In sum, I found that there is a lack of clear policy on the teaching of Intercultural Competence in Thai higher education’s ELT. When there is no specific policy and guideline for the university or teachers to follow, the concept of Intercultural Competence can vary from individual to individual. This results in different viewpoints on the perceived qualities/traits/abilities of an interculturally competent person and certainly the practice of developing those qualities/traits/abilities.

English language teachers’ perceptions of Intercultural Competence will remain the area of my PhD study. However, I think what I have learned from conducting the pilot study can assist me in developing a more specific topic which suits well with the context of Intercultural Competence through English language teaching in Thai higher education.

Finally, I am happy with what I gained from doing the pilot study. Spending time thinking of what I have found is really beneficial to my learning as there are new questions arose from the thinking. As Richard suggested, I will keep being curious and keep scratching the itch.