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An ethnographic study of an ESL pre-MBA case study classroom: The process of conceptualizing and defining authenticity by learners and instructors

Ricardo Sabuur Abdul-Kareem, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study is an inquiry into the second language learning process of non-native English speaking adults who are preparing to enter graduate business programs in the U.S. or other English speaking countries. Specifically, I examine the process of negotiation of authenticity in communication by learners and the instructor. I begin with an initial understanding that authenticity does not reside in materials or tasks, but in how learners and instructors negotiate it (Gee, 1990). I explore and develop a broad definition of authenticity as being a perception structured and influenced by learner's needs, the instructor's perception of the target skills and needs of the participants, and the learners' own construction or negotiation of what they perceive to be appropriate in the target discourse. The site of this study was the ESL Business Case Discussion Class offered at Harvard Summer School. Using ethnography of communication research as a guide for research methodology, I used participant observation, note-taking, videotaping, and interviewing as sources of gathering data over three years (1990–1992). There were seven conclusions of this study: Authenticity manifests itself and is negotiated over phases, there is a gradual process or development of communication skills, development of language skills seems to reach a plateau, reflection time enhances learning and acquisition, learners construct and accept multiple identities, tensions stimulate negotiation of learning and conceptualization of authenticity, and scaffolding generally facilitates, but can hinder the carrying out of authentic communication. Implications of the conclusions are that understanding the process of negotiating authenticity will allow teacher educators to inform teachers on ways to improve teaching and increase learning and acquisition by structuring the learning environment to facilitate it. The ‘preparation’ case study class gives students the opportunity to create an authentic learning environment in which they explore all of the things that might assist them or get in the way of their success in the ‘real event’. This kind of scaffolded or sheltered content class is important, but it does not take away the responsibility of the ‘real case study instructors’ to scaffold second language learners.

Subject Area

Language arts|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Abdul-Kareem, Ricardo Sabuur, "An ethnographic study of an ESL pre-MBA case study classroom: The process of conceptualizing and defining authenticity by learners and instructors" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9932280.