The number of international students who pursue higher education in Western countries, such as the US, increases yearly. Asian international students are a significant proportion of international students from different countries. Numerous researchers have identified various challenges encountered by this group of international students, including difficulties in adjusting to new linguistic and academic environments (Scheyvens, Wild,& Overton, 2003; Yeh & Inose, 2003), struggling to learn Western styles of academic writing (Silva, 1992), inadequately participating in class discussions (Currie, 2007; Liu, 2000; Morita, 2004), being isolated from faculty and peers (Le & Gardner, 2010; Trice, 2003), and lacking the knowledge of local culture (Scheyvens et al., 2003). Some researchers also discovered that the use of technology could assist international students in developing their L2 competence (Bakar & Ismail, 2009; Kessler, Bikowski, & Boggs, 2012), increasing their participation in course-related discussions (Kamhi-Stein, 2000; Kim, 2011), and making connections with people from the identical ethnic group (Cao & Zhang, 2012; Fan, 2008; Kim, 2010; Kim et al., 2009) and from the target culture (Fan, 2008; Hodis & Hodis, 2012; Kim, 2010; Kim et al, 2009) in a foreign country.
Nevertheless, a few studies (e.g., Hughes, 2013) have investigated the influence of technology use on international students' discipline-specific learning. This present study, therefore, examined the role of technology during Asian international doctoral students' acculturation to their particular academic disciplines. Vygotsky's (1978) sociocultural theory, Lave and Wenger's (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) communities of practice, and Casanave, Li, and other scholars' academic acculturation (Casanave, 2002; Casanave & Li, 2008) were adopted to design this research, collect and analyze data, and interpret findings. Participants were three Chinese-speaking international students who studied in different doctoral programs but in the same institution in the Midwestern US. The data were gathered through a survey, interviews, weekly journals, and field notes. Case study was utilized to present data analysis.
The finding shows that the participants acculturated to not only their academic disciplines but also the English environment and the Western academic culture. During the process, they confronted various academic difficulties, such as challenges of clearly expressing own ideas in speaking and writing in academic English. The result also indicates that overall technology serves as an assistive role during their academic acculturation processes. They utilized assorted technologies (e.g., academic search engines, social interactional software, citation software, and online lexical resources) to surmount some academic challenges they encountered, participate in discipline-specific communities of practice (e.g., undertaking research), and accomplish varied academic tasks (e.g., fulfilling course requirements and writing conference proposals in English). However, their use of technologies could not completely enhance their academic English competence, discipline-specific knowledge, and research ability. Moreover, exclusively employing technology could not help them adjust to the Western academic culture and socialize into their disciplines. Attaining these goals necessitates sufficient guidance and support from more experienced members and/or experts of the Western academic communities and their discipline-specific communities. Otherwise, they might legitimately but peripherally participate in communities of practice.
Additionally, their use of some technologies was problematic and which could hinder them from socializing into the Western academic culture and their discipline-specific communities. For instance, some of the participants solely utilized one search engine (Google Scholar) to look for academic articles for their research and for acquiring discipline-specific knowledge. Nevertheless, each academic search engine has its own advantages and disadvantages (e.g., only including academic articles from certain journals or not including scholarly works published latest). Employing multiple academic search engines might counterbalance an individual search engine's weaknesses.