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dc.contributor.advisorWestphalen, Linda-
dc.contributor.authorHunter, Alison-Jane-
dc.description.abstractMastery of the English language for effective communication by Engineering Higher Degree by Research Students (EHDRS) is critical for progress in their highly challenging academic pursuits and future professional careers. These communication skills are especially critical for those for whom standard English is not their first language, who now comprise a significant percentage of contemporary Australian EHDR cohorts. As of 2017, some 20,000 international HDR students were enrolled in Australia, which constitutes around 32 per cent of the total HDR cohort (Australian Government DET 2017). Not only are students’ written and oral skills assessed in English, but any language obstacles can impact on their ability to understand and communicate the often highly complicated technical curriculum of Engineering, and hence can severely undermine confidence and self-belief. Students who have excelled throughout their schooling can suddenly find themselves questioning their intellectual ability, if their language skills significantly impede their capacity to communicate and understand effectively. Furthermore, 80% of all engineering academic journals are written in English and often require a highly effective grasp of the language to read and fully comprehend the subject. This can be extremely daunting, considering the expectations on EHDRS to publish alongside the authors of the works they read as peers. The problem that is being addressed is that of enabling positive, accelerated learning of academic engineering writing skills for postraduate engineering students, so that their language skills come to match their elevated engineering knowledge. In order to help these students to achieve the requisite skills to become confident and self-directed researchers, this thesis takes a humanistic view of learning and teaching (MacDonald 2012; David 2015), which places the EHDRS at the very centre of the research; actively engaging them throughout the design and testing process. A key aim is to address the language and emotional issues underlying current attrition rates by accelerating EHDRS’ (notably English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) EHDRS’) learning of nuanced, accurate academic English. Currently, HDRS undertake compulsory, generic genre level courses in academic writing but not explicit teaching at word, phrase and sentence levels, which would address their complex social, cultural and emotional needs. EAL/D HDRS regularly struggle to write fluently, and at speed, to a standard that meets supervisors’ expectations. This research is therefore designed to improve individualised discipline-specific learning, non-judgementally; to inspire the students’ English language enquiry skills, emotional growth and resilience, taking a humanistic view of learning and teaching placing Mechanical Engineering higher degree by research students (EHDRS) at the centre of the research. The thesis acknowledges the subliminal biases of English, using the Harkness paradigm to build an egalitarian, inherently positive learning architecture, both physically and philosophically and thereby taking a growth mindset position. The methodology is participative action research (PAR) (MacDonald 2012; David 2015), ii which is designed to frame early research in emerging fields. Its iterative nature aligns with the engineering method. The theoretical-linguistic elements of the research are framed by Lévi-Strauss’ analogy of the engineer and the bricoleur, gifted and talented pedagogies, engineering modes of cognition and play theory. A detailed needs analysis was undertaken, along with short samples of written language for analysis of typical EHDR errors. Based on these analyses, playful, social language learning mechanisms were investigated to ensure a balance of knowledge and emotional capitals is achieved. Subsequent to careful consideration of the learning mechanisms typical of engineering students (defined by the students themselves through the needs analysis and group discussion), a central aspect of the participative action research methodology was the development of an original, visual, kinaesthetic learning tool, which is focused on the Mechanics of Grammar, Theme and Rheme in Engineering Education, or MOG TREE. This appropriately-named, tactile learning tool physically resembles a tree and is supplemented by two other original language teaching methods for a tri-partite solution. It is social in nature, affirmatory, enables self-editing, and is industrial in design, ensuring that the learning system is appropriately adult. It is vital that the MOGTREE system is both conceptually and visually appropriate. The language tree elements derive from pedagogical traditions designed by Montessori and Cuisenaire- Gattagno. They are useful for planning, writing and editing in groups, language choices and punctuation selection. The playful nature of the language trees stimulates the EHDRS to generate lexical solutions by enabling sophisticated refinements without negativity. The second aspect of the solution is the Mechanical Engineering corpus. It is designed to be used in conjunction with a concordancing tool. This is particularly useful for (b)EAL/D EHDRS, as it can give statistically verified answers to collocation questions, which are critical for developing natural language phrasing rather than L1- L2 direct translations (Sadeghi 2010), for example. The corpus can also be used alone, as a discipline-specific, academic phrase bank. The corpus, containing contemporary published Mechanical Engineering journal articles, can be both personalised and updated. The third part of the solution is a grammar website ( The grammar derives from the EHDRS’ requests, as expressed through the needs analysis, with discipline-specific examples. The website works at word, phrase, sentence and genre levels, enabling fully-individualised learning pathways. It takes a pragmatic, settlement position in terms of traditional and systemic functional grammar terminology in order to be as inclusive as possible. The results of the testing process show high broad agreement that the tri-partite MOG TREE solution is supportive, effective and engaging to use. The detailed results of the testing cycles are given. Potential applications and extensions of the research, beyond EHDRS’ use, are suggested under “Future Research”.en
dc.subjectLinguistics (Applied)en
dc.titleThe Mechanics of Grammar: Theme and Rheme in Engineering Education (MOG TREE) Solutionen
dc.contributor.schoolSchool of Mechanical Engineeringen
dc.provenanceThis electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
dc.description.dissertationThesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Mechanical Engineering, 2019en
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