Discussion of language, communication and language learning strategies

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Research method and methodology are significant aspects of any study, as they provide the framework upon which the research procedure is conducted (Creswell, 2010). It was, thus, imperative that the methodology used for the purposes of this study be capable of yielding accurate data to ensure that the stated research goals and research objectives were achieved. This chapter presents the framework upon which the research goals and objectives were realised. Accordingly, it comprises a comprehensive discussion of the research approach and process used in the study, how the requisite data was collected, what the sampling technique and sample size entailed, the data analysis process and the scope of the study.
The choice of the research method was informed by the theoretical underpinnings of the study, the research goals and research objectives as well as the foundation of the research problem to be addressed. The choice of the research method used was based on factors such as the ease of the data analysis and data interpretation as well as the practicability and validity of the study. In particular, the chapter focuses on the data collection methods, as these were important features of this research study. Without proper data gathering research cannot be considered either valid or proper.

Research paradigm and design

The research design alludes to the general arrangement and plan for a study, and includes the research methodology, the structure of the study, the subject of who or what was envisaged, and the devices to be used for the data gathering and data analysis. As mentioned above, the study comprises both descriptive qualitative and quantitative research. The research design is applied as a part of the exploration that the researcher undertakes in a study (Manik & Hutagaol, 2015). It was decided that the data required in respect of instructor’s politeness, language and pedagogical standards to students’ compliance would best be obtained by applying mixed method research which, in the main, includes focusing on genuine settings, the activities of individuals, the entire picture, the client’s own perspective (point of view) and relevant literature.
The purpose of conducting most social science studies is to explore the various methods of learning and understanding human behaviour by focusing on features and behaviours that may not have been considered by other researchers (Nene, 2013). In this study, a mixed method research (MMR) design was used to investigate the different politeness records demonstrated by lecturers and students. In recent years, several writers have found it difficult to define and identify the true meaning of mixed method research (MMR). Some call it “…multi-method research, mixed methods, mixed methodology, mixed research, and integrated research…” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011:285). However, although different writers use different terminology, the characteristics they all specify are the same, namely a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Johnson, Onwuegbuzie and Turner (2007:123) agree with the view that MMR is a type of research that combines both qualitative and quantitative research in one specific study.
The researcher decided that gathering different types of information would ensure a more complete and realistic understanding of the topic under investigation rather than either quantitative or qualitative information only. The chapter started with an expansive overview in order to sum up the outcomes. Then it focused on qualitative, open-ended interviews which were conducted in order to gather the requisite data from the respondents to clarify the underlying quantitative review. In the case of a quantitative data approach, the researcher used theories by indicating thin speculations and then collected information in order either to support or negate the theories. An experimental design was used as a part of which states of mind were evaluated both prior to and after the exploratory action.
In terms of the qualitative methodology, the researcher tried to establish the meaning of certain phenomena; for example, politeness, language and pedagogy by investigating the participants’ points of view. In this study, this implied recognising a culture-sharing group, namely isiZulu-speaking and distance learning students, and to concentrate on how this culture-sharing group created shared examples of conduct over time (i.e., ethnography). The main purpose of gathering the data in this way was to observe the participants’ practices amid their engagement in the exercise in question.
However, it must be remembered that the mixing of two methods (qualitative and quantitative) must be suited to the particular study. This method was chosen for the purposes of this study because of the nature of the study. It enabled the researcher to use questionnaires and observations to gather the data.
In quantitative research, it is vital to focus on the statistic rather than other reasons while, on the other hand, qualitative research examines the reasons why certain things happen. Golafshani (2003:297) further highlights that a quantitative research design uses charts, graphs and research language that rhyme along ‘variables’, ‘population’ and ‘results’ as part of the process of conducting quantitative research. On the other hand, a qualitative research design involves understanding phenomena in their natural habitat without the researcher trying to manipulate the phenomena of interest (Golafshani, 2003:297). Thus, using both research methods helps to compensate for the weaknesses of each individual approach.
In view of the fact that this study was conducted in South Africa, it was necessary to understand the students’ views and knowledge of politeness, language and pedagogy; hence, a questionnaire was formulated and distributed to the participants. The aim of using this methodology was firstly, that the imperative components of the study depended on existing literature on politeness, language and pedagogy and secondly, that sources had to be investigated to decide on the way in which these three angles influenced or impacted on student compliance within an ODL domain.
The study of ontology involves observations and the study of “beings and the reality of beings”. For example, “What is really genuine?”, “What is principal?” and “What is subordinate?” (Shawn, 2001). On the other hand, epistemology investigates information and its validity. For example, “On what does learning and comprehension depend and in what capacity would we be able to be sure of what we know?” Axiology is the investigation of qualities. For example, “What values does an individual or gathering hold and why?”, “How are qualities identified with interest, yearning, will, experience and unfortunate obligation?” An axiological investigation appeared to be appropriate to this study, as it was felt that it would be a method for enhancing noteworthy self-understanding and self-learning in respect of the reasons for investigation and in addition, it would ensure clarity about a specific individual or group practice (Shawn, 2001:55).

Data collection

The researcher used MMR for the data collection. The data collection comprised two phases. Phase one entailed the quantitative method in terms of which a questionnaire was administered while phase two entailed the qualitative approach in terms of which interviews were conducted. This approach was suggested by Zohrabi (2013) who mentioned these methods as the instruments used in MMR. The main quantitative instruments were the open questions and open-ended interviews. This view was supported by Creswell (2010) who maintained that quantitative research design brought in the element of closed-ended questions while qualitative research brought in open-ended questions, interviews and observations.
The benefit of using open-ended questions is the level of discovery in respect of what the respondent really wants to say whereas close-ended questions provide the researcher with quantity and numerical data. It is, however, extremely important that the questionnaires and/or questions are reliable, valid and unambiguous (Zohrabi, 2013).
The fact that, by the time of the study, the researcher had been both a student and a staff member in the UNISA Department of African languages meant that the researcher was in a position to sincerely and objectively portray both sides of ODL language interaction and the learning environment. In particular, as an isiZulu speaker, the researcher was aware of the mother tongue and politeness aspects as both a student as well as a pedagogical agent influencing student compliance. Furthermore, the researcher had been party to huge online feedback from lecturers, teaching assistants (TAs) and students as well as interaction among these parties. The researcher was also keenly interested in how, as a language, the mother tongue might relate to politeness. This became a particularly interesting and stimulating topic as fellow staff members engaged in the discussion. As already mentioned, in terms of the data collection, the researcher was in an ideal position to capture the reflections as both student and lecturer.

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As mentioned earlier, during the quantitative phase the data was gathered through closed-ended questions that had been structured in a Likert-scale format. Developed by Likert in approximately 1932, the Likert scale comprises a code in terms of which attitudes may be measured by a researcher engaging with different people and asking them the degree to which they either agree or disagree with several statements about a certain topic “and so tapping into the cognitive and affective components of attitudes” (Creswell, 2010: 21). Furthermore, Creswell (2010) emphasises that a close-ended questionnaire is a type of scale that assumes that the strength/intensity of the “experience is linear, i.e. on a continuum from strongly agree to strongly disagree, and makes the assumption that attitudes can be measured” (Creswell, 2010: 21).
Accordingly, the respondents in this study have been given a choice of up to seven pre-coded responses to which to respond with the neutral response or point being neither agree nor disagree. Thus, this study used a Likert scale of up to seven points which were used to enable the respondents to express the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with certain statements linked to issues of language, communication, politeness and pedagogical agents.
The researcher visited the campuses of both f-2-f and ODL institutions, identified students who were willing to participate in the study and distributed the questionnaires to the students to fill in the answers. The researcher then collected the completed questionnaires at the agreed-upon time. The information gathered helped the researcher to understand the issues that needed to be addressed during the interviews.


Conducting interviews in a qualitative investigation may logically be seen as a moral request (Kvale, 1996) and may also be seen as a blended strategy or method of research. It is incumbent on the researcher to consider how the interviews may improve the human condition, to ensure a manner that is appropriate to sensitive interviewees, to avoid any question that may appear offensive to some individuals, to decide how, on a very basic level, the interviewees may tend to be subjective and to assess the possible consequences of the meetings for the interviewees and the groups to which they may belong.
Stage two in this study involved the qualitative interviews, with the researcher conducting f-2-f interviews with respondents who were willing to participate in the interviews. These interviews comprised primarily unstructured and open-ended inquiries which were intended to elicit the participants’ perspectives and suppositions. According to Lee and Lings (2008), interviewing involves a range of various types of conversation of which the main characteristic is an adaptable and fluid structure as opposed to structured interviews which comprise an organised arrangement of the same inquiries to be posed to all the interviewees.
The interview was structured and compiled according to the interview guide. The questionnaire and the guide may be found in the appendix section. The guide included points to be discussed during the interview as opposed to a sequenced script of institutionalised inquiries. The aim of the guide was to provide direction, to guarantee that all the important questions would be asked and to detail the order in which the questions would be asked. The researcher also understood that certain questions outside of the scope of the guide might arise during the interview sessions.
The researcher gathered subjective records to supplement his insight into the study area. The university policy documents and official reports or private documents, for example, myUnisa Discussion, conversations between students and teaching assistants and/or lecturers were reviewed. The interviews were held in assigned locations after the informed assent and consent of the key partners had been acquired. It was estimated that each interview would last for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. The meetings were recorded using a computerised voice recorder in accordance with the recommendations of Lee and Lings (2008).


The study population comprised mainly of University of South Africa (UNISA) students, as the research aim was to investigate politeness in the open distance learning environment. A few students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), both Pietermaritzburg and Durban, were interviewed on the issues surrounding politeness in order to gain an overview of how Zulu students generally viewed and understood politeness. Although a few students from UKZN were interviewed, the main focus, as mentioned above, was UNISA students simply because UNISA had been essentially classified as an ODL institution.
It should be noted that not all UNISA students were considered for the purposes of the study but only those who were taking one or more subject/s in the Department of African Language, preferably isiZulu, as the study aimed to investigate politeness among isiZulu mother tongue and non-mother tongue speakers in the higher education open distance learning environment. This also provided an opportunity to investigate issues around pedagogy, language and politeness as well as communication in relation mainly to isiZulu-speaking students.
In addition, one of the reasons for choosing Zulu students was because isiZulu is the most spoken language in the country and the universities were characterised by a range of cultures and institutions that had been altered by the isiZulu language. There was also the perception that isiZulu-speaking students were the most likely of all students not to voluntarily choose to learn another language (De Kadt, 2005). In addition, De Kadt (2005) observed that predominantly isiZulu-speaking students were more apprehensive to language acquisition and reject language modernisation. As Denzin and Lincoln (1994) stated, it was important to select participants who would provide the researcher with the information required. In this respect, the isiZulu-speaking students were able to provide important information for this study on politeness.
Furthermore, a selection of staff members within an ODL environment was also deemed to be relevant to the purposes of the study in view of the interaction which takes place – one of the foundations of an ODL environment – and also because lectures and/or TAs played an important role in the teaching and learning through online communication. Thus, the researcher also conducted 24 interviews with lecturers and/or TAs who were willing to participate in the study. The majority of the TAs interviewed were involved in teaching the Language Through an African Lens (AFL 1501) module. In addition, the researcher also used records from the myUnisa Discussion Forum responses among lecturers and/or TAs and students to investigate incidents of politeness.

Sampling techniques and procedure

The study has used the systematic random sampling, as this method ensures the equal probability of each individual in the population being selected for the purposes of the study. Randomisation means that a representative sample from the student population from the universities will ensure that the study findings may be generalised to the population. In view of the fact that the list of students in the ODL environment was long and seemingly endless, it was always going to be difficult to draw a random sample; thus, a systematic sample was used.
The research questionnaire included a standard set of directions as a feature of the introductory letter to the respondents, informing them about both the reason for the study and how to react to the inquiries, thus stimulating them to take an interest in the study.
The item being studied has been individuals as portrayed previously as students and lecturers. Rubin and Babbie (2011) allude to units or items of examination as individuals or things in the populace whose attributes are watched, depicted and clarified by social exploration. Such units of investigation may be people, gatherings or social groups. Mouton, in De Vos, Strydom, Fouché and Delport (2002: 107), characterises the unit under instigation as the “what” of the study and plainly laying out the specific components that shape the core of the study.
In respect of the sample size, De Vos et al. (2002: 199) maintain that, in the main, “…the bigger the populace, the littler the percentage of the populace the sample should be”. On the other hand, it is important to consider that the measurable importance is impacted upon as the sample size increases in that any impact will become significant in a huge sample. Grinnell and Williams, in De Vos et al. (2002), recommend an aggregate sample size of 30 while keeping in mind the end goal in order to ensure adherence to statistical procedures. However, this figure is in no way, shape or form acknowledged as a general standard in the research literature where test sizes up to at least 100 are viewed as statistically significant.
For the purposes of the quantitative measure, an aggregate sample of 200 participants was envisioned for the study. This number of responses enabled the researcher to conduct a factor analysis in relation to the questionnaire in order to avoid questions that were responded to in an undependable means. A statistical necessity in a factor analysis suggests a minimum of approximately 100 responses if the factor analysis is to be both effective and viable. This prerequisite shaped the premise for the appropriate sample size.
Hair, Anderson, Tatham and Black (1998) proposed that, for a sample to be considered representative, the number of observations must be fewer than twenty and above fifteen for each independent variable. In line with this proposal, this study stood at 20 respondents (i.e. 6 * 20). However, based on the statistical analysis employed, the researcher considered such a sample size to be too small.
Thus, Slovin’s formula was used to determine the sample size as follows:
n = N / (1 + Ne2) (i)
where n is the sample size, N is the total population, and e is the error tolerance.
However, the actual number of returned questionnaire was 90, some of which could not be considered for analysis due to poor answers and a lack of adherence to the instructions. Furthermore, the total number of students in this case could not be considered as it was significantly huge. In addition, the numbers might not have been exact, and determining the actual population in each university would have been costly and time consuming due to all the steps involved in accessing such information.

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Data analysis

The data analysis in mixed methodology involves trying to analyse a quantitative design “using quantitative methods and the qualitative data using qualitative methods”, as demonstrated by Creswell and Plano (2007: 128), and trying to combine both methods. The analysis of data in a qualitative research design differs from that in quantitative research. Qualitative data analysis involves organising vast amounts of data and breaking them into small units, coding and searching for patterns or using software programs, such as Atlas and/or NVivo to produce reports (Driscoll, Appiah-Yeboah, Salib & Rupert, 2007). This may be done by transforming individual, open-ended questions into a series of codes and trying to ascertain the number of times a particular code appears. However, it must also be mentioned that both qualitative and quantitative analyses require labelling and coding in order to understand the patterns and similarities that emerge. In the qualitative analysis in this study, speech act and politeness theories have been utilised to analyse the qualitative data. Quantitative data analysis involves statistics and due to the nature of this study a statistical analysis package known as SPSS version 12 was used.
Phase one of the data gathering process involved information gathering using close-ended questions. This meant that most of the open-ended questions had to be coded and transformed into quantitative data. This was done by converting the verbal and visual data obtained from the interviews and observations into numerical order. This same data was then entered into the SPSS program and analysed. Although the researcher aimed to maintain and preserve the qualitative meaning, only numerical items function in quantitative research; thus, the conversion of the open-ended questions into quantitative data (Sandelowski, 2000). The same process of changing data from qualitative research to quantitative research may be conducted in changing the data from quantitative to qualitative research. The decision on whether to change the data from quantitative to qualitative research was taken during the data analysis process. However, the changes made were rectified during a follow-up session with participants to ascertain whether the information recorded did indeed represent what the participants wanted to say.

Quantitative data analysis

The questionnaire administered consisted of five sections which enabled the respondents to be consistent in their answers. The intention was to capture variables that would test the following hypotheses:
H i: The language strategies used primarily by instructors or lecturers affect the learning outcomes in an ODL environment.
H ii: The politeness in language and email communication affects the learning outcomes gains in an ODL environment.
H iii: Teachers who, as pedagogical agents, use appropriate politeness strategies may improve learning outcomes.
H iv: Teachers who, as pedagogical agents, use appropriate politeness strategies, improve learning outcomes by promoting learner motivation, collaboration and academic compliance.
The two major variables in the study were the independent variables, namely language learning strategies, language, communication and politeness in email communication while the dependent variables were the students’ compliance and positive attitudes. The detailed relationship between these variables is discussed in section 2.4 of chapter two. Here, the objective of the study was to understand the views about the way in which politeness and the language of communication affected student compliance. In addition, the pedagogical agents, as a model of interaction, were used as they also played a role in ODL interaction, teaching and learning.
The summary of the variables considered in the questionnaires are presented in the appendices.

Data collection procedures

Data was collected from isiZulu-speaking students from the universities mentioned in section 3.3, using a self-administered questionnaire which was distributed informally during the recess period. There were also trained research assistants involved in the data collection process. In view of the fact that it was not anticipated that the study results would not affect any of the respondents, reliability was always at minimum invalid studies of personality, attitudes and values as referred to by Bird (1989).

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Background to the study
1.3 Statement of the research problem
1.4 Hypotheses and research questions
1.5 Aim and objectives of the research
1.6 Justification for the study
1.7 Rationale behind the research
1.8 Definition of terms
1.9 Scope of the study
1.10 Conclusion
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Summary of previous work on politeness
2.3 Theories linked to politeness and language
2.4 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Research paradigm and design
3.3 Data collection
3.4 Population
3.5 Sampling techniques and procedure
3.6 Data analysis
3.7 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Presentation and discussion of quantitative findings: Section One
4.3 Presentation of quantitative results: Section Two
4.4 Discussion of language, communication and language learning strategies
4.5 Politeness in email communication
4.6 Discussion of politeness and positive attitudes of students
4.7 Politeness and feedback on learning and compliance
4.8 Pedagogical agent, politeness strategies and learning outcomes
4.9 Summary of the hypotheses
4.10 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Research findings
5.3 Recommendations
5.4 The proposed framework
5.5 Conclusion
5.6 Recommendations for further research

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