First-Year (T)EFL Experiences in a Chinese University: An Affordances Theory Perspective

Jing Huang, Bacui Chen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstractpeer-review


This article reports on two studies carried out at two different times in a mainland Chinese university (LU), to explore and compare the school-to-college transition experiences of different cohorts of (T)EFL learners enrolled in LU’s same BA TEFL degree programme over the past 15 years or so. “(T)EFL learning” refers to learning (learning to teach) English as a foreign language. Study 1 was an ethnographic study of the (T)EFL experiences of the 2002-2006 cohorts in years of 2005-2008, with the findings that students’ first-year learning was characterized by a general sense of “loss, confusion and puzzlement” and their subsequent lack of actions and personal efforts to change the status quo (Huang, 2013). Study 2 was a revisit to the same research site to collect new data with 2014-2017 cohorts in years of 2016- 2018, with the purpose of comparing possible changes of learner trajectories over the past 15 years. Three themes emerging from initial analysis of the data (e.g. in-depth interviews) collected with cohorts of 2014- 2017 - lack of oversight; lofty goals, empty actions; and social media and technical distraction – characterized first-year experiences. (Re)examining from an affordances perspective, both studies found that students’ first-year experiences in university are replete with two distinct types of affordances, i.e. individual and social affordances, goal and happening affordances. Affordances need to happen in “sets”, instead of in isolation, to invite learner agency. Identity conception and imagination, in the form of “possible selves” and “future selves”, might create positive affordances for student learning. This study demonstrates the usefulness of employing an affordances theory perspective to understand the difficulties and constraints in the school-to-college transition. It also contributes to a better understanding of the complex relationship between affordances, agency and identity in (T)EFL learning.

User-Defined Keywords

  • school-to-college transition
  • (T)EFL learning
  • affordances
  • identity
  • agency Drawing on the affordances theory


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