Original Research

Exploring Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants’ pedagogical growth in United States universities

Nhlanhla Mpofu
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 20, No 1 | a1392 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v20i1.1392 | © 2024 Nhlanhla Mpofu | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 July 2023 | Published: 18 March 2024

About the author(s)

Nhlanhla Mpofu, Department of Curriculum Studies, Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


This research addresses the scarcity of studies examining how participants in higher education exchange programmes, specifically the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) programme, use situated learning experiences to develop professional knowledge. To fill this gap, the study examined how FLTAs construct and reconstruct teaching knowledge during their fellowship. Grounded in situated learning theory and experiential learning, the phenomenological design aligns with interpretive and qualitative traditions. The 2017–2018 cohort, comprising six FLTAs, participated in focused group discussions. Data analysis, utilising grounded theory approach, revealed that FLTAs constructed knowledge through structured programmes and personal-social experiences, employing introspective, retrospective, and prospective reflection practices. Additionally, participants emphasised the impact of accommodating and adapting beliefs, values, and dilemmas in challenging assumptions about higher education teaching and learning. This study contributes to a novel understanding of how planned activities and authentic experiences form the basis for professional knowledge construction across continents.

Transdisciplinary contribution: The transdisciplinary nature of this study allows for a holistic exploration of the process of teaching knowledge construction. By integrating insights from teacher knowledge construction, cognitive psychology, higher education teaching, inter-cultural practices and continuous professional development, this research provides a comprehensive understanding of how Fulbright FLTAs construct their professional knowledge during their fellowship. The study highlights the complexity of knowledge development, considering the cognitive processes involved, and addresses the context of higher education teaching and inter-cultural experiences. By emphasising the importance of continuous learning and growth, this research contributes to the field of teachers’ knowledge development.


Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant; higher education teaching; knowledge construction; phenomenological design; exchange programmes; situated learning

JEL Codes

Z13: Economic Sociology • Economic Anthropology • Language • Social and Economic Stratification

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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