First Advisor

Susan B. Poulsen

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Speech Communication


Speech Communication




Foreign students -- Attitudes, Teacher-student relationships, Intercultural communication



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 176 pages)


This was an exploratory case study which focused on international students' experiences in higher education. In particular, this study investigated the efficacy of uncertainty reduction theory in communication classrooms. The research asked four exploratory questions: (a) What are the students’ perceptions of the teacher/student relationship? (b) Do international students experience uncertainty in communication classrooms? (c) If uncertainty is experienced, what is its source(s)? (d) If uncertainty is experienced, do students seek to reduce it, and if so, how?

A phenomenological perspective was utilized in this study as the organizing, theoretical framework. Relevant literature on uncertainty reduction theory was reviewed as well as literature specific to international education, the communication classroom, the role of the teacher, and teacher self-disclosure. Focus group interviews, individual interviews, and member checks were conducted with international students who had taken communication classes at Portland State University in the 1998-1999 academic year. Using a set of analytic measures, 21 initial categories were identified and subsequently collapsed into 4 key categories: international education, teacher/student relationship, uncertainty in the communication classroom, and approaches to managing uncertainty.

Based on analyses of the data, this study revealed findings significant to understandings of both international education and uncertainty reduction theory. First, a model of classes within international education was derived from the data and served to deepen understandings of international education, in particular the international students’ perceptions of classes across countries.

Second, this research tested the extant claims of uncertainty reduction theory and raised questions regarding its conceptualization. The data revealed that the students' definitions of uncertainty and uncertainty reduction differed from those previously postulated, resulting in the formulation of new definitions. Also, context was found to strongly influence students' experiences of uncertainty; the context of the classroom not only determined the sources of uncertainty, but also influenced how uncertainties were coped with when they were not reduced. These alternative understandings of uncertainty reduction theory are significant as they could aid in further research that explores the theory’s extant claims.


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