Seeking academic help: A case study of peer brokering interactions

Sherrie Lee1

1University of Waikato

This paper reports on research which investigated help-seeking interactions, otherwise known as brokering, among ten EAL (English as an Additional Language) tertiary students in their initial semester of study at a New Zealand university. Understood as part of informal learning practices, brokering interactions take place when student seek assistance with academic tasks from peers such as classmates and non-peers such as learning support staff.

This paper examines the dynamics of peer brokering interactions of one particular participant with a fellow Chinese student, which took place through WeChat, a mobile phone application. An adaptation of a conversation-analytic approach is used to analyse twelve episodes of brokering interactions which involved text, images and emoji, i.e., graphic symbols or images that represent emotions. Initial analysis reveals the topics of brokering episodes, who initiated the brokering request, and the different ways which brokering requests were made and responded to. In this particular case, brokering interactions were characterised by a display of emotions, different types of responses to brokering requests, and negotiation between the seeker and broker about information or advice offered by the broker.

The paper concludes that peer brokers are an important academic resource. Increasing opportunities for EAL students to enhance their social interactions with peers should be considered as part of a holistic approach towards academic support.


Sherrie Lee is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education at the University of Waikato. She is also actively involved in advocacy for postgraduate students, particularly international students. Her doctoral research is a focused ethnography on brokering practices among international students at a New Zealand university. She was formerly a business communications lecturer at a polytechnic in Singapore. She completed her Master of Arts in Teaching (TESOL) at the University of Southern California.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education.

For more information, please visit ANZSSA website by


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education.

For more information, please visit the ISANA website at

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