Patch 4: Good Practice Guidance Notes – Teaching International Students.
The following guidance notes are designed to help create and maintain inclusivity for international students in higher education. An “international student” is defined as student who is studying abroad, which is now almost one in five in the UK, there is a perceived negative connotation of the term which implicitly labels international students as different to UK students (Scudamore, 2013). However, being based outside of the UK, and with less than 10% of our students from the UK, we use the term inclusively. Even though this international cultural diversity creates an extremely rich learning environment for undergraduate designers, it is not without its challenges for both students and tutors.
Inclusivity and legislation.
Under the UK Equality Act, 2010 it is unlawful for any education provider to discriminate between students. Inclusive learning and teaching seeks address this problem by creating a learning environment which engages all students equally and fully, regardless of background (Equality Act, 2010; Thomas & May, 2010). By ascertaining the challenges that international students face, problems can be addressed and solutions found by making “reasonable adjustments” (Thomas & May, 2010). Having a firm commitment to inclusive teaching and learning through curriculum content design and delivery, assessment and feedback will make all learning relevant to students entering a global society (Montgomery, 2008).
Challenges faced by international learners.
International students will often face problems adjusting to a new environment which can differ greatly from their home country. Students with a first language other than English may encounter difficulties in lectures and with academic writing, they may also struggle with differences in learning styles such as a greater focus on independent learning. We have also found that assessment criteria and marking systems can vary widely from what they previously understood, causing confusion over grades. Of course, there may also be wider issues, such as an international student feeling homesick or alienated socially which will also have an impact on their learning and student experience.
Inclusive Learning Strategies.
Get to know your students. This is an important way to increase your cultural awareness and understand any assumptions or preconceptions that international students may have (Carroll, 2008). An obvious first step which can be easily overlooked is to introduce yourself and say a few words about the subject you teach. Showing your enthusiasm for the subject will help motivate your students and also make it easier for the students to do the same when you get them to introduce themselves. Encourage social interaction early on to increase participation and student retention (Scudamore, 2013), and point out that all questions are welcome and valid from the outset (Smailes, Given & Gannon-Leary 2006).
Address expectations and set ground rules from the start. Although some of these points will have been addressed on Induction Day, they should be re-enforced in the context of your specific subject area. International students will have come from a diverse range of backgrounds with different expectations. Therefore, it is important to be explicit and conduct an open discussion to clarify what you expect from them and what they can reasonably expect from you (Scudamore, 2013 and Carroll, 2008). Take time to explain the module learning outcomes and grading scales, assessment strategies and the difference between a formative assessment and a summative assessment. Breakdown the assignment briefs to clarify what is expected of them in terms of work submission, and explain the marking criteria (Carroll, 2002). Discuss the rules of classroom conduct to avoid lecture interruptions and interventions (see the Student Handbook for further clarification).
During lessons speak slowly and clearly, facing the students. International students will need time to assimilate the nuanced, informal version of English as well as any regional accents. Avoid colloquialisms and analogies were possible. Providing a printed glossary of discipline-specific terms is a good way to avoid confusion. Make sure to plan ahead and give students plenty of time to prepare for lessons (Scudamore, 2013). Equally, international students may take much longer to complete the same tasks and meet the same learning outcomes as native UK students (Carroll, 2002). Regular feedback, formative assessments and micro deadlines can help them manage their time more effectively. Ensuring a varied mixture of lesson formats, presentation styles and audio-visual learning resources will greatly increase inclusive learning (Scudamore, 2013).
Group work can be problematic for international students. Finding ways to involve non-native English speakers in group based activities necessitates a reasonable adjustment. As mixed-groups will often perform less favourably than monocultural groups, needing more time to adjust to cultural differences, grading should focus more on the process involved than the final outcomes. Designing group activities with cross-cultural elements and being sympathetic to group dynamics by carefully selecting the group members will enhance participation and cross-cultural inclusion (Gannon-Leary & Smailes, 2008; Carroll, 2002).
Always keep an open dialogue with your international students. Ask them for feedback and reflect on ways to further improve teaching effectiveness and inclusion. Share your findings with other tutors, many of whom have culturally diverse backgrounds themselves. By implementing an inclusive approach higher education can be made more accessible for all students. By increasing the relevancy of the curriculum student engagement will increase with the benefit of higher attendance, higher student retention, as well as progression and achievement (Thomas & May, 2010).