International students (28 Apr 06, Southampton)

Date: 28 April, 2006
Location: New College, University of Southampton
Event type: Workshop

Programme | Abstracts | Event report | Event review

students in class

Past event summary

This event was intended for staff in all disciplines who teach international students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It consisted of a workshop during which staff explored issues of culture, learning styles and academic practice which can have an impact on both the experience of the student and on the teaching practice of staff. This was followed by presentations from researchers, teachers and support services who work with international students. The outcomes of the day were an increased awareness of the needs of international students and strategies for addressing them without compromising the quality and standards of the teaching and learning offered to all students.

The event was run twice with slightly different speakers, once at Southampton and once at Sheffield. The event was sponsored by the Higher Education Academy.

Programme for 28 April 2006
Time Session
10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee
10.30 - 11.30 Workshop: the acculturation of international students
Dave Burnapp, University of Northampton
11.30 - 12.00 Coffee
12.00 - 13.00 Workshop (contd): the acculturation of international students
Dave Burnapp, University of Northampton
13.00 - 14.00 Lunch
14.00 - 14.45 Best practice when lecturing to international students
Lorraine Pickett-Rose, Marie Ainslie and Lesley Edmondson, University of Portsmouth
14.45 - 15.15 Delivering academic support to meet the needs of international students
Liz Hauge and Julie Watson, University of Southampton
15.15 - 15.30 Tea
15.30 - 16.00 Supporting international students outside the classroom: UKCOSA and your ISA
Beatrice Merrick, The Council for International Education (UKCOSA)

Abstracts and presentations

The acculturation of international students

Dave Burnapp, University of Northampton
Download PowerPoint presentation (213 Kb)
Yuko's story PowerPoint presentation (189 Kb)

Different cultures of learning go about the process of creating knowledge in different ways, and hence the student and teacher behaviours which are expected, accepted and respected differ. International students may need to adapt their approaches to learning and their views of themselves as learners to their new situation. Academic staff in universities need to develop mindfulness that their own expectations - for example as reflected in assessment requirements - are reflections of one culture of education, and that international students may experience a period of transition as they unravel these packages of expectations and requirements. This workshop will provide an opportunity for developing such mindfulness.

Best practice when lecturing to international students

Marie Ainslie, Lesley Edmondson and Lorraine Pickett-Rose, University of Portsmouth
Download PowerPoint presentation (107Kb)

Lecturers across the university have, in recent years, been faced with new challenges inherent in lecturing to a student body with large numbers of international students. This research aims to find ways of dealing with this situation and to develop a system of best practice' when lecturing to such a large numbers of international students. The presentation will focus on our findings so far resulting from the observation of lectures and subsequent interviews with staff and students.

Delivering academic support to meet the needs of international students

Elizabeth Hauge and Julie Watson, University of Southampton
Download PowerPoint presentation (1.3 Mb)

This presentation will outline the linguistic and academic needs of international students - which are complicated by timetabling clashes and the demands of their individual academic programmes. It will then explain how the University of Southampton 's Centre for Language Study (CLS) seeks to address these needs through its face-to-face and online delivery of EAP support.

Supporting international students outside the classroom: UKCOSA and your ISA

Beatrice Merrick, The Council for International Education (UKCOSA)
Download PowerPoint presentation (760 Kb)

Giving international students the right academic preparation, support and teaching is vital, but the student's experience outside the classroom will also impact on their ability to complete a course successfully. UKCOSA is a national advisory body to which all universities belong, which works closely with International Student Advisers (ISAs) to help them provide the highest quality of support on everything from immigration issues to assisting with social integration. This session will look at what students say their biggest concerns are outside the classroom, and how universities address these.

Event report: Improving the learning experience of international students

by Alison Chisholm, University of Sussex

The acculturation of international students

David Burnapp, University of Northampton

The session started with a most informative group work session looking at the range of assessment modes currently being used in UK higher education institutions; these ranged from the more traditional essays, reports and unseen exams through to presentations, coursework, group projects, concept papers and annotated bibliographies. The discussion which followed highlighted the extent to which some overseas students would not only have to understand the requirements of the assessments modes in their particular institution, but at the same time adapt to a new cultural perception of the aims and rationale behind student assessment.

After looking at the 'Yoko' case study, which helped to re-establish some of the issues faced by international students in our minds, more group work followed, focussing on various aspects of UK academic culture which pose difficulties for international students, including: Autonomous Learning,
Critical Analysis and Group Work. The feedback from the groups often overlapped. The following is a list of the main points made:

Autonomous learning:

  • Other academic cultures are more focussed on results and therefore students need to learn to value the process of learning, and the fact that in some tasks, the process is considered of greater value than the product.
  • There is a need to encourage and teach students to become independent learners who focus on deep learning.
  • Learning styles, or perceived learning styles, are often culturally led and students often arrive in the UK with fixed notions of the teaching/learning process. Changing and challenging these views in some groups of students can be a difficult and lengthy process.
  • There is also a cultural difference in students' attitudes towards their own role in the learning process, especially in terms of how much they can contribute and the extent to which student knowledge, thought and opinion is valued and expected in the UK: learning is a two-way, not a one-way process.

Critical analysis:

  • The last point raised under Independent Learning is closely linked to issues of critical analysis; one of the main ones being that some students are reluctant to be critical of the people they expect to be learning from; or in many cases they have not been taught or encouraged to develop the critical thinking skills needed for study in the UK.
  • Students need to be taught to question; to look at the 'why' as well as the 'how'.
  • If international students are going to integrate successfully, academics, and the UK academic culture as a whole, need to be more aware and accepting of the similarities and differences between academic cultures. As Dave Burnap suggested, academics need ' become mindful to accept that every way of learning is acceptable.'
  • In order to help students to develop critical analysis skills, clear criteria need to be set for all assessment modes; cultural background needs to be acknowledged, as do the issues faced by some international students in terms of having both the language skills and experience to express their thoughts, evaluations and criticisms.
  • The rationale behind our incorporation of critical analysis in most aspects of our learning and teaching is the belief that it helps to develop 'deep learning' to promote and understand the subject, rather than just the texts; thus students are able to apply knowledge to subject development. However, work in Australia suggests that academic cultures based on rote-learning believe that it is this (rote-learning) which brings about deep learning.
  • In order to develop and apply these new critical analysis skills, it must be remembered that international students need to develop the confidence in their own ability to contribute; that there is a certain amount of bravery needed to challenge current thought; that there is very often a deeply inbuilt cultural reluctance to question a teacher; and that it may take some time for a student from a different academic culture to truly understand what being critical really means. It should not be forgotten that many of these issues may apply to home students as well, but international students often believe that these issues are unique to them.

Group work

  • The issue of confidence, as in critical analysis, is often relevant to group work. Students have to develop the confidence to share their thoughts and ideas with their peers.

There can often be negative feedback from home students who are used to collaborative work and may not fully understand the reservations of international students in the group. This can be especially problematic if there are group, rather than individual, grades for the final assignment.

  • A problem can be that, within the group, contributions are not equally made. This can be alleviated by the tutor carefully selecting the group members, and making the requirement that reflective reports and the minutes of any group meeting are submitted as part of the assessment.
  • Group work is generally considered to be valuable as a mode of assessment. However, the pedagogical rationale behind it needs to be explained clearly to both international and home students. It is both a good way of developing peer teaching, and confirms real understanding of the topic.

The workshop continued after coffee. The discussions continued to summarize good practice points to consider concerning the acculturation of international students. The following is a list of the main issues discussed:

1. The need to outline the pedagogical rationale behind the study and assessment methods used in the U.K., including:

  • views of knowledge, education and the role of the teacher.
  • stressing the importance and value placed on students' contributions to the learning process.
  • discussing and explaining that the process of learning is as important, (and in some situations more important) as the end product

2. Points of advice for tutors included:

  • Don't be afraid of repeating information - especially key information
  • In group/pair work situations, the tutors should place students in groups, rather than allowing self- selection.
  • Adopt a system of a rotating the project leader weekly on longer projects.
  • Elect a student to monitor seminars.

3. Induction:

  • Reconsider when the induction programme is carried out. Some aspects of academic induction can be completed later in the course so students receive information when they need it and, more importantly, so that they are not overloaded in the first few weeks. Aspects of the induction programme can be revisited periodically over the academic year.
  • The induction process should be separated into two aspects- information and skills. The focus for some sessions could also be to review what students already know, rather than just discussing unfamiliar topics.
  • If possible, the students could start the induction process before they arrive.

The group discussions which followed produced a range of interesting comments and advice:

4. Involving students

  • Tutors should find the time to talk to students, both home and international, about their learning experiences.
  • Incorporate discussions about the benefits of group work, and HOW students plan to complete the task.
  • Encourage students to set group rules for discussions.
  • Ensure that there is a mutual understanding of the expectations of both the students and the institution.

5. Cultural awareness

  • Teachers and institutions need to consider whether they do, or should, expect international students to become ' British students', or whether the institution should become more flexible.
  • Whatever the outcome of the above discussion, tutors should whenever possible use culturally aware and diverse teaching materials and all tutors should work towards developing a greater understanding of the cultural differences within all the groups they teach. Institutions need to work towards becoming 'internationalized'.
  • Tutors must also be aware of their own assumptions about students, and should whenever possible attend cultural awareness training sessions.

6. Practical solutions

  • There needs to be a clear overview of the whole degree programme, putting all aspects into context .
  • A 'buddy system' can be developed to link international students with home students for guidance with all aspects of student life.
  • There is also a need for institutions to consider the social integration of international students. British student culture tends to have a focus on drinking. Alternatives need to be made available for all students, not just the international students.
  • For all international students, sessions should be arranged for:
    Language support
    Time management
    Study skills - including example of assignments to be completed

Best practice when lecturing to international students

Marie Ainslie and Lorraine Picket-Rose, University of Portsmouth

Marie and Lorraine are both EAP teachers who presented their current, on-going research based on the hypothesis: 'Lecturers across the University feel 'unprepared' when lecturing to large cohorts of international students. This is a result of the cultural gap that exists.'

There were four main aims:

  • To identify difficulties faced by staff lecturing to large groups of international students
  • To identify the difficulties encountered by international students when attending these lectures
  • To identify areas of good practice
  • To disseminate ideas of 'best' practice when delivering lectures to international students

The main findings of the study to date and the lecturers' (in italics) responses are:

  • In some cases the students felt their understanding of a lecture to be below 50%. Of great concern to both lecturers and students.
  • The speed of delivery was problematic for some students. Concerns about whether, and how, lecturers could slow down delivery.
  • For some students the examples used by lecturers were 'alien' to them. Giving examples from a range of different cultures might mean that the lack of knowledge about an example would just be transferred to a different group of students.
    Students suggested that handouts should be available weeks before the lecture as well as list of specialist vocabulary. In addition, more written information e.g. on OHT or PowerPoint slides would aid comprehension. Giving out lists at postgraduate level of information taught at undergraduate level might been seen as 'dumbing down'.
  • Student were more positive about their ability to negotiate with the lecturer. Lecturers had concerns about lecturing to mixed groups of home and international students.
  • Students sometimes had difficulty when lecturers referred back to earlier lectures which the students hadn't fully understood. Concerns were raised that if students hadn't understood the early lectures up to 1/3 of the Semester had been wasted for some students.

Some additional questions were raised for consideration at the end of this session:

  • How and when are we assessing students?
  • Should international students be taught separately? And how far can lecturers change their lecturing style and still meet the needs and expectations of home students?
  • When should handouts be given? And do students do the preliminary reading?
  • To what extent should a lecturer be expected to research the backgrounds of their students?
  • Should lecturers be teaching more 'critical skills', or should these be taught elsewhere?

The questions produced, as would be expected, a wide range of opinions and views, but most participants would agree that all teaching and lecturing benefits from a certain amount of reflective practice so that we all adapt to the changing needs, demands and expectations of all students.

Delivering academic support to meet the needs of international students

Elizabeth Hauge and Julie Watson, University of Southampton

An interesting presentation which also recognised that many of the needs attributed to international students also apply to other groups of students as HE institutions focus on widening participation.

The University of Southampton has three main sources of support: face to face, resources for independent study and online courses and resource sets. They also recognise that there are two main areas in which needs can arise: language and study skills. All students studying in the UK arrive with different language and study skills profiles. Wherever the weakness lies, the end result is that students experience difficulties in either participating fully in the course or in completing assignments.

It can be difficult to meet the needs of all students as there tends to be many complicating factors: e.g. different demands and requirements for different degree programmes; problems with timetabling and student time management; in some cases homesickness.

Meeting these needs on a face to face basis can either be done in courses, e.g. academic writing, or on an individual basis though tutorials. The resources available for independent study develop both language and study skills. On-line provision consists of a bank of 1500+ 'learning objects' covering EAP, as well as generic and discipline-specific study skills for home students. Students are also able to follow 10 week e-tutored courses using Blackboard as the VLE.

Supporting international students outside the classroom: UKCOSA and your ISA

Beatrice Merrick, The Council for International Education (UKCOSA)

The session finished with a presentation by UKCOSA on the work they do and support and services they provide institutions working with international students.

Event review

by Regina Herzfeldt, Aston University

This workshop was a one-day event targeted at understanding obstacles of international students coming to UK for Higher Education and helping them maximise their learning experience.

I went on this course for various reasons: To compare my own impressions about international students with other people and other universities, to get a general feel how the phenomenon of international student increase impacts on our understanding of teaching and learning, and get concrete suggestions and ideas to improve my teaching and support to international students.

The workshop satisfied most of my expectations and provided an excellent opportunity to exchange experiences with like-minded colleagues. An additional benefit was the mixed audience of academics and support staff, so that many facets of international students were addressed. We started off with a very interesting and intense session on assessment and teaching of international students, in which we reflected in small groups on four core issues of UK Higher Education that are often problematic for international students: The emphasis on self-directed learning, a group-based approach towards learning and assessment, the requirement of citing other people’s work and ideas, and the value of critical analysis in learning and assessment. The small-group discussion on the philosophical underpinnings of these issues proved to be the most valuable part of the workshop from my point of view.

The afternoon was dedicated to examples of outstanding practice combined with research into international students and their self-reported problem – an important counterpart to the morning session, as this research allowed us to assess and compare the lecturers/staff view and the students’ own view about their problems.
I feel I benefited from this workshop in the sense that I am better informed about various initiatives and strategies to support international students and I am more confident about my ability to accommodate international students’ needs in my own teaching.

Help for acculturation – best practices and ideas

  1. Buddying system for international placement students – they buddy with a student who’s coming back from placement
  2. Distance learning courses use specifically international examples, check for appropriate language (plain English, no idiomatic expressions)
  3. Tutors for MSc programmes chosen to provide both international experience and high subject knowledge: If one tutor cannot provide both, two tutors are chosen to complement each other
  4. Internationalisation of the curriculum: best practices from various countries are discussed, explicit debates on national differences in policies and practices (e.g. about nursing)
  5. Pre-sessional courses
  6. Foundation module for international business students to familiarise them with the UK business environment – compulsory additional module
  7. Reflective learning logs
  8. Training in IT skills, especially students from economically less developed countries
  9. Cultural awareness training also for staff
    • Support staff accepts it well
    • Academic staff hesitant, possibly help through specific policies
  10. international events, e.g. international evenings, festivals from various cultural groups (e.g. Chinese New Year)