- Living and studying in another culture
- Services and assistance for EAL and international students
- Teaching international students: practical advice
- Where to go for assistance
According to Australian Education International (AEI), in 2012 there were just over 500,000 full fee-paying students across all Australian educational sectors, with over 150,000 of them undertaking university studies (AEI, 2012). This is an important change to the profile of the student population. Not surprisingly, it has raised a number of educational issues and challenges for staff. This information is intended as a resource for academic staff as they face these issues and challenges.
Research has shown that a high percentage of students studying 'across cultures' experience difficulties with: socio-cultural adjustment, language, and educational expectations and norms.
Living in a new culture can be a very isolating experience. International students face similar problems to Australian students (finances, accommodation, relationships and academic progress) but they may not have easy access to resources and support to assist them in solving these problems. Furthermore, they often experience feelings of isolation, homesickness and 'culture shock' during their time here and many also face language problems. Many of these factors affect the academic life and progress of international students.
Most international students are learning in a language that is not their first language. Although they will have taken an English language test (for example, International English Language Test System or IELTS) prior to acceptance into most courses, most take time to adjust to the Australian accent and the style of speech used in lectures and tutorials. They may compensate for language difficulties by spending long hours studying outside of class time - this in itself limits the amount of time they have available to mix socially with other students and develop their oral language skills. International students often comment that lecturers speak too fast and use idiom and abbreviations not familiar to them. Like Australian students, they may not always want to seek help, preferring to work long hours on their essays and assignments before seeking assistance from their lecturers or L3 advisers in the Language, Literacies and Learning team from the Learning and Teaching Unit.
Many of our educational expectations are culture bound. We value certain things - these are the qualities we see good students as having. In Australia, skills such as autonomous learning, critical thinking, confidence in communication and problem solving are highly valued by teachers and lecturers. They are therefore both expected and rewarded. However, many international students in Australia come from Confucian heritage backgrounds which traditionally emphasise the value of knowledge and respect for those who preserve and teach it. In this cultural climate, 'good' students do not openly question the point of view of their teacher or argue alternative points of view. The students who are accepted into our courses are selected in part on their previous academic record - so they are 'good students' in their home countries. It takes time for students from Confucian-heritage backgrounds, with these expectations, to adjust to Australian expectations of them as students. They may be asked to work independently (rather than being directed by their respected teacher and expert in the field) and to challenge and critically evaluate the information that is presented to them (how dare they challenge the teachings of their respected teacher and expert in their field!?) In Australia, students may be expected to locate and analyse information in order to solve a range of professional and academic problems. But Confucian-heritage students may expect the teacher to be 'the sage on the stage' (as opposed to the 'guide on the side'). How can we help students in this situation? Firstly, we can make our norms and expectations, and the rationale behind these, absolutely clear from the beginning, and take nothing for granted. We can repeat them often, in different ways, verbally and in writing. We can be patient and give students time to adjust to their new role as students in an Australian university. And we can be forgiving when students forget what is expected of them in this role. There may be times, though, when more is needed and the University provides a range of services for students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
A number of policies, procedures and services have been put in place at UniSA to assist students to overcome many of the difficulties mentioned above.
International Student Officers in the Learning and Teaching Unit organise workshops and provide resources and publications to support international students from the time they accept an offer until the time they graduate from UniSA. Services provided include:
- Pre-departure workshops (always available online and sometimes available face-to-face in some locations)
- On-arrival reception
- Referral to the Accommodation Services
- Orientation to Adelaide and UniSA
- A referral service to other professional personal and learning services within the university
- A range of recreational and cultural activities
- Career preparation and advice through Career Services
- A returning home program
For further details about these and other services contact the International Student Officer on your campus.
A range of 1:1 and group language and study skill development programs designed specifically for EAL and international students are available through the Learning and Teaching Unit on each Campus. On each campus L3 advisers in the Language, Literacies and Learning team, Counsellors and International Student Officers are available to assist students. Services and resources are responsive to student need and demand. Details of services and resources are available from the Learning and Teaching Unit web site and from the Learning and Teaching Unit office on each city campus.
The Learning and Teaching Unit employs Academic Developers, Learning Advisers and International Student Officers who work with staff to help them understand the needs of students and with students who are having difficulty understanding the expectations of their lecturers and tutors. These LTU services are located on each city campus of the University in the Learning and Teaching Unit and are often able to provide a useful bridge between staff and students.
The preparation and delivery of student workshops and resources around the expectations of particular assessment items in specific courses and discipline areas are often negotiated under the Service Agreement that each Division has with the Learning and Teaching Unit. If you are interested in this type of service contact your nearest Learning and Teaching Unit office to discuss the possibilities.
This guide outlines strategies for accommodating international students' needs in our teaching. Many of them are basic principles of good teaching that will benefit all students. Biggs (1997) identifies three main areas on which university teachers should focus to improve the quality of teaching and learning for students from all educational and cultural backgrounds. Clanchy and Ballard (1997) identify a number of strategies to assist international students in particular. The following is a combination of strategies suggested by the findings of both authors. They are general teaching strategies, which can be used effectively in most subject areas.
Strategies for communicating content
- If course content is closely related to a particular textbook or set of readings, make this very clear to students.
- Improve communication in and out of class between international students with staff and local students, for example, by designing assessment tasks which require cross-cultural communication and/or mixed culture learning groups.
- Be aware of where students' backgrounds may affect their content knowledge. For example, if your course requires students to evaluate the SA school curriculum, or apply Australian case law, or discuss Adelaide water restrictions, be aware that international students may well be unfamiliar with these issues.
In all communications:
- Speak clearly while facing students
- Explain colloquialisms, abbreviations and long convoluted sentences
- Provide adequate 'wait time'. Wait time is the silent period which occurs between individuals when communicating. When working with EAL students, wait time may need to be increased to include 'processing time' (which often involves translation from English to students' first language, formulation of a reply and translation of the reply back into English)
When presenting content in lectures or tutorials to small or large groups:
- Use outlines and simple overheads as visual aids to aural comprehension
- Distribute concise lecture notes
- Support written notes with diagrams wherever possible
- Invite students to tape lectures/tutorials/presentations
- Provide written explanations/definitions of key terms (especially discipline-specific jargon) prior to a presentation
- Organise and present information using strategies of:
- advance structuring (present a skeleton outline of content you are about to present)
- coherence (start each lecture with a brief reference to the previous one and end with a summary and a few comments on how ideas in this session will be developed in the next session)
- extension (indicate some reading which supplements what you have covered and prepares students for the next topic)
Strategies for communicating expectations in relation to:
Participating in discussions, practicum placements, laboratory work and tutorials:
- Publish a short, dot-point handout on what is expected of students in these different learning environments
- Specifically encourage ALL students to actively participate
in discussion by:
- getting the group to introduce themselves to one another
- establishing clear guidelines for use of names and pronunciation of names
- setting up activities which require students to share experiences and knowledge with each other in order to successfully complete a task
- Provide specific preparation and follow-up communication activities for students going out into practicum or work placement where they will be expected to engage in a range of communication activities such as social conversation, communication to elicit specific information from clients, written and verbal communication to transfer information
- Prepare placement supervisors by providing information about cultural and religious beliefs, or other factors that may impinge upon the students' learning during their practicum
- Liaise closely with the supervisors to facilitate early and frequent formative feedback to students to enable them to make changes as required, particularly in relation to their communication
- Comment on your own critical thinking strategies: What questions does the situation/reading/source raise for you? What other sources would you go to test the validity of claims being made in this source?
- Explain to students when they should employ these approaches Completing tasks and assignments:
- Provide clear and simple written guidelines for all tasks and assignments
- Provide 'model' answers which highlight good practice
- Explain the difference between 'quoting experts' and 'plagiarism'
The students' role:
- Publish a brief set of expectations regarding how you expect students to think and behave in your discipline area and in your classes
- Publish the times at which you will be available for consultations and always be there at those times
Teaching strategies to maximise appropriate student activity
- Provide all students with structured ways of asking questions and following up problems encountered in lectures, tutorials or during private study
- Bear in mind that not all learning cultures accept or value students' questions in class, and that in some cultures questions may be seen as challenging the teacher's knowledge or as a loss of face for the student who has (seemingly) not understood.
- Allow out-of-class time (or emails) for students to ask questions in private; this may allow for shy students to have their questions answered without having to speak up in front of the class. You could also provide a summary of answers to FAQs on an email or handout.
Getting a cross-cultural perspective:
- Specifically invite students to add comments based on their own cultural background - this could be done in small groups to avoid putting students 'on the spot'.
- Establish cross-cultural groups for specific activities which require the different sub-groups to help each other to see a problem or issue from a different cultural perspective
Getting students to participate in small group discussions:
- As international and EAL students may need special help in
preparing for small group discussions:
- model effective and efficient reading strategies
- publish reading lists which indicate clearly what is essential reading and what is optional or extension reading related to specific lectures/tutorials
- establish clear purposes for reading including questions to answer or thinking tasks in advance of discussions
- Where feasible, establish sub-groups of learning partners of the same cultural background who are given permission to talk in whatever language they like, even though their final presentation to the group will be in English.
Assessment tasks and strategies
Setting assessment criteria
- Carefully construct and publish assessment criteria with explicit reference to objectives
- Tell students explicitly what it is that they have to do to demonstrate the level of understanding required
- Make the link between objectives, assessment activities and
teaching and learning situations and tasks explicit to students
- providing student with a simple 'map' of the subject requirements which details which lectures and tutorials relate to which assessment activities
- stating which subject objectives(s) an assignment is measuring on a cover-sheet or in the Study guide
- Involve students in setting assessment criteria
Assistance in tailoring these strategies to your particular teaching situation is available from the Learning and Teaching Unit team located on each campus. If you would like to make an appointment for an individual consultation in the area of working with international and EAL students, contact the Learning and Teaching Unit on your campus.
Ballard, B. & Clanchy, J. (1997). Teaching international students: a brief guide for lecturers and supervisors. Deakin: IDP Education Australia.
Biggs, J. (1997). 'Teaching across and within cultures: the issue of international students'. In Learning and teaching in higher education: advancing international perspectives. Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference, 8-11 July 1997, pp. 1-22.
Australian Education International (2012) International student numbers. Retrieved from https://aei.gov.au/research/International-Student-Data/Pages/InternationalStudentData2012.aspx