Teaching aid aims to help lift cultural barriers

July 8, 2010

A research project aims to help academics understand the differences in educational cultures that can throw up barriers when teaching international students.

Teaching International Students includes a study of findings from the UK's National Student Survey, along with a bank of case studies for use by teachers.

The project is a collaboration between the Higher Education Academy, which supports teaching and learning, and the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), with additional funding from the Prime Minister's Initiative 2.

Those behind the project argue that its concerns are increasingly becoming the concerns of higher education as a whole - with the number of international students rising to about one in four in Australia and one in five in the UK.

"What we're finding is that once you start getting those kinds of numbers, the dynamics of the classroom really change," said Janette Ryan, the project leader. Dr Ryan will discuss findings from the study at the UKCISA conference, at the University of York from 12 to 14 July.

She argued that as "perception of quality" among international students was the key to their decision about where to study, teaching for this specific group was a crucial issue for universities.

Common problems for staff include uncertainty over international students' level of background knowledge, encountering students with no experience in the argumentative style of essay writing, and finding that some overseas students are reluctant to mix or participate in class.

The data on the experiences of teachers and international students stretch back 15 years, building on the findings of Dr Ryan's PhD thesis.

Dr Ryan said that its findings could be applied across different higher education systems.

She added: "You can't possibly hope to learn about all of the various students' cultural backgrounds, but you can understand what it is about your system that people might find different or unfamiliar."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

For more information go to www.heacademy.ac.uk/internationalstudents.

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