International Undergraduates’ Classroom Experiences and Implications for Teaching
“Having a large number of international students at the university does not make the campus diverse. How well international students are integrated into the rest of the campus matters more. The help seems to be always focused only on the international students and their problems, while the rest of the campus should also be involved to help them. In my opinion, studying at the U of M forces international students to be adjusted and to change themselves to fit into the American culture. However, international students grew up in different cultural backgrounds; compromise might work, but demanding them to change and fit into American society might be asking too much, especially when students are just starting their first year.” UMN-TC undergraduate international student 2010 International Student Survey
International Undergraduates’ Classroom Experiences and Implications for Teaching Mike Anderson, MELP LeeAnne Godfrey, CEHD Beth Isensee, ISSS Jeff Lindgren, CTL
Discuss in PairsHow do you think international studentswould reply to the question: “What are the major problems international students face during their first semester at the U?
Survey of International Students232 undergraduate respondentsRespondents by college:Science and Engineering – 34%Liberal Arts – 28%Management – 11%Biological Sciences – 4%Continuing Education – 4%Design – 2%Education & Human Development – 2%Food, Agriculture, and Natural Sciences – 2%Medical School – < 1%Chose not to answer – 14%
Survey QuestionsWhat made learning difficult in your firstsemester?What are the major challenges you see forinternational students who are adjusting to beingat the U of M?What would help international students adjustmore easily during their first year?
Major ThemesChallenges are related to:• learning in a second language• lack of shared academic & classroom culture• feelings of isolation• general cultural differences outside of academics
Which of the following made learning difficult in your first semester due to your English? Please check all that apply even if it was true in only one class. Answer Count Percentage1. I was not comfortable speaking in class 92 40%because of my English.2. There was too much reading. 81 35%3. Too many examples used in class were 79 34%taken from U.S. culture.4. Too much of the vocabulary was 75 32%unfamiliar.5. My writing had too many grammar errors. 70 30%6. I wasn’t clear about what to do during pair 68 29%work or group work.7. Professors/instructors spoke too quickly. 65 28%
Which of the following made learning difficult in your first semester due to your English? Please check all that apply even if it was true in only one class. Answer Count Percentage8. I was unfamiliar with the types of writing 52 22%assignments.9. I didn’t understand other students during pair 51 22%work or group work.10. People could not understand me when I spoke. 46 20%11. The professors/instructors didn’t provide enough 42 18%visual material (e.g. writing or slides) while teaching.12. The directions given for writing assignments 42 18%were unclear to me.13. I couldn’t understand the reading material. 37 16%14. I didnt have any of these problems. 34 15%15. I couldn’t understand my classmates. 29 13%
Theme 1: Challenges of Learning in Second Language“The main problem is speaking out in class. I seriously felt goose bumpseven if I scored 105 in TOEFL. It’s not about knowing English. It’s about theanxious feeling that whether what you are speaking is important enough toask in a class and whether the professor and other students canunderstand.”Processing time“International students cannot read fast in English. (I found out it only takesmy American friend an hour and a half to read and understand a chapterwhich takes me five or six hours.) For reading chapters, I can always spendmore time, but during exams where I cant have more time, it has been verydifficult.”
Theme 2: Lack of Shared Academic & Classroom Culture Comparing the U to your previous school At my previous school: 59% Attendance was required. 49% There were fewer tests. 48% There was less homework. 40% Less class participation was expected.
Theme 2: Lack of Shared Academic & Classroom Culture Comparing the U to your previous school At my previous school: 59% Attendance was required. 49% There were fewer tests. 48% There was less homework. 40% Less class participation was expected. During my first semester at the U: 41% I was often not familiar with types of assignments given in classes. 34% I was often not familiar with the types of tests.
Theme 2: Lack of Shared Academic & Classroom Culture Interacting with U of M professors If I had questions about the material or assignments, I generally preferred to get help from:38% The professor28% The teaching assistant19% Other students1% My advisor * 3% = Other
Theme 2: Lack of Shared Academic & Classroom Culture Interacting with U of M professors If I had questions about the material or assignments, I generally preferred to get help from:38% The professor28% The teaching assistant19% Other students1% My advisor * 3% = Other If I had questions during class, I generally preferred to ask them:41% Immediately after class21% Later, during office hours18% Later, by email 7% During class * 3% = Other
Theme 2: Lack of Shared Academic & Classroom Culture “Professors didn’t understand that international students need more time to get used to the american way of teaching.” “Generally speaking, we tend not to voice out our opinions or query due to many reasons: such as culture (it’s rude to interrupt during lectures).” “Examples made in class by students and professors often refer to strictly American things - certain TV shows, series, American sports, etc, which dont make sense to international students.” “It would help if teaching staff clearly and several times explained how to address them and when can we ask for help (whether it is okay to interrupt and ask what is unclear right away or wait till end of class.)”
Theme 3: Feelings of IsolationDifferences in cultural background…“A lot of people see me as an Asian before they see me as a humanbeing…International students always have this small American Dream ofhaving a lot of American friends and being well-adjusted to American culturebut the truth is, its very hard. So I have seen many of them giving up.”“I founds many Americans who expected everyone to be familiar with theirculture and if not considered them uneducated or ignorant. While many arewarm and friendly, the mindset that everyone should know about America andthe hesitation to learn about other cultures was a little annoying at times.”
Theme 3: Feelings of Isolation “Students are scared of each other; to some Americans we are scary strangers, and to most internationals they are scary Americans who speak better English than we do.”Exclusion“The most difficult thing for me was gettingintegrated in class. It was easy for myteachers to ignore/not include me indiscussions etc. I was shy and notconfortable with my English, but still, in smalldiscussion classes the teacher could includeyou more.”
Interview-based qualitative studyWhat are the reported academic and social experiences ofinternational students studying in a second language andculture at the University of MN? Participants 1 2 3 Male Male Male Mainland China Taiwan Kuwait Actuarial Science Computer Science Mechanical Engineering 3rd Semester at U 2nd Semester at U 2nd Semester at U
Preliminary Results• Expectations vs. reality – Language – Integration/friendships• Success = academics and friendships• “I will try” attitude
What would help international students adjust more easily during their first year? Create structured opportunities for integration Through socialization activities U.S. and international students could share each other’s cultures, develop friendships and build English language abilities. Most suggested examples: • Small discussion groups • Peer to peer programs especially with in the colleges • Study groups“I believe help from people that have already been in shoes of freshmencould help freshmen the most because they know what being a freshman islike. So having study group (grouping in same major would be perfect)would be great like mentor system. Please select some one who caresabout freshmen, not with just good grade.”
What would help international students adjust more easily during their first year?Be aware of cultural background differencesRespondents commented frequently on the need for professors and teachingassistants to be more aware of the specific academic challenges ofinternational students as they adapt the to U.S. higher educational system.“Maybe the professor could explain what isexpected of oral activity in class. Because it is verydifferent from class to class, and many studentscome from places where youre not expected tosay anything in class.”“I think lecturers can ask if everyone knows whatthey are talking about when they decide to givespecific examples. Also, one day it would be nice to experience an international student day.”“…more love and interest from the teachers”
What would help international students adjust more easily during their first year?Encourage int’l students to utilize campus resourcesMany respondents pointed out the difficulty inknowing what resources were available andwhen to utilize the resources.“It is important for international students toknow all the organizations in school. Therewere a lot of times when I did not knowwhich organization I could turn to for help orwhich ones I could get easily involvedwith.”“Let them be aware of school resources likeThe Writing Center and push push pushthat its free and VERY helpful.”
Theme 1: Challenges of Learning in a Second Language— and Corresponding Teaching Strategies Consider… • Processing time – Giving everyone 30/60/90 seconds to think about class questions before answering – Giving everyone in the class more time for exams – Making all materials available online • Unfamiliarity with examples from US culture, slang, jargon, idioms • “written accent”
Theme 2: Lack of shared Academic & Classroom Culture —and Corresponding Teaching Strategies • Letting students know your expectations about participation (during class, after class, etc.) • Being explicit about tests/ assignments in syllabus • Giving clear written and verbal directions for assignments and test formats • Letting students know how you would like to be addressed
Theme 3: Feelings of Being Isolated or Excluded—and Corresponding Teaching StrategiesConsider…• Starting with pair work, then working toward groups• Asking students to form groups “with students as different from you as possible”• Base groups for entire semester versus ever-changing groups.• Being explicit about what your expectations are for group interactions.
Discussion• How do the results impact your work?• What are some strategies you could employ on the classroom, program, college, or university levels?• What challenges have you encountered? What has worked well?