Teaching and learning: supporting international students to study in the UK


Blog for members
10 April 2019
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Over the past five years a number of our grants scheme pilot projects and research have explored improving teaching and learning for international students, from supporting them to be more vocal in group work to helping them adjust to the UK education system. Over the next few weeks we’ll focus on some of the programmes, sharing recommendations and ideas about supporting students. These will be featured on our newswall and distributed in our enews.

Please share with colleagues across departments, including academic staff, as it may support their work. 

Personal tutors: different expectations from students and staff

Anecdotal experience, including reports from staff and tutoring records from University of Plymouth suggested that levels of engagement by Chinese students with their tutors was low. Their research aimed to find out why this was happening and identify potential barriers. 

The research team asked staff and students to describe their perceptions of a personal tutor and the findings, illustrated by metaphors, clearly demonstrate different expectations. While students in the study said that they expect more focussed, directive and practical support, tutors themselves want students to be more autonomous and self-sufficient. The research also highlights the diverse definitions among academic staff and the personal tutor role.

Staff suggested that personal tutors should be considered as a ‘guide’ with a ‘signposting’ role. In contrast, students suggest that a personal tutor should be a ‘line manager’ suggesting a more directive, prescriptive approach. 

Read the full report and recommendations at ukcisa.org.uk/personal-tutors

Engagement of international students in group-work activities

“Everyone contributed, we didn’t have a big group leader, everyone could share their ideas.”

This project explored the use of Lego as a practical technique to get UK and international students engaging with group work. 

The project involved setting a challenge, by asking a question that students had to answer by building a Lego model. Students shared the model and it’s meaning with the group. Questions could only be directed at the model rather than the student, removing pressure. 

Evaluation of the project revealed:

  • 80% of non-native English speakers and 75% of native English speakers agreed or somewhat agreed that “the LEGO® model I built helped me to formulate a response to the question asked.” 
  • 60% of non-native English speakers and 50% of native English speakers agreed or somewhat agreed that “I communicated with more confidence in the Lego Serious Play session when compared to normal group work settings.” 

Read the full report and recommendations for using some of these techniques in your institution at ukcisa.org.uk/group-work

International academic writing bootcamp: introducing new international postgraduate to UK academic expectations

“The course work [in the UK] is set up quite differently than home. There is much more emphasis on large assessment rather than work throughout the semester. This made the adjustment challenging because the essays have much more weight and a focus on critical thinking.” (Student from America)

Liverpool Hope’s pilot project focused on supporting new international postgraduate students to understand academic expectations in UK universities. 

The four-day bootcamp focused on introducing students to peers and academic tutors as well as giving practical support about how to structure academic writing, plagiarism and a guide to UK referencing. 

Evaluations from the project show an increase in attainment, confidence in approaching tutors for help and increased confidence working with peers. 

The full report, including challenges the team overcame and a list of all sessions involved in the programme is available at ukcisa.org.uk/bootcamp

Global voices in science. Improving integration while learning from international students

“My contributions were valued. After my presentation, the students were eagerly asking me questions. There was enthusiasm to know about my town and that gave me more happiness because they understood my presentation. The lecturer asked me some questions and I answered them. I gained lots of confidence first of all, more communication skills.”

Nottingham Trent University ran a project to utilise the perspectives and knowledge of international students while increasing their confidence. The project involved a team of international students that delivered STEM curriculum activities. Students were invited to share knowledge and experience from their home countries about specific topics: for example, in Sports Physiology the student shared insights into living at high altitudes. In the Wildlife Conservation topic the student presented details of local conflicts between wildlife conservation and human habitation.

Evaluation of the project revealed that international students felt valued for their contribution and more confident in their English language skills. The project had a positive impact on all students – they all felt they benefitted from hearing diverse viewpoints. Staff and students reported evidence of better integration of home and international students. 

View the full report at ukcisa.org.uk/GlobalVoices

Skills4Keele: learning resources to increase the number of non-EU students gaining a ‘good’ degree

Keele University noted that there was an attainment gap between home/EU students and non-EU international students. Around 70% of their home/EU students were attaining a ‘good’ degree whereas only 40% of non-EU international students attained the same grade. 

The team created resources to tackle difficulties with academic conventions and English language, as well as introducing students to different learning styles and cultures.

The project produced four learning packages for international students, which are now used in all international welcome plans. 

The learning package included:

  • A live audit lecture, using an anonymous quiz for students to share aspirations and concerns with all peers
  • Online learning package including useful facts about Keele, sources of support, library opening hours etc
  • Revision techniques resource
  • Academic writing resource

View the full report, including links to the Skills4Keele resources at ukcisa.org.uk/Skills4Keele

What other top tips do you have for improving international students’ learning in the UK? Share your ideas in the comments below.


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