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10 Tips for Supporting Online International Students

Written by Joanne An on Aug 3, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Program Services, Digital Education

August has arrived—and for many of our university partners’ programs, this means school is back in session and new online learning cohorts are forming. Particularly for online international students, this time of year also marks a new and exciting opportunity for them to experience the U.S. education system without having to secure a visa or leave their home.

Fortunately, online international students don’t have to face the tidal wave of adjustments that typically come with studying on campus in a new country. However, they are exposed to a whole new set of challenges, such as managing connection restrictions, time zone differences, and feelings of isolation, not to mention certain cultural and language barriers.

For faculty and instructors returning to the virtual classroom soon, here are 10 practical tips for supporting online international students, which our Faculty Engagement & Development team offers to teaching professionals in 2U-powered programs:

1. Listen to everything students have to say. When language is a barrier, students will most likely prepare a script or "rehearsed speech" when interacting with their teachers. It’s important to let students finish what they have prepared to find out the root issues and concerns they may have.

2. Check for understanding. Instead of asking, "Do you understand?" or "Does that make sense?", try asking the student to explain the content in their own words. This is much more helpful to students. Another way to check for understanding is to have students try the first task, then check together as a group.

3. Avoid grading students on their English skills. Rather, focus on the depth of their critical thinking. Provide some flexibility in how students can demonstrate their understanding in other ways, such as making a video or diagram. Further, if our university partner provides writing center support, encourage students to take advantage of that resource.

4. Present information in different ways, not louder or slower. Incorporate different modalities into course materials and live sessions, such as bringing in written, visual, video, or audio formats, as well as local and global cases, to broaden their perspectives.

5. Be even more explicit in setting expectations. How should students address their teacher? Professor? Dr.? By first name? How should they participate, and how important is participation? By raising their hands or coming off mute?

6. Set up office hours. Often international students may be nervous or afraid to speak up in class due to varying teacher-student relationships. Setting up office hours allows students to approach their teacher in one-on-one environments.

7. Take the time to learn their names. Use the "Rename" tool in Zoom to have students phonetically spell out their names. Encourage students to correct pronunciations of their names. As Dale Carnegie, famed author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, once stated: “A person's name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language."

8. Use the Think-Pair-Share (TPS) method. This common collaborative learning strategy allows international students to gather their thoughts individually, then share their ideas with another classmate, and then report out to the larger group. This method boosts confidence and self-efficacy when collaborating in group settings. During these breakout sessions, it's also important to check on students periodically so that they are on-task and have chances to ask clarifying questions.

9. Model activity instructions, create rubrics, and provide assignment examples. With academic culture differences, students will need additional guidance in learning about the meaning of and the importance of those within a U.S. education program, such as academic integrity, citations, and participation. Providing examples and modeling good academic behavior will help them clarify what is expected of them.

10. Build classroom community. Allow students to bring their own culture into the classroom. Incorporate ice breakers that any human being can relate to, as opposed to being locational or situational. Have students take turns sharing their cultural music, food, etc.

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This article was originally published in 2U’s The Faculty Advocate. Sources:

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