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    Scary and Fascinating: Online Teaching in Challenging Times

    Have you ever started writing on a topic and then something happens that changes everything? Well, that just happened to me. About a month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was writing on the growing interest in and support for open and online learning in postsecondary education. Then poof! COVID-19 changed everything. Today I will share with you some of my initial thoughts on this topic and then reflect on how the events of the last month changed some of my thinking.

    Here are some of my initial thoughts.

    Following completion of the University of Windsor Office of Open Learning’s Certificate of Online and Open Learning and attendance at eCampusOntario’s Technology + Education Seminar + Showcase (TESS) conference, I initiated a study to explore the connection between the promising practices for teaching online linguistically and culturally diverse international students and student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning, which has recently received research ethics approval but is now paused. An overview of this study is available on my faculty web page. Also, working with two University of Windsor colleagues (Mark Lubrick and Carson Babich), I oversaw the writing of my first Open Educational Resource textbook (Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations), which we hope to publish in the next few months. All of this opened my eyes to the possibilities of online learning within the higher education sector.

    And then, just before the pandemic broke, I enjoyed reading the Wiley Education Services study, “Student Perspectives of Online Programs: A Survey of Learners Supported by Wiley Education Services” (Magda & Smalec, 2020), in which student satisfaction with online learning was explored at 19 institutions where students were enrolled in Wiley-supported programs. The study provided some fascinating insights that showed ways to better meet student needs and expectations, including examine the complete student journey to remove barriers to flexibility, create a consistent learning experience to alleviate unneeded stress, and empower faculty to engage with students to improve the learning experience.

    And here is a little of what we knew about online learning in North America before COVID-19.

    Dr. Smith teaching online
    Dr. Smith teaching online from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    North American online education has seen a rise in popularity in recent years. The Canadian Digital Learning Research Association reported that Canadian postsecondary online course registrations grew by 10 percent in 2018 and 2019, and most institutions expect enrollments to increase in the coming year (Johnson, 2019). The U.S.-based National Center for Education Statistics (Ginder, Kelly-Reid, & Mann, 2017) reported that the number of students who take at least some of their courses online grew by 5.7 percent in 2017. More than 25 percent of students take at least one online course during their time at university of college (Cook, 2018). Undergraduate international students attending Canadian institutions are increasingly choosing to take online courses (Best Colleges, 2019; Thomson, & Esses, 2016).

    And here is some of my thinking since COVID-19 joined our world.

    Like most faculty, I found myself scrambling a bit to convert my in-person courses, some of which were hybrid courses, to fully online courses. With lots of support from our Office of Open Learning and Centre for Teaching and Learning, as well as experienced colleagues, I made the leap. It was a bit scary, but also fascinating.

    On the scary side, there is me. While I had recently acquired professional development in open and online learning, I am an in-person educator who greatly enjoys the interaction with students. Seeing their smiles and their fears is a big part of how I ensure a learning-centred classroom environment. When this all moved to being digital, I, like many of my colleagues, was petrified. Then there are my students, who were equally scared since all of this happened within the last three weeks of the semester. Fortunately, our university put in place a flexible approach that included assessments and grades, which allayed many of their fears. But not all.

    When I had my students online, I asked them about their experience. Here is what an international graduate student said:

    While we miss the in-person connections with other students and our professors, going online was not really a problem. When I delivered a facilitated reading discussion, I found that I had more confidence due to my comfort with digital technology. I also found that there was more participation in class. Although in-person instruction is my preference, I found aspects of my online classes to be better than expected. In some cases, preferable to my in-person experience!

    I also found the whole process fascinating. What we know is that our classes are filled with digital natives; that is, students who have always had technology in their lives. Taking ourselves, who might be described as digital immigrants, out of our comfort zone and letting students be our guides through this new digital world I found exciting and a little fun. It provided a flipped classroom of sorts where the students were doing some of the teaching, and we became the students. What could be more exciting?

    Like many other postsecondary institutions, my university is offering its summer courses fully-online. There is also the likely possibility that fall classes similarly will be fully-online. Finishing off a term with online lectures is one thing. Moving to all courses, from beginning to end, being online is something all together different. The good news is we will all be doing it together.

    Scary but fascinating!

    -Clayton Smith

    Best Colleges (2019). 2019 Online Education Trends Report. https://res.cloudinary.com/highereducation/image/upload/v1556050834/BestColleges.com/edutrends/2019-Online-Trends-in-Education-Report-BestColleges.pdf

    Cook, J. (2018). Online education and the emotional experience of the teacher. New Directions for Teaching and Emotion. DOI: 10.1002/tl.20282

    Ginder, S. A., Kelly-Reid, J. E., & Mann, F. B. (2017).  Enrollment and employees in postsecondary institutions, fall 2016; and financial statistics and academic libraries, fiscal year 2016.  Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.  https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018002.pdf

    Johnson, N. (2019).  Tracking online education in Canadian universities and colleges: National survey of online and digital learning 2019 national report.  https://onlinelearningsurveycanada.ca/publications-2019/

    Magda, S. J., & Smalec, J.S. (2020). Student perspectives on online programs: A survey of learners supported by Wiley Education Services. Louisville, KY: Wiley edu, LLC. https://edservices.wiley.com/student-perspectives-on-online-programs/

    Thomson, C., & Esses, V. (2016). Helping the transition: mentorship to support international students in Canada. Journal of International Students, 6(4), 873-886. http://ojed.org/index.php/jis/article/view/323/247

    Taking My Breath Away!

    Throughout the summer, it has been my pleasure to enjoy working with two wonderful undergraduate students, Miranda Pecoraro and Renan Paulino.  Each contributed in meaningful ways to our ongoing research projects that are examining student views on the promising practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse post-secondary international students.

    Miranda Pecoraro is a third-year Social Work student from Windsor, Ontario who is in our Outstanding Scholars program.  She has been working with me for the past three semesters. The Outstanding Scholars program “provides an exceptional and supportive undergraduate learning experience for high-achieving students, emphasizing depth and breadth of research-based academic inquiry, strong and ongoing faculty/student mentorship, effective communication of research achievement, and achievement of external recognition of academic excellence.”  Check out this video where Outstanding Scholar students explain the OS program in their own words.

    Renan Paulino is a third-year Education student from Brazil who joined us as part of the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship program, which places undergraduate students at Canadian universities from a wide variety of countries (e.g., Brazil, China, European Union, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico, UK, US) to engage in faculty-led research projects.  The focus of the Mitacs program is to create awareness of the leading research being done at Canadian universities and to enhance linkages between top international students and Canadian university faculty members. Here is a video on the Mitacs Canada Globalink Research Internship program. Interestingly, this is Renan’s second international exchange in Canada (the first was in St. Johns, Newfoundland while he was a high school exchange student), and he is considering returning for graduate education in the near future…hopefully with us!

    Dr. Smith enjoying some end of summer’19 moments with
    Miranda Pecoraro and Renan Paulino

    Undergraduate research is one of the “high-impact practices,” originally identified by George Kuh (2008), that can be life-changing.  They “demand considerable time and effort, facilitate learning outside of the classroom, require meaningful interactions with faculty and students, encourage collaboration with diverse others, and provide frequent and substantial feedback.”  Students who participate in high-impact practices experience a more complete university student experience. Those that engage in undergraduate research frequently develop strong relationships with student peers and faculty members.

    Our students participated in writing projects that led to a peer-reviewed published book chapter and research poster, and a journal article in press on the topic of “Variability by Individual Student Characteristics of Student Satisfaction with Promising International Student Teaching Practices.”  They also developed a workshop on this topic for our upcoming University of Windsor GATAcademy.  Further, they are facilitating an international student-learning community project that is continuing to investigate the difference in student opinions between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and non-STEM students on this topic. 

    They really take my breath away!

    I cannot wait to welcome more undergraduate students into our research group!

    Clayton Smith

    References:

    Kuh, G. D. (2008).  High-impact practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter.  Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

    Smith, C., Zhou, G., Potter, M., & Wang, D. (2019).  Connecting best practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse international students with international student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning.  In James, W. B., & Cobonoglu, C. (Eds.), Advances in Global Education and Research Volume 3, (252-265).  Sarasota, FL: Association of North America Higher Education International.  https://scholar.uwindsor.ca/educationpub/24/

    Smith, C., Zhou, G., Potter, M., & Wang, D. (2019).  Connecting best practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse international students with international student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning. Poster presented at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference, Winnipeg, MB.

    Finding the Connection

    Dr. Smith and Dr. Bayley with students from Southwest University (China) who are participating in the Reciprocal Learning Program
    Dr. Smith and Dr. Bayley with students from Southwest University (China) who are participating in the University of Windsor Faculty of Education Reciprocal Learning Program

    Colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada are increasingly becoming ethnoculturally and linguistically diverse which is partially due to increasing enrolment of international students. Currently, 1.4 million international students choose to study at Canadian and U.S. post-secondary educational institutions, which increased by 7.1 percent between 2015 and 2016 (Canadian Bureau of International Education, 2016; Institute of International Education, 2016).

    Currently, campus internationalization initiatives focus primarily on external areas including education abroad and student exchange, recruiting international students, and institutional partnerships. However, this is expected to change as more institutions are developing academic-related internationalization initiatives (e.g., international or global student learning outcomes, related general education requirements, foreign language requirements).  A growing number of institutions are increasing faculty engagement in internationalization efforts. To do this, faculty will need to critically examine their role in campus internationalization and implement teaching strategies that address international student success factors.

    In a recent study, we explored the promising teaching practices for teaching linguistically and culturally-diverse international students by identifying the teaching practices that have high levels of international student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning.  This study is based on the belief that the most effective teaching practices are where promising teaching practices, student satisfaction, and student perceptions of learning meet.

    We found that the promising teaching practices identified as having high levels of student satisfaction also have medium/high student perception levels of learning.  We also found a positive correlation between student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning for each of the promising teaching practices.  In particular, fourteen correlations were reported at the .700 level or higher, suggesting a strong positive correlation, including assessing needs, assignments, clarifying expectations, class preparation, culturally-responsive teaching, feedback, and language proficiency.  Our hope is that faculty who engage in these teaching practices will become more engaged in campus internationalization and improve international student success on their campuses.

    We are currently engaged in a student-informed research project that will see us compare international student satisfaction for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and non-STEM international students to learn more about why STEM and non-STEM students have different views on the effectiveness of the promising teaching practices.

    For more information and to follow our project, here is the link to our research web page.

    Yours internationally,

    Clayton Smith

     

    References

    Canadian Bureau of International Education (2016).  A world of learning: Canada’s performance and potential in International education.  Ottawa: CBIE.

    Institute of International Education (2016).  Open doors 2016.  New York, NY: IIE.