05 Jul 2017
Do you want to know what DU students wish more professors would do or learn about innovative teaching strategies your colleagues are using? Check out the Teaching & Learning video page on the OTL website to view video clips of DU students talking about their experiences in the classroom, OTL keynote speakers, international student experiences, examples of DU faculty teaching practices, and much more!
Have you ever wondered how best to increase student engagement and community participation in your classroom? If so, then this video is for you! Watch as DU professors Ronald DeLyser (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Matt Gordon (Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering) discuss how they are using “Team-Based Learning” (TBL) in a first-year engineering course. TBL is an engaging classroom activity designed to build healthy team competition for student groups. It’s an activity that also encourages students to socially interact with one another, which is a desire of most first-year students. In Professors DeLyser and Gordon’s TBL activity, students use scratch cards and a series of course related questions to measure if individuals and teams can correctly identify weekly learning objectives. At the end of each week, team cards are collected and tallied so that one team can be crowned the “Top Team” of the quarter.
If you are interested in utilizing either Team-Based Learning activities or the scratch cards highlighted in this video, please contact us for more information.
The OTL Conference in April gathered nearly 150 DU faculty and staff members to discuss ideas and best practice around Empowering Students to be Self-Directed Learners.
Did you miss the event?
- Keynote Speaker Dr. Linda Nilson described the concept of self-regulated learning and why it is important in her morning talk, and in her afternoon talk, shared practical techniques for helping students develop self-regulated learning skills.
- A panel of 6 DU faculty members across disciplines shared their experiences, successes, and challenges with implementing self-directed learning activities in their courses at DU.
- Attendees had a chance to visit more than 20 different digital posters related to teaching methods and efforts at self-directed learning, from math and marketing, to writing and living learning communities. Visit our webpage about Self-Directed Learning to view poster presenter’ handouts and materials.
What did participants gain from the conference?
- We have pulled together a list of specific ideas and teaching methods that participants gained at this conference.
- Based on the conference survey, many participants enjoyed networking with colleagues across campus, hearing the experiences of other DU instructors through the panel and poster sessions, and gaining awareness of this issue along with practical ideas to use in their classes.
- We also heard your feedback that you would have appreciated even more opportunities for interaction, and that afternoon coffee is a must!
We don’t want to lose the momentum and excitement around this topic, and we asked participants what further support they would like to see to keep a focus on self-directed learning at DU. Based on your feedback, we’ve put a few things in place and others are in the planning stages.
- A new webpage on our site explains self-directed learning and provides resources and examples.
- Those who attended the conference will receive an end-of-year follow up email asking them to share anything they have tried out and the results.
- Many OTL staff members have spent the last year reading about and exploring methods for encouraging self-directed learning. Feel free to contact us to brainstorm ideas or set up a time to review a particular assignment or method.
- We have plans to offer some follow up sessions next year, including short workshops focused on specific methods and informal faculty working groups.
15 May 2014
Attendees at the 2014 OTL Conference: Empowering Students to be Self-Directed Learners, were asked to share specific ideas and teaching methods that they gained at the conference and plan to implement in their classes. Here are some of the most common responses:
At the beginning of class
- Be more specific at the beginning of the class (and quarter) on the goals.
- Have students write their own goals and identify learning plans.
- Include self-directed learning elements in the learning objectives of my syllabi.
- Introduce students to self-directed learning concepts.
- Add active listening confidence questions during class.
- Stopping during class to allow reflection exercises.
- Use of mind maps to help students connect major theoretical and conceptual thoughts.
- Have students “read-recall-review” aloud in class or in groups.
- Use in-class reflective assignments about our material and our activities.
- Use pair & share reflective activities.
- One Minute Papers to gauge their learning progress.
- Molly Smith’s RDQ method.
- The idea to pause before, during, and after an activity for reflection.
- Make more use of visuals to illustrate learning.
- Use a Visual Summaries Matrix to see what I need to do differently.
- Have students engage in structured weekly reflections.
- Asking students to share their “muddiest point” as a way to check on student understanding and self-reflection.
- Have students engage in group study in class.
Along with assignments/tests
- Use “wrappers” around assignments, tests, and or video/podcasts.
- Have students fill out the rubric when submitting assignments.
- Ask students to reflect on their performance through “test autopsies” (after an exam, give students a form to evaluate the points they lost and why).
- Have students write 300-word abstracts of their papers.
- Include time for peer review of papers during class.
- A pass/fail self-assessment on how they (students) studied for weekly quizzes/tests and how that affected their grades
- Choice is key–allowing for choices more often when it comes to assignments.
At the end of class
- Students write a letter to the next cohort about how to succeed.
- Use Knowledge Surveys to get a sense of students’ confidence level before and after learning.
- Use reflective assignments but grade based on Pass/Fail.
Overall emphasis on self-directed learning
- Throughout the course, be aware myself and help students be aware of the learning process.
- Integrate an exercise about learning into each class.
- Make students aware of how their “context” affects their performance.
- Make sure that experiential learning reflections address the actual learning process rater than focusing primarily on the result.
- More “how” questions – How have you changed? How can you change? How will you start? How will you succeed?
- Remember Julie Morris’ Karate Kid metaphor.
- Personally reflect on my own teaching – remember that the best students can be the worst teachers.
- Being more intentional about incorporating metacognitive, emotional and physical aspects in the planning, monitoring and evaluating phases of teaching.
For more information and ideas, visit our webpage about self-directed learning.
15 May 2014
Today’s college graduates must be able to think critically and creatively, and be able to communicate and collaborate effectively. Twenty-first century teaching and learning must be focused on more than knowledge acquisition. It must also involve a process that empowers students to self assess and take responsibility for their own learning. Yet most students are unaware of how they learn or what constitutes the most effective ways to study.
What is self-directed learning?
“Self-directed learning” is a term we use broadly to encompass many aspects of taking initiative for, being aware of, and monitoring one’s own learning, including aspects of self-regulation, metacognition, and motivation. A self-directed learner knows how to learn in different environments and for different purposes, and takes initiative and responsibility for one’s own learning. It is one of the biggest predictors of a student’s overall academic success because the learner drives the learning experience.
Self-directed learning is about creating lifelong learners. It helps students see their own learning gaps and develop skills to make the most of any learning situation. It is about socializing students to be productive citizens in a world where access to information and the construction of knowledge is rapidly changing. Self-directed learning helps students understand the value of what and how they are learning.
Why is self-directed learning important?
Many of our course improvement efforts require that students know how to learn in different ways in order to be successful. Pilot projects undertaken at DU to redesign courses, or create hybrid, online, or flipped courses, have shown that students often struggle with new teaching methods and can not always easily adapt to different learning environments. Many students are unaware of how they learn or what constitutes effective ways to study.
The good news is, self-regulation is not an innate ability but can be developed by any student. Independent learning skills can be taught and encouraged through specific teaching methods.
Strategies for encouraging self-directed learning
Planning for Learning
- Include self-directed learning outcomes in your syllabus.
- Ask students to set their own goals or learning outcomes for the class, through a discussion, a short assignment, or a learning contract.
- Include a short reflective assignment such as, “How I earned an A in this class.”
- Help students learn about learning. For example ask students to read and discuss Robert Leamnson’s article Learning (Your First Job)
- Use knowledge surveys (where students do not actually answer content questions but report their confidence at being able to do so) at the beginning, beginning and end, or throughout a course as a way for students to reflect on what they think they know and can apply.
- “Wrappers” are short handouts or surveys that students complete along with an assignment or exam. The wrapper focuses on the learning process rather than on the content itself. Exam wrappers are often completed after an exam is returned. Other types of cognitive wrappers help students self assess their learning progress before, during and after an assignment.
- Reflective writing assignments can help students explore their own learning. Molly Smith from University College uses RDQ prompts with course readings: what Resonated with you, what do you Disagree with, and what Questions do you have?
- Simple Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be used to help students monitor their learning progress. Useful methods include One Minute Papers (simply asking students to take a minute to answer 2-3 questions such as “what was the most important thing you learned today? or What question remains unanswered?) and The Muddiest Point (“What is the biggest area of confusion for you in this assignment/today’s class?”)
- Encourage students to read materials using a version of Read-Recall-Review.
- Concept maps are useful tools for both students and instructors to explore how ideas and concepts relate to each other. Some instructors have students create simple concepts maps early in the course, and then revisit them over time as a way to see how their knowledge has changed and grown.
- “Test autopsies” ask students to describe their study time and strategies, and examine their test answers, to look for patterns and identify successful and unsuccessful study methods.
- After providing detailed feedback to students, ask them to paraphrase your feedback back to you in their own words.
- Ask students to write a letter to the next class/cohort, describing what worked for them in this course and what they would have done differently.
- Have students create a list of personal takeaways or write a “future uses” paper describing how they anticipate using 3-5 course concepts or skills in their future lives.
Who’s doing it at DU?
The development of self-directed learning is something that all DU instructors can do within their courses. Many of the examples below were presented at the 2014 OTL Conference.
- Instructor’s Top Takeaways from the 2014 OTL Conference
- Watch the OTL Conference Faculty Panel: Lessons Learned about Empowering Self-Directed Learning at DU
- The RDQ Method: Helping Students Meaningfully Engage with Pre-Class Readings and Prepare for Stimulating Class Discussion, Molly Smith, University College
- Putting the ‘Me’ in Media Studies: Teaching with and about new media technologies, Stephen Barnard, Media, Film & Journalism Studies
- Stumbling toward self-regulated learning: using blog entries for promoting motivation, interaction and reflection, Alejandro Cerón with MA Students Mengye Liu and Raymond Pang, Dept of Anthropology
- Can leadership be taught?: The self-direction of leadership learning through the Pioneer Leadership Program, Paul Kosempel & Linda Olson, Pioneer Leadership Program
- Invitation to Engagement: How I adopted Course Preparation Assignments to allow Students Participate in their own Learning, Shimelis Assefa, Dept. of Research Methods and Information Science
- What I learned from teaching two Hybrid courses: computer programming and simulation, Kellie Keeling, Daniels College of Business
- Flipping the lecture: A 5-minute teaching model, Scott Toney, Daniels College of Business
- Engaging the “I” in Learning: The Importance of All Our Identities in Educational Interactions, Thomas Walker, Center for Multicultural Excellence
- The Power of DU Portfolio to Showcase Self-Regulated Learning, Kim Hosler, Joseph Labrecque, Carrie Lorenz, OTL
- Kahn Academy has created a series of videos for a campaign they call You Can Learn Anything
- Linda Nilson delivered two keynote presentations at the 2014 OTL Conference Empowering Students to be Self-Directed Learners: Part I: “Way” Beyond Study Skills: Self-Regulated Learning and Part II: Engaging Your Students in Self-Regulated Learning.
- What it Means to be a Self-Regulated Learner
- The Role of Metacognition in Learning
Andy Sherbo is known as an instructor with high energy and a sense of humor. When watching him teach an Analysis of Securities class in the Daniels College of Business, it’s easy to see him making constant eye-contact with students, calling on them by name, and keeping them engaged and energized as he constantly circulates around the room.
However, keeping students engaged and learning involves more than having a bustling personality. During class time Andy is also relying on lessons of attention and information processing to help students learn and retain information.
Get students attention
To begin with, students can’t learn if they are not paying attention in the first place. In Andy’s class, students are not explicitly graded for class participation, but they are clearly encouraged to participate actively and rarely a few minutes go by without hearing a student’s voice. Andy is constantly asking students to help explain, answer, and apply the concepts being learned. He also switches between using examples, referencing the text, writing on the board, and walking through real life examples as appropriate to help teach different concepts and keep students engaged.
Help focus attention
A common challenge in teaching is the reality that students don’t always know what information is important or how concepts relate to each other. Instructors often have to make this explicit to help students learn. Andy consistently uses cues to help students recognize how new ideas and information relate to the overall class concepts. You will hear him saying, “here’s the big picture,” “here’s what I want to see,” and, “this is important, let’s review that again,” to explicitly give students cues about relationships and main takeaways. Key concepts are repeated throughout the class period to reinforce their importance.
Make it relevant
In addition, students have better attention and retention when what they are learning something that they perceive as relevant to their own lives. Andy often engages in applying course concepts by walking through real-life examples as a class. In a recent class he used a Colorado-based company to demonstrate how to apply a stock valuation model, casually remarking, “many DU graduates work at this company.” The students pulled up real-time data in class and were asked to make judgments calls, “would you buy or sell?” or “what would you recommend?” giving students a taste of how this specific class ties to their future careers.
Gaining students attention, helping them realize what is important, and making it relevant can be can used in all aspects of teaching. When reviewing a commonly missed exam question, Andy discusses the concept but makes it about more than the exam by again relating to their future jobs. “Your clients would not be happy with this type of response, it would not be a good day at the office!”
11 Mar 2013
The following guidelines and resources for creating an inclusive classroom were developed for DU faculty by the Center for Multicultural Excellence.
One of the current salient topics in higher education is the increasing diversification of our institutions of higher learning and the conceptualization, understanding, and management of campus diversity. Enrollment data continue to suggest that the student demographics of colleges and universities continue to change. Today, it is not uncommon to find a variety of groups on college campuses including women, men, Asians, African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, gay men, lesbians, bisexual individuals, international students, re-entry students, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, individuals from varied socioeconomic backgrounds and many other categories of students. The University of Denver is no different than other institutions of higher learning. In addition to having approximately 16% students of color, the multiplicity of important and valued groups mentioned above also form part of the University’s diverse student body.
The Diverse College Classroom
When considering campus diversity, it is clear that a diverse campus presents both challenges and opportunities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the college classroom.
When considering the challenges that diversity presents in the college classroom, there are many documented cases of faculty and students continuing to experience conflict and tension related to the different views and backgrounds represented in the classroom. Examples of these types of conflict include a heterosexual student exclaiming in class that gays and lesbians do not have a right to exist and refers to the bible to support her argument. Or a faculty member asking the only Chicano in the classroom to educate the rest of the class on the topic of Mexican immigration patterns, a topic with which the student is not very familiar. Similarly, three male students continuously disrupting the class by directing sexist comments at a teaching assistant and a White student threatening an African American female over her views on affirmative action are also examples of the challenges that diversity poses in the college classroom. Add to these incidents of cultural and personal misunderstandings, institutional discrimination, inadequate or no training for faculty on issues of diversity in the classroom, and lack of preparation of students for engaging in productive classroom discussions and what emerges is a picture of tense college campuses and classrooms waiting to be disrupted as a result of these and other incidents.
Create a Welcoming Environment
On the positive side, there are instances where faculty have used and are using diversity in the classroom as an opportunity or asset to enhance teaching and learning. Examples of this include an instructor who organizes a fishbowl discussion of male students to discuss their attitudes toward women after a student makes a controversial remark in class. Or a faculty member teaching students about the difference between a debate and a dialogue in order to have productive expressions of free speech and thereby enhancing the learning process. And finally, students receiving and learning about ground rules for classroom discussions related to respect, free speech, and personalizing the issues are also examples of using diversity as a tool for achieving educational outcomes. In sum, the prospects of diversity involve using the multiple perspectives, cultures, languages, and other characteristics that different social identities bring to the class as an asset or a tool to create greater understanding and knowledge about these issues. We acknowledge that this task is not easy and requires special skills and techniques.
A safe and welcoming classroom is defined as an environment in which all students feel comfortable in expressing themselves and participating fully in the educational process
One of the critical components of a successful classroom that maximizes the educational benefits to all students is safe space and a welcoming environment. A hostile and tense classroom can be very unproductive for the educational growth and development of all students.
Both students and faculty have a role and responsibility in creating a safe and welcoming classroom environment. The following are suggested guidelines specifically for faculty and teaching assistants who wish to 1) insure that the broadest range of opinions and ideas on topics are expressed in the classroom in a manner that generates constructive dialogue (rather than destructive discussions) and 2) maintain and protect the dignity of all students and the groups to which they belong. Instructors are not required to adopt the suggested rules. However, those wishing to do so can make them explicit by placing them in the course syllabus and/or reviewing them during the first day of class.
Establish Ground Rules
Establishing strong expectations with students at the beginning (i.e., the first day of class) about the type of conduct and climate that the faculty member expects is crucial for creating a welcoming classroom environment. As part of the process of creating norms, ground rules for conduct and dialogue can be helpful in honoring both free speech and the dignity, respect, and worth of everyone in the classroom.
Establishing ground rules for conduct and dialogue in the classroom can be extremely helpful in both. This can be accomplished by establishing strong expectations from the very beginning about how class discussions will proceed, particularly those involving controversial and difficult topics. Explicitly stating the norms for dialogue will establish a climate of understanding about how to engage in difficult discussions. These guidelines are suggestions only and by no means required or comprehensive.
The point is that strong expectations about how dialogue in the classroom will take place should be established by an instructor prior to involving the students in difficult or controversial discussions.
- In order to create a climate for open and honest dialogue and to encourage the broadest range of viewpoints, it is important for class participants to treat each other with respect. Name calling, accusations, verbal attacks, sarcasm, and other negative exchanges are counter productive to successful teaching and learning about topics.
- The purpose of class discussions is to generate greater understanding about different topics. The expression of the broadest range of ideas, including dissenting views, accomplishes this goal. However, in expressing viewpoints, students should try to raise questions and comments in way that will promote learning, rather than defensiveness and conflict in other students. Thus, questions and comments should be asked or stated in such a way that will promote greater insight into and awareness of topics as opposed to anger and conflict.
Example of a question that may put students on the defensive: Why do you insist on calling yourself Hispanic? That’s wrong. It seems to me that Latino is the correct term? Can you explain to me why you insist on using the term Hispanic?
Example of a non-defensive question: I don’t understand. What is the difference between the terms Hispanic and Latino?
- Learning is both about sharing different views and actively listening to those with different views. Students in this class are expected to do both. Learning is maximized when many different viewpoints are expressed in the classroom.
- Keep the discussion and comments on the topic, not on the individual. Don’t personalize the dialogue. Rather than personalizing the dialogue, please direct challenging comments or questions to the instructor or the entire class.
- Remember that it is OK to disagree with each other. Let’s agree to disagree. The purpose of dialogue and discussion is not to reach a consensus, nor to convince each other of different viewpoints. Rather, the purpose of dialogue in the classroom is to reach higher levels of learning by examining different viewpoints and opinions.
- Everyone is expected to share. Keep in mind that the role of the instructor is to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard in class.
Recommended Language for your Syllabus
Instructors are not required to adopt this suggested language. However, those wishing to do so can make ground rules explicit by placing them in the course syllabus and/or reviewing them during the first day of class.
Suggested Ground rules for Dialogue
- Respect Each Other. In order to create a climate for open and honest dialogue and to encourage the broadest range of viewpoints, it is important for class participants to treat each other with respect. Name calling, accusations, verbal attacks, sarcasm, and other negative exchanges are counter productive to successful teaching and learning about topics.
- Discuss with the Purpose of Generating Greater Understanding. The purpose of class discussions is to generate greater understanding about different topics. The expression of the broadest range of ideas, including dissenting views, accomplishes this goal. However, in expressing viewpoints, students should try to raise questions and comments in way that will promote learning, rather than defensiveness and conflict in other students. Thus, questions and comments should be asked or stated in such a way that will promote greater insight into and awareness of topics as opposed to anger and conflict.
- Don’t Personalize the Dialogue. Keep the discussion and comments on the topic, not on the individual. Don’t personalize the dialogue. Rather than personalizing the dialogue, please direct challenging comments or questions to the instructor or the entire class.
- Agree to Disagree. Remember that it is OK to disagree with each other. Let’s agree to disagree. The purpose of dialogue and discussion is not to reach a consensus, nor to convince each other of different viewpoints. Rather, the purpose of dialogue in the classroom is to reach higher levels of learning by examining different viewpoints and opinions.
- Participate and Share. Everyone is expected to share. Keep in mind that the role of the instructor is to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard in class.
Tips for Creating an Inclusive Classroom
- Create opportunities to get to know your students.
- Engage with your students in respectful and collaborative ways.
- Be accessible and encourage students to meet with you during office hours.
- Ask students to indicate their preferred name and ask them privately for help with pronounciation.
- Ask students to notify you of any accommodation needs by the end of the first week of class (and keep accommodation needs private).
- Be aware of, and briefly explain, cultural references you use in class.
- Identify the purpose of assignments beforehand and allow time for reflection and closure afterwards.
- Mix up groups so that multiple perspectives are heard and students are not left out.
- Speak clearly and use a reasonable rate of speed.
- Develop classroom materials that explore multiple perspectives on the topic.
- Incorporate multicultural examples, materials, and visual aids when possible.
- When making up examples use diverse names and cultural references.
- Encourage students to make personal connections with the content and share those when appropriate.
- Be explicit about assumed norms such as plagiarism, citation style, and exactly what kind of help students are permitted to use in their assignments.
- Require drafts of assignments and provide feedback along the way.
- Consider alternative ways for students to fulfill participation requirements when appropriate.
- Be aware of your own identity and how you portray yourself in class.
- Be aware of your own assumptions about students based on surnames or skin tone.
- Keep expectations high – hold students accountable while allowing them to be successful!
- Microaggressions in the Classroom
- Singled Out in the Classroom
- Resources and advice about teaching in diverse classrooms
- To Be or Not To Be…Out in the Academy
- Test your own biases at Harvard’s Project Implicit website
- Reducing Stereotype Threat
- Points of View Affects How Science is Done
- How Diversity Makes us Smarter
- Transcending Difference: Recognizing and Understanding Gender Diversity in the Classroom
11 Mar 2013
The first day of class is a chance to set the tone for a successful learning experience. We are often concerned with our students motivation and study habits, and the first day of class is an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a successful academic term.
There are many things that can and probably should take place on the first day:
- Get to know each other. Of course you want to know your students and have them know each other. Depending on the size of your class, you might have each student introduce themselves by sharing something relevant to your content, or use small groups to discuss a problem or concept you will be exploring. You might use a questionnaire to get a better sense of their interests and prior knowledge.
- Set the tone. If you want student participation in a course, it’s easier when you get them talking from the beginning. If you are going to regularly incorporate groups, you can start with an introductory group activity. Asking students to share what they already know about your content area, and what questions they hope to answer, is an easy way to find out about their preconceptions and get them participating.
- Set expectations. The first day is also an ideal time to start talking to students about what it takes for them to be successful in your course. Don’t presume that they know how to study and learn in your course. You might spend some time asking them and explaining what good study habits look like for your course.
- Review the course structure. Many students do not read the syllabus because they think the instructor will review the important parts for them on the first day of class. Why not give a syllabus quiz instead of using class time to review the syllabus? Or, only address specific questions from students. This also sets the precedent that they are responsible for their share of the work.
- Motivate students. You are likely teaching your course because you are passionate and excited about your content area. Your students may not walk in the door with the same level of excitement. It’s a good idea to let students know what they will get out of the course, and to start right off the bat with an exciting experiment or an exciting topic.
- Start learning. In a 10-week quarter system especially, you don’t want to waste the first day of class. Students are always hesitant to get started but you don’t want them leaving your class without having felt that they learned something.
Easing Students into Your Class
It is often difficult to remember what it was like to be a newcomer to your discipline. Yet students walk in the door to our classrooms each quarter as newcomers, with very little prior knowledge about our subject matter. Research about information processing and learning indicates that new information is retained better if it is tied to existing knowledge. When we learn new information, we fit it into a structure of knowledge that already exists in our heads. If there is little or no structure, it is difficult to correctly retain that information.
Consider beginning your class in a way that allows students to begin to develop a structure, however simple, upon which to ‘fit’ the information they will learn during the quarter. You might ask questions about what students already know, discuss a common misconception, demonstrate an everyday example, or refresh their memory about concepts and knowledge from prior coursework. Whatever you do, help ease students into your course the first few weeks by providing a conceptual structure they can build upon.
11 Mar 2013
About 11% of the DU student population consists of international students. International students are by no means a homogenous group, and nearly 90 different nations are represented at DU. Each student is unique, however there are some strategies that can help international students be more successful in their time here at DU.
More than half of the international students at DU are Chinese. Chinese students are more diverse today than a decade ago, but still tend to bring with them a worldview that includes respect for authority and avoidance of conflict. This worldview often clashes with U.S. classrooms that expect participation in discussions and active learning activities. In addition, although DU has recently taken steps to alleviate this issue, some Chinese students have lower English language skills than preferred.
- Teaching Chinese Students: Webinar Reflections – Key takeaways from our workshop on this topic.
- Tips for Teaching Chinese Students – Marketing Professor Don Bacon shares his ideas.
- Strategies for Teaching Chinese Students – A document was created by attendees at an OTL workshop focused on Chinese students.
Strategies for Teaching International Students
There are some steps that instructors can take to better engage and support international students (as well as domestic students):
- American college students have a vocabulary of approximately 20,000 words that took them 18 years to acquire. It can be very challenging for international students to bridge this gap. Trying to understand content while taking notes can be very difficult.
- Talk slowly and clearly, give additional explanations for foundational concepts, clarify meanings of slang and cultural references (some students might not speak up, ask them to write down their questions and talk with them after class).
- Use consistent patterns for presenting information (explain learning outcomes, what do you know about it, how does it fit with rest of material).
- Allow time for brainstorming (some cultures stress reflection before speaking). Give them time to provide a considered opinion.
- Be careful and aware if your content relies on precision, one mistaken definition may disrupt learning an entire concept.
- Consider sending class notes/outlines ahead of time and/or allowing international students to record lectures.
- Hold individual conferences/meetings with students, send follow-up emails to provide information in writing, or encourage them to use office hours.
Group projects/participating in discussions
- Promote smaller conversations among students in the classroom, for example, talk to your neighbor for a few minutes, or use writing prompts to give all students time to compose their thoughts.
- Assign diverse groups rather than letting student select groups (but also be careful of isolating international students too much). Keep the groups stable over the quarter to allow relationships to develop.
- Encourage domestic students to help create a space for sharing of multiple voices and to support international students. Appeal to their future careers – they will benefit by having experience working with people from all over the world. Explicitly ask domestic students to list the benefits of having international students and brainstorm what they could do to support and welcome them.
- Provide examples from international student contributions and remind everyone the value of these contributions.
- Create group projects with a fair division of labor. Group projects with a written deliverable often results in unequal division of labor, especially when there are very different language skills. Focus group projects on the concepts and discussion/process, with the deliverable/outcome being something everyone can share (choose a position to defend, recommend a course of action, choose option A/B/C as a group, etc.)
- Provide groups with some basic information about communication and decision making differences. Create guidelines and ground rules for group projects.
- Look into the many resources about effective group practices (for example: best practice in effective group work).
- Don’t lower standards. However, certain English language mechanics are very difficult for non-native speakers. In addition, language skills often get worse when concepts discussed are more difficult.
- In your grading, distinguish between global writing issues (more important) and common errors (less important or harder to correct).
- Also, distinguish between assignments where the thinking/process issues are most important (and grammar is less important), and those assignments that need to be polished/summative/final where grammar issues are important.
- When grading papers, select just one paragraph or page to grade for grammatical issues and ask student to revise rest of paper, don’t edit it all for them.
- Visit these resources from The Writing Program: Working With International Student Writers and Guidelines for Responding to the Writing of International Students
Expectations for Learning
- Get to know your international students – how to pronounce their name, what brought them here, what are their interests and strengths.
- Be explicit about rules and expectations, especially unwritten rules (who to go to for help, guidelines for plagiarism, expectations for active learning/participation) show examples, model and walk through the rules.
- When using active learning methods, explain why and the expectations for students.
- Provide ongoing feedback on student progress, on how well they are meeting learning goals.
- Ask them to reflect on their learning process – which learning and study strategies are working and which are not? What do they struggle with and how could they adjust their strategies to be successful?
- Academic integrity norms are different in some cultures. International students don’t necessarily understand how to paraphrase, or the mechanics of how to translate things into their own words.
- Communicate standards about academic integrity and walk through examples with students.
- This plagiarism test from Indiana University might be helpful to use with students.
- View additional resources about promoting academic integrity.
Strategies for Teaching Intl Students – Handout created by 2016-17 faculty learning community