Mid-quarter tweaks to your course’s model of instruction: Considerations for international and culturally/linguistically diverse students

Mid-quarter tweaks to your course’s model of instruction: Considerations for international and culturally/linguistically diverse students

By Dr. Casey Dinger, Academic Director, Office of Internationalization, Dr. Andrea Stanton, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, Tim Robinson, Associate Director for the English Language Center, and Rachel DeDeyn, Program Manager for Special Programs at the English Language Center

We’ve reached the middle of Spring Quarter – whew! This is a great opportunity to check in with yourself and your students about your course’s main models of instruction. Fully synchronous and fully asynchronous models bring advantages and challenges for instructors and students – maybe it’s time to dial back on the Zoom sessions for fully-synchronous courses, or to add some live discussion options for fully-asynchronous courses?

We are focusing on supporting international students in this post, but we’re following universal design for learning principles – which means that any tweaks will benefit a great number of students. Many of our recommendations have value for domestic students, especially those who are culturally and linguistically diverse.

Synchronous instruction: pros and cons for (international) students


  • Synchronous classes offer more potential opportunities for (inter)cultural learning and exchange.
  • There are more opportunities for social interaction with peers, especially if they are under stay-at-home orders.
  • Synchronous courses create more opportunities for students to build connections and comfort with instructors.


  • Time zone differences can make real-time zoom sessions difficult for international students studying outside of the US.
  • Students operating outside native language(s) or outside their home educational context may need more time to think and prepare responses for breakout rooms or other real-time interactions.
  • Students operating outside their native language(s) can find it hard to follow live discussions in which US-based instructors and students use colloquial language or expressions, especially over computer-mediated technology.
  • Non-verbal cues students might use to signal a question or clarification are harder for instructors to notice in an online environment.

If you are teaching synchronously, please consider recording and posting synchronous discussions/lectures on Canvas. This helps students who miss the synchronous class session and helps those who wish to review the class session by watching it again.

Asynchronous instruction: pros and cons for (international) students


  • Students can complete tasks on a structured, yet flexible schedule that works for them.
  • Students have more time to consider their responses to prompts and process cultural and linguistic nuances.


  • Students operating outside of their native language(s) may need more time to read or listen to assigned material, read and respond to prompts or discussion posts.
  • Students operating outside of their native language(s) may submit shorter or less complex written assignments, including discussion posts.
  • Without live interaction, students may have fewer opportunities to ask clarifying questions.
  • Students may find culturally-specific implications or context of written instructions and of discussions posts / responses outside of their knowledge base.

If you are teaching asynchronously, it may be helpful to give students some latitude by offering options for participation in online discussions: letting them record audio clips instead of writing, for example, or providing the instructions with a (closed captioned) video clip as well as in writing. Offering different formats helps students manage the heavier reading / writing burden of many online courses.

Adopting “mix-methods” instruction to support (international) students

Pulling from each model can offer helpful mid-quarter tweaks. For students studying outside of the U.S., discussion boards, recorded presentations or other asynchronous tasks allow for flexibility and solves some timing issues. If your students are in similar time zones, synchronous contact like Zoom sessions or chats give them a chance for live interaction and cultural exchange with instructors and their classmates. Having this kind of mixed methods course can take the best from both methods and keep students engaged. Here are some other tips:

Use discussion / writing assignments to support prior knowledge

Your prompts can help students leverage their own experiences and knowledge. Switch up your discussion prompts or add lower-stakes writing assignments with open-ended questions that invite students to share their perspectives, by asking them to connect course content to their personal experiences. Offer sample answers or directions for students to go in that validate taking different perspectives. Or, try prompts that explicitly ask all students to apply the readings or lectures to their home context(s). This validates students’ individual experiences and fosters intra- and intercultural learning. 

Amp up collaboration!

Many international students are more comfortable with group or collaborative assignments. Can you fold opportunities for collaboration into your remaining assignments? For example:

  1. Create an online buddy system and pair students up on end-of-quarter integrative projects for (inter)cultural learning for both students.
  2. Give students the option to work in groups for final or integrative projects.
  3. Provide a learning module and/or resources such as on how to work effectively and equitably in cross-cultural groups.
  4. Build opportunities for cultural exchange into your course through a low-stakes discussion board that is focused on community building. For example, create a board or use a weekly discussion post prompt that asks students to share their strategies for coping with online learning.

Support language processing!

  1. Provide written and recorded audio instructions for assignments in Canvas, so students have two different ways to access and process them.
  2. Give students discussion topics before live class sessions, to give them time to understand, think through the questions, and prepare responses.
  3. Use the breakout rooms feature in Zoom for small group discussions before  leading a discussion with the entire class, to allow students the opportunity to share their views in a lower-stakes setting.
  4. If you use colloquial expressions, slang and US cultural references, take a moment and explain them, so all students understand.

Provide structure

Many students are still learning US higher ed course expectations and classroom norms and what that means for engaging with instructors and students. Writing out instructions and expectations, especially the ones we assume students know, can really help.

  1. Lay out each assignment’s instructions and expectations explicitly on a Canvas page. Include information about how much time you expect them to spend on each individual task.
  2. If your class is small enough, schedule times to meet individually with each student to give students the opportunity to ask questions. This can be a good use of online office hours and an effective mid-quarter check-in.
  3. Provide individualized feedback that values their unique and diverse experiences.

We know that this is an incredibly challenging quarter for everyone. Whatever tweaks you find useful for your courses will be much appreciated by your students!