Student Voices: Recommendations

The University’s educational mission is to recruit, educate, challenge, and graduate outstanding students who become highly motivated lifelong learners, leaders, and global citizens (Regents of the University of Minnesota, 2011). For our students to become global citizens it requires our faculty, staff and students to develop a global competency skill set. Global competency was defined by the University community as “demonstrating the knowledge, skills and perspectives necessary to understand the world and work effectively to improve it” (Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, 2010). In this regard, international student perspectives are critical to our classrooms, our curriculum and our campus life. While 27% of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities students study abroad, the other 73% of students may only have a chance to explore global perspectives through relationships with international students and staff. Research indicates that intentionally supporting domestic and international student interactions are important in developing the cognitive skills, effective communication skills, and cultural awareness (Arkoudis, et al., 2010) of all students.

Solidifying a strong common vision, goals and outcomes for the internationalization of the campus and curriculum is central to understanding the value that international students add to our classrooms and campus. Intentional decision-making will enable the University to create an engaging climate not only for international students but for all members of the University.

The survey data suggest that concrete steps can be taken by the University to create a climate in which faculty, staff, and students value the presence of international students, recognize their adjustment challenges, and are able to assist them in navigating cultural differences to improve and maximize their first-year experience on our campus.

Institutional Recommendations

Curricular and Co-Curricular Recommendations


Institutional Recommendations

Encourage Mutual Adaptation.

International students are better able to integrate and contribute to the University when it is open and inclusive of cultural diversity. Berry’s (2001) work on acculturation suggests that mutual adaption is a two-way exchange that allows new students to simultaneously learn the ways of a new culture, and how to be effective in that culture, while also maintaining their cultural integrity. For mutual adaptation to occur it is necessary for international students to become familiar with and adapt to the basic values of the receiving society, while the University community adapts to better meet the needs of all groups. If a mindset for a two-way learning process does not exist, students may either isolate themselves or lose their ability to openly share their perspectives (Berry, 2005). Hammer (2008) asserts that a mutual adaptation approach provides a foundation for “the search for and consequently a deeper recognition of” (p. 255) cultural resources within an institution. At all levels of the University, mutual adaptation is required in order for students to be able to maintain their cultural identity while building relationships and a collaborative body of knowledge in a new cultural context.

How to infuse the recommendation:

Infusing a climate of mutual adaptation requires commitment during visioning, strategic planning, policy creation and resource allocation. It rewards learning environments where differing cultural perspectives are seen as a critical component to success rather than an obstacle to success.

Current models of success:

Career and Internship Services (formerly the St. Paul Campus Career Center) provides one example of a unit on campus that has fostered a climate of mutual adaptation. Through their individual experiences with students they became aware that a standard approach did not meet the needs of all their students. In 2007, with help from staff from International Student and Scholar Services, they embarked on a year-long experiential process of building the cultural self-awareness of their office staff. They began working diligently to assess their outreach to diverse populations and integrated individual cultural competency goal setting into their performance review process. They began to frame their work as understanding how the students would like to be guided through career counseling conservations rather than how staff would like to guide them in the conversation. Sara Newberg, Director of the St. Paul Career Center, emphasizes that by integrating an intercultural mindset into their existing structure they are better able to make the cognitive shifts necessary to work with a wider audience of students.

Other examples of units that have undergone a process of evaluating their capacity for mutual adaptation include the Office of Equity and Diversity, Student Affairs Directors, the Undergraduate Leadership Minor, University Libraries, and the Carlson School of Management Student Services.

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Build Collaborations.

As there is an increasing demand on units to meet the needs of a diverse student population, engaging international students within colleges, departments, and student service units can be achieved more effectively through collaborative efforts. As these students interact across the entirety of campus life, the curricular and co-curricular learning of all students can be enhanced through campus collaborations.

How to infuse the recommendation:

Collaboration can start with including internationally-focused offices, faculty, and staff in campus discussions. These offices can provide critical insight about how to start a discussion around engaging international students, what resources are available or needed, models of success and ways to effectively measure outcomes. Likewise, when internationally-focused offices are involved in the discussion they can better support the international student population through greater awareness of and connections to other campus entities.

Current models of success:

Models of successful collaborations among colleges and departments include the International Programs Council, the International Student Liaison Committee, the Global Leadership Program, the International Student College and Student Services Liaisons, the English as a Second Language Council, and Student Mental Health Committee. Successful collaborations at the student engagement level include the New International Student Seminar and the Tandem Plus Language Program.

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Assess Inclusion and Engagement.

Assessing the inclusion and engagement of international students in departments, programs, services, and opportunities provides a baseline for all units. Based on student feedback, it is critical to explore the barriers and opportunities for improving their inclusion within the academic environment. Assessment includes not just international students’ academic success, but their sense of being recognized as individuals who are being integrated and successfully transitioned into their college experience. U.S. American students also provide significant insight as to whether they feel a sense of engagement with those who are culturally different from themselves.

How to infuse the recommendation:

Periodic evaluation of the students’ experiences within your college, department, or classroom are essential. Culturally inclusive environments foster greater awareness, acceptance of difference and embracing ambiguity. Assessing global competency outcomes should occur for both international and domestic students.

Current models of success:

Two means of assessing inclusion and engagement currently being used on campus are the analysis of University-wide surveys and unit based focus groups.
The Office of Institutional Research (OIR) and the Office of Undergraduate Education have collaborated to look at trends in campus-wide data sets related to students’ global competency development. Recently, they used the Student Experience in the Research University survey to demonstrate how students’ engagement in curricular and co-curricular global and intercultural activities can enhance associated competencies, ability to work with people from other cultures, understanding of the complexities of global issues, and ability to apply disciplinary knowledge in global contexts. Furthermore, OIR is currently supporting International Student and Scholars Services as they look specifically at the international student experience. As OIR supports the collection of institutional-level data related to students’ engagement, belonging, and satisfaction they can help support the work of campus units and programs through survey administration and data analysis.

The Carlson School of Management Undergraduate Programs Office, in collaboration with their Undergraduate Business Career Center, has facilitated international student-specific focus groups for the last two years. The majority of focus groups held encompass all students, but Carlson staff recognized the importance of understanding international students’ unique perspectives. Based on student feedback, the Carlson School enhanced their services to the international student population. They have used the feedback from students to create college-based programs around the three main challenges international students face: (1) Networking and relationship-building with faculty, (2) Early learning and preparation for internship and job search, and (3) Breaking down different cultural styles of communication and increasing self-awareness to understand the impact of intercultural communications on a global scale. All three sessions include either U.S. faculty or students as way to bridge cultural differences between all groups.

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Invest in Faculty and Staff Development.

International students in the survey strongly recommended that faculty and staff become aware of cultural differences and how these differences impact learning. Leask (2009) states that “academic staff must themselves be highly efficient and effective intercultural learners with the skill to engage with and utilize diversity to develop their own and their students’ international perspectives.” Across the institution, existing faculty and staff development should be infused with inclusive teaching practices, an understanding of the unique needs of international students, and how to create the structured opportunities for cross-cultural interaction needed to bring forward the value of differing cultural perspectives. By exploring the international student experience with faculty and staff, they are able to build their cultural self-awareness, develop the tools needed to reduce educational barriers, and maximize the unique opportunities these students bring to the educational environment.

How to infuse the recommendation:

Embed the concepts of Universal Design for Instruction (an inclusive approach to teaching and course planning that benefit a broad range of learners [Scott, McGuire, & Embry 2002]), mutual adaptation and cultural inclusiveness into existing faculty and staff development. Support both short-term and long-term opportunities within the colleges and student services units which provide easy to access professional development opportunities.

Current models of success:

An excellent example of investment in faculty development with multidisciplinary and system-wide reach is the Internationalizing Teaching and Learning cohort program sponsored by the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance in partnership with UMTC’s Center for Teaching and Learning, Office of Information Technology, and UMD’s Instructional Design Services. As part of the significant course design process these faculty undertake to internationalize their curricula, there is an explicit and ongoing exploration of the unique needs and untapped potential of international students in their courses and programs.

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) also serves a model of success as they provide a framework for intercultural capacity building and support for students, staff and faculty. The College recognizes interculturalism, diversity and inclusion as core values in the effort to foster a globally aware climate and develop the competencies to successfully participate in the rapidly emerging culturally, ethnically and racially diverse environment that is the new norm. Diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism and intercultural skill are seamlessly integrated in our programming, thereby offering a common entry point for engaging these critically interrelated and mutually informing areas. Specific initiatives include employing the Intercultural Development Inventory as a learning tool to deepen intercultural learning.

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Integrate English as a Second Language Support into the Curriculum.

Even though international students who attend the University have high levels of English proficiency, studying and interacting in class can still take some adjustment. Yet, many international students are reluctant to take supportive ESL classes because they are focused on completing degree requirements. Developing a campus-wide plan for how ESL coursework can fit into existing writing or other degree completion requirements would encourage students to take advantage of existing resources that will help them be more successful in their other classes and acknowledge the importance of doing so. Requiring incoming students with low writing sub-scores to take an ESL writing class before they take freshman writing could help them strengthen their writing skills, and provide them with a year of writing and grammar instruction. In addition, finding ways that ESL classes could meet writing intensive, liberal education, or other requirements would encourage students to seek out the language courses that support their learning and help them build confidence in their language abilities.

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Curricular and Co-Curricular Recommendations

Although the survey inquired mostly about academic challenges faced by new international students, a number of the recommendations below provide insight to anyone who works directly with international students in either an instructional or student services capacity. These recommendations can lead to learning experiences that benefit both international and domestic students without compromising academic standards because they embody Universal Design for Instruction, an inclusive approach to teaching and course planning designed to benefit a broad range of learners (Scott, McGuire, & Embry 2002).

This section of the report is not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, it aims to provide examples of how faculty and staff can engage with and support new international students. Although the recommendations discuss international students as though they are one homogeneous group, it is imperative to acknowledge the individuality of every student.

Recognize the Challenges of Adjusting to Learning in a Second Language.

Respondents in the survey identified challenges they experienced related to learning in a second language. Some of the students indicated challenges in adjusting to learning in a second language environment even though they had high levels of proficiency. Some small adjustments by instructors or staff might help students as they get used to learning in an English environment.

Faculty and staff might first examine whether their expectations for international students are realistic and make feasible adjustments to address the demands of learning in a second language. Minor modifications to instructional delivery may address the major challenges respondents identified:

How to infuse the recommendation:

  • Lack of confidence speaking in class. Many instructors already design participation activities that give learners an opportunity to think first about their ideas, or to express them in writing or to a small group before speaking in front of the class. Not only can this promote more thoughtful responses from more students, it enables those with less confidence to clarify and refine their ideas. Since many survey respondents reported that less class participation was expected at their previous institutions, use of this approach assists new international students who, regardless of their English proficiency, may be building both their comfort and skills at speaking up in class during their first year on campus.
  • Unfamiliar vocabulary, slang, idioms, and examples based solely in U.S. culture. Even international students with high English proficiency probably encounter a large amount of unfamiliar vocabulary in their University of Minnesota classrooms. Faculty can help by monitoring and, if necessary, expanding upon classroom use of examples and terminology likely to be unfamiliar to someone new to the U.S. For instance, referencing a character in the Wizard of Oz to illustrate a concept may well require further explanation for international students. Additionally, faculty can create a classroom climate in which students are encouraged to use electronic resources or ask for clarification of important terminology or examples.
  • Dealing with large amounts of language. Instructors and staff can anticipate that it might take students whose second language is English more processing time to complete readings. For homework, providing students with guidance on the importance of study groups, and planning a personal schedule that takes into account extra time for reading can help students. If possible, providing extra time for all students on exams that require a lot of reading, but which are not testing the speed at which a student can process information, might allow students to better demonstrate what they have learned.

As international students are quickly immersed in living and learning in a second language, it is unrealistic to expect that their comprehension will be at the same level or take the same amount of time as their native speaking peers. The process of becoming orientated to the University may take longer as they need to first develop understanding of key terminology and vocabulary. Taking into account the differing needs of all students in a diverse classroom can help everyone succeed. For international students, investigating student difficulties and connecting them to both curricular and co-curricular resources can support their language transition and are especially critical at the beginning of their study. For example, students may benefit from language partners, tutors who can explain key terms, or formal English language development courses.

Even though students are often reluctant to take supportive English as a second language (ESL) courses, these courses can help address weaknesses that a student might have in certain skill areas. Students may better understand the role of strong academic language skills in their success if their college or program refers them to take supportive ESL coursework when needed. Students may also be more apt to seek out English help if their instructor recommends it and explains how to access the resource. Colleges or programs may want to develop a system to identify students who need additional academic English support during their first year on campus.

Beyond the classroom, there are also ways student services staff can assist students in their language acculturation. Approaches include providing culturally non-biased online resources and written materials. In individual interactions revisiting key messages, checking for understanding in individual interactions, interactively exposing international students to key University vocabulary, and providing silence (processing time) during interactions in which students can form their reactions and questions.

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Be Explicit about Expectations to Address the Lack of Shared Academic and Classroom Culture.

Respondents cited challenges adjusting to a new educational system with sometimes unfamiliar and unstated expectations. Responses suggested a willingness on the part of international students to learn to navigate the University of Minnesota, but this could be facilitated by professors recognizing the need for time and assistance while adjusting to the new system.

Examples of how to infuse the recommendation:

To this end, instructors should imagine their course from the perspective of all students, including newcomers to this culture. Some ways that instructors could do this include the following:

  • write explicit expectations in the syllabi and assignment guidelines that include not just what is expected, but also why it is important;
  • attend specifically to areas that differ widely by culture, such as norms for classroom participation and instructor preferences for being addressed by first name;
  • when possible, provide sample assignments and exams in case
  • the format is unfamiliar to students educated outside the U.S.;
  • solicit feedback from students in a variety of formats to better understand students’ understanding of class expectations (as some students may feel more comfortable asking questions or voicing concerns anonymously in writing);
  • ask students to come to office hours to discuss upcoming assignments, review feedback on assignments, and check in.

Further, instructors should not assume that students fully absorbed all information provided to them during orientation or the first week of the semester about assignments, participation, or campus resources. Instead, instructors could take a “just-in-time” approach where information is reinforced just prior to the time students need to know it. For example, they could point students to the Libraries’ Peer Research Consultants at the time they are expected to begin a research paper. During the writing process, international students can be told about the non-native English speaker writing specialists.

For staff members who interact with international students outside of class, there are also strategies to help support them in their adjustment. Student services staff can explain their role in the University and help students understand how, when, and why to access academic and co-curricular services. Given differences in educational systems, international students may not even realize the resources available to them. For example, in some international institutions few student services exist, so students may rely heavily on assistance from peers. In their culture, they may perceive staff as a barrier to their success versus a critical component of it. Students may arrive to the University with faulty assumptions about the role of student services.

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Build Community to Address Feelings of Isolation or Exclusion.

Respondents experienced feelings of isolation due, in part, to their own difficulty reaching out to U.S. peers. They also perceived, however, that they were sometimes overlooked during discussions, and excluded during group work because of negative perceptions of international students held by their peers, professors, and teaching assistants. In addition, interactive and participatory learning environments may be unfamiliar to many international students. Since we know that international students often feel disconnected from University communities, instructors can take a proactive approach to building classroom community.

Examples of how to infuse the recommendation:

To attend to the inclusion of international students, instructors might:

  • attend to the participation of international students in discussions, and elicit their perspectives on course content;
  • remember that international students are not the spokespersons of their entire culture, but they bring individual perspectives that can enhance discussions for all students;
  • explore with students who seem isolated what barriers they face in their participation in the classroom community;
  • facilitate group formation and set expectations and norms about group roles, particularly at the start of the semester;
  • model and discuss expectations and norms of student roles in class and group work;
  • consider the role of group work and class activities as opportunities for students to get to know each other and build community;
  • facilitate formation of study groups to reinforce peer-to-peer learning outside of class.

It is equally important to address isolation and exclusion in co-curricular learning. As respondents to this survey suggested, staff can create structured opportunities that help students find common ground and encourage mutual adaptation. Successful strategies to do this might include creating peer mentor programs within a major, expanding programming within student residential life such as Students Crossing Borders, and actively incorporating international students into existing student service offerings knowing that they may not take the initiative to participate on their own.

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Report Content

  1. Abstract
  2. Background
  3. Methods
  4. Findings
  5. Discussion
  6. Recommendations
  7. Limitations and Directions for Future Research
  8. References

Contact

Beth Isensee
Director of Student Engagement, International Student and Scholar Services
612-626-7369
isen0021@umn.edu