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What follows is a selective list of issues of importance in teaching effectively for cultural diversity. It should not be assumed that they apply to all international students or even all students from a specific ethnic background.
The issue of language
As might be expected, many international students have a great deal of difficulty with language and expression, the concepts being discussed, and the pace at which material is presented. This can be the case even in an introductory unit. To succeed, students must be able to convey basic ideas in English, and while there may be some latitude given in respect to issues of expression, there are fundamental English requirements that some students do not appear to have. Some students come from a highly literate home, where they are immersed in the written word. Others come from a home environment where there is much more dependency on radio and television, and where the written word is less highly valued. Often those students have difficulties with University study because of its reliance on written language. Students need to reach the point of having sufficient knowledge and being able to understand and unpack ideas, they can generally express themselves well enough in written terms.
The issue of critique
Many international students have difficulty with the notion of critique. The idea of commenting critically on political events, politicians or others in positions of power is anathema to them. Rather than engaging critically with issues, they look to staff to impart the expert knowledge and information they have, and defer to their expertise. They have a different perception of the whole learning experience, and while some students do try to come to grips with a new way of thinking, there can be a real hostility to this in some cases. There can be a sense of 'tell me what I need to know and I will take it on board, and I'll show you that I've taken it on board and can talk to you about it'
The issue of participation in classes
There can be reluctance on the part of international students to participate in tutorials. While they are generally conscientious in attending, they may feel more pressure in terms of their capacity to express their ideas in English, and again may have expectations that the teacher will do the talking to impart the knowledge, while they expect to be the passive recipients. However, where the tutorial is more structured, or when there is small group work, participation and contribution can increase.
The issue of difficulties in asking for help
Many international students are very reluctant to discuss any problems they might have and tend to resist asking questions or asking for help at all. Unless there is a structured mechanism for dealing with problems, such as a support tutorial, by and large students will not approach staff individually for help. Some may even avoid tutors who ask them to come and see them about their study.
The issue of group dynamics
Working in teams can be very difficult for international students because many of them have not had experience with this approach to learning. There is no one easy and effective way of dealing with group work and group dynamics. While some staff mix up cultural groups, especially for small group work in tutorial situations, others prefer to allow students to self select their groups. There are likely to be advantages and disadvantages whichever way you do it but the overriding consideration should be what benefits students educationally.
The issue of feedback from students
Staff often have problems getting feedback from international students to find out what they're learning, what difficulties they may be having, and what help and direction they want. There is anxiety on the part of students in respect to their results, and there is also anxiety on the part of staff in respect to student evaluations. If students are not forthcoming with feedback it is difficult for staff to ensure they are satisfied.
The issue of plagiarism
Plagiarism is clearly one of the more vexing issues when teaching international students. Study guide and unit materials now address plagiarism in a systematic way. They include a section that spells out:
and this is supported in tutorials when assessment requirements are being discussed. Most staff spend time in class explaining the conventions and importance of acknowledging sources through correct referencing. Some show examples that indicate when something constitutes plagiarism and when it does not. Some tutors let students know that they can discern the difference between the students' language capabilities and expert capabilities, so they will know when another author's language is being used.
Yet there are students who are still tempted to plagiarise. Reasons for this tend to be speculative, and include:
Some use the words of other people when they are unable to express themselves adequately.