Learning at Universities

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International Education Journal Vol 5, No 3, 2004
http://iej.cjb.net

344

Learning at University: The International Student Experience1 Meeri Hellstén Macquarie University, School of Education meerihellsten@mq.edu.au Anne Prescott Macquarie University, School of Education anne.prescott@aces.mq.edu.au

This paper reports on research that explores internationalisation of the University’s curriculum offerings and how this affects international students. The central focus of this paper is to highlight some of the student commentary on communication between teachers and students exemplifying the way it subsequently affects the quality of student learning. The paper concludes by raising some questions concerning how we may best meet the needs of international students by drawing on inclusive teaching philosophies. Inclusivity and diversity, international students, internationalisation and sustainability, transition experience

INTRODUCTION The internationalisation of curriculum in Australian universities has increased significantly in recent years. International students (IS) are now an integral part of university teaching classes. The rapid increase in international student numbers is also reflected in current research. However, relatively little research has focused on the student perspective (Ballard and Clanchy, 1991; Jones, Robertson, and Line, 1999; Ramburuth, 2001; Reid, 2002). This paper is a contribution to this area of higher education research. The accommodation of IS is an important goal in the Australian higher education sector that is reflected in the commitment to quality education and teaching expertise. The benefits of the integration of IS into the Australian academic cultures are highly esteemed by university leadership. The diversity of our university populations is enhanced by IS and further research may be found by exploring how diversity may add value to the transition experience as a whole (McInnes, 2001). However, reports on students’ experiences provide a somewhat contrary understanding of that experience. For example, Reid (2002) conducted a comprehensive study, which surveyed over 300 postgraduate IS at Macquarie University. Contrary to common beliefs, about students from Asian backgrounds in particular, IS students were reported to value the interactive mode (i.e. discussion based learning) of unit delivery over a sometimes assumed teacher centred mode. Another example is the common stereotypical belief that students from Asian backgrounds prefer rote-learning styles and tend to be passive in classroom interaction. It seems then, at least rhetorically, that ideas about what constitutes high quality teaching and learning differ between international students and academic personnel.

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This paper is adapted from one presented at Celebrating Teaching at Macquarie 28-29 November 2002 (Hellstén and Prescott, 2002).

Hellstén and Prescott

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If the practices that characterise quality are perceived and acted out differently by members of Western and Eastern cultural groups it assumes a questioning of the very meaning of concepts such as ‘quality’ and ‘teaching’. These can account for deeply contrasting expectations of educational practice. International students’ cultural traits have been blamed for subsequent teaching and learning problems (for example, Burns, 1991; Jones et al., 1999; Leask, 1999; McInnes, 2001; Ryan, 2000). Some problems include poor English language and critical thinking skills, failure to participate in the collaborative learning mode (for example, group discussions), differences in cultural communication, academic literacy styles, and expectations of rote learning resulting in lack of independent learning initiatives. Where does this occur? Some researchers have refuted these claims. Biggs (1999) provides a broad review of research findings that reveal institutional stereotyping of students from Asian backgrounds. He argues that such students continue to rank...
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