Thursday, 21 March 2013

Word of Mouth - The University of Babel BBC Radio 4

I have come across a very interesting podcast on BBC Radio 4 on the current issue of the misuse of English at universities and how lecturers can adapt it to the international students

"Generations of students have left lecture halls wondering whether they understood what they just heard. Now, a growing proportion of these learners don't consider English their first language. In the first episode in a new series, Michael Rosen visits Birmingham University to investigate how well the English spoken by foreign students equips them for British university life. And to see how lecturers are adapting to their multilingual audience. And there's feature on Special English, the slowed down, limited vocabulary version of the language developed more than half a century ago as a radio experiment, and which the Voice of America network still uses in its programmes".

I found the discussion on the use of banter with international students as particularly interesting. While banter is definitely a virtue appreciated by home students who come from the same culture as the person who initiates mockery and teasing, it is very often misunderstood by students from a different culture. In most extreme situations, some students would feel upset and excluded from the learning community. 

Now, should lecturers avoid banter at all cost? I believe it will be extremely difficult for some to get rid of their 'fine' sense of humour that few will understand: jargon, acronyms known only to locals, references to 3rd league football team, politics, etc. I'm obviously being sarcastic here. The answer is "No"! As long as lecturers engage students in discussions around irony, word-play, puns and slap-sticks - in other words -  present the cultural background and familiarise ALL students with the context, they are allowed to joke as much as they want. 

Now, how do you familiarise international students with these sometimes bizarre or ambiguous concepts? Explaining them is NOT enough I'm afraid. Use examples, show them some pictures and videos illustrating these concepts, WRITE DOWN difficult words on the board for all to see - I'm sure you can predict which words might be more tricky. Don't be lazy! Do a research on where your students come from, familiarise yourself with current issues from their countries. If you share that with them, they will definitely appreciate it which will certainly lay ground for a potential opportunity to banter.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

BOOM - It started! Focus groups with students have been advertised!

I've just sent out invitations to my focus groups with students. I'm targetting both UCA and UoR PG student cohorts. I posted the invitations on various university fb groups to attract as many target group members as possible. I've tricked them into free food and drinks during focus groups. There have been few positive responses so far!

Also, I've contacted UoR International Students Part-time Officer (Ushana) and  Postgraduate Student’s Part-time Officer (Sian) to help me track down students who could potentially contribute to my inquiry.

Here's my invitation:

Are you a POSTGRADUATE student?

I would like you to take part in my focus groups regarding University for the Creative Arts international profile with regard to teaching, learning, assessment and enhancement of the international student experience overall?

I want to explore various experiences of BOTH postgraduate international students with English as their second language AND postgraduate home

My study is based around questions regarding current teaching, learning and assessment methods accommodating the international postgraduate students’ needs, international and home PG students perceptions and what impact they has on their student journey. I would also like to explore various communities international PG students become members of while studying and what influence can these communities have on their learning process.

Free food and drinks provided!

Like this post if you want to take part in my focus groups and I will get back to you with further details. Please share it with other PG international and home students.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Resources to use with international students

I have recently used the following resources  with international students. They were both very successful in terms of decreasing culture shock effect, enhancing cross-cultural awareness and alleviating loneliness.

Just Connect and International Students Connect
These are 96-page magazine-style materials for international students in the UK. Ideally they can be handed to students on arrival to be kept as personal records of their stay in the UK. They introduce readers to important issues in a light-hearted way. Above all, they encourage students to make the most of their stay in the country while exploring the rich terrains of inter- and cross-cultural awareness.
The books are supported by substantial Resource Materials. These provide EFL/ESOL classroom materials on topics such as culture shock, British identities, British families, making friends, educational culture, food, leisure, the law, governance and much more. While informing students of British customs and practices, they teach through the cultural capital of all the students present in any given classroom.
Just Connect is suitable for students at intermediate English language levels.
International Students Connect is suited to more mature students with upper-intermediate and advanced English.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
An interesting take on about misunderstandings between two cultures: Chinese and English. The book was recommended by some of my Chinese students. It might help students to understand English culture and calm their loneliness by making them realize they are not the only ones experiencing the feeling. Mind you: some chapters contain strong references to sexual experiences so be cautious with who you recommend it to, a more mature student would be perhaps more appropriate.

Internationalisation of curriculum

It is absolutely clear that the presence of international students on university campuses does not automatically bring about the internationalisation of curriculum and pedagogy and wider initiatives are needed. Having reviewed the current literature for my PhD in the area of internationalisation of curriculum, it is only evident that internationalisation now features as a goal in the mission statements of universities around the world and the debates no longer occupy the periphery; they have firmly moved into the mainstream. There’s an urgent call for reconsideration of contemporary realities and practices and re-examination of systems of knowledge and relevance of academic intellectual traditions in the wake of an unprecedented global movement of people (both students and staff) and ideas (through collaborative research and joint programmes).

I strongly believe that one of the most efficient ways of accelerating the process of implementation of internationalisation  is simply sharing good practice.

I can only speculate that some work is already in place apart from the enthusiasm of committed individuals from various departments. What might be the issue is that some of these initiatives occur in isolation instead of being shared across the entire institution.

In regards to bringing together some of this work and sharing it across with staff experiencing similar challenges and prompting and informing debate amongst those wishing to internationalise their teaching and learning policies, practices and programmes, I propose the following:

·         Create an internal space with information on Internationalisation of Curriculum (there is already a huge amount of work being done in that field – the idea would be to bring it all together and store it in one place, these would include: testimonials from staff and students, case studies, current research, links to other websites and ‘internationally converted’ universities).
·         Share existing practices, organise internal and external teaching and learning conferences and seminars; make it compulsory CPD/PDR events; distribute the outcomes of these events internally and externally

I have recently come across a very interesting book by Jeanette Ryan (Director of the UK HEA Teaching International Students Project and Research Associate of the China Centre at the University of Oxford) called Cross-cultural Teaching and Learning for Home and International Students. It is very relevant to our current debate

Enhancing the Postgraduate International Student Experience - Prezi Presentation

My first blog entry includes a link to my Prezi presentation on my current PhD research work that I presented to members of University of Reading Institute of Education Equity, Inclusion and Improvement Research Group on 5 March 2013. The purpose of it was to recruit staff members to my upcoming focus groups and interviews (data collection stage). The presentation was successful as I managed to recruit few members of the research group who initially agreed to be participants of my inquiry. I received few comments which I will use to refine my methodological approach with particular emphasis on the role of a researcher as an insider (Alan Floyd) and including questionnaires as a less intimidating method of sharing one's thoughts on internationalisation (Carol Fuller and Daguo Li).