A common assumption in higher education is that academic integration of international students is not well aligned with the requirements of higher education institutions. However, recent research has found a mixed picture on whether international students underperform in academic integration and academic performance. Institutes can have an active role in helping foreign students integrate smoothly into their academic environments. A growing number of schools are supporting the “acculturation” process of foreign students by designing and implementing getting-acquainted courses, summer courses or preparatory courses.
The Project Acculturation
Nine Dutch higher education institutions have started a nationwide e-learning programme – www.acculturation.nl – using technology-supported learning to increase the inflow and outflow of higher education and reducing the rate of drop-outs. The target group is international students.
Several groups of international students have difficulties with their academic integration or underperform as a result of their lack of familiarity with the educational culture in Dutch higher education. The project aims to assist these international students in their preparation for their studies in international classrooms of Dutch higher education by offering them remedial programmes on learning content, an “acculturation” programme about Dutch educational and academic culture, as well as a community with online cooperation activities with Dutch peers or other foreign students as a possible start for their own social network.
So far, the project, which ends in 2010, has delivered nine online pilots consisting of online environments with remedial programmes and/or acculturation activities and/or a community, as well as a repository with all the developed materials. These materials (remedial, instruction, video, hand-out) are all re-usable.
Web 2.0 tools to support foreign students
The courses were given from spring to autumn 2009 to 300 foreign students in a range of disciplines. Some courses focussed exclusively on getting foreign students acquainted with the Netherlands and the specific issues at the institute. Other courses combined “acculturation” elements with remedial teaching elements like mathematics, economics and language. Furthermore, a wide range of pedagogical scenarios (e.g. self-directed learning, collaborative learning, problem-based learning) and tools (wikis, blogs, YouTube, web videoconferencing, discussion forums, etc.) were used. At Online Educa Berlin, the diverging experiences of helping foreign students to get acquainted using Web 2.0 tools will be presented.
Using IT; what is the advantage?
The reasons to use IT are straightforward. Namely, IT has some powerful Web 2.0 tools to support independent learning, as well as learning irrespective of time and geographical constraints with the wide-spread implementation of the internet. This is particularly relevant for prospective foreign students. More importantly, IT enables learning in collaborative settings: Learners work and learn together using wikis, discussion forums or web videoconferencing.
What works and what doesn’t
According to Ria Jacobi and Bart Rienties, researcher for the project from the University of Maastricht, an examination of the pilots revealed three success ingredients. The first is the presence of an e-coach. Guiding students online means having direct contact and the possibility to ask questions and get answers and feedback. But an e-coach can also influence online conversations. In this project, questions were asked about the expectations concerning the period of study and stay in the Netherlands.
Another ingredient of success is creating effective e-learning courses that allow a flexible learning environment. These courses fit the learning style and preferences of each learner.
A third ingredient is a collaborative element in the courses. Creating communities in which students are able to start on a basis of trust and awareness supports the “acculturation” process. Students usually already know classmates who also are going to study abroad; they also get to know both students and teachers whom they are going to meet personally in the Netherlands.
Conclusions and suggestions
Preparing international students online for their study and life abroad proved to be important. When creating online environments to support these students, certain components, which the Dutch experience has proved valuable, need to be kept in mind:
- E-coaching is an important factor in a successful online preparation course;
- Effective e-learning courses allow for a flexible learning environment, which can be tailored to fit the learning style and preference of each learner;
- Interaction with teacher(s) and students is essential;
- Providing feedback is useful but being aware of cultural differences is even more beneficial.
Ria Jacobi will present details of the Acculturation project at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN on Friday, December 4th, 11:45 – 13:15 as part of the session STR51 “Crossing Borders through Borderless Crossings”.
November 18, 2009