International students debating.


Best practices in teaching a diverse class requires explorations of what expectations international students have of their teacher1. Based on teaching quality surveys, the following areas are cited by international students as needing improvement: teachers’ explanations, clarity of course aims and objectives, and support during out of class hours2.

Being explicit about teaching

Beginning post-secondary studies is like playing a new game in which all students are expected to figure out the new rules and apply them properly in practice3. Unfortunately, it is more challenging for international students to win the game as they may not realize the “rules have changed and most will start out using behaviours and assumptions that have served them well as learners up to this point”4 (p23).

Instructors best help students by being knowledgeable about the Canadian academic culture and talk explicitly about our rules and expectations in class4.

To facilitate students’ survival in the difficult early months of transition into the Canadian academic culture, instructors need to know when to be explicit, how much to explain and what to be explicit about while lecturing5. The following four areas may serve as a framework.

  1. Teaching Methods
    • How instructors teach: the purpose of lectures and what other teaching methods will be used to reach the learning objectives6
    • What instructors value and/or expect: how they expect students to learn/perform in class and why it is important for students to do so4
  2. Assessment4
    • Length of submission. Academics need to be explicit about the fact that longer does not mean better, as some international students believe.
    • Format with detailed explanation
    • Criteria of the assessment and how the criteria is applied
    • Indicate if English language proficiency is being assessed; be specific about what aspects of English language proficiency will be assessed, and what percentage of marks will be allocated4,7
  3. Teacher-Student Relationships4
    • When can students see instructors outside of class?
    • What issues are appropriate / inappropriate to bring to instructors?
    • Should students ask instructors for help if there are problems, and how might they express their needs to instructors?
    • How can students, who used to expect answers from instructors, see their teachers in a new light as facilitators or organizers of learning?
  4. Academic writing and issues of plagiarism

Making the lectures accessible for international students

Instructors need to be aware that listening to a native English speaker lecture could be challenging for international students as they attempt to “understand the main ideas presented and draw on what they already know to make sense of the material presented in the lecture, in their second language”8 (p9).

Tips to help make lectures more accessible8:

  • Provide an outline with main points covered to help students follow the lecture and take notes; summarize the key information at certain stages in the lecture
  • Explain relevant background information to assist students in understanding key concepts
  • Define new or unfamiliar words or concepts, provide opportunities for clarification and explain acronyms and abbreviations fully
  • If slang, jargon and idioms are used, explain the meaning
  • Put some notes online prior to lecture and encourage students to read in advance
  • Speak steadily and use frequent re-capping to help students understand what you are saying
  • Give time after asking an international student a question. They will need it to translate ideas, organize thoughts, or look for vocabulary to feel confident and ready to answer
  • Conclude the lecture by summarizing the main points and highlighting ‘take home’ messages

Internationalizing the curriculum to benefit both international and domestic students

  • The traditional teaching and learning environment that is currently dominant across Canadian universities does not take into consideration international students’ previous educational backgrounds and diverse learning needs9.

    The Internationalization of the Curriculum (loC) is a “powerful and practical way of bridging the gap between rhetoric and practice to including and valuing the contribution of international students”10 (p100).

    More importantly, it enables both international and domestic students to develop an intercultural expertise to succeed in post-secondary studies and in increasingly transitional workplace1.

    Strategies to Internationalize the Curriculum at the Course Level:

    The Course Design Wheel11(p23)

    The course design wheel provides a framework for a student-centered learning to internationalization of the curriculum which is supported by three major pillars11:

    1. Internationalization in content
    2. Internationalization in instructional strategies (teaching & learning)
    3. Interculturally sensitive assessment techniques
  • Learning outcomes.

Internationalization in Course Content

Course content should include diverse perspectives and cultural differences. A straightforward way to internationalize course content is to draw on research studies conducted in different countries. By doing so, international students will feel empowered as they have access to locate research from their countries and in their languages12.

More Tips to Help Infuse Diverse Perspectives and Cultural Differences into Course Content8,13:
  • Include subject matters relating to global and inter-cultural perspectives (e.g., inclusion of international and national case studies, examples, and illustrations);
  • Address how knowledge is constructed differently across cultures;
  • Make good use of international guest speakers who are on campus;
  • Collaborate with colleagues and join networks of faculty who teach the same or similar courses in and outside Canada.

It is worth noting that, “internationalization goes beyond the mere addition of international examples. It needs to permeate the very nature of the discipline so that students gain a global understanding and perspective of the discipline”14(p94).

Internationalization in Teaching & Learning

Internationalization of curriculum requires instructors to optimize opportunities in planning and delivering courses that enhance international students’ learning and create supportive learning environments to engage all students8.

However, interactions between students who perceive themselves to be different from each other seldom happen unless initiated12. Therefore, instructors need to set the tone at the early stage of the course to encourage intercultural interactions.

Interaction for Learning Framework

The Interaction for Learning Framework is composed of six interrelated dimensions, each represents a particular teaching aspect and learning opportunities associated with interactions between students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds8.

  • Core Principles8(p10)

    Acknowledges and capitalizes on student diversity as a resource for learning and teaching;

    1. Engages students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds within the learning context in a variety of ways;
    2. Embeds interaction in curriculum planning and links to teaching, learning and assessment;
    3. Promotes peer engagement through curriculum-based activities; and
    4. Recognizes the variety of ways that interaction can be utilized across different learning contexts.
    Six Components

    To learn more about the Interaction for Learning Framework and check a short video about engaging students, please use the link below:
    Arkoudis, S., et al (2010). Finding Common Ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from:

  • Six components of the Interaction for Learning framework.

Explore the Six Components of the Interaction for Learning Framework

Internationalization core principles

Planning Interaction

Planning is the first important step in fostering engagement among students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Without such a purposeful approach, students will tend to form culturally similar groups. Instructors need to develop clear guidance for students about the objectives of peer engagement, expected learning outcomes and assessment processes8.

Formalizing peer interaction within academic courses can be achieved in a number of ways8(p11):

  • Incorporating interaction among students from diverse backgrounds as a course objective and making this explicit in published course outlines;
  • Designing and structuring teaching and learning activities that require students to communicate and engage with peers from diverse backgrounds; and
  • Designing assessment tasks that align with the objective of student interaction and peer engagement. For example, these tasks may require students to work with peers from different backgrounds in order to consider or compare different perspectives on an issue or topic, and then to critically reflect on the group process

Creating Environments for Interaction

Both international and domestic students generally feel more comfortable interacting with peers that share similarities15. Therefore, instructors need to move students out of their cultural comfort zones to help them develop confidence in interacting with others from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

In creating learning environments conducive to interaction, it is important to8(p12):

  • Initiate interactive teaching and learning activities at the early stage of a course to help to create a learning environment where peer interaction is valued by students
  • ‘Start as you mean to continue’, with conditions for effective interaction created from the outset
  • Purposefully generating situations, within learning and teaching activities, that require students to interact
  • Actively encourage students to move out of their regular social groups
  • Support students to develop the confidence in interacting with other peers from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds

Supporting Interaction

Many students, despite their background, do not fully understand the potential benefits that come through interacting with peers from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For example, one of the benefits is that students will be able to develop an ability to view the world from multiple perspectives, attain knowledge of global interconnections, and foster a desire to address local and global issues through critical thinking and problem solving16.

Instructors can describe the benefits in the context of the particular learning objectives of the course and acknowledge the various areas of interest and aspirations among the group. Equally important, students need to develop skills to work effectively with diverse peers8.

Here is some more details of what instructors can do8(p14,40):

  • Set clear expectations about peer interaction;
  • Incorporate a session dedicated to peer learning;
  • Respect and acknowledge diverse perspectives;
  • Assist students to develop rules regarding interaction within their group;
  • Inform students about how engagement with diverse learning will assist their learning;
  • Incorporate a session dedicated to peer learning;
  • Provide group-work resources for students.

Engaging with Subject Knowledge

The main purpose of this dimension is to encourage students’ engagement with the subject content through peer learning activities and to create a mutually respectful atmosphere, a sense of shared purpose and opportunities for collaboration8.

Activities designed to provide these kinds of collaborative learning opportunities include but are not limited to8(p15-16):

  • Discussion-based activities requiring students to discuss an issue, analyze a case study, present an argument and/or provide examples from their own experiences;
  • Problem-solving activities requiring students to pool their knowledge and work through a problem or set of questions;
  • Group projects requiring diverse perspectives and a range of skills; and
  • Practical activities requiring students to apply technical/practical skills (e.g. conducting a chemistry experiment, constructing a model, giving a presentation, preparing an artistic performance, etc.).

Developing Reflexive Processes

Students will confront differences in each other’s understanding, attitudes or perspectives in peer interaction for learning. Instructors can expose students to alternative perceptions and conflicting views to motivate them for further discussion.

Through explaining and defending their views to others, conflicts can be reconciled, and students arrive at “negotiated meanings”17 (p37). In addition, peer learning is enriched when learners take steps back and reflect on the learning process.

Some key strategies that instructors can use to encourage students to critically reflect on their work8 (p18-19, 41-42):

  • Using questions as triggers for reflection;
  • Using reflective written tasks;
  • Analyzing and synthesizing ideas to prepare feedback for peers;
  • Offering constructive feedback that supported student learning; and
  • Reflecting on their own knowledge and perspectives.

Fostering Communities of Learners

The goal of intercultural interaction is to encourage the formation of a learning community in which students support each other, share knowledge and practice together18.

Examples from practice8 (p20):

  • Initiatives specifically designed to build learning communities
  • Online collaborative tools
  • Peer mentoring programs

Interculturally Sensitive Assessment Techniques

As international students bring different educational experiences, assessment may be one of the most important areas in which international students need guidance8. Instructors will need to explain the assessment criteria and offer constructive feedback which provides international students with direction on how to improve academic performance19.

Tips for internationalizing assessment include13 (p14):
  • Make assessment criteria related to global/multicultural capability explicit to students;
  • Map out the links between assessment criteria and international standards in the discipline area or profession for students, so that they are aware of why the assessment items are important.
  • Use assessment tasks early in the course which provide feedback on students’ background knowledge, so that teaching can be modeled in such a way as to ‘fill in’ any gaps in requisite knowledge or skills and hence combat risk of failure;
  • Include assessment items that draw on cultural contexts as well as disciplinary knowledge (e.g., comparative exercises that involve comparing/contrasting local and international standards, practices, issues, etc.);
  • Design assessment tasks that require students to present information to, and receive feedback from, an international’ or cross-cultural audience;
  • Design activities that encourage students to interact with other another (real or virtual).
  • Include the use of peer evaluation and feedback.

In addition, international students do not always fully demonstrate what they have learned because they may have difficulty understanding the instructor’s expectations14. Therefore, instructors may reflect on the following questions14 (p99) while designing assessments.

  • [Am I] assessing students for their mastery of academic discourse rather than for their critical or original thinking?
  • [Do I] recognize or encourage different styles and approaches to learning?
  • [Do I] allow students to use their own words and ways of expressing themselves?
  • [Do I] assess content rather than penalize for spelling or grammatical expression except in the cases where spelling and grammar are inherent in the assessment criteria?

Additional teaching resources

The University of Melbourne. Teaching International Students: Strategies to enhance learning. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from:

Liverpool John Moores University. Internationalising the curriculum: A toolkit. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from:

Leask, Betty. (2012) Internationalisation of the curriculum (loC) in action: A guide. Sydney, NSW: University of South Australia.

Working with International Students: a guide for staff in Engineering. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from:

Internationalization in Action: Internationalizing the Curriculum

Carrol, J., & Ryan, J. (2005). Teaching international students: Improving learning for all. Routledge: New York.


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