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On international students & satisfaction with research university experiences

2 Nov

Article Overview & Introduction to Findings

At the October Pedagogical Innovations Journal Club we discussed “The International Student Density Effect: A profile of a global movement of talent at a group of major U.S. universities,” an article published in Higher Education Forum.

The authors wanted to know if the presence of International Students (IS) on a campus positively influenced the behaviors and learning gains of students, both IS and domestic. To help answer these questions they looked at data from the 2010 SERU Survey (Student Experience in the Research University).

The SERU consortium survey collects information about student experiences at research universities in categories include time allocation, academic engagement, co-curricular activities, campus climate, and career aspirations. The 2010 SERU data incorporates responses from over 125,000 students at 15 research universities in the country including the University of Minnesota.

In all, 3.2% of respondents identified as IS (based on responses to the question “Were you born in this country?”), ranging from a low of 0.3% IS at Rutgers to 6.2% IS at the University of Minnesota. For the “International Student Density Effect” study, the authors compared survey responses from IS and US students, finding IS students, compared to domestic students, were less satisfied with their education, and less likely to say they would choose the same university if they could choose again.

Findings – High Density IS Research Universities

Next, authors divided research universities into three categories based on the percentage of International Students: low density, medium density, and high density. The University of Minnesota and University of Oregon were the only two universities in the High Density category.

At high density IS research universities:

  • IS respondents showed increased satisfaction with educational experience, engagement with studies, gains in non-quantitative skills like cultural appreciation and social awareness, and use of time, than the students at the medium and low density IS research universities.
  • For US students at these same schools, a higher density of IS correlated with increased satisfaction with educational experience, engagement with studies, and time spent in academic efforts and employment.
  • Conversely, IS students in this context showed decreased satisfaction with self-assessment in their current skills in non-quantitative areas, development of scholarship, and perception of a favorable campus climate, when compared to students at medium and low density IS research universities.
  • Also, US students in this context showed decreased satisfaction with perception of campus climate and self-assessment in non-quantitative skills.

Data Analysis – Considerations & Concerns

Early in the discussion, journal club participants focused on concerns about the heterogeneity of the IS student pool. Within the survey, the classification of IS is very broad and it’s not known if IS from different countries and cultures respond differently from the averaged data presented. It would be interesting to be able to disaggregate this data by countries and look at the responses.

A participant remarked that the data doesn’t necessarily show that the presence of IS caused any of the results. IS density simply correlates with the results. There could be explanations for the data that have nothing to do with the density of IS. Therefore, it can’t be ruled out that a third, unknown factor (including the characteristics and culture of the individual research universities) is responsible for the effects.

It was suggested that what we should be asking whether there is a group of students who are feeling more dissatisfied with their education, seeking to understand further what are the reasons for that dissatisfaction, and learning what we might do to change that. This was followed by a discussion of the difficulties that some IS face on campus, including language challenges, culture challenges, and loneliness.

Pedagogical Action Steps

Ultimately, the conversation turned to the discussion of what does this mean for our teaching? Are there any actionable ideas that we can take away from this article? Participant suggestions are listed below and focus on ways to better support IS.

  • Interact with IS and learn their names and pronounce them correctly. This small step can show that you care about them as individuals, not just anonymous students.
  • Encourage IS and US students to interact and work towards a common goal. A straightforward way to do that is to assign a team project in your course and ensure student teams are diverse. Provide support throughout the assignment by teaching your students skills for team interaction and allowing teams to turn in drafts for feedback before the final product is due.
  • Make sure that your instructions to students are specific. For instance, asking students to write a reflection paper may not mean anything to someone who has never done it before. Written descriptions of assignments and grading rubrics help students understand what you are looking for.
  • Ensure that your examples represent the diversity of your class. Try to include examples beyond the US. Be careful with cultural references and slang, not all students will know what you mean, so be sure to clarify your meaning.

Though the article suggests increased density of IS at Research Universities correlates with some positive effects, most participants agreed that there is still much to do to harness the diversity that IS students bring to the classrooms and to better support IS students while they are in college.

Citation

Zhao, Chun-Mei, and John Douglass. “The International Student Density Effect: A profile of a global movement of talent at a group of major US universities.” Higher education forum: a COE publication 9 (2012): 45-59. Hiroshima University.

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