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Activities to improve the engagement of international students in online teaching

  • Project leader(s): Simon CollinsonCatherine Halliwell
  • Theme: Externally funded projects
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: June 2012 to June 2013

Online teaching enables students to study from all around the globe to produce a diverse student cohort. As UK universities expand online provision and target international students key questions arise:

  • Are there any specific issues found for the online teaching of international students compared to traditional teaching?
  • What are the levels of engagement and the experience of international students and how might we improve it?
  • What role can context based learning play?

The diverse range of students at the Open University provides a great opportunity to study these questions. Therefore this project surveyed students and academics within STEM subjects for student engagement with online courses, forums and tutorials, focussing on science students particularly in chemistry.

International students attending an Open University Science residential school were interviewed to identify barriers and aids to their successful study. Possible areas of contention involve their level of English, confusion over aspects of assessment, differences in their educational and cultural background, difficulties in attending synchronous tutorials and feelings of isolation. Also during this course several academics were consulted over their experiences in teaching international students and problems with time differences and a reluctance to talk in tutorials was highlighted. The academic literature also recognises that student engagement and numbers falls more during online courses than traditional courses.

Firstly an online international context based tutorial activity was developed focussing on trace metals in the diet and health. This was trialled in the Open University Level 3 course Metals and Life, with student and tutor feedback being obtained.

Secondly, an online forum activity was prepared where the students studied research papers dealing with salt in the diet. This latter activity targeted transferable study skills such as skim reading, critical data analysis and introduced the students to the research literature. This was also trialled with the Metals and Life course with analysis of the student engagement with the forum and student feedback obtained. Interestingly, there were many students monitoring the forum but not posting on it.

This teaching material will be made available on the RSC Learn Chemistry website.

Related Resources: 
PDF icon Simon Collinson and Catherine Halliwell poster.pdf129.78 KB

Project poster.