International students in American education system: workshop aims to educate faculty members on inclusive teaching

More international students are enrolling into American colleges than ever before, according to the Power of International Education. As Lafayette follows this trend, there is a growing push to help professors make their classrooms as inclusive as possible.

The Power of International Education’s data shows that 1,094,792 international students have enrolled in American colleges in the past consecutive year. Lafayette’s Multi-Language Learner Support Specialist Tingting Kang included this statistic in the workshop she facilitated for faculty members on Tuesday.

In the workshop, professors explored strategies they can employ in order to best help international students adjust to the culture of American academics.

“Professors are so used to teaching the old population of domestic students that when this new population comes, they need to change their pedagogical strategies,” she said in an interview following the presentation. “Because [professors] are not [English as Second Language] ESL Specialists, this is a good opportunity to help them learn how to work with international students.”

Approximately ten percent of the college’s student body is comprised of international students, and a significant amount of these students have expressed challenges routinely faced in academic settings. Kang presented quotes from anonymous students that expressed those challenges in her slideshow presentation.

She quoted a student from Vietnam who said that during group discussions, “I always want to talk with the American students in groups, but sometimes I take longer to process the question. I need to hear it and think about it first, then I have to find the language to say what I mean. But by then, someone else is talking.”

The need for classroom reform can be seen through quotes like this, but also through the perspective of professors. Kang handed out three scenarios she found to be emblematic of concerns professors have expressed to her in the past.

One of the quotes read: “A professor who likes to incorporate class presentations noted that one student always apologized at the start of her presentation, making statements such as, ‘I know my English isn’t that good, so I hope you will understand me.’ This surprised the teacher, because she believed the student’s English was quite intelligible.”

Kang pointed out that many professors have not been properly versed in how to navigate such situations, but through workshops like this, Kang said she hopes to bridge the gap between international students and professors.

She further suggested four aspects of classroom dynamics that professors should focus on, in order to help international students best acclimate. They include understanding the role of culture, applying the principles of Second Language Acquisition (SLA), explicit expectations on assessments and promoting the school’s resources.

Understanding and accommodating to other academic and cultural norms was at the core of Kang’s presentation. She said the difference between the education in some countries and in America is that in American, education is more “learner-centered,” while in some countries it is “teacher-centered.”

“[In some countries] they have maybe sixty students in a classroom so if one individual has a question, there is not enough time to get through the lecture so the teachers often ban students from asking questions,” she added. 

The American classroom is question motivated and holistically graded, which is unique to the academic settings of other countries, according to Kang, who further explained the cultural difference behind questioning in an academic setting.

“In some cultures, asking questions for clarification implies that the instructor was unclear in the lecture…students can shy away from asking questions because they perceive it as insulting the professor.”

Transitioning to small seminar-style classes from more rigid learning environments makes it harder for the students to meet professor’s expectations.

Miriam Kimani ‘22, who is from Kenya, said in an interview that there are distinct differences between the classroom in American and Kenya. 

“The students’ interactions with professors are very different. Here professors are more social. It was much more formal in Kenya,” she said. “We feared our professors instead of respecting them. The grading system was also so different, in Kenya in order to pass, you just had to get an average of 40 percent, 40 was our C, here it is 70 percent.”

Kang stressed that professors should take the role as a “cultural informant and academic mentor” generally, but especially to international students. 

It is important to have international students on campus because it contributes to diversity and “internationalization of the campus’ communities,” Kang said, “[which increases] all students cultural awareness and allows them to engage more effectively as global citizens.” 

This presentation is part of a larger initiative spearheaded by Tracie Addy, the Director of Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship, which is focused on inclusive teaching.

The next event in this series in a film screening and discussion of Kendall Moore’s documentary, “Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color: Sense of Belonging and Obstacles to STEM Fields.” The screening will take place on Apr. 11 at Landis Cinema. 

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