Over the last two years, Duke faculty have been teaching courses that have reached a huge international audience through public courses on Coursera. Duke’s traditional courses also have significant international student populations, and different expectations and norms in education can present challenges for both students and instructors. Bridget Fletcher is Associate Director for Academic Student […]
Over the last two years, Duke faculty have been teaching courses that have reached a huge international audience through public courses on Coursera. Duke’s traditional courses also have significant international student populations, and different expectations and norms in education can present challenges for both students and instructors.
Can you describe Duke’s Distributed MEM Program format and your role within the program?
The Duke Distributed Master of Engineering Management Program consists of eight required courses taken via distance and three one-week residencies on campus. In my role as Associate Director for Academic and Student Services, I work with special cases (helping students in distress, connecting students to appropriate resources, managing language challenges, etc.) and I teach a couple of workshops on intercultural communication and working in intercultural teams while the students are on campus.
What are the main considerations for someone teaching or administering a distance education program with a significant international student population?
It is important to expect the same from them that you do your domestic students, but to ask for it in a slightly different way. Sometimes faculty can become very concerned about putting an international student on the spot or making them uncomfortable, but not calling on them or having different expectations sends the message that you don’t think they are up to the task. Duke accepted these students, so you can expect them to be exceptional! You may need to be a more prescriptive in your directions and you may need to assign an international student to a leadership role if they don’t volunteer, but in the end the expectations should be the same. (If you feel that the students are not able to perform on the same level as their domestic counterparts, this may be symptomatic of an admissions issue that would benefit from a feedback loop.)
Most university instructors in the U.S. have taught international students in their in-person classes; does a distance or online program present unique challenges for international student success?
Yes! Not being able to get to know the students as well might make it harder for them to let you know if they are struggling or don’t understand something. Finding ways of connecting with the students in a more personal way (via small group or individual Skypeing, Google Hangouts, etc.) will really help with this.
What are some things instructors can do to help international students succeed in distance/online courses?
I think the most important thing is to find creative ways to outline your expectations and check for understanding. This is a challenge when teaching an in-person class, so the potential for miscommunication is much larger with a distance education. It is also very important to limit (or take the time to explain) colloquialisms, slang, or corporate lingo.
Are there tools or apps you have found especially helpful for international students and/or their instructors?
My work has mostly been with the students while they are here on campus, but I have had good luck with Skype, Google+, and the old fashioned telephone to help students navigate challenges. For our Chinese population, we use an e-book that I wrote as a result of some research that I did a few years back. The main idea is to help students know what to expect and to help them prepare for classroom differences (class participation, faculty interactions, group work, critical thinking, etc.)
What resources exist at Duke for faculty and staff who want to support international students?