Finding Common Ground

A heading in an email digest I received today from The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye.

Campuses Focus More on Meeting International Students’ Needs.

With more foreign students on American campuses, the conversation is shifting from recruitment strategies to practices that help them succeed.

Retention is becoming the name of the game.

This week I attended a staff seminar, Graduating Global Citizens in Science & Engineering, exploring the results of a research project initiated by Melbourne University’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, ‘Finding Common Ground – enhancing interaction between domestic and international students’

Feedback from international students indicates that although they rate the courses they have undertaken in Australia highly, the one thing that they regretted was that they had not made lasting friendships with local students. Clearly, international students choosing to study in Australia hope that an important side benefit of their international experience will be an engagement with Australian culture, and friendship with locals in particular.

One thing from this seminar really stood out for me.

We know anecdotally that local students and international students do not tend to engage outside the classroom. Local students already have their own circle of friends. ‘Finding Common Ground’ suggests that cross-cultural engagement must take place in the classroom.

This has big implications for university teaching – now the teacher must not only be culturally intelligent, but value and structure for cross-cultural engagement within his or her curriculum and teaching practice.

Some Flinders teachers shared their practice.

Associate Prof. Kenneth Pope from the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics told how one of the subjects he teaches is tied into Engineers Without Borders, an international organization that undertakes practical projects in developing countries. So  inter-cultural issues and cross-cultural experiences are actually embedded within the Flinders course itself.

Dr Ingo Koeper, Senior Lecturer in the School  Chemical and Physical Sciences, told of a weekly two hour discussion session he set up for a small group of postgraduate students from diverse backgrounds. While the students may have expected the session to have focussed on improving their understanding of course content, as the teacher, he had put this to one side and encouraged the students to talk about themselves. Only when content issues were raised by the students themselves did he go there. The main thing was for the students to interact with each other.

This is hospitality, as we understand it in Oasis, in the classroom!

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