6. Making written information accessible
Unless international students can prepare for lectures and tutorials in good time, they may struggle and be unable to contribute. In this section we explain particular issues faced by international students, the types of materials we can make available and access to such materials.
For international students, reading and processing information can initially take a long time. Becoming acquainted with the language and ways of representing data, checking unclear cultural references, and translating words and expressions may all be part of the process. We should therefore make the resources available to the students in good time, so they can prepare at their own pace and with access to dictionaries or online resources.
If we make any changes to any information international students have received or have already available, including criteria of assessment, submission deadlines, meetings, teaching times and venues, we need to inform the students orally and in writing so that they have more chances of getting the information. Waiting until the end of a lecture or tutorial to make these announcements is not a good approach. Many students will already be getting ready to go, which increases the background noise, and international students in particular are more likely to be tired and to misunderstand or not hear.
Materials we can make available include lecture and tutorial notes and handouts; slideshows; glossaries and vocabulary lists; list of abbreviations, acronyms, jargon and new words; reading lists; previous exam papers; copies of marked essays; and reflective journals. Such materials can be made available on the intranet and library, as e-booklets or paper copies, and should be available well in advance of being needed (at beginning of the year or start of each term or semester). We can also ask students to research and/or read new material, revise previously covered material, or answer questions that we may post in advance of lectures or tutorials.
Petropoulou (2001) shares the issues faced by international exchange students that join courses at third year level, and who do not share the background knowledge needed to solve some problems. She has supported such students by meeting them outside class and by assigning extra reading in advance to prepare them for material to come.
When designing written materials we should reflect on the following:
- Is there too much information in the slides and handouts making them difficult and unattractive to read?
- Is there space for students to write notes?
- Do materials include visually interesting elements?
- Are equations, graphs, tables legible when printed?
- Are the font type and size used legible?
To save paper, we may be tempted to fit two pages in an A4 copy but the material becomes very hard and unattractive to read. If we provide photocopies in the library, we should choose copies that are not twisted, blurred, illegible or dirty, as all these aspects greatly affect legibility and are unappealing.
Some international students will have excellent IT skills, but others may be unable to access written materials that are exclusively reliant on IT literacy, particularly at the beginning of their course. For example, do all students understand the library systems? Do they know how to access virtual libraries and data catalogues? Can they access the VLE? Are they happy with email? If not, can we guide the international students to courses available at the university? Otherwise, can we make paper copies available at the library? Can we suggest those students who have the skills teach those who have not?
Whilst access to written materials may be difficult for some new international students, they should not be excluded from learning that depends on having read materials beforehand. We can give them the chance to learn from other students in the lecture or tutorial.
Here is how we give students the chance to learn from others any relevant information they could not access:
- We need to plan 5 minutes in our session plan
- It is most important that we do not make students feel guilty for not having prepared.
- We ask students to form groups where at least one member has engaged with the reading to share what they remember.
- We ask them to write keywords on an A4 sheet of paper.
- We ask two or three groups to share in plenary what they remember.
This allows all students to have a general understanding of the issues we wanted addressed before the lecture or tutorial. It creates good opportunities for international and UK students to interact constructively, and to engage with each other’s interpretations. Rather than doing progressively less preparation for the lectures or tutorials, relying on someone else to have done it, our observations are that more students come prepared as they enjoy the social interaction and sharing of their learning.