In honor of International Education Week, we’re sharing this blog post - written in August but still relevant now - about teaching international students who are abroad.
This fall, some of the international students in your classes may be located abroad in their native countries because travel restrictions have prevented them from coming to campus. Your international students are an asset to your class, bringing important diversity of experiences, cultural perspectives and learning methods. They are also eager to participate in the classes at Temple University despite the situation that has prevented them from coming to Philadelphia. Thinking intentionally about the barriers they may face and the contributions they may add to class can help all your students gain from this complex situation. Communication with your international students is key in helping them overcome challenges these conditions may pose to their learning. Here are some issues you may encounter and suggested strategies to overcome them.
If your students are in a different country or some US states, they may be in another time zone, sometimes as much as 13 hours different from Philadelphia time. This difference may hinder their ability to feel engaged in your class, especially if you hold synchronous class sessions that meet when it is the middle of the night for them. How can you help them participate and engage with your class community?
Strategies That Can Help:
- Make sure you ask your students at the beginning of the semester if they are in a different time zone. We recommend administering a short ‘get to know you’ survey to the entire class in which you ask students where they are currently located.
- Solicit students’ ideas for how to participate effectively in class.
- Record your synchronous Zoom classes to allow students to access your class content at a time that makes more sense for them. This strategy will also allow all of your students with technological access or illness issues to access your course content asynchronously.
- Make sure to have all of your course materials (syllabus, assignments, required and additional reading) available in Canvas so that students can access them at any time.
- If you are doing active learning activities during your class time, offer an alternative way to complete work for your students in a different time zone. This alternative may look different than the in-class work but should accomplish the same goals.
- Consider time differences when setting deadlines for assignments or when setting up times for exams. If a specific deadline is important, make sure all of your students understand ahead of time how to plan, and check in individually with your international students to ensure deadlines make sense for them.
- If assigning group projects, determine if you can form a group of students who live in similar time zones in order to facilitate more seamless collaboration. If students in different time zones must work together, encourage them to use effective collaboration tools (such as Teams or Canvas Collaborations) in order to communicate without having to have in-person meetings.
- If you have scheduled virtual office hours, provide alternatives that are convenient for students in different time zones, or provide an asynchronous way for them to reach you.
Inability to Access Technology
Internet connectivity and access to technology tools could be an issue for some students both in the US and abroad. Stable high-speed internet and access to equipment such as webcams or laptops may not be available to some students, which makes it difficult for them to participate fully in remote synchronous class sessions. For other students, the issue is not internet connectivity but internet restrictions. China, for example, has restricted access to websites and applications that include Zoom and all Google applications (including Gmail) that are widely used for teaching, as well as YouTube, Twitter, Dropbox, Skype and more.
Strategies That Can Help:
- Remind students, especially new ones, to complete the TUID Photo Verification process in Portal Next Steps. Having a verified photo on file will allow IT Help Desk to provide expedient assistance.
- You can test to see if particular domains are blocked in China using a site like Comparitech. First, however, a simple conversation with your students to identify any barriers to learning they face can reveal sticking points and additional insights you might not otherwise have known.
- Zoom may not work in certain countries, which may make it impossible for students to attend your Zoom session and to watch your Zoom recordings. Teams, a collaboration software with similar capabilities, will also work in most countries and is available to the Temple community. However, remember that the most important thing, particularly during this time, is to make sure students can reach your course goals, not that they all reach those goals in the exact same way. Talk to your students with these issues and brainstorm together how to help them.
- Some websites, social media, and streaming platforms are also blocked in other countries, and some sensitive content may also be blocked. Ask students to review class material and let you know which ones they cannot access. In some cases, you may be able to download content and post it directly to Canvas. Post videos to open directly in Canvas rather than requiring students to download videos.
- If students need alternative methods for receiving and delivering materials and class assignments, consider whether email will help. ITS is working to migrate overseas students’ email accounts from Gmail to Outlook 365 in order to allow them access to email. Regardless, it is essential to communicate with them through your Canvas course announcements and messages.
- Students with slow bandwidth or limited allowance of bandwidth are likely to experience slow logins, page loads and forced terminations. For synchronous online sessions, allow students to participate without video, which will increase their bandwidth, and remind them to be present through chat or voice participation.
- In certain cases, students may be able to join Zoom by phone if they are having connectivity issues. Be sure to provide the complete information for the Zoom session, including how to connect to your Zoom session by phone. Note that this may not be possible in some international sites, and the phone call may have a fee attached. Check with your students if calling into your class is a possibility.
- Think about bandwidth when selecting course materials such as videos. Students with low or limited bandwidth, whether in the US or abroad, may not have easy access to this material, so consider alternative ways to deliver any essential video content (audio transcription, outline, key points).
- Check the technology needs for your assignments and assessments. For instance, if you use a proctoring solution that requires a webcam and a laptop, find out if your students have access to that equipment. If not, consider offering alternative assessments for those students or, better yet, provide alternatives for the entire class.
Students may be in countries or communities where certain topics are not safe to discuss. Depending on the country, students may be reluctant to engage in conversation about topics that may be sensitive to their government or community for fear of retribution.
Strategies That Can Help:
- In the first week of class, invite students to review topics on the course syllabus and flag any topics that could potentially be sensitive.
- Remember that even writing to you about flagged content can prove unsafe, and students may also be reluctant to discuss any barriers publicly in class. Invite your students to speak with you privately (at a time that works for their time zone) to discuss any issues they might anticipate.
- Work with your students to find creative alternatives that allow students to engage with the class content without compromising their safety. You can still, of course, teach the content you were planning to teach in the class, but perhaps your student can write about less controversial topics that will not jeopardize their safety.
The essential key to helping your international students abroad or students in another time zone is communication. Talk to students and work together to find solutions.
We invite you to engage this week with International Education Week activities being held right here at Temple University. Check out the Global Reach, Global Teach website for information on all the events happening this week. For your convenience, we’ve listed a few faculty events below. Check out also the International Collaboration Program that allows you to invite guests from our campuses abroad to your classrooms.
Cox, Michelle. 2020. Guidance for Faculty: Getting and Staying Connected With Int’l Students. John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, Cornell University. Retrieved from: https://knight.as.cornell.edu/guidance-faculty-getting-staying-connected-intl-students
The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2020. Teaching International Students Remotely [Blog post]. (n.d). Retrieved from https://writingcenter.unc.edu/faculty-resources/teaching-international-students-remotely/
Stephanie Fiore, Ph.D., is Assistant Vice Provost at Temple University and Senior Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching.