International students need support to increase peer collaboration

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A new Australian Catholic University (ACU) study has revealed that international university students are 13 per cent less likely to collaborate with peers during their studies than their fellow domestic student counterparts.

The study of more than 300 students also showed international students are about 17 per cent less likely to engage in deep approaches to learning, compared with their domestic peers.

Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education Senior Research Fellow Dr Feifei Han conducted the research at a New South Wales-based university and said she was surprised to note the collaboration divide – especially given the 313 first-year students who participated in the study were in the same computer science course.

The study’s findings have prompted calls for universities across Australia to provide more opportunities for international students to engage in collaborative work with domestic learners with the suggestion that workshops on effective intercultural communication strategies for all students could be of benefit.

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“They all sat in the same lectures, attended the same tutorials and labs, and used the same syllabus. One of the course objectives was to develop attributes required for job-ready skills, of which collaboration and teamwork is an important one,” she said.

To help international students engage in more active participation related to group work and collaboration, tertiary institutions should offer greater support – at both course and institutional levels, Dr Han said.

“At a time when international students are returning in larger numbers post-Covid, these findings show we need to do more to improve the experience of both domestic and international students’ interaction.”

Lack of language confidence is key driver

The study showed that concerns about English language proficiency was one of the key reasons that prevented international students from seeking out collaborative experiences with domestic students in the same course, which led to the international students also lacking confidence to share their opinions and ideas with their classmates and lecturers.

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Additionally, domestic students were also likely to have concerns about differing educational systems and philosophies international students had experienced in their home countries.

Dr Han said international students, particularly those from Asian countries (something a significant proportion of students in the study had in common), were used to more teacher-centred, didactic educational approaches.

“While Australian universities encourage student-centred and participatory learning, which empower students to become independent learners, many Asian countries primarily focus on transmitting knowledge to students, hence students rely more on teachers and do not take an active role in the learning process,” Dr Han said.

Deeper learning makes a difference

The research also found around 49.2 per cent of domestic students reported using deep approaches to their learning, compared with 32.5 per cent of international students.

Deeper learning was characterised by inquiry-led learning including taking initiative, critically evaluating sources, and reflecting on learning and inquiry processes.

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International students were also 12 per cent more positive than domestic students about blended course designs combining face-to-face and online learning, and had more interaction with the course dashboard, and online reading and viewing materials.

Dr Han said some international students felt more comfortable using online discussion boards, for example, as an alternative way to interact with students and teaching staff, while recorded videos and notes gave them a chance to view materials multiple times.

“For instance, when lecturers talk too fast, international students may not be able to fully comprehend. Or when a slide has dense information, their slow reading speed may not be able to cope. The access to the online resources, hence, improves international students’ engagement with course content,” she said.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]