How Faculty Teach: Inside International Student Engagement in U.S. Colleges and Universities

How Faculty Teach: Inside International Student Engagement in U.S. Colleges and Universities

Rong (Lotus) Wang — With the exponential growth of international students pursuing degrees at U.S. colleges and universities, an increasing number of faculty and staff have raised questions and concerns about supporting international students’ academic engagement and success. Although prior studies have explored the educational experiences of international students in the U.S., only a small number have investigated international student engagement at four-year institutions. Little is known about faculty approaches and contributions to international student engagement. No prior studies have investigated how student engagement may differ from international students’ perspective and faculty’s perspective.

Acknowledging the concerns about teaching international students from faculty members, Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) Project Manager Allison BrckaLorenz and Research Project Associate Rong (Lotus) Wang developed a beta item set, Teaching International Students (TIS), for the 2016 FSSE administration. The TIS item set focused on faculty perceptions of international student behaviors (e.g. participation in course activities), faculty contributions to international student engagement (e.g. encouraging international students to express their perspectives), and the challenges that faculty face in teaching international students. TIS was appended to FSSE at 14 institutions, yielding 844 faculty responses.

We found faculty were generally very positive about international students’ efforts, with 87% of faculty reporting substantial (responding “Very much” or “Quite a bit”) agreement that international students try their best to meet course expectations. Faculty were less positive about international students challenging their own or other students’ ideas during courses, with 28% reporting this occurs substantially and 39% reporting this occurs “Very little.” This piece of finding may reflect the language barriers of international students or different norms of college teaching and learning between the U.S. and other countries. See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Faculty Perceptions of International Student Engagement

When we examined faculty contributions to international student engagement, we found that most often, faculty encouraged their international students to express their own perspectives with 63% doing so frequently (“Very often” and “Often”) and 10% of faculty never doing so. Only 12% of faculty frequently invite guest speakers with international experiences or perspectives to address a specific topic, with around two-thirds (65%) of faculty never doing so. See Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Faculty Contribution to International Student Engagement

Over three quarters (76%) of faculty expressed that they had encountered challenges in teaching international students. The top challenges in teaching international students were language barriers, with 39% faculty members believing international students’ English deficiency hindered students’ learning and influenced faculty teaching. One of the faculty participants wrote, “[l]anguage barrier was difficult in trying to communicate or read their papers that were turned in.” 14% of faculty expressed the difficulty in engaging their international students in class discussions, teamwork, or socializing with students from the U.S., and 10% indicated ethical issues and the academic integrity of international students were problematic. The lower the proportion of international students enrolled in a course, the more faculty reported challenges in teaching them. This finding tells us that it is important to create a community in the course for international students. For faculty members, the more international students they have taught, the more comfortable they may feel in supporting and establishing connections with them.

We also compared student engagement in effective learning strategies, collaborative learning, and student-faculty interaction from the perspectives of students and faculty. At institutions where faculty more frequently engage with international students, all students benefit, not just international students, especially in student-faculty interaction. Our findings confirm the significance of faculty support in engaging international students.

The above two studies are important for faculty, student affairs professionals, and administrators to think about effective ways to support international students collaboratively. Dr. BrckaLorenz and Wang presented their project Engaging International Students through Effective Teaching Strategies at the 2016 Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network conference in Louisville, KY. The presentation session was well attended. Faculty members, faculty developers, and student affairs professionals who attended the session actively exchanged ideas about what institutions and departments can do to support faculty and staff in engaging international students. Attendees also shared resources about teaching across cultures. The presentation slides can be found on the NSSE website. ( ). Dr. BrckaLorenz and Wang have also paralleled the FSSE TIS beta items with the 2016 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) dataset, and will present their paper – A Comparison of International Students’ Engagement and Faculty Perceptions of International Student Engagement – at the 2017 American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual conference in April in San Antonio, TX.