Pre-Reg Module #1: Supporting International Students

This is the first blog from thedevelopment of a pre-registration online module to facilitate the transition of Chinese Masters students to the English educational system‘ project supported by the Education Incubator.

The Project Lead is Dr Kirsty Brock, and the student researchers are Laura Macro, Laura Sutton, and Harvey Penfold.

This project was proposed to support international students, particularly those in Eastern countries, with their move to UK universities for postgraduate study. International students often have experience of different educational systems and teaching styles to those in the UK. Therefore, this work aimed to investigate which study skills masters students find important, which skills they are more or less confident in, and whether there is a difference in these outcomes within international or UK students. Alongside studying in a new country with a potentially unfamiliar language, the pandemic has obviously impacted the ability of students to immerse in culture, experience a new city (or country) and meet and socialise with course mates. This means that these students may lack necessary skills to reach their full potential, feel separated from other students in the cohort, and have a less positive experience of their time studying at a UK university. We hope that this project will be able to provide some solutions to these issues for future international masters cohorts.

As researchers,being involved in this project has given us great insight into how academic research is carried out within the university. Being involved in reviewing literature on this topic has been highly informative since this topic area was not one any of us had previous in-depth experience of. Gaining further skills in qualitative data collection and analysis has been not only highly useful but also revealing of the thoughts and needs of our peers during masters study. As a whole though, being involved in the development of a resource designed to improve the experiences of future students, as well as provide existing students a space to raise their concerns or suggestions, is really fulfilling.

Current findings: Questionnaire results suggest that the most ‘important’ study skills for completing a masters degree are reading research papers, academic writing, critical thinking skills and literature searching – within both international and UK students. Interestingly, although not rated as the most important skills, confidence in areas such as presentation skills and answering questions following a presentation were lower in international students than UK students at the start of their degree. This is in line with other literature in this area and may be due to different academic assessment in other countries that largely involve written exams in contrast with the range of assessment types in England. In addition, a lack of confidence when speaking English may pose further issues for international students particularly within pressurising situations such as presentations – an issue beyond the reach of this project, but nonetheless important for future consideration. However, critical thinking, a skill rated as highly important especially in international students, displays lower confidence levels than other ‘important’ skills both before and after their degree. This illustrates the importance of improving education in this area. Since all three of us have studied at English universities, it’s eye-opening to observe the differences in these results.

What we aim to do next: Our initial plan for the next stage of research was to carry out a focus group, allowing opportunity for more open discussion on this subject between the students and ourselves. However, a lack of responses has resulted in insufficient participants for the focus group to go ahead. Therefore, the next stage of the project involves putting together an online study skills module. This will be informed by the questionnaire results and reviewed with an aim of making it as engaging, informative and accessible as possible before distributing on a wide scale. Additionally, the questionnaire, results alongside findings from the literature review, will later be incorporated into a research paper.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or would like to know more about this project or any associated literature, please send one of us an email: ls828@exeter.ac.uk, hgp202@exeter.ac.uk and lm776@exeter.ac.uk

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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