Teaching students of different cultural backgrounds requires flexibility and adjustment from both parties. This page offers ways for faculty and instructors to help international students be successful in the classroom, focusing on common areas of concern.
All international students must show proof of English proficiency to be accepted to Ohio State (for current admissions standards, visit Undergraduate Admissions). However, students arrive at the university with varying competence levels, especially confidence, in English. The best way to help your international students improve their language skills is to encourage them to practice without worrying about making mistakes. Help them feel comfortable speaking aloud in class and provide constructive feedback on writing assignments.
Class participation and group work
Many international students find speaking aloud in class the most difficult academic task. Try to create a classroom environment that welcomes international students' voices and perspectives. Remind students it's normal to feel nervous, it's okay to make mistakes and the only way to become more comfortable speaking aloud is to practice.
When assigning group work, consider the dynamics within groups. Sometimes instructors seek to avoid having "all the international students work together" but consider whether the same standard is applied to American students from a similar cultural background. When possible, try putting students in groups where they are exposed to perspectives different from their own but also don't feel isolated.
International students should be held to the same standards of academic integrity as all other students. That said, international students' educational backgrounds do not always fully prepare them for the expectations they will encounter at Ohio State regarding working with other students, using outside source material in their writing or other assignments and completing other academic tasks. It is helpful for instructors to be very explicit with expectations so that all students know exactly what is and is not allowed.
If it seems clear that a student has made an unintentional mistake, seize the opportunity for a teachable moment. Even if the incident must be reported to the Committee on Academic Misconduct, consider scheduling a conversation with the student to help them understand what went wrong and how to avoid the problem in the future.
As artificial intelligence (AI) gains a more prominent place in our lives, be sure to directly address your expectations for using AI technologies with students. Help them understand the pitfalls of overreliance on tools like Chat GPT.
Students on F-1 and J-1 student visas are required to enroll full-time each autumn and spring semester to maintain legal immigration status in the United States. Also, note that no more than three online (distance learning or distance enhanced) credit hours can count towards full-time enrollment. This means that international students are often unable to drop a class in which they are struggling because it would endanger their immigration status.
However, there are circumstances in which the Office of International Affairs can approve an international student to drop below full-time enrollment (certain academic concerns, illness or injury and final term of enrollment). If a student is wondering whether they can be approved to drop your class mid-semester, encourage them to contact an immigration coordinator at the Office of International Affairs at email@example.com and their academic advisor.
Reflect on values of American culture and higher education
The American higher educational system tends to highly value qualities such as:
Some of these may feel new and different to international students based on their educational background. It can be helpful to reflect on whether the qualities you value in your students are, at least in part, culturally determined. Many international students come from cultures that are less individualistic, where it's natural to default to collaboration over independent work. Many are also surprised by the number of assignments given throughout the semester rather than having one final exam that determines their entire grade. Some students may also need help understanding that grades and academic progress are confidential.
Make expectations explicit
Expectations—spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten—that seem obvious to students who have spent their whole lives in the American educational system may not be clear to students who haven't. Norms around things like when and how it's appropriate to ask questions, test-taking behavior, class attendance and participation, appropriate use of outside source material in writing, effective study methods and much more are often culturally determined. It is helpful for international students when you make expectations explicit, both out loud and in writing.
This can be particularly helpful regarding collaboration—can students work together on homework assignments? Can they have a friend review their work before handing it in? Students may have different assumptions about these expectations than you do.
Be mindful of assumed cultural knowledge
Students who haven't grown up in the United States can feel lost when instructors rely on examples and references to American culture to explain concepts. If you use these types of references, take a moment to explain them to students who may not be familiar with the material. Even something as simple as an icebreaker asking students to share their favorite ice cream flavor may be challenging to students who didn't grow up eating a lot of American-style ice cream or who don't know the English names of all the flavors.
Value diverse perspectives
Most international students value being given the opportunity to share their own culture with someone really interested and respectful of their perspective and experiences. Students do not find many opportunities for this type of cultural exchange in day-to-day life, so it's great when course instructors and advisors can make a space for students of all backgrounds to share different cultural perspectives (while also being careful not to put individuals "on the spot" to represent or speak for their country or culture of origin).
Be sure to model the behavior you would like to see from your American students, as they also play an important role in helping international students feel welcome and supported in your classroom.
Some international students take online courses from their home country. Keep in mind the following if you have international students in your online course who are not in the United States:
Tips on helping with international student success in an online environment
The Office of International Affairs hosts its International Student Experience Workshop Series for faculty and staff every autumn and spring semester. The three-part series serves to educate participants about life as an international student and offer guidance on how to best work with this population.
The workshops include presentations by staff from the Office of International Affairs and other university offices, as well as a panel of international students who answer questions and share their experiences.
Beware that in certain countries, video conferencing technology can place student and faculty data at risk. You may also confront conflicting issues of equity, accessibility and vulnerability as you interact with students online. This is especially the case when discussing issues in lectures (especially recorded lectures) that may be seen as controversial in the student's home country.