This post is about how technology, including social media, can facilitate the adjustment to the culture, lifestyles and academic challenges faced by international students new to this country. I was at a meeting last week for student affairs managers at our university and one of the topics presented is the increasing population of international students.  The increase in the population could be partly attributed to the active recruitment of our admissions officers in other countries. According to this article by LA Times, the University of California system made the move to recruit more out-of-state students, including international students for geographic diversity and revenue. The unique needs of the international students were also discussed. Some of these challenges include:

  • Constant process of values, beliefs, and ways of life from the moment they arrive without traditional support network.
  • Those for whom English is a foreign language, there is a need for time to adjust and the need for support system.
  • The classroom style wherein the expected active class participation may run counter from their native educational systems.  Specifically, asking questions to the professor may be perceived as being rude.

As I was listening to these challenges, I could not help but reflect on how technology can provide assistance in the transition process of these international students. What resonates with me are  1) the need for a community and support system before they even arrive and during their stay and 2) the need to accommodate the different classroom participation style. As noted in that meeting, the students may know the answer but they may not verbalize them. The list of technology-related ideas below are very limited but they could certainly be components of university efforts to ensure the success of the transition process and retention of international students. In addition, the mention of the products/services below does not imply endorsements but to illustrate what are currently available to my knowledge.

  • University sponsored/managed social networks. While any individual can create groups and pages on facebook, I think colleges and universities should be proactive in setting up, managing and participating in their networks which could include groups, pages and apps within facebook like Inigral Schools App.  There is a lot of value in having students connected virtually, months before they even arrive on campus. Our campus does use Inigral Schools app and from personal observation, I have seen students introduce themselves to others and have conversations on topics that are not even related to academics but rather on similar interests, experience and similar location of origins. During the summer when orientation sessions were happening,  students asked details about what to expect from those who have previously attended them. Additionally, some students who attended the same sessions planned meet ups as well. Towards the beginning of the school year, topics discussed include items to bring for their dorms, class information (including common schedules), and plans to meet up for various activities (running, gym, surfing).
  • Social Media/Mobile for academic use. While the notion of using social media and mobile for academic use, particularly within classrooms as a means of participation is still not universally accepted, I think there is some value to providing alternative methods of engaging international students beyond verbal participation. There was  a study by Dr. Rey Junco that showed the use of twitter in the classroom led to an increase in the engagement and higher semester grade point average for students.  A good example of a system that uses social media and mobile for academic use, including active participation in the classroom is Studio by Purdue. From personal observation on facebook, I also see students collaborating on homework and forming study groups.
  • Personalized online orientations. One of the challenges for international students who are not familiar with the English language during orientations is that they may not be able to keep up with the presenters and comprehend materials being presented. In some cases, they are not able to attend these orientations physically. I think making these presentations available on-line, including one-on-one sessions using software like Adobe Connect, Skype and even Google+ Hang Out which makes these orientations more personal would probably make a difference in having international students feel more comfortable and understand the materials being presented to them.  In addition, general orientation sessions could also be recorded using software like Adobe Captivate and made available on university websites for later viewing.

What other ideas can you think of that could assist the transition (and retention) of international students?