Field educators' attitudes towards international students' critical thinking: a case study of social work field education placements in Australia

Year: 2018

Author: Ta, Binh, Ross, Bella, Grieve, Averil

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

International students studying in English-speaking countries have been stereotyped as lacking in critical thinking. A vast body of literature critiques this stereotype, however, arguing that international students bring with them learning practices that are different from the ones advocated by those from English speaking countries. Therefore, it is suggested that educators should be more receptive to learning practices adopted by other countries and help students to adapt to the host universities’ requirements of critical thinking. This paper addresses the question of how educators can be receptive toward international students’ learning practices and assist  their students in adapting to new learning environments. It does so by examining field educators’ attitudes towards international students’ critical thinking in the context of social work field education placements in Australia. Drawing on 15 interviews with field educators across Australia, it was found that most of the educators acknowledged that their international students struggled with critical thinking. Educators raised a number of factors that may affect international students from demonstrating their critical thinking that move beyond cultural differences. These include personal abilities, lack of confidence and fear of making mistakes, lack of familiarity with social work practices in Australia, and lack of linguistic means to express themselves. The supervisors who attributed (a lack of) critical thinking to their lack of familiarity with social work practices reported that they employed different strategies to assist the students to demonstrate it. These findings suggest that associating students’ critical thinking with specific learning tasks may help educators understand students’ struggles in this area, and thus assist educators to enable students to demonstrate it.