Learning outcomes in a multicultural classroom - are international students at a disadvantage?

Year: 2001

Author: Gerstman, Julie, Rex, Judy

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Today in many universities, the classroom comprises local and international students from a wide range of backgrounds. Biggs (1999), Ramsden (1988) and Entwistle (1997) have developed the concepts of 'surface' and deep' learning for the tertiary classroom. Most students use both a 'deep' approach to learning, by focussing on understanding the meaning of reading material and a 'surface' approach by repeating explanations presented (Marton & Saljo,1976: 4-11). Students are to be encouraged to move along the continuum towards deep learning.

This research study identified significant differences in academic results of international and local students in all but one of a subject's assessment tasks. As a result, a change strategy was introduced to help international students by skewing the weighting on assessment items towards those on which international students had performed relatively better. The next semester results again showed significant differences on overall assessment. A second change strategy was then introduced based on examples from Biggs' framework for 'Encouraging Deep Learning' (1999). It promotes active and analytical student learning using an incremental schedule for encouraging lower performing students to progressively use deep learning techniques in an effort to improve their learning outcomes. This paper provides a rationale and analysis of both change strategies.