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Case Study 12: PGT Student Induction, University of Northumbria

Overview

International postgraduate students are important to the higher education sectors of many countries. They arrive from all over the world with diverse cultures and prior experiences. Such students present additional challenges in terms of programme based learning and teaching support. This case study objectives are:-

  1. To identify the characteristics of postgraduate students.
  2. To analyse the prior learning experiences, expectations and learning needs of international postgraduate students.
  3. To design, model and implement appropriate induction and learning support to facilitate international postgraduate students engaging more effectively with their learning and teaching.

Keywords

Taught-masters, postgraduate-support, international-students, enhanced-induction, PG-Learning-Model, blended learning.

Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice

The support programme runs parallel to the taught modules (semesters 1 and 2) and continues for the remainder of the year while the students are completing their master’s dissertation. This support programme includes three non credit bearing modules which integrate with the full master’s programme. The PG Learning Model is built around four key elements of student support, embracing enhanced induction, academic skills, dissertation skills and enhanced blended learning via the VLE. (Coates N & Dickinson J, 2012,pp. 302-3). The support programme is timetabled for all full time master’s students. The Academic Skills is optional for UK nationals, however many such students attend some sessions as their undergraduate (UG) degree may not have prepared them for a business management master’s, such as report writing etc.

Figure 1. The PG Learning Model

The PG Learning Model

Figure 2. PG learning support: outline of key elements.

PG learning support: outline of key elements

What is the background/context to the activity/initiative/practice?

The majority of full time students on taught one year master’s programmes at universities in England are from outside the UK and even the EU. This presents particular problems, as unlike undergraduates, postgraduate students do not have several years for acculturation. If HE institutions can better understand their students’ learning backgrounds they will be more able to develop effective learning and teaching strategies to facilitate international students realising their potential. There are also benefits for home students to benefit from studying with international students who engage effectivly in their studies .

What made/makes it “masters” level?

UK postgraduate students are expected to demonstrate the powers of critical analysis. It is widely accepted that international students often find this a major difference between home and studying in the UK (Brown, 2007; Skelton & Richards,1991). This is a common issue faced in many countries and disciplines  (Melles, 2009). The support programme is designed to increase the student’s critical analysis skills to master’s level. The support provided to achieve master’s level goes beyond what is provided to UG students. For example, the Extended Induction offers interventions on critical skills e.g. use of library / on-line resources for critical appraisal of extant research. The Dissertation support in terms of specialist lectures on methodologies and the methods of analysis used for quantitative and qualitative primary data is delivered at master’s level; higher than what is required for a UG dissertation.

What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?

The cultural background of the student is significant. Students from South-East Asia find it particularly challenging to think it correct to criticise academics (Hofstede, 1991). Turner (2006) found that Chinese students can under achieve on critical thinking due to a lack of clarity as to what is expected in terms of cultural practices. A student’s skill of critical analysis is linked to their confidence to express their opinion. However, many students are reluctant to do so (Barker,1997). The practice of students working in mixed cultural teams as part of their postgraduate learning is well established in management education. It is based on sound pedagogy and prepares the students for their future careers (Gabriel & Griffiths, 2008). However, many international students find it difficult to engage in discussions and team work activities (Holmes, 2005; Parks & Raymond, 2004; Ramsey & Mason,2004). If the student’s experience of working in teams is poor, this can have a negative halo effect over the whole master’s programme (Gabriel & Griffiths, 2008). Ramsden (2008) cites information and computer technology as a key contributor to evolving student and teacher expectations. The institutional adoption of virtual learning environments (VLEs) has been extensive in recent years (Browne, Jenkins, & Walker, 2006). Garrison and Kanuka (2004) found significant advantages to the student as a supplement to traditional face to face teaching, and the academic practice of campus-based students can benefit significantly from technology enhanced blended learning approaches (Littlejohn & Pegler, 2007). Online materials and collaboration can be particularly valuable to international students in supporting processes of reflection and review.

Where to next - in terms of mastersness - if anywhere?

Monitoring the profile of master’s students on enrolment and adjusting the support programme appropriately. Refinement of the Post Graduation learning Model (Coates & Dickinson, 2012).

References

  • Barker, J. (1997). The purpose of study, attitudes to study and staff–student relationships. In D. McNamara & R. Harris (Eds.), Overseas students in HE: Issues in teaching and learning (pp. 108–123). London: Routledge.
  • Brown, L. (2007). A consideration of the challenges involved in supervising international masters students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31(3), 239–248.
  • Browne, T., Jenkins, M., & Walker, R. (2006). A longitudinal perspective regarding the use of VLEs by higher education institutions in the United Kingdom. Interactive Learning Environments, 14(2), 177–192.
  • Coates N & Dickinson J (2012): Meeting international postgraduate student needs: a programme-based model for learning and teaching support, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 49:3, 295-308
  • DfES. (2005). Harnessing technology: Transforming learning and children’s services.
  • Gabriel, Y., & Griffiths, D.S. (2008). International learning groups: Synergies and dysfunctions, management learning. Sage Publications, 39(5), 503–518.
  • Garrison, D.R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 7, 95–105.
  • Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organisation: Software of the mind. London: HarperCollins.
  • Holmes, P. (2005). Ethnic Chinese students communication with cultural others in a New Zealand University. Communication Education, 54(4), 289–311.
  • Littlejohn, A., & Pegler, C. (2007). Preparing for blended e-Learning. Routledge:Taylor & Francis.
  • Melles, G. (2009). Teaching and evaluation of critical appraisal skills to postgraduate ESL. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 46, 2, 161-170.
  • Parks, S., & Raymond, P. (2004). Strategy use by non-native English speaking students on an MBA programme: Not business as usual. The Modern Language Journal, 88(3), 374–389.
  • Ramsden, P. (2008). The future of Higher Education teaching and the student experience. York: HEA.
  • Ramsey, P., & Mason, R. (2004). Evaluating cross-cultural training: A model for balanced adjustment. In Proceedings: AHRD 2004 conference, Seoul, November 2004.
  • Skelton, J., & Richards, K. (1991). How critical can you get? In P. Adams, B. Heaton, & A. Howarth, (Eds.), Socio-cultural issues in English for academic purposes (Vols. 1, 2, pp. 70–72). London: Macmillan.
  • Turner, Y. (2006). Chinese students in a UK business school: Hearing the student voice in reflective teaching and learning practice. Higher Education Quarterly, 80(1), 25–51.

Author's name, contact details and institution

Nigel Coates, Principal Lecturer, Newcastle Business School,Faculty of Business and Law, Northumbria University, City Campus East 1, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST, Tel +44 191 227 3318, Email: nigel.coates@northumbria.ac.uk