Otago Polytechnic

How do international students negotiate learning in their academic social spaces?

New Zealand is a popular destination for students from many other countries. International students need to socialize themselves into new practices, norms, values, and ideologies when they enter a new academic environment - for example, the practice of peer feedback in a classroom context - which could influence their learning experience.

Dr Behnam Soltani, a Senior Researcher at our Auckland International Campus (AIC), has studied the experience of international students in New Zealand tertiary contexts. He explores the challenges international students face in their new learning environments, the strategies they employ to overcome those challenges, and how they learn the new ways of being, acting, and becoming in their new spaces. Behnam followed six international students for three semesters at a New Zealand tertiary institution. He sat in classes with them, observing their interactions, asked them to keep diaries, and interviewed them weekly about their experiences. He also interviewed their tutors and lecturers. 

Generally speaking, the international students participated actively in classes while they were learning English with others for whom it was also an additional language, but tended to be silent in classes they shared with New Zealand-born English speakers. The international students were able to contribute actively to the discussions online in the written mode, but they were unable to participate in real classroom activities because they were not familiar with knowledge construction through constant collaboration, attending to what the others contributed to the interaction and collaboratively building up knowledge in mutual interactions and moving the discussion forward. 

Behnam developed the concept of academic social space, which recognises that our environment shapes our relationships with others in that space. How instructors and education institutions design and present the physical and online environments affects how the participants experience the learning spaces. For international students, socializing themselves into the new norms and practices of their new learning environments would help them to participate more effectively in their new environments and act as more effective members of their new academic social spaces.