Supporting International Students

In Humanities 55.4% of all PGT students and 25.9% of UG students are international students (2020-21 Figures), which represents significant numbers of our student body. However, international students are often treated as a homogenous collective group, which ignores the diversity present between students from different cultures and contexts. There is also a tendency for international students to be taught through what we call a ‘deficit narrative’, where they are assumed to lack certain skills or proficiencies necessary for success or be perceived as needing to ‘catch up’ compared to home students.

Building on subject specialism in pedagogies with international students, Jenna Mittelmeier advocates for more inclusive approaches to our work with international students. She particularly advocates for developing more transformative pedagogies that are supportive of a wider range of diversity present in the classroom. Particularly questions for reflection include:

  • What assumptions am I making about my students and their knowledges?
  • What barriers might my practices put up for various groups of students to succeed?
  • What about my practice might be making cultural assumptions or be culturally-based?
  • Where does the knowledge I teach come from? Why is it included and whose voices are being ignored?
  • To what extent does my teaching treat students as pedagogic partners and epistemic equals?

Finally, Jenna shares suggestions for good practice for supporting international students whether on or off campus (see Top Tips below).

  • Inclusiveness
  • Higher attaintment
Top Tips

Basics for communication

  • Slowing down the speaking pace
  • Using more simplified language
  • Avoiding or explaining culturally-specific examples, acronyms, slang, etc.
  • Giving definitions or synonyms for new or advanced vocabulary
  • Repeating important points or signposting that they are essential to students
  • Using subtitle features for videos played in class
  • Including closed captioning on online videos or session recordings
  • Using the automated live subtitle feature in Zoom during class or meetings
  • Using asynchronous methods of communication (wikis, forums, blogs, etc.)
  • Providing opportunities for anonymous contributions during discussions
  • Using whiteboard features in Zoom or Collaborate to write down important points from discussions
  • Sharing your own notes from the session or crowdsourcing notes that students can share as a class (such as using a joint Google Doc between students)
  • Providing digital copies of slides
  • Offering key points using multiple senses (oral and written, for example)
  • Recording teaching sessions for students to return to again
  • Allowing students to use technology in the classroom, such as translators or computers

Developing longer term support

  • Scaffolding readings by providing explicit reflection questions or areas to focus on
  • Sharing discussion topics or questions ahead of class for pre-reflection
  • Creating glossaries of key class terms as reference materials
  • Creating glossaries of key assessment terms (describe, discuss, critique, etc.)
  • Differentiating materials so that not all homework is written (including audio, visual, etc. materials)
  • Annotating readings to point out key points or explain challenging ideas in more simplified language
  • Developing assessments that provide a range of options for students to choose their own perceived strengths

Co-creating with students

  • Co-creating a shared ‘code of conduct’ with students at the start of class for how we conduct class (example: how will questions be asked in class?)
  • Co-creating reading lists with students for discussion sessions or the assignment
  • Asking students to bring in their own example articles or artefacts for discussions
  • Allowing students to choose their own topics for assessment or mode of assessment
  • Reviewing submitted assignment reference lists for inclusions in following years

Supporting (alternative forms of) participation in discussions

  • Developing set discussion groups or project groups that students use throughout the semester to become more comfortable with a smaller group of peers
  • Providing discussion questions in advance so that students can reflect early on what points they may want to add
  • Developing mechanisms for adding to the conversation that don’t rely ‘blurting out’
  • Providing avenues for non-verbal participation e.g. Using audience interaction tools: Mentimeter, AhaSlides, etc.; using pre-session tasks (forums, discussion boards, wikis, group discussion tasks)
  • Allowing use of the chat function online rather than verbal participation
  • Recognising silence as a valid form of participation


Scaffolding study skills

  • Explaining the purposes and goals of activities like group work or peer feedback
  • Explicitly teaching skills such as group work and critical thinking
  • Scaffolding your own critical thinking process (‘When I read this, I wonder…’)
  • Pointing out writing structures or technique in readings that might be helpful in communicating students’ own work


Supporting general logistics when teaching online

  • Explicitly stating in all communications that times are listed as UK times
  • Recording key sessions that cannot be held during waking hours in other time zones
  • Using the online firewall checkerand Wikipedia to confirm if resources are accessible in countries such as China
  • Providing guidance for using the university’s VPN service both in students’ programme induction and in individual courses
  • Providing online resources in an alternative format for websites that are not available or accessible for all students



Heng T. T. (2018) Different is not deficient: contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education. Studies in Higher Education. 43(1)

Lomer, S. & Mittelmeier, J. (2020). Ethical challenges of hostinginternational Chinese students. In M. Natzler (ed).UK Universities and China. Higher Education Policy Institute.

School of Enviroment Education and Development (SEED) Working Group: Pedagogies with International students (2020). Working with International Students in Blended and Online settings

Humanities Best Practice Toolkit, Engaging Large Cohorts of International Students, October 2019



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School: Manchester Institute of Education (SEED)

Academic: Jenna Mittlemeier

Course: EDUC

Themes: Student Support, International students

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