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Technology and the international learning experience

How tech can help bridge the gaps between language and culture in international classrooms

Posted by Charley Rogers | May 25, 2017 | International

By Nicholas Waite, principal at Bellerbys College Cambridge

Technology is transforming classrooms across the world. Students are now accessing their course materials online, as well as participating in online study groups. Advancements in eLearning can help students collaborate better, as well as improve their ability to engage with teachers and course content.

In diverse, international classrooms, technology can offer additional benefits. For international students from non-English speaking backgrounds, technology can act like a familiar ‘language’. This helps bridge any communication gaps and unifies students from a variety of different educational backgrounds. Here are three examples of technology-based learning initiatives currently transforming international classrooms, and providing students with an improved learning experience:

1.     Blended learning

This hybrid form of learning uses technology to supplement the traditional process. It does this by integrating independent online study with face-to-face classroom activities. Students can access videos of lectures, review supporting materials, track their assignments and engage with professors and fellow students.

However, it takes more than just starting a chat room or uploading a lecture video to create a hybrid classroom. Successful blended learning occurs when technology and teaching work together to reach and teach students more effectively.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Teachers and lecturers can all use the same online environment yet create their own distinctive learning experiences. Some may prefer to use online media in the classroom as well as encourage students to login after class. Others could simply alternate between online and classroom instruction.

2.     Flipped classrooms

A flipped learning experience places a lot of importance on online study before class. Students prepare by reviewing course materials in their own time, meaning classroom facetime can be used to discuss key concepts, ask questions, and work on group projects.

Class time is essentially put to more productive use. Students have already been introduced to the course material and modules through their online study. Teachers can now help students get to grips with any complicated subject matter, and students can develop their study skills with guidance from their teachers.

3.     Virtual learning environment

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a type of web-based platform that allows students and teachers to manage different aspects of their study programme more effectively. VLEs typically support content management, forums, study resources, assessment forms, and homework.

Bellerbys uses a VLE known as StudySmart. Our teachers can communicate directly with their student groups, and students can participate in forum discussions, submit and track their assignments, and complete online tests or quizzes.

The benefits of a blended, flipped, and virtual learning experience

A traditional learning experience is prescriptive. Using technology, students can choose to learn in ways that are more familiar to them and at their own pace. This is especially important for international students who have a lot to adjust to: a new country, language, customs, education system and programme of study. The sooner an international student ‘feels at home’, the greater their chance of enjoying a successful learning experience.

ELearning initiatives also encourage students to take more ownership of their work. Students get to enjoy a more independent form of learning but this will require a certain level of self-discipline, motivation and good time management skills. With more direct access to study resources, students have to be more responsible for the success of their learning experience. It’s up to them to determine what needs to be done at each stage of the study programme. These are good life skills, preparing them both for university and for the world of work that awaits them after graduation.

Technology will never replace the role of the teacher, but it can improve how students communicate and interact with each other, as well as with their teachers. In a classroom of international students, this can create a learning experience that is inclusive, responsive and enriching.

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