Technology Advice for First Year International Students in US Colleges

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

International students in the United States, whether they are native English-speakers or English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), face some unique challenges when attending American universities. Jiongcheng “Arthur” Xu, in “Five Ways to Prepare for Freshman Year at a U.S. College,” encourages incoming freshmen who are international students to take advantage of technology to prepare themselves for their experience. I think two of his ideas are especially relevant for all international students whether they are coming to the US or going elsewhere.

His first suggestion is to practice writing. He rightly points out that the US educational system relies heavily on reading and writing, whether it is traditional classwork or communicating with classmates through FaceBook and texting. Recently, I was at a conference in Croatia, and one young woman shared her experience as an international student who had never used a classroom management system.

She did not realize at first that her instructors expected her to take some responsibility for her learning by logging on regularly and accessing course materials, reading and corresponding either through the site or through email with the instructor and fellow students, and participating in online discussions. Not only is the online learning environment a different paradigm than many international students are accustomed to, but each of these activities requires different writing skills and not always the 5-paragraph essay that students of English are often taught.

Another suggestion that he made was to find university lectures in English online and watch them. Not only will they improve their listening and note-taking skills, they will get an idea of how professors in the US conduct a class. I would also recommend that they try to find recordings of classes in which there is interaction among students. One of the skills that a language learner may need to learn is how much information to give and how long to talk before yielding the floor to another speaker. I have found that sometimes when international students have finally gotten up the nerve to participate in a class, they do not understand the unspoken rules of turn-taking and quantity of speech that is appropriate in certain situations.

What has your experience been with using technology for college preparation, either as an international student or as a teacher of international students?

3 Responses

  1. Lynn, this is really good advice for international students new to US colleges and to online courses. I guess some or many are so used to waiting for directions from teachers that the thought of taking the initiative to review the schedule and complete activities on their own is truly foreign. They need to be told, up front, that it’s okay to act on their own, that they don’t need to wait for permission or orders from a teacher.

    The reading-writing demand in online courses is especially critical for all students, but moreso for ESOL students. Many aren’t prepared for anything beyond comprehension and grammar exercises. Actually using English to communicate with professors and classmates is a new and challenging experience.

    I’m glad you’re raising this issue for discussion.

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