The international education industry is Australia's third largest export sector, behind coal and iron ore, contributing $17 billion to the Australian economy and supporting more than 125,000 jobs (Access Economics, 2009). Australia is the preferred choice for international students from many countries and is the third most popular English-speaking study destination for these students. About half a million students come to Australia each year (AEI, 2010). Australia offers international students some 26,000 courses delivered by more than 1200 universities, training colleges and schools. About 20% of students enrolled in Australian universities are from overseas. The Australian Government has identified two aspects which will be fundamentally important to the future of Australian international education: quality and the student experience (Gillard, 2009). To remain competitive we need to continue to enhance our quality education and training system.
Research has highlighted that international students have different needs and issues to the local student population (Biggs, 2003). Particular challenges facing international students that distinguish their experiences from those of domestic students include the language barrier, culture shock, transition issues, learning while developing English language proficiency and learning the academic disciplinary discourse. Research has found that academics are aware of the learning needs of their international students, but may be unclear about how best to address those needs (Ryan, 2005).
In order to further encourage the use of different strategies and approaches in the area of international students' learning, this paper reports on our recent experience at the Perth Institute of Business and Technology (PIBT). PIBT is an educational institution providing courses at pre-university and university levels as the leading pathway option to Edith Cowan University (ECU), Perth. PIBT provides diploma courses in areas including Engineering Studies, which lead into the second year of the respective degree courses at ECU. A three-semester system allows students to fast-track their study and complete most courses in 8 months. PIBT staff are fully qualified with university teaching experience.
The program offered by PIBT includes introductory units taught during the first semester of the first engineering year at ECU. Surveys of international students' experiences in Australia noted that students were generally very positive about their experiences in their courses. However, the students said that they encountered problems to do with initiation into their course (University Planning Office, 2005). Introductory units are therefore very important for addressing these concerns. This paper relates to our experience concerning such a unit, Computer Fundamentals ENS1161. This unit is coordinated by ECU academic staff and is delivered at five institutions outside ECU, including PIBT, where it is taught by the ECU lecturer since 2009, initially by using the same delivery approach as at ECU. The results were, however, disappointing, with a pass rate as low as 40% in the first trimester of 2009 (figure 1). Although this seemed to be in line with the results for other units at PIBT, alternative ways to improve the pass rate and to increase the efficiency of delivering this unit at PIBT were investigated.
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The first clear issue the lecturer was able to identify was the lack of proper communication. Students enrolled in this unit at PIBT come from about twenty different countries and very often with insufficient English language skills (this being one of the reasons they have to study first at PIBT before going to university). Many of them are originally from countries where English may be spoken as a second or third language, or where English is only learnt as a foreign language in school, which leads to reluctance to talk in class. …