Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experiences and Challenges of International Students in Technology-Rich Learning Environments

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experiences and Challenges of International Students in Technology-Rich Learning Environments

Article excerpt

Introduction

Trends in international Higher Education point toward an increase in technology-enhanced education (online education). In this context, the use of virtual learning environments (VLEs) has a particularly strong standing, as this type of learning technology is widely implemented throughout Higher Education. VLEs are online systems that typically allow for making course material available in a structured way and provide a platform for synchronous and asynchronous discussions. Literature on VLE use in Higher Education reports that the use of VLEs contributes to the shaping of teaching and learning activities (Blin & Munro, 2008; McGill & Hobbs, 2008), even if the technology is used primarily for making teaching material available online, for the administration of courses, or for automating time-consuming processes such as testing. However, different institutions and different disciplines and professions use the technology differently (Johannesen & Habib, 2010a). In some cases, the technology is used as a tool to support critical thinking, scaffold collaboration and facilitate processes whereby students produce their own study material and create their own learning tasks (Johannesen & Habib, 2010b). Over the last few years, social media have made their entrance on the educational scene, often raising hopes that they would deliver novel learning experiences to students (Shaltry, Henriksen, Wu, & Dickson, 2013), but questions have been raised about their capacity to facilitate debate (Friesen & Lowe, 2011).

Scandinavian institutions are attractive on the international Higher Education market, presumably due to relatively low tuition. This situation brings about challenges for Scandinavian universities and colleges, which have to cater for a growing diversity among students, in terms of language, culture, and academic background. In this article, we examine how international students use and relate to learning technologies in a predominantly monocultural context, using the theoretical and methodological lens of Actor-Network Theory (ANT).

Literature review

International students cannot be characterized as a homogenous group, but the relevant literature generally deals with one of two categories of international students: (1) students from what can be referred to as the Global South (which is also commonly labeled as the Third World or developing countries), and (2) students enrolled in institutions from the Global North on an exchange or internationalization programme.

* Students from the Global South have probably experienced the so-called digital divide, a divide in terms of economy, access, knowledge and power (Ferro, 2010; Haddad, 2002; Hilbert, 2011; Wolff & MacKinnon, 2002; Carm & Ogrim, 2013). Many countries in the Global South are lagging far behind the North when it comes to technological infrastructure and penetration of personal technology (InternetWorldStats, 2012), even if the Global South as a whole experiences the highest rise in technology index (World Bank, 2009). As a result, the students from the Global South are likely to lack familiarity with technology that their Scandinavian counterparts may take for granted. In Scandinavia, those students normally enrol into the regular teaching, which is typically provided in a Scandinavian language (or, exceptionally, in English, if required by the study programme).

* Students enrolled in institutions in the Global North come to Scandinavia typically for a limited period of time (one or two semesters) mostly with funding from internationalization programmes such as Erasmus. They are typically in their middle or final year of studies, and have therefore acquired some knowledge of Higher Education from their first few years of study. There may be differences in terms of level of available technology between their home institutions and the Scandinavian institutions they come to, but those are generally less significant than those that their counterparts from the Global South are likely to experience. …

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