Teaching International Students Remotely
Many of UNC’s international students won’t be able to come to campus for fall semester but will be enrolled remotely. As you design and teach your courses, please consider these factors and suggestions to help students engage in your courses more fully.
- Participation and inclusion: Time zone differences may affect students’ ability to join classes synchronously. Some students may be frustrated that they can’t join the live lecture and discussion sections, or they may not feel that they’re really a part of your learning community. Think about how you can include them–solicit ideas from on-campus and remote students about how the community could feel more inclusive. Learn more about your students’ locations in this time zone map.
- Teaching strategies: See Keep Teaching UNC for teaching strategies that promote equitable asynchronous participation. The site contains valuable tutorials for using the technologies, and the Modes of Teaching page has great examples of what different course activities look like in various modes.
- Group projects: Ask international students if they’d prefer to work on group projects with people closer to their own time zone, if possible. Ask on-campus students to try to schedule live project meetings that accommodate the time differences. See below about collaboration software for group projects.
- Deadlines: Consider students who are up to 18 hours ahead of UNC time as you post assignments and set deadlines. Set later “accept until” dates in Sakai. If a precise hourly deadline is important, give your students plenty of notice about the impending time change (November 1). This will be more important in the spring (March 14), when we lose an hour. Many countries don’t observe Daylight Saving Time, so your students may be unaware.
- Office hours: Provide alternatives to your scheduled office hours by offering “by appointment” meetings that are more convenient in distant time zones.
- Internet access: Stable high-speed internet access may not be available to all of your students. If they’re able to join synchronously, allow them to participate without video to conserve bandwidth. Limited speed and bandwidth may also affect your students’ ability to use the software in the Virtual Lab.
- UNC platforms: UNC’s primary platforms (ConnectCarolina, Sakai, Zoom, and OneDrive) are currently not blocked in China, so students will have the greatest access to these platforms. However, students have reported these issues: very slow logins and page loads, forced terminations, and “failure to submit” messages with online tests. Consider alternative assessments that don’t rely on stable internet access.
- Website blocking: Many websites, social media, and streaming platforms are blocked in other countries, especially in China, so your students may not be able to watch YouTube videos, contribute to a Google doc or a Slack project, read a New York Times article, etc., even if the materials are embedded in a non-blocked website. If possible, download content and post it directly on your Sakai site instead of using links. Set videos up to open inside Sakai rather than requiring students to download.
- Collaboration platforms and group projects: Many platforms (e.g., Slack, Trello, Google, WhatsApp) are not available in China. If group projects rely on collaboration software and messaging apps, encourage students to confer with their international group mates on what is available to them. This may be students’ first experience using collaborative platforms, so it’s worth the time to assess their level of familiarity and provide some instruction on effectively using them.
- Domain checker: Check to see if a domain is blocked in China using sites like Comparitech. See a brief list of other countries that censor the internet in this ReadWrite article. Note: students may be able to visit restricted sites if they set up their UNC vpn; however, many censoring countries actively thwart vpn technology, so students’ access may be unreliable.
Language and culture
- Comprehension: UNC students who use English as an additional language have achieved a very high level of English proficiency, but their proficiency may be stretched in a remote instructional setting. Recording classes with captions is helpful for all students, but when instructors speak quickly, have unfamiliar accents, and use idiomatic speech, recording and captions are especially helpful for international students. Students can review the recording as often as needed, using captions to support their listening comprehension. Captioning in Zoom requires typing the captions for live captioning but has a setting to generate audio transcripts of recorded sessions. Captioning in Warpwire also requires typing, but Warpwire can add captions if an .srt file is available. Captioning in PowerPoint and in Google Slides requires enabling settings or simply clicking the CC icon. Presentations are automatically captioned while you speak! Posting slides and notes also helps. Headphones or earbuds also help students hear your voice more clearly, so encourage their use.
- Confidence: Many students are self-conscious about communicating in imperfect English because they fear it will reflect badly on their intelligence. Multilingual students may find the task of posting on message boards to be especially daunting since any sentence-level errors will be seen by the entire class. Making the purpose and expectations clear for any public posting can help to alleviate some of the pressure multilingual students may feel. This can be reinforced by focusing on and responding to the content of posts while ignoring any sentence-level errors.
- Content: Students from China may be reluctant to comment on topics that may be sensitive to their government, no matter what their feelings are, because of possible retribution. Try to provide ways for students to demonstrate their engagement with the topic without putting themselves at potential risk.
- Source use: Students working remotely may or may not have a higher risk of improperly integrating or citing sources, but remoteness may increase their anxiety about inadvertently plagiarizing. Encourage your students to share their concerns, to get feedback on their source-use practices, and to use resources like our handout on plagiarism. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and help them while they learn this very complex set of skills.
- Encourage students to use the resources of the Writing Center and the Learning Center.
- See our page on Teaching Multilingual Students for more information about students and for specific teaching strategies for both international and domestic multilingual students.
- See the Indiana University webinar Connecting With and Engaging International Students in Online Courses.
- Also see the University of Washington’s collection of Ways to Help Your ESL Students.