Digital Experiences of International Students – Challenging Assumptions



International education has for some time, even before the pandemic, used digitization as a complementary tool to face-to-face engagements between students, service providers and researchers.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen universities around the world migrating most, and in some cases all, of their courses and services to online environments, has prompted thought leaders and institutions in the higher education to accelerate their digital education strategies with notions of digital campus activation. as a necessary alternative to face-to-face teaching, learning and service delivery.

Almost immediately, however, the effectiveness of service delivery to national and international student communities was called into question. Institutions began to realize that the diverse student body was engaging in the digital environment in different ways.

Two key assumptions of practice and policy were called into question. First, students love digital and online engagement and would all easily jump into online or distance education. And second, that there is a unique approach or platform to engage with a wide range of students.

What institutions have learned over the past year is that the diversity of digital student experiences must be recognized if higher education is to successfully engage with new generations of students in the digital environment. .

As we expect institutions to continue to rely on their digital campuses, research on the digitization of international education must take more nuance and challenge all assumptions.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, we wrote the recently published book Digital experiences of international students: questioning assumptions and rethinking engagement.

To complete the collection of this book, we are also in the process of editing a “Digitization of international education” special issue, focusing on the disruptions and associated opportunities that challenge the industry.

Our own work and that of the authors who contributed to our book reveal that students struggle with a huge information overload spanning everything from studies to wellness on a plethora of platforms such as management systems. learning (LMS) and social media sites.

In addition, students experienced the digital space in various ways and using different platforms, thus showing diversity in their behaviors and experiences.

By examining the digital experiences of international students, the authors of our book offer both a broad and nuanced understanding of the challenges international students face in the complex digital environments they occupy.

Through a mix of conceptual, empirical and practice-based discussions around the digital experiences of international students, the authors highlight the dynamism of the international education space. They also present opportunities for the conceptual and practical development of frameworks and ideas in this evolving space.

The authors, whose experiences with international students are in different educational destinations, reveal the heterogeneity of students’ digital experiences. This raises some key considerations for institutions and service providers to rethink practices and adopt diverse approaches to communicating with and empowering students.

The authors highlight a number of key points for further research and innovative practices:

• The book reveals that institutions shouldn’t assume that all international students are “digital natives” just because they use popular social media platforms. The experiences, skills and attitudes of international students are very heterogeneous and a single approach does not take into account the diversity of individual needs.

• Developing and maintaining e-learning resources is the norm for many institutions. However, just as institutions recognize the diverse needs of international students in the face-to-face classroom, they should also recognize the diverse needs of international students in the online environment. This means that bringing teaching and learning resources online requires careful consideration of how students interact with online platforms, with each other and with faculty members in the digital space. .

• Professional development of international educators in the digital experiences of international students is essential. The goals of this professional development include understanding how students navigate learning in the digital environment; how institutions engage with alumni and support communities in transition, including the recognition that what constitutes a community may vary between different groups of students; and the potential of social media to support the transition.

• Beyond the classroom, the digital space is particularly important for the socialization of international students, as well as for their soft skills, their identity development and their well-being.

• Finally, the digital journeys of international students do not end when they graduate but continue even when they are alumni, with their online experiences in the host country affecting how they continue to search for information. after their return home.

The authors’ research and practical observations reveal that international students as well as domestic students continue to struggle with the digital environments of their institutions and tend to return to digital environments they are familiar with. This means that the potential for new international connections and interactions will continue to be limited if these digital experiences are not carefully designed, organized and shared with international students.

Based on this information, we argue that the online strategies of institutions and service providers require a thorough audit to ensure that there are no other assumptions that:

1) All students will find information and resources effectively while they are online.

2) Students will easily flock to their institution’s digital environment, as there are many other options.

3) National-international engagement will be done automatically online.

Therefore, we propose that institutions and service providers pay attention to cultural and lived experiences that impact how students from various countries interact and engage in the online space.

In particular, the digital engagement of an institution must be designed and scaffolded; faculty and staff need professional development to support their digitization efforts; and students need to know how and where to get information and how to engage online, recognizing that there is a diversity of digital experiences and skills.

To support this process, the book advocates building a more inclusive, engaging and internationalized digital environment for all students.

Catherine Gomes is Associate Professor in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Shanton Chang is Professor in the School of Computing and Information Systems and Associate Dean (International) in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Hilary Hughes is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice at Queensland University of Technology, Australia.


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