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‘Part of the Community?’ First Year International Students and their Engineering Teams

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Tom Joyce, Clare Hopkins


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The number of (non-European Union) international students in engineering has increased substantially over the past 10 years. In the School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering at Newcastle University first year students are organised into ‘Engineering Teams’ for two modules, in one of which they design and manufacture two small-scale wind turbines. Previous evaluation of the Engineering Team system showed a high level of appreciation although international students were more likely to experience it as challenging. To explore this in greater depth a mixed-method research design was used to obtain feedback from the entire first year international student group (N = 22) during 2012/2013. The study found that although many international students experienced no difficulties in working with team mates, where this did occur a pattern was recognisable. Some international students found it difficult to understand their peers' accented speech or dialect expressions, found it hard to integrate into their team, to be part of team conversations or in some cases perceived themselves as actively excluded from taking part in project activities. A smaller number of students experienced a loss of academic and social confidence and a subset withdrew to the periphery of their teams. A model of early international student adjustment is proposed together with three early interventions: (1) international students have another international team member; (2) all students have an opportunity to meet socially in an environment that promotes intercultural interaction; (3) all students are made aware of the potential for communication and other team difficulties to occur initially with a strong reminder that international communication is the responsibility of all students.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Joyce TJ, Hopkins C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Engineering Education

Year: 2014

Volume: 9

Issue: 1

Pages: 18-32

Online publication date: 01/07/2014

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

ISSN (print): 1750-0044

ISSN (electronic): 1750-0052

Publisher: Higher Education Academy

DOI: 10.11120/ened.2014.00019


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