Supporting postgraduate international students promoting student-led learning from induction to completion


When did you first introduce the innovation?

Between 12 and 24 months ago

Please describe the innovation you have developed

This is a project about continuous support to post-graduate international students from accepting an offer of a place in our University, to arrival to the University, during the first week, first semester and throughout the course until their completion. Based on the scaffolding concept (Wood et al 1976), the objectives are to involve existing students in the induction programme and to continue the induction process and pastoral support throughout the year by providing regular non-credit bearing seminars, social events, ensuring students receive support throughout the entire course.

What prompted you to develop this innovation?

Postgraduate courses consist of one-year intensive learning. International students can feel anxious leaving their job, friends and family, doing a course in a new environment with different teaching and learning styles and a different system. Induction should be aspirational and developmental rather than prescriptive information giving and it should not only happen in the first week of the course. Hence we have developed this year-long, longitudinal/extended induction project, promoting positive orientation to the course and gradual integration to student life in Leeds. It provides an initial instructional approach to a constructional, student-led, peer supported, independent learning environment, improving student learning experience and a sense of togetherness within the School and Faculty.

In your view, what is it about this innovation that makes it different/important?

Traditional induction has tended to be an information giving exercise with the danger that students are overloaded with information. Post-graduate courses also tend to be intensive and demanding. Our experience is that students who come to UK to do a Masters degree arrive the week before the course, go straight into an information heavy induction week and start intensive studying straight away with no time to settle in. The gradual and continuous support that we provide for students throughout the year will improve integration and retention, student engagement, socialisation, sense of belonging and identity, celebrate diversity, improve student satisfaction, providing a Community of Practice environment (Wenger 1998) and promoting learning in a supportive environment.

For new students, it will support a smooth transition and positive start of the course, giving them a sense of welcoming and belonging, enjoy a positive learning experience, feeling of inclusion leading to successful completion of the course. For existing students, it will promote student engagement, student led activity encouraging students to take responsibilities, promote a sense of ownership and co-authorship of a supportive programme, building each student’s capacity and confidence in becoming an independent learner and promote lifelong learning. For the University, it helps streamline admission, induction, personal tutoring and student supporting process, further developing a supportive learning environment for international students and improve student retention. Evaluation from students and alumni shows their appreciation and very positive comments.

To what extent does your innovation make use of existing approaches, resources or technologies?

Our approach to teaching and learning has always been student-centred (Rogers, 1969), interactive and dialogical (Dewey, 1916; Freire, 1972). We learn both formally and informally (Eraut, 2004). Social interaction is important (Vygotsky, 1978). This initiative gives students a voice on how they want to be supported throughout the whole year. We make use of advanced interactive technologies such as Facebook and our progressive and ever improving Virtual Learning Environment, MyBeckett to improve communication. Using admission information from the international and admission office, prospective students can join the existing international student support group’s Facebook page and share information with existing students. Advice and reassurance can be provided, any queries will be answered by existing students before they leave their home country.

In the first week of induction, only essential information will be given, avoiding information overload. Existing students will be involved in the first week’s induction programme, follow on social activities and 2 weekly seminars. New students will be given time to get to know each other, the University and Leeds by sharing experiences with existing students. Introductory information is facilitated through small group interactive activities, designed to provide an aspirational as well as inspirational and developmental understanding of their learning. Throughout the academic year, building on the existing personal tutoring system, 2-weekly seminars will be organised to provide on-going support. It will include information giving, pastoral support, social gatherings and field trips. PhD students will be involved to share ideas as part of Leeds Beckett community, providing a platform to showcase their work. The initial seminar is set by the course team based on their past experience and their understanding of student needs. It will then move to student-led activities as discussed and negotiated with students themselves.

To what degree has this innovation led to changes in education or clinical practice?

Induction week has been an important event for the University. With this longitudinal induction, the induction period does not just happen in the first week, we have continued to provide regular seminars throughout the year providing students with extra academic and pastoral support. Seminars have been expanded to cover all interesting developments in health promotion, involving external collaborative and community partners. Social activities continue to be organised throughout the year, promoting a sense of belonging, and a sense of identity and a supportive environment within the School.

What evidence do you have of the impact of the innovation?

Continuous evaluation was carried out throughout the year via regular contacts with student and staff colleagues. Specific course based evaluation was carried out after the first induction week, then at the end of semester 1 and semester 2. Seminar activities were monitored regarding the types, attendance and satisfaction of the activities. Students’ progression and completion rates were also monitored via enhancement and development meetings and annual review of the course. Facebook activities were monitored by the project team. Evaluation from students was very positive. They valued the support provided by the tutors, improving their learning experience and their learning journey.

Quotes from students – ‘The group brought together International Students from different countries, and created an avenue for us to share ideas and plan activities together. It made us feel connected in a foreign country’.

‘The group’s existence provided me with confidence and assurance of support in the event of any challenges I might have had. It was an excellent platform to interact with and learn from students and staff alike from diverse background. Everyone was welcome to contribute and make suggestions, improving confidence and a sense of belonging. The meetings (and events) were social and provided a good break from studying and academic work’.

To what degree has the innovation been disseminated in your organisation or elsewhere?

Progress has been reported at staff meetings and School Leadership meetings. A presentation was given at the CLT conference to the university staff. Students were invited to present their view themselves to the Faculty Leadership Team meeting. A report was also written for the Centre for Learning and Teaching. This initiative was further developed and modified (e.g. including student buddies), and taken forward to our off-site course in Ghana. This was also modified to develop a ‘non-credit bearing’ module (an extra space in our VLE) for our on-line distance learning students to provide continuous communication and support to our distance learning students throughout the year.

Please provide details of any plans you have to disseminate the innovation in the future.

In addition to the above, the staff team are planning to write up the experience for publication to share the experience with other academic colleagues.