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Teaching International Students

Online Guide to the information resources related to Teaching International Students

Education, Kinesiology, Counseling, Foreign Languages & Literatures

Todd Shipman's picture
Todd Shipman
2338G RBD Library

Diversity of Cultures & Learning Styles

Current & former AU Global students bring a diversity of experiences and a diversity of problem solving approaches. It is worth spending some time thinking about ways you can structure your class so that students are able to benefit from their own diversity. AU Global students want to succeed in your class but many have learning styles that are different than traditional Auburn students. Thus, it is important to maintain a learning environment that is accessible to all learners and learning styles.

Regardless of discipline, level, or class size, two pedagogical design practices that have been proven to improve student success not only for international but traditional students as well: Collaborative Learning & Universal Design. There are a variety of quick ways to incorporate these two practices into classes you are currently teaching or are planning to teach. 

Collaborative Learning

To make the most out of the assets that a diverse class brings, you need to incorporate a structure for peer-to-peer learning. This could take the form of Team Based Learning—a pedagogical approach in which you design course content to be introduced outside of class (i.e. you have students do the things they can do by themselves outside of class) and use class time to present meaningful challenges and problems that require a team to solve. This is NOT group work where you simply form groups to solve problems or answer questions that may or may not demand input from all group members. This is powerful form of learning and the best way to ensure that your class time maximizes the assets that a diverse student body offers. If you do not have time to redesign your course for team based learning, you can still promote peer-to-peer learning in or out of class, in a number of ways:

            Canvas Groups

            Study Teams

            Peer Reviews & Feedback Sessions

            Discussion Questions

            Complex Problem Solving Challenges

The most important practice to follow when forming teams is ensuring functional diversity (i.e. people who don’t all approach or solve problems in the same way). Because it’s difficult to assess functional diversity, a good rule of thumb is to use identity diversity to form teams. Identity diversity includes aspects such as gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, GPA, major, etc. Do not let students form their own teams (like attracts like), you should select teams based on the diversity factors that are most important to your subject.

There are a lot of quick, easy ways to form diverse teams in large or small classes: CATME, Canvas – Random Group Generator, In class activities where students are asked to form a line based on a diversifying characteristic (alphabetic by major, closest to fartherst geographically, etc.), or, in large classes, TAs can facilitate this among smaller portions of a very large class either in person or using online tools ( is the best). 

For more information or ideas, we suggest you start with these two excellent Learning Guides:


Diversity of Cultures & Learning Styles

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.

When teaching AU Global students, you cannot assume that cultural references and analogies will carry the same meaning (idioms, holidays, sports, clothing, etc.). As most AU Global students are multilingual, you also can’t assume that these students have the same level of English skills as native speakers. Your responsibility as a teacher is not to treat these students differently or provide support outside and above other students. Your responsibility is to ensure equal access to course material for all students. Although some professors don’t consider accessibility until they receive an accommodation request, it is important to follow the principles of Universal Design in every course. Not only does this practice lead to better success for international and multilingual students, it is beneficial to all students as it ensures that important class content is presented in more than one format.

If your lectures contain critical course material, be sure that you provide access to that material in more than one way. Many professors are hesitant to use Panopto lecture capture, share slides, or provide recaps on lectures for fear that it will dissuade students from attending lectures. To avoid this scenario, many professors use iclickers to encourage student participation and record attendance in large lectures; others use in-class assessments (a quiz or participation question) to ensure attendance and preparation; TBL is another method proven to deter absenteeism and promote accessibility to course content as students become resources for each other (which also cuts down on emails asking instructors to repeat information given in class).

There is no single “right” way to incorporate Universal Design into your course. Only you know what is best for your subject and teaching style. Just remember, when designing courses and class plans, that accessibility requires important course content to be presented in more than one way (spoken, written, filmed, audio recorded, shared notes, slides, etc.) and at more than one time in order to accommodate individual learning differences. 

UDL At A Glance

Universal Design Tips for Instruction

·       Provide textbooks, handouts, and other documents in electronic forms. Electronic forms improve access for students with diverse needs. Visually impaired students could use various technology options to listen to or enlarge the text for easier reading. English as a second language learner could take advantage of online dictionaries and thesauruses.

·       Provide class notes online to improve access to information. Most students, regardless of their ability to take notes or effectively listen, will benefit from this UD approach. Students utilizing assistive technology benefit by having immediate access to the notes.

·       Consider using Canvas to post the course syllabus and the other course information listed above. While Canvas is accessible, make sure files posted to the course are in an accessible format.

·       Encourage students to share their notes online with other classmates

·       Consider using a lecture capture program such as Panopto to provide students an alternate method to receive lecture materials. Visit for some examples of instructors using Panopto to supplement their teaching.

·       Consider implementing the use of LiveScribe in your courses as a supplement to your teaching and tutoring. Contact the Office of Accessibility for more information on this tool and how it could be used in your classroom.

·       Clearly repeat and clarify student’s questions and comments; this will benefit students with hearing impairments and students whose first language is not English.

·       Describe audibly what you are drawing, when using a board or other technology. When drawing on a board or some other technology, be sure to describe audibly what is being drawn. Students who are blind and have low vision rely heavily on audible descriptions of drawings. Providing written descriptions in advance of the lecture will improve a student’s ability to follow the lecture effectively.

·       Provide a rubric that clearly addresses course expectations and grading for exams, projects and assignments.

·       Ensure videos are captioned and turned on during class viewings.

·       Serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman, Georgia) are more readable when printed, both serif and sans-serif (e.g., Arial, Verdana) fonts are appropriate when displaying text onscreen. The font should be clean and readable.


You can learn more about Universal Design at the Auburn Office of Accessibility Website