Project-based courses building on teamwork, communication and collaboration skills are compulsory for all students at The University of Queensland (UQ) where 11% of first-year students identify themselves as international. Many of these students find difficulty in adapting to western culture, in particular the learning culture (Chang & Chin, 1999). Students are often accustomed to the Confucian system which commonly focuses on transmission-based learning (lectures) and assessment through technical competence (exams) and there is little to no team work in this system (Gorry, 2011). Teamwork underpinning two compulsory first-year project-based courses is evaluated through Peer Assessment (PA) that asks students to rate each other on the basis of four sub-areas: Teamwork and Leadership, Overall Contribution, Timeliness, and Quality of Work. PA occurs 4 times in the first-year of study; PA results are returned to student teams via a mentor to aid team development, and are also used to scale assessment marks. However international students (IS) perform poorly in these project-based courses, attracting low PA and grades due to poor quality of work, lack of contribution and/ or poor engagement (Chen & Kavanagh, 2013). In addition, domestic students have highlighted communication and lack of task understanding as problem areas for international students and domestic students often respond with discontent and resentment.
In order to address transitional barriers faced by IS, a series of support modules are designed through:
The four sub-areas of PA were investigated through graphical interpretation. Differences between the two cohorts (international vs. domestic) were then correlated with written feedback given by team members. Semantic analysis was carried out using the TeXTT online platform and Leximancer and findings were further verified by manual thematic analysis.
IS are graded lower in all PA categories, in particular Teamwork and Leadership, and Overall Contribution to the project. Feedback provided by peers and tutors highlight quietness and lack of participation in discussions as problem areas. A significant amount of IS were heavily penalised in the PA scores due to missing team meetings. Semantic analysis of student comments also showed inability to attend meetings in a timely fashion and quality of work as key barriers faced.
IS struggle to transition into project-based courses where they are required to work in teams. This is evident through skewed PA results and feedback provided by staff and team members. Language barriers as well as differences in educational expectations are likely to be the causes for the transitional barriers faced by IS. A contextual academic engineering language course has been designed and piloted following the findings of this research. This program will aid students in transitioning into foreign learning environments and integrate more effectively into engineering teams.
Peer assessment, International students, First-year, Teamwork.