Even the most complicated problems can be solved with simple tools. Before you begin, however, you need to figure out what are problems your institution needs to address. International student retention problems? Here are the most common ones:
Sense of no belonging
Loneliness is one of the key reasons for international students to drop out. That’s why you need to make sure they feel welcomed and heard. What kind of opportunities are there for students to connect online with other members of the community? How can your students address any issues they are having?
How to address this need?
- Set up Facebook groups and make sure they are active: This is a very simple action some universities choose to skip only because of being that obvious. Set up groups for classes, topics or clubs. Then, get someone to moderate them and keep the flow of useful information. Make sure that students join these groups before they come on campus. In this way, they could start forming relationships even before meeting in real life. In addition, alumni groups can be a great tool for retention. Keeping in touch with undergraduates definitely helps when they start picking their graduate degrees.
- Use Google Drive: If you are not able to develop a bespoke system for sharing files and materials on all subjects, Google Drive is a simple, convenient, and, above all, free solution! It is way past the time when students had to write down the key points during a lecture. PPTs or reading lists need to be online even before the lectures, so students can have full access to all materials and can study at their own pace. Google Drive is great for collaboration, organizing various types of events, sharing questionnaires or presentations.
- Invite students to use specialized social media: Having a discussion on Goodreads about the latest book they’ve read or reviewing a movie on Mubi might seem to have no direct impact on international student life. In fact, being able to connect through common interests is one of the fastest ways to make friends. Doing that on social media provides a much appreciated no-strings-attached way of finding out which classmate could make a great friend. So, setting up an online Book or Movie club online will help connect international students who could otherwise never get the chance to meet each other.
Poor time management
Being overwhelmed by heavy workload and not being able to focus are common problems on campus. What kind of time management and productivity techniques are your students using to achieve their goals? How are you helping them to get these lifelong skills?
- Introduce students to the basics of time management: Even though time seems unlimited when you are in your early 20s, the clock starts ticking at the speed of light the night before an important exam. During orientation and even later on, you can provide students with various productivity methodologies. For example, things like the Pomodoro technique, “eating the frog” or Scrum can change people’s lives.
- Make time management apps part of the daily learning experience: Discuss with your faculty members and try implementing a time management apps. It could be Trello, Asana, Meistertask or others. Choose what fits your style of working best and start using it as a tool for collaborative learning experience. Anyway, chances are that your students will have to use these apps later in their professional lives – so why not make using them a habit today?
- Provide students with tools to reflect on their time: You can have Rescue time, Toggl or other programs for time tracking and seeing where students spend most of their time online (Hint: it’s Facebook). Another useful tool is website blocking apps. They enable users to set up time periods of work and rest – and block selected websites during those times. Try Website Blocker or others to get the full experience.
Not being able to keep up
Culture shock or language barrier can become a real issue when the student is not able to understand the topic. Not to mention that different approaches to learning (i.e. lectures or group discussions) often confuse international students who are used to different types of education systems. In those cases, what kind of individual learning opportunities are there for your international students?
- Offer blended learning opportunities: Most universities already have at least part of their curriculum online, either on their websites or on online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, etc. Encourage online learning and provide students with opportunities to review the materials before they come to the classroom. Important: make sure online learning is just an addition to, and not a replacement of traditional learning.
- Provide students with video office hours: Nobody should get to wait until every other Thursday at 7pm in order to get a quick chat with their professor. Professors also would be happy if they could stir things up a bit and talk with students from the comfort of their homes. Make video office hours a tradition – it could be via Facebook Live, Skype or Google Hangouts. Don’t forget to set rules – for example, to use MUTE button when they are not talking.
Being invisible until it’s too late
Preventing international students from dropping out can be done by simply noticing when they are starting to display the first signs of decreased motivation. What kind of systems are there for getting data about international student retention?
- Use a learning management system: All businesses use client relationship management systems (CRMs) to keep track of their target audience past, present and future behaviour. For some reason, this practice still hasn’t caught up in the field of education – and that’s just sad. Knowing exactly what students are doing, how much seminars they have skipped or what kind of classes they prefer provides an amazing statistical goldmine. Imagine that every year you can clearly know the point where your students begin to slack off or excel. Use Persistence, Proretention, Moodle or other learning management systems.
Uff, that was a long text. But we sincerely hope you will find it useful!
Feel free to share your own advice on tools that saved and improved your international student retention in the comments below!