Best practices of teaching and engaging international students in online learning

Dr. Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh
30 Nov 2023

Best Practices of Teaching and Engaging International Students in Online Learning

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International education has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 till 2022. However, in recent years, international student numbers are on the rise globally. The pandemic has accelerated teaching delivery innovations, with a combination of face-to-face and online delivery. These hybrid models present domestic and international students with new learning and teaching opportunities. However, teaching international students can be challenging, either online or face-to-face. It can also be fruitful if one knows how to engage with international students in the learning and teaching environments, especially online. In Australia, specifically, international students can take online subjects – at least 1/3 of their degree. Therefore, it is important to teach and engage international students in the online learning environment. Dr. Singh has several best practices to inform higher education educators in engaging and teaching international students, particularly in the online settings.

Dr. Singh suggests

1) Use the chat function

Dr. Singh, herself an international academic, observed that international students were comfortable in communicating via the chat function as opposed to talking to Dr. Singh directly during the workshop. This behaviour emulates what usually happened in face-face-face teaching prior to the pandemic, when international students would ask questions or seek clarifications not in the classroom itself, but either before or after the class, in private. International students are much more comfortable in using private and safe space in communicating with the teaching staff member(s). Dr. Singh also used the chat function frequently to communicate with international students and also used it to provide workshop materials for students. This action especially benefited international students, as they were able to read and comprehend the material prior to the virtual classroom activity.

The chat feature can also be utilised as a non-verbal communication tool for international students to ask questions, seek clarifications, address questions, and communicate with other students and the workshop facilitator.

2) Employ the screen sharing function

The screen sharing function either in Zoom, Teams, or other online teaching platforms allows lecturers to display PowerPoint slides and view related videos and other reading materials, so that international students are able to follow the topic under discussion during the virtual classroom. International students do prefer to read short notes and slides due to their English proficiency. Flexibility in learning is important to international students, because they can comprehend and deliberate further on the reading materials better without time pressures. In addition, to create active engagement in the online workshop/class and promote interactivity, screen sharing was also used to generate discussion via the annotate function. International students were interested in participating in online activities as long as they were able to write on the screen as opposed to verbal communication. In addition, it is important to be providing activities, such as case studies, that were universal in context and were not skewed towards host country alone, so that international students would be able to feel included and participate in the discussion unreservedly.

3) Breakout room tool

The breakout room is also vital to emulate small face-to-face group discussions in an online learning environment. Although international students prefer passive learning method or teacher-centred modes of learning, it is important for international students to have a supportive learning environment with their peers. Hence, the usage of breakout room functions purposely to promote integration between domestic and international students in the online workshop discussion is important. The lecturer can randomly allocate students for a short breakout room activity that took a maximum of 10 minutes to address for example, case study questions. This was to encourage both cohorts of students to take full advantage in learning and engaging with one and another.

The breakout room function is also used to aid group assignment interactions and online peer-to-peer support, especially for assignment purposes. It is vital for the lecturer to provide a weekly consultation time for group assignment discussion during the virtual workshop, usually the last 30 minutes before the workshop ended. The lecturer can also utilise breakout rooms to facilitate one-on-one drop-in sessions for any queries from students in regard to their individual or group assignments. Dr. Singh discovered that numbers of emails from international students plummeted because of the drop-in session provided to them before the assignment’s due date. Dr. Singh deduced that international students understood the assignment requirement better during the breakout room discussions.

4) Online games

It is vital for international students to encounter the best learning and learning experiences in the online setting environment to promote engagement and sense of belonging. For students not to be bored with similar weekly online activities, and to understand important concepts of the week, the teaching staff members must be mindful of rotating activities with online games. For students to understand and grasp certain concepts, online games are important for students to engage with. Dr. Singh has utilised many game-based learning platform such as Mentimeter and Quizzzzzzz, but Kahoot! was mostly used to promote student engagement and fun in their learning. International students chose to participate in this game as the questions were short. They were also able to read and understand the questions quickly and  just choose one answer without any verbal communication. Feedback is also important and was provided after each question was attempted, which made the learning more interesting since the students were able to understand the rationale and reasoning of the right answer.

In summary, it is not an easy task to teach international students virtually but meaningfully. Including and engaging international students in learning and teaching process is vital to provide the sense of engagement and belonging in their learning. All the best in adopting these best practices! Good luck!


Dr. Jasvir Kaur Nachatar Singh (

La Trobe University, Australia

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