Currently, many types of group assignments have been used by the teachers in the master’s programmes at Eindhoven University of Technology to foster multicultural interactions between domestic and international students. However, research evidence from English-speaking countries has repeatedly shown that the lack of interaction between domestic and international students appears to be a common concern. The case in the Netherlands could be even more complex since English is not the native language for both Dutch and (most) international students.
To understand the challenges and gains, and to identify the variables/processes that facilitate/hinder students’ multicultural group work at TU/e, postdoc Cui Ping is researching multicultural student group work in an international classroom. Together with Ad Kleingeld, Sonja Rispens, and Ruurd Taconis she explored domestic and international students’ experiences of multicultural group work at TU/e.
Ping: ‘To identify the variables or processes that facilitate or hinder students’ multicultural group work in international classroom, we used a general input-process-output (I-P-O) team effectiveness framework’. In this model, “input” refers to the composition of a group, including the antecedent factors that enable and constrain group members’ interactions. The “process” refers to activities that team members engage in, combining activities to resolve task demands. The “output” typically refers to performance judged by relevant others external to the team and meeting of team-member needs.
The research team formulated the following research questions:
- 1) what challenges and gains do domestic and international students perceive from their multicultural group work experiences at TU/e?
- What variables or processes that facilitate or hinder multicultural group work can be found from students’ experiences at the TU/e?
Ten master students (five Dutch and five international) from different programmes who participated in group assignments with international students took part in an interview study. Ping: “During the interview, we asked each student to reflect on his/her multicultural group work experiences and focus on one most-satisfied example. With that satisfied example in mind, we asked the student to explain the reason and asked his/her learning gains and challenges encountered in that example”. The research team also asked the students how they usually form a group, how they often collaborate within the group, and how they deal with different viewpoints etc. “The interview transcriptions were analysed by using open coding to find the representing themes of their perceived challenges/gains, and the factors/processes influencing the group work,” explains Ping.
Challenges and learning gains
The results showed that international students perceived to be “token member”, namely being the only international student in the group as the most-mentioned challenge; Dutch students perceived “language barrier” and “extra efforts to collaborate” as the most-mentioned challenges of multicultural student groups. International students perceived “diversity leads to positive learning experiences”, “value of having Dutch student in group”, and “building friendship” as most-mentioned learning gains; Dutch students perceived “bringing different perspectives” as the most-mentioned learning gains.
Moreover, Dutch and international students compose their own group primarily based on similarity such as “group member familiarity” and “physical proximity”. According to Ping this, to some degree, hinders the composition of a multicultural student group. “It became quite natural and common for Dutch students forming a group through their existing network, and at the same time, it is often observed that Dutch and international students tended to sit separately in the classroom”.
Of the group work collaboration process, students indicated that they seldomly talked about the pressure or giving morale support to each other in a multicultural student group work because of the unfamiliarity with each other. When finishing the group assignment, students indicated that the final group grading including the individual part is very important to them. At the same time, they mentioned that good group collaboration, such as group members committing to assignments, being open with each other, and having few communication issues, contributes to their perceived satisfactions of a group assignment.
Role of the teacher
An implication for teachers is to engage in facilitating student multicultural groups. “Teachers can for example compose multicultural groups to avoid that international students become the token member, and they can play an important role in supporting social interaction amongst students. This could help facilitate multicultural interactions,” explains Ping.
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