Keep Teaching: Working Remotely with International Students Part I

Taesoo Kim

Blog posts in the Keep Teaching series are written by CTL faculty and faculty from around the Institute to offer advice and inspiration during the COVID-19 disruption. For official Institute academic continuity resources, visit this page. You will also find more teaching and learning tips on the CTL Keep Teaching site.

Post by Sarah Kegley, International TA Program Manager, Center for Teaching and Learning

As we transition into remote learning environments, we can help promote the positive instances of linguistic interference while offsetting the negative ones by incorporating some very modest pedagogical practices, as outlined below. These pedagogical practices fall into two broad categories: Instructional Design & Technological Considerations, covered in this post, and Teacher Talk & Communicative Considerations, to be covered in Part II. The tips below will help you take your international students into consideration as you teach remotely this semester – and are also good policies for working with students at any time in the semester.

<Please note that for the purposes of these two entries, the widely-used terminology of non-native English speakers (NNES), speakers of another variety of English, and/or non-US variety of English will be categorized under the blanket term of second-language, or L2, speakers.>

Use Asynchronous Design. Time zone differences and unexpected technological issues notwithstanding, the benefits of asynchronous delivery are heightened for L2 students for various reasons .Asynchronous design allows students to scaffold content from previous material as needed. It also allows for individual control and agency in learning. For example, L2 students can repeat passages only they find necessary; they can likewise use content to prepare questions for tutoring, and to review after tutoring.

And asynchronous design also supports the preparation of course assignments with two additional, more global linguistic benefits: recycling (systematic, purposeful reuse) of discipline-specific vocabulary in context, as well as access to organizational and structural knowledge of the discipline.

Choose Video. Most students report a preference to actually seeing the instructor (even if it is an amateur video), versus hearing a voiceover with PPT slides. Using a pre-recorded video also allows students to review the content several times, and prepare questions for remote tutoring or office hours. (Liu, X., Liu, S. Lee, & Magjuka, 2010)

Examine Chat Tools. Be purposeful in the way that you use chat tools, or turn them off altogether. If you use Chat or Q&A, assure students that communication is important in this context, not grammar. Some L2 students feel comfortable using English as a tool for communication, while others will be hyper-aware of their mistakes in writing, grammar, and syntax that will show up. Here are some tips for doing so successfully:

  • If you want feedback from everyone in Chat, assign a TA to monitor the feedback.
  • Consider asking an outgoing student to write a phrase on chat or Q&A to demonstrate, such as “please review machine learning” or “what is SME?”
  • In lieu of Chat, consider a shared discussion board for gathering questions after the lesson for what remains unclear.


For tips on Teacher Talk and Communicative Considerations, see Part II.

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