Enhancing teaching in the international classroom

Recent years have seen an increasing amount of literature claiming that the internationalisation of higher education has found its way into mainstream higher education. While this may be true to a certain extent, the question remains whether internationalisation has succeeded in making a difference in the quality of education and in the development of the graduate attributes needed in tomorrow’s world.

When reviewing some trends, a clear and growing majority of universities indicate that internationalisation has been included in their mission and strategy.

The European Association for International Education’s 2018 EAIE Barometer indicates that ‘preparing students for a globalised world and enhancing their employability’ was named the most important internationalisation goal by 76% of respondents from universities situated in the signatory countries of the European Higher Education Area. This represents an impressive increase of 31% compared to the EAIE Barometer findings in 2015.

Further, the discourse on internationalisation now focuses on comprehensive internationalisation as a means to transform higher education institutions to include international, intercultural and global perspectives in their modus operandi.

The revised definition of the internationalisation process offers direction and guidance for this transformation as it connects internationalisation to the quality enhancement of higher education and its purposeful and positive contribution to society.

This definition strongly resonates with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which are increasingly finding their way into the missions and strategic planning of universities around the world.

Speaking to the few or the many?

Despite these trends, we still need to ask whether internationalisation is reaching into the heart of higher education and improving the quality of teaching and learning. Are the current approaches of student mobility, internationalisation of the curriculum and internationalisation at home providing sufficient support for internationalisation to deliver on its claims? Or do they speak to the already convinced and happy few?

Based on our experience within a European project, Educational Quality at Universities for inclusive international Programmes (EQUiiP), we explore these questions from an international educational development perspective. We see educational development as a senior academic role in support of lecturers, both in relation to the design of programmes and courses and to the delivery of these programmes and courses.

Further, we offer some suggestions on how an international perspective on educational development can contribute to the professional expertise of lecturers (faculty) in order for them to improve the quality of teaching in the international classroom. So far this international perspective has been lacking from the discourse on the internationalisation of higher education.

The international classroom

In response to the trends referred to above, the concept of the international classroom has emerged to offer all students, home and international, an internationalised learning experience allowing them to develop the associated global graduate attributes.

For a long time it was taken for granted that the added value of international education would manifest itself automatically when local and mobile (international) students participated in the same courses. We now know it is not as easy as that.

As we have elaborated elsewhere, an international classroom is characterised by a number of factors, including the content of the curriculum, internationalised learning outcomes and the way courses are taught and assessed. These factors together enable students to develop not only their disciplinary knowledge and skills, but also their intercultural competences and communication skills as part of their graduate attributes.

Developing students’ global competences

Developing students’ global, international and intercultural competences may be part of a university’s internationalisation or education policies. However, transforming such policies into successful practices takes knowledge and skills.

In order for the international classroom to come to life, lecturers need to carefully consider how they take students’ linguistic and cultural diversity into account and exploit it so that all students have an internationalised learning experience that leads them to become and act as globally responsible citizens when they graduate.

In order for this to happen, lecturers need to develop competencies and skills associated with designing and delivering internationalised curricula, teaching and servicing increasingly diverse student cohorts, and collaborating with international colleagues and partners. When lecturers do not have such competences and skills fully developed, the quality of the teaching and the students’ learning experience may be compromised.

The quality of teaching and learning

The quality of teaching and learning has only recently become the focus of attention in the context of higher education internationalisation.

For example, in Europe, as one of the outcomes of the Bologna Process and the development of the European Higher Education Area, recent years have seen an increasing interest in the quality of higher education.

Part of this is the so-called Modernisation Agenda, promoting a student-centred approach to teaching, the facilitation of students’ active learning and the exploitation of educational technology to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

While it does form the basis for higher education teaching and learning in the 21st century, the Modernisation Agenda does not have a lot to say about the specific opportunities and challenges that an international classroom presents.

So, how do lecturers successfully navigate the international classroom where students are very diverse and – among many other things – have different linguistic and cultural backgrounds?

Continuous professional development

There are some well-documented examples of how this may be done, but many lecturers and other stakeholders, such as educational developers, are not aware of them. In fact, educational developers themselves would benefit from some well thought through continuous professional development opportunities.

Although higher education teacher training is available across Europe and beyond, it is mostly ad hoc and voluntary. And more importantly, most of it is general and not targeted specifically towards international programmes and international classrooms.

A review of the literature on engagement in higher education internationalisation shows that a lack of understanding of the core concepts of internationalisation and pedagogical approaches to internationalisation of the curriculum and a lack of self-efficacy to deliver international, intercultural and global competences have contributed to lecturers’ disengagement in the internationalisation processes.

In other words, there is often a noticeable gap – or lack of connection – between the overarching policies and strategies at regional, national and institutional levels and the academic practices of the lecturers on the ground. Lecturers recognise the challenges of the international classroom, but they do not always know how to meet them. Neither do they have the support to do so.

Bridging the gap

We consider informed views on the role of educational developers in higher education internationalisation and the international competencies of such educational developers timely and relevant. University quality assurance policies and practices rarely include pertinent questions on international programme design or teaching in and facilitating the multicultural dynamics of the international and multilingual classroom.

There is a lack of internationally competent educational developers who are able to provide coaching of and continuous professional development for lecturers on teaching in the international classroom, also for those with long-standing teaching experience.

To bridge this gap, within EQUiiP, we identified a profile of ‘International Competences for Educational Developers’ and created an integrated and coherent set of workshop training materials in five modules, designed to support the development of these competences.

The five modules cover core concepts of and approaches to higher education internationalisation, internationalising course design, facilitating intercultural group dynamics and the role of languages in the international classroom.

Finally, there is a module that cuts across the other four by offering an introduction to feedback activities and reflective processes. Together, these resources can be found on an open online platform, and offer a solid base for educational developers to further develop their international competences.

Lessons from the EQUiiP example

Successful teaching and learning in the international classroom do not happen without careful consideration by the academic staff responsible for designing and teaching international programmes. A targeted continuous professional development programme can assist academic staff – educational developers and lecturers – in this process.

Where the EQUiiP programme has been implemented, it has proven to be a powerful tool in this process, contributing to the development of grassroots expertise for leveraging the benefits of the international classroom.

Karen M Lauridsen is associate professor (emerita) at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, Aarhus University, Denmark, and affiliated faculty at the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy. E-mail: Dr Jeanine Gregersen-Hermans is senior lecturer at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, International Business School Maastricht, the Netherlands, and an independent researcher and consultant. E-mail

Hans de Wit has issued a call to readers and contributors to
University World News to send him their essays of between 800 and 1,200 words on what went well and what went wrong in internationalisation of higher education over the past 25 years. This is one of the essays he has received. He will select one essay to be published by University World News and at the end of 2019, will bring all these essays together in a book.