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CALRG 2016 - Student reflections on cross-cultural group work: Social factors that influence contributions

Rising numbers of international students worldwide (OECD, 2014) means that the students are increasingly able to work with diverse peers, especially in activities that incorporate collaborative group work. However, research has demonstrated that cross-cultural group work can be challenging for students. For example, multiple studies have demonstrated that students prefer to work with those from their own cultural background (Strauss, U, & Young, 2011; Volet & Ang, 1998). Similarly, frustrations occur when there is a perceived difference in contribution level between diverse group members (Popov et al., 2012). However, little research has analysed student experiences in cross-cultural group work activities to consider interventions that might help create a more inclusive and comfortable atmosphere in order to encourage more successful cross-cultural collaboration.
To address this gap, we conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 20 students from 17 countries at a Dutch university, where problem-based learning and collaborative work are essential components of the curriculum. To encourage discussion and aid in personal reflections of previous experiences, we used a case-based reflection exercise. Each participant was given a case study example of a collaborative group, including information about their global region of origin, quantity of contributions, and type of contributions (i.e. cognitive, social or organisational). Students were then asked to consider collaboration problems in the case study and reflect on their own group work experiences, as well as make suggestions for interventions that could be put forth by the teacher that could lead to more successful collaboration. At the CALRG conference, we will present the findings of our thematic analysis of the interview data, and highlight potential interventions for encouraging collaboration between diverse students.

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CALRG 2016 - Student reflections on cross-cultural group work: Social factors that influence contributions

  1. 1. Student reflections on cross-cultural group work: Social factors that influence contributions Jenna Mittelmeier Institute of Educational Technology The Open University, UK Co-Authors: Bart Rienties (The Open University) Dirk Tempelaar (Maastricht University) Denise Whitelock (The Open University) @JLMittelmeier
  2. 2. ? Strijbos & de Laat, 2010 Xing, Wadholm & Goggins, 2014 Caspi, Gorsky & Chajut, 2003
  3. 3. Free-rider: ‘contributes to the group task when explicitly prompted but minimises the effort as much as possible; often leading to substandard contributions’ (Strijbos & de Laat, 2010) #1 complaint of students in cross-cultural group work (Popov et al, 2012)
  4. 4. Cohort-like classrooms (Kimmel & Volet, 2012) Previous multicultural experiences (Summers & Volet, 2008) Cultural understanding and respect (Woods, Barker & Hibbins, 2010)
  5. 5. Previous work
  6. 6. Previous work Mittelmeier, J., Héliot, Y., Rienties, B., & Whitelock, D. (2016). Using Social Network Analysis to predict online contributions: The impact of network diversity in cross-cultural collaboration. Paper presented at the Web Science 2016 conference, Hannover, Germany Social network diversity Student contribution quantity
  7. 7. Research Questions RQ1: What role do students believe social elements play in the success of cross-cultural group work tasks? RQ2: How does academic performance influence student views on social elements in cross-cultural group work? RQ3: How do students perceive the role of the teacher in overcoming tensions between diverse group members in cross-cultural group work?
  8. 8. Setting 860+ student classroom 79.3% international students from 35 countries Large scale lectures + small tutorial discussion groups Research Method Cluster analysis of student grades 20 interviews Case study as a mediating artifact
  9. 9. Classroom clustering Participants Cluster 1 5 students (25%) Cluster 2 8 students (40%) Cluster 3 7 students (35%) 20 participants from 17 countries 12 males, 8 females
  10. 10. Student 1, domestic student from the Netherlands: Speaks 23 times 4 times to organise the group/activity 7 times to contribute academic content 12 times socially Student 3, from Latin America: Speaks 6 times 1 time to organise the group/activity 2 times to contribute academic content 3 times socially Student 2, from East Asia: Speaks 2 times 0 times to organise the group/activity 2 times to contribute academic content 0 times socially Student 4, from Europe: Speaks 13 times 3 times to organise the group/activity 6 times to contribute academic content 4 times socially Student 5, from East Asia: Speaks 7 times 1 times to organise the group/activity 5 times to contribute academic content 1 times socially Case Study
  11. 11. • Communication • Cultural influences • Emotional reactions • Language • Interaction • Openness • Previous international experiences • Social contributions • Social connections Social element codes Second coder: κ = .710 Third coder: κ = .843
  12. 12. 1582 total codes 618 social element codes (39.1%)
  13. 13. Common themes for all clusters
  14. 14. ‘Open environments’ ‘I think the most important thing is being open to each other. If you’re in a group and you’re afraid to say something, then you’re going to miss out on a lot, because every input is valuable because you can grow from it.’ (Participant 1, male, Eastern European, GPA = 6.67, Cluster 2) ‘That you don’t feel like you’re lost or you don’t belong in that group, that’s really important. So you feel included, that’s really important. That you can talk to each other, like in a familiar way and that you harmonise. I think that’s really important. That’s the main thing or main goal of an intercultural group you’re supposed to work on.’ (Participant 16, male, German, GPA = 4.83, Cluster 3)
  15. 15. Use of ‘lingua franca’ ‘It’s [people speaking their native language in group work] very, very frustrating. I think it really de-motivates the class because if you’re trying to speak and you’re trying to say something and everyone is having these little conversations that you don’t even understand, it de-motivates the group and they can’t focus. It just means that everyone can’t communicate.’ (Participant 11, female, Dutch, GPA = 4.33, Cluster 3)
  16. 16. Perceived value of cross-cultural collaboration ‘I feel you need to know we live in a convoluted world with all sorts of nationalities, and the world is getting more international every day. I feel like you need that to be part of the real world.’ (Participant 18, male, Latin American, GPA = 5.00, Cluster 2)
  17. 17. Common themes for Cluster 1 (high performing)
  18. 18. Social connections as ‘more fun’ ‘For me, I think some social talk is much easier than the academic topics, and people are more willing to speak about their daily life, for instance their hobbies, than speaking about the [group work] topic. It’s boring.’ (Participant 17, female, GPA = 7.33, Chinese) ‘It’s boring to be with always the same people because you have nothing to tell them if they are from the same places and the same country.’ (Participant 20, male, GPA = 8.67, Belgian)
  19. 19. Social connections as helpful for ‘others’ ‘Sometimes they need to be pushed into this, pushed into the cold water of saying something and trying it out…I think it is a necessary experience and if you push such students here at [university name] to be socially active, especially those from other regions or continents, this is something which is only going to help them in the long run.’ (Participant 9, male, GPA = 9.67, American) ‘I think it’s just with these people [foreign students] that they need two months to get acquainted to you and then in the end, they will probably be more likely to share their ideas or to give more input.’ (Participant 14, male, GPA = 8.67, Dutch)
  20. 20. ‘Utopian’ vision of diversification ‘Everybody comes from different countries, at least at this uni. That really helps because you just get a larger point of view. You cannot only look at yourself as yourself, but you can look at yourself in the world. I don’t know how to explain it, but you feel part of something. You feel like you belong.’ (Participant 13, female, GPA = 7.83, Italian)
  21. 21. Student agency in forming social connections ‘I think introduction is not enough, but for tutor, I don’t know. I think it depends on the students themselves. I don’t think the tutor can do much to help this.’ (Participant 17, female, GPA = 7.33, Chinese)
  22. 22. Common themes for Cluster 2 (mid performing)
  23. 23. Social connections as a precursor to productivity ‘Wasn’t there a thing in management, like the water fountain thing? That people in the break room, they learn more, and get more work done, because they got to know each other in the break room and socially, than just working. So I mean, if that works in the real life, why wouldn’t that work in the classroom?’ (Participant 18, male, GPA = 5.00, Latin American)
  24. 24. Cross-cultural collaboration as potentially awkward ‘When you are not speaking socially, you might feel kind of rejected. I think you’re always feeling that awkward moment when you are not speaking with people. I think that maybe the others don’t know how to get on with them [those who are quiet], because they are not speaking so they will not be willing to speak to them. It will always be weird.’ (Participant 2, male, GPA = 6.33, Swedish)
  25. 25. Teacher interventions difficult ‘I don’t really want to say all the things that everybody used to say, like ‘everybody work together,’ blah, blah, blah. I mean, so many advice and so many times we have heard everything from high school teachers, from tutors, from professors. But the thing is, it doesn’t really make a change in people’s minds.’ (Participant 15, male, GPA = 5.67, Greek)
  26. 26. Common themes for Cluster 3 (low performing)
  27. 27. Social connections as essential for working together ‘I was in that situation as well when I was in a group and I didn’t know anyone and they…all knew other and didn’t want to do anything with me or something. I didn’t feel as part of the group. I think that’s the main goal of a group: to get to know each other, to feel comfortable in that group.’ (Participant 16, male, GPA = 4.83, German) ‘This tutorial…I’m not as close with them and I don’t feel as comfortable with them. I’m less likely to put myself out there. I’ll restrict myself just a tiny bit because there’s something subconsciously holding me back.’ (Participant 11, female, GPA = 4.33, Dutch)
  28. 28. Cross-cultural group work as inherently socially awkward ‘I came in class and I was just looking at random strangers and like, “I have to work with them for eight weeks?” And we were sitting there like “oh my god” and we were all, like, having the same feeling.’ (Participant 16, male, GPA = 4.83, German)
  29. 29. Teacher a key role in facilitating social connections ‘There was this one tutor…and she made criteria for us [in our introductions] like, “You have to say your name, you have to say your age, and you have to tell us the most embarrassing moment that happened to you in [university name]”… But because of that, because of how she made us do these things, we really got along good.’ (Participant 8, male, GPA = 3.33, Eastern European) ‘Well, our first tutor was awesome. He was there during the groups and talking to us, asking our plans for the weekend. Now…we have absolutely no personal contact with them [my current tutors]. They never ask, ‘how was your weekend?’ That’s just a small sentence but it makes you more comfortable.’ (Participant 10, female, GPA = 3.83, Eastern European)
  30. 30. Conclusions 1.) All students desired an opportunity to form connections with diverse peers 2.) Subtle variations for reasons why depending on achievement level 3.) Role of the teacher was considered differently by high and low achieving students
  31. 31. Future consideration: Increased social connectedness Higher achievement Higher achievement Increased social connectedness OR
  32. 32. Contact information: Jenna Mittelmeier Institute of Educational Technology The Open University, UK @JLMittelmeier