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How Schools Can Support International Students During COVID-19

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A record number of international students studied in Canada in 2019, and that number is growing steadily. Last year, over 400,000 international students received study permits for post-secondary institutions, and we expect that number is even higher in 2020.

International students have been drastically affected by the unprecedented actions that schools and their communities have had to take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. With families far away, classes cancelled or moved online, and the future of exams unclear, these students face immense disruption and uncertainty.

How educators react at this moment will affect Canada’s reputation in international education for years to come. We are both proud and deeply grateful for the creativity, flexibility, and compassion many of our partner institutions are demonstrating.

It will be important to continue recognizing that policies and actions that are for the good of Canadians sometimes inadvertently put students who are a part of our communities on a study visa at greater risk. Most campuses are going to extraordinary lengths to meet students’ needs, and there are many things schools can do to support international students, both personally and educationally.

Recognition of Unique Conditions

We’ve spoken with students and educators for suggestions on how schools can support students at this time, given that stress and pressure may affect the accuracy of any testing or assessment. We can all agree that patience, flexibility, and an understanding of these unique conditions will go a long way.

Some may choose to offer examinations online, so students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter and improve at-risk grades. In these cases, it may be prudent to shift the weight of these grades, understanding that they reflect not just the students’ understanding, but the wider effects of these unique circumstances.

Other schools may choose to eliminate final examinations, understanding that internet access, time zone differences, connectivity concerns, and a lack of oversight can ultimately affect the results. In lieu of a final examination, these schools can offer assignments that similarly reflect a student’s understanding of the course material.

In either case, it is imperative that requirements and expectations are communicated clearly and concisely to students, in a timely manner. Schools should also outline the criteria on which they will be marking students to maintain total transparency.

Online Teaching

A step many institutions are taking is to move classrooms online. This is a productive way to ensure minimal disruption in course delivery. Faculty can choose to teach sessions live, or prerecord in hopes of achieving a higher quality of video and sound. Many education technology companies are even offering their services for free.

Prerecorded video allows faculty to offer clearer image quality to students, using the school’s video resources. This is particularly pertinent for classes with multiple sections or that require a whiteboard to deliver lessons. This solution also allows students to watch the class on their own time.

However, prerecorded video is more resource-intensive, and may not be an option accessible to all schools. It also means that professors who teach one section of a multi-section course may not be able to add their personal touch or engage with students throughout.

Teaching via live video is another option for schools to consider. Apps like Zoom and other webinar platforms allow instructors to conduct classes with students in a way that mirrors a more typical classroom setting. Students can use the chat function to ask questions, and instructors can remain responsive throughout.

Instructors concerned about visual aids may consider preparing their lessons to be screen-shared. This may mean creating slide presentations or using a touchpad and virtual whiteboard. Instructors should also take the time to learn any unfamiliar platforms they may need to use, to minimize lesson disruptions as much as possible.

Virtual Support

What students need the most right now is support. Schools should consider how they can make themselves more available to students without physical resources in place.

Consistent communication is vital. Instructors should send a clear list of tasks and resources for students in their classes. These can include contact methods and availability, and academic resources. With some dorms shutting down, schools may also consider directing students to housing options and resources, as many students do not have family nearby.

This is the time to prioritize community and accessibility. If possible, consider asking students how they would prefer to keep in touch. They may not have access to resources they otherwise would through school. Collect work via email and forge connections through whatever means are most effective.

Instructors may consider holding virtual office hours or question and answer periods via video chat. This is also a great opportunity to explore message boards or other collaboration solutions that can help students connect with one another.

At this time, schools can build a reputation for being trustworthy, resourceful, and respectful of the range of student needs. Showing our humanity in a Canadian way means rising to a higher level of mindfulness. We trust that schools will model leadership through calm and compassion, and in the future, we will look back with pride.