The International English Center (IEC) celebrated the completion of spring 2020 classes earlier this month during a Zoom event with 50 participants across four continents (North America, South America, Europe and Asia. It was the culmination of a challenging academic term for everyone at CU Boulder, but especially for international students faced with the difficult decision of whether to stay in Boulder or return to their home countries, according to IEC Co-Director Ruth Moore.
“Our goal has been to continue supporting our international student community,” Moore said. “It was really important for us to continue providing direct one-on-one communication, so we reached out via phone, email and Zoom to make sure students got the information they needed to make decisions about how to continue their studies.”
Indeed, some international students returned home as required or recommended by their sponsors, families and governments. Others stayed on campus, which had its own challenges. Shing Kit (Jackie) Wong, IEC’s student services manager, quickly connected with all of the center’s students living on campus.
“I needed to make sure that they understood the current housing policies and dining options, and I wanted to find out if they needed summer housing,” said Wong. “I also helped them navigate visa issues.”
International students continued to stay engaged through the IEC’s clubs and study groups via Zoom, either from their home country or in Colorado. Each week, students polished their oral skills in Public Speaking Club, practiced test-taking strategies in IELTS/TOEFL Study Group, and engaged in friendly competition in Game Club. In addition, students connected to online CU clubs and interest groups, strengthening their bonds among the campus community.
Experiential learning projects
IEC faculty worked creatively to adapt experiential learning projects, the cornerstone of the center’s curriculum, to fit an online format and ensure that students were still able to have an authentic educational experience. For example, for their final project, students in an intermediate listening and speaking course were required to interview an expert in their intended field of study. This actually proved easier to accomplish remotely, according to Instructor and Experiential Learning Coordinator Matt Morley.
“I showed students where to access bios on their subjects, and students had to schedule, conduct and record the meetings,” Morley said. “CU faculty like Matt Sponheimer in biological anthropology and Allie Anderson in aerospace engineering, who spoke to one group about her team’s research related to space suit design, were really generous with their time.”
In other assignments, students engaged in online debates and presented and interacted in virtual poster sessions. IEC faculty used a wide range of educational technology along with Canvas. Instructor Luke Coffelt embraced the online format as a chance to facilitate student engagement and experiment with feedback delivery in his academic writing class.
“Student groups edited their work collaboratively in a shared online space I created for them, revising together in real time, discussing the grammar changes without common distractions that might be present in a face-to-face classroom,” Coffelt said. “I provided all of my feedback on papers in digital formats, but in more interesting ways like recording my voice or using voice recognition software already built into Canvas to give feedback that was more holistic in nature. My students were receptive to the new format and had a chance to respond to my feedback. We had more of an ongoing dialogue than what we typically have.”
Strong academic and personal support was also essential to student success in this time of remote interaction. The IEC’s advising team, led by Parmelee Welsh, provided virtual academic advising and ongoing counseling across several time zones. Advisors calmed a student concerned about traveling home, soothed a stressed-out student in mandatory quarantine who returned to her country, and coached students struggling with coursework back in their home countries. Students who completed the term felt a special sense of accomplishment.
We did it!
The IEC’s early May event celebrated the end of an unprecedented and challenging term. But it also honored the resilience and adaptability of CU’s students and faculty, who met the challenge with creativity and determination, Moore said.