Transitions and Stereotypes: Teaching and Learning Issues among International Students in the Creative Arts
Dr Silvia Sovic
Creative Learning in Practice Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
University of the Arts London
This paper will present some of the results of an investigation into the experiences of first-year international students across the different colleges of the University of the Arts, London. 141 international students were interviewed, either in their own language or in English, by a team of fourteen interviewers who were their compatriots. (21 home students were also interviewed as a benchmark.) The focus of this presentation will be on teaching and learning issues in the creative arts. For international students the challenges of transition are complex and cumulative. Among the differences that these students highlighted between the British system and the one they left behind are the emphasis on the process of creation rather than the end-product, on theory rather than on practice, on (as they saw it) presentation rather than on substance, and above all on originality and independent learning. There are specific challenges in the classroom: understanding what is expected, interaction with other students (including native speakers), class discussion, group work, presentations etc. Students’ attitudes to, and expectations of, teachers can also be very different. Understanding the profile of international students is essential. Differences between home and international students consist not just of the obvious ones, such as language and culture, but can extend to age, qualifications and experience. The host community’s response to these challenges is often not helped by preconceptions and stereotypes of international students. Just like home students, they need to be treated as individuals if they are to be helped in this difficult process of adaptation to university life in the UK.