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1 – Doing Learning Differently: International Student Experiences with Active Learning

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  • Ellen Ahlness, Department of Political Science, College of Arts and Sciences, UW Seattle
  • Pratima Jadhav, Leadership and Policy Studies, College of Education, UW Seattle


Active learning has been advocated as a method of instruction since the early 1980s, yet little attention has been paid to the way students respond to and perceive the quality of active learning instruction. Instructors are increasingly encouraged to use active learning, while having little understanding of how students vary in its reception. We focus on “breaking down” the classroom to understand how students experience and respond to various kinds of instruction. Notably, there is little understanding of how international students, whose prior educational experiences are with transmission-centered instruction (e.g. lecture and memorization), are frequently under-prepared for the diversity of active learning instructional strategies used in American colleges and universities. Therefore, we ask: how do international undergraduate students perceive the quality and benefit of active learning instruction in American higher education?

By shifting the evaluation paradigm to focus on student-centered classroom experiences and perceptions of value, we conduct an affective study on student reception of active learning, specifically, the experiences and reflections of Indian international students. Through phenomenological interviews and focus groups with over 15 Indian international students studying in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, we sought to find out how participants experienced the transition to interactive learning, and whether they found value in the new instructional methods. Initial findings suggest indicate that Indian international students found active (as compared to transmissive) learning to be more engaging and beneficial for retention; however, instructor expectations could be confusing and predicting one’s success could be far more challenging. This project adds to the bottom-up work on active learning while also focusing on the experiences of the growing Indian student population as an underserved demographic in American higher education. Finally, we develop considerations for instructors working with international students most familiar with transmission-based instruction.