The three important aspects of the international classroom

Internationalisation involves the “incorporation of an international and intercultural dimension into the preparation, delivery and outcomes of a program of study” (Betty Leask, 2015). This means that internationalisation should be visible in the learning outcomes in the course guide, in your teaching activities and in the assessment. But how should you practically address this? In order to make internationalisation successful three aspects are important: these are English as a medium of instruction, intercultural competence and an international framework.

English as medium of instruction

Translating all your course material into English is often the first thing that teachers think of when they hear about internationalisation. But effective teaching in a second language requires a different methodology: for students learning in a second language there is a double-edged process going on. They need to understand and process the new (course) content whilst at the same time they need to understand and process the second language. Often we speak of a difference between understanding (the sequence of words) and comprehending (the deeper implications of the message). Therefore, you need to support your students’ learning. You can do this by providing a list with important keywords, using visual, sound or video material to support spoken text and by giving students enough time to read, think and answer questions. Let students write their own thoughts down first before asking for input for a group discussion!

Intercultural competence

In the international classroom the diversity in your student population becomes larger. There will be students from different parts of the world in your class who have had different previous educational  experiences. For some students observing and listening may have been rewarded in their previous education, for others perhaps gaining high marks and being competitive. Some student may have been rewarded for learning a lot of theory by heart, and others for developing respect and gratitude for teachers or for fellow students who help them. As a teacher in higher education you will have your own (cultural) norms and values of how you would like your students to learn and act in your own classroom. Intercultural competence starts with a reflection on these norms and values. The second step is to realise that not all students will have had this experience and to acknowledge that are many ways to be a good student. Thirdly, you need to facilitate your students in developing new ways of learning that may be helpful to them in this new learning context.

International framework

International students can often be puzzled by case studies or examples that they can’t relate or connect to. “That case in the (Dutch) newspaper that we have all read about last week” may not be the best start of your lecture in an international classroom. Some teachers prepare an overview from multiple perspectives but you can also ask your students to bring in their own cases and provide a general framework (For example, ‘How is town planning addressed in a country of your own choice?’). Another important aspect is the orientation of the literature that you use. Very often this is an Western orientation due to the dominance of English as the scientific language. It may be interesting to look at the perspective that you portray in your courses. Which relevant perspectives might be missing or might add more interest?

A successful path to internationalisation…

To come back to the quote by Betty Leask (2015): It should be clear from the course guide that the three aspects above are incorporated (and supported) throughout the course. In your teaching activities these need to be addressed and  students can either be assessed on intercultural competence (depending on the fit with your discipline) or multiple perspectives to (parts of) the assignment could be encouraged in students’ assessment. Only by embedding these aspects into the curriculum can internationalisation be truly successful.


The Educational Consultancy and Professional Development group (Onderwijsadvies & Training) offers four courses related to the international classroom, these are:

Written by: Nathalie Veenendaal (former employee Onderwijsadvies & Training)
Published: April 2018