The curious case of rescued feedback: the value of collaborative drawing to better understand the international student experience

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On arrival in the UK, international students are at a crucial stage in their academic careers, transitioning from study or work in their home countries to study at a British university. The paper reports on research carried out
with a group of international students coming from a variety of different backgrounds and countries, including China, Thailand and the Middle East. These students all participated in a pre-sessional academic English course
which took place during the summer of 2014 and is essentially a gate-keeping course. Students are required to pass this course in order to demonstrate their achievement of an appropriate level of language proficiency study skills required for degree level study. It is therefore potentially a stressful and difficult time as unsuccessful students may not be permitted to proceed to their degree programmes. This led to the first research question:
What issues typically face international students when transitioning to academic study in the UK?
Summative feedback forms are used in academia for gathering data on course quality and student understanding. This method of obtaining feedback has been widely criticised as an inaccurate evaluation of teaching effectiveness (Marks, 2012), however, student feedback continues to be elicited at the end of many courses in an attempt to find out any other issues which could be addressed in order to improve the student experience for the next cohort, requiring students to answer a series of questions based on the course they have already finished or will soon finish. Feedback forms are notorious for being homogenised and limiting and thus the data captured is often neutral and lacking in tacit emotional responses. As an alternative or additional method of collecting student opinion, this paper contrasts summative feedback forms with a method of collaborative drawing; rich pictures (RP). The RP is a familiar tool used in computing information systems to gather understanding about human
activity for system design but has never been used in education as a student feedback tool. The RP assists the exploration of different world views within a complex situation. The RP is a physical picture drawn by a variety of
hands which encourages discussion and debate for groups and allows them to arrive at an agreed understanding which makes it a powerful device in participatory processes. This led to the second research question: How does
data collected from a traditional student course evaluation feedback form compare with a collaborative drawing exercise as an alternative method of understanding the transitional issues and challenges international students
may face?
RPs present a contemporary and innovative approach to enable a holistic level of student understanding and a more in-depth analysis of the issues international students may face when transitioning from one educational or workplace context to another educational context in a different country. Findings highlight the value of collaborative drawing to better understand the student experience and support the claim that it would seem that the way in which universities collect international student opinion data needs to be accurate, non-asserting,
relevant and above all, multifaceted.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
EventBALEAP 2017 Conference: Addressing the state of the union: Working together=learning together - University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Apr 20179 Apr 2017


ConferenceBALEAP 2017 Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • English for Academic Purposes
  • EAP
  • rich picture


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