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ESL 500: Facilitating International Students' Academic Transition

Photo Credit: Wendy Cope

In an effort to smooth international students’ transition to their academic career at DePaul, the Global Engagement division has partnered with the International Resource Center (IRC), an extension of DePaul’s English Language Academy (ELA) and its wealth of knowledge of the international student body to design and implement a comprehensive orientation course to provide the essential tools and understandings that newcomers need for success. This free, short course is an indispensable component of the university's commitment to diversity and academic excellence.

The course serves as a bridge for international students to navigate the complexities of academic integrity, course syllabi, and effective communication within the university's diverse academic environment that might be quite different from their home country. Through completion of this course, students are able to:
  • Compose culturally appropriate emails to discuss grades, homework, or other administrative requests.
  • Identify academic integrity violations in the context of their courses.
  • Employ strategies to ensure academic work is honest.

The ESL 500 course consists of two modules, an asynchronous on-line portion and a synchronous in-person discussion section. The online portion of the course includes ELA teacher-created modules to introduce students to skills crucial for their success at DePaul including academic integrity and how to effectively interact with professors and staff. The in-person discussion section delves deeper into the cultural values that inform the U.S. and DePaul's educational system including working independently, understanding academic integrity, the etiquette of communicating with faculty and staff as well as underscoring the importance of not negotiating with professors about grades or assignments.  For example, through a comparative analysis of course syllabi, students discuss the importance of recognizing that different sections of the same course may have varying assignments, homework, and grading policies and understand that this must not be compared to other sections or used as leverage to negotiate the terms of the course.

Students are also shown a variety of Academic Integrity Policy statements that vary in length and focus with the goal of understanding students’ responsibilities regardless of what is stated (or not stated) in their syllabus--a syllabus that omits a statement about students working in groups on individual assignments does not mean that group work is acceptable in that course.

Students also analyze examples of plagiarism and discuss how to identify whole-text plagiarism, incomplete paraphrasing, and inaccurate or omitted citations. Most importantly, the course critically explores the reasons behind such transgressions, ranging from undue emphasis on grades and the value of the learning process over the end product. Misunderstandings of policies and assignments, coupled with challenges in time management, are also discussed under the premise that students, rather than harboring intentions to cheat, find themselves in stressful situations where poor decisions may be considered. Students are also informed and reminded that potential consequences of an academic integrity violation could be a failure of the assignment or of the course.

Finally, students are introduced to composing effective and culturally appropriate emails respecting brevity, tone, and frequency when they inquire about grades, homework, and other administrative tasks. Furthermore, students are warned not to bypass professors by contacting program directors or other staff to force a response, which would only aggravate the situation.

To provide additional support for international students, the International Resource Center has also developed an optional pre-orientation D2L course for international students to help them get  a jump start on the expectations of a US classroom.  This widely-used course includes information across multiple topics including how to be an active reader, how to take notes and the expectations of a discussion-based classroom.  This module also offers students a deeper look into the topic of academic integrity.

In summary, DePaul University's ESL 500 course stands as an integral component towards a cornerstone in nurturing responsible scholars who not only thrive academically, but also uphold the values of academic integrity and effective communication within the DePaul community. Through a blend of online modules and face-to-face discussions, students emerge better equipped to navigate the rigors of academia and contribute positively to DePaul's vibrant learning environment.