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Student reflections on cross-cultural group work: Social, teaching and cognitive factors that influence collaboration

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Rebecca Ferguson
17 May 2016

Jenna Mittelmeier, Dirk Tempelaar, Bart Rienties and Denise Whitelock

Rising numbers of international students worldwide (OECD, 2014) means that the students are increasingly able to work with diverse peers, especially in activities that incorporate collaborative group work. However, research has demonstrated that cross-cultural group work can be challenging for students. For example, multiple studies have demonstrated that students prefer to work with those from their own cultural background (Strauss, U, & Young, 2011; Volet & Ang, 1998). Similarly, frustrations occur when there is a perceived difference in contribution level between diverse group members (Popov et al., 2012). However, little research has analysed student experiences in cross-cultural group work activities to consider interventions that might help create a more inclusive and comfortable atmosphere in order to encourage more successful cross-cultural collaboration.
To address this gap, we conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 20 students from 17 countries at a Dutch university, where problem-based learning and collaborative work are essential components of the curriculum. To encourage discussion and aid in personal reflections of previous experiences, we used a case-based reflection exercise. Each participant was given a case study example of a collaborative group, including information about their global region of origin, quantity of contributions, and type of contributions (i.e. cognitive, social or organisational). Students were then asked to consider collaboration problems in the case study and reflect on their own group work experiences, as well as make suggestions for interventions that could be put forth by the teacher that could lead to more successful collaboration. At the CALRG conference, we will present the findings of our thematic analysis of the interview data, and highlight potential interventions for encouraging collaboration between diverse students.

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