Online Learning Experiences of International Graduate Students



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Education is the fifth largest export of services in the U.S creating approximately 23 billion dollars in revenue to the U.S. economy (IIE, 2003; Lee & Rice, 2007; Thompson, 2013). Understanding experiences of international graduate students at institutions of higher education in the U.S. is critical to retaining a competitive edge and delivering a high quality, transformative pedagogical experience. For example, seven of every ten graduate students earning their degrees in electrical engineering in the U.S., and 50% of graduate students in other engineering fields are international students (Anderson, 2014). A significant portion of our higher education exports consist of online courses (Anderson, 2014; Dykman & Davis, 2008; Thompson, 2013). The growth of international graduate students’ challenges with online courses has emerged as a relatively new phenomenon in higher education (Chen, Bennett, & Maton, 2008), such as lack of immediate feedback within online courses. With the projected growth of international graduate students as a special population in higher education and in online education (Thompson, 2013), there is a critical need to study online education with international graduate students. This primary research project sought to identify the challenges and benefits faced by international graduate students within online learning, with an emphasis on how student experiences, attitudes, and perceptions vary by country of origin and their major. Additionally, the qualitative interviews add to the prior research themes to identify what challenges international graduate students face when they shift, not only from one country to another, but also from one modality of learning to another. This qualitative approach can help researchers and university administrators/international student counselors to understand the unique challenges of the largely ignored international graduate student population within the online learning context (Dykman & Davis, 2008). International participants included two Chinese, two Middle Eastern, two European, and six Indian graduate students. A semi-structured interview session took place and follow-up interviews were conducted to reach saturation in the themes. Overall, ten common themes among the international graduate students was created, for example, all participants (N = 12) preferred face-to-face courses, wanted communication with professors in person even if the course was online (for clarification or putting a face to a name), and stated that online courses are beneficial if you have a full-time job, kids, or live far away. The themes presented highlight issues and benefits international graduate students face as they take online courses.



International students, online courses, internationalization, qualitative interview, attitudes and experiences.