Effects of mixed groups on multicultural interaction and student experience

in Learning and Teaching
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Wenya Cheng Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, UK wenya.cheng@glasgow.ac.uk

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Geethanjali Selvaretnam Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, UK geethanjali.selvaretnam@glasgow.ac.uk

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Abstract

This article studies the multicultural experience of students who completed a group project in an undergraduate economics course. Students were required to work in groups of four consisting of at least two nationalities. Feedback on this multicultural experience was gathered through a questionnaire. The results show strong support for intervention by academic staff to promote multicultural interactions on campus, identify many benefits and highlight potential challenges. We found evidence that students interacted on topics wider than the project topic itself, such as differences in culture, university life, and leisure activities, and that almost half of them agreed that their quality of work improved when they worked in mixed groups. Cultural diversity in group work should be built into the early years of degree programmes to help students develop multicultural competency.

Universities in the United Kingdom are popular study destinations as evidenced by the high number of international students. Figures 1a and 1b show that there has been a steep increase in the number of non-UK students in the past two decades; they have more than doubled.1 More than half a million international students were enrolled in UK universities in 2019–2020, accounting for about 22 per cent of the student body in higher education (HESA 2022). Pat Killingley (2012) explains that this trend can be attributed to government policy, specifically the Prime Minister's Initiative (PMI), which seeks to increase the number of international students in UK universities. Several strategies have been adopted to achieve this objective, such as target marketing, the allocation of resources for English language support, and the promotion of degree preparatory courses.

Figure 1a.
Figure 1a.

Trend in total international students in UK universities (Source: https://studying-in-uk.org)

Citation: Learning and Teaching 15, 2; 10.3167/latiss.2022.150202

Figure 1b.
Figure 1b.

Percentage of international students in UK higher education (Source: Heidi Plus, HESA)

Citation: Learning and Teaching 15, 2; 10.3167/latiss.2022.150202

There is a vast literature exploring the challenges posed by a culturally diverse student body (e.g. Akanwa 2015; Brunsting et al. 2018; Hansen et al. 2018; Meng et al. 2018). One segment of these challenges is that students tend to build friendships and study circles with students from similar cultural backgrounds and rarely take the initiative to engage in multicultural interactions (e.g. Arkoudis and Baik 2014; Rienties and Nolan 2014; Rienties et al. 2014). Research suggests that there are several barriers in cross-cultural communications such as language proficiency, cultural differences, inability to find common interests to form friendship groups, acculturative stress, discrepancies in learning approaches, and academic expectations (Aktar and Kroner-Herwig 2015; Bai 2016; Wright and Lander 2003; Zhang and Goodson 2011).

On the other hand, studying in a culturally diverse learning environment can enrich students’ experience and develop multicultural skills such as cultural awareness and global knowledge, effective and empathetic communication, and the ability to critically evaluate stereotypes (e.g. Akanwa 2015; De Vita 2005; Marangell 2018; Ryan 2005; Volet and Ang 1998). There is evidence that working in diverse groups enhances cognitive development, critical thinking and performance (Cambre et al. 2014; Gurin et al. 2002; Luo and Jamieson-Drake 2009; Pascarella et al. 2014). Students should be prepared to face an increasingly globalised working environment, be it colleagues, customers, suppliers, competitors or policymakers. The importance of intercultural competence in the workplace and the challenges of incompetence in this sphere have also been highlighted in previous studies (Arkoudis et al. 2009; Johnson et al. 2006; Ledwith and Seymour 2001). Being able to communicate and work effectively in multicultural teams and environments increases students’ competitiveness and graduate employability. Therefore, it is crucial to equip students with this valuable skill.

Given the importance of multicultural competence and the marked reluctance of students to engage in voluntary intercultural interactions, the question then arises as to whether classroom interventions are required to help students develop multicultural skills. The objective of this research is to investigate how working in a culturally mixed group affects the level and type of interactions. More specifically, the research questions pertaining to multicultural groups are: (1) What are students’ topics of conversation, and do these topics relate to different cultures? (2) What are the benefits and challenges students experience when working in a multicultural group? (3) How do students perceive the impact of the multicultural group on their quality of work? (4) Do students want academic staff to take steps to promote multicultural interactions?

Research methodology

Group assignment

Group work is an obvious way to encourage student interaction, especially across cultures. Glauco De Vita (2005) recommends mixed group work as an instrument to promote cross-national interaction. A recent case study in the humanities shows how interaction between home and international students can be enhanced through in-class group work and tutorials (Cruickshank et al. 2012). Another study finds that creating learning networks by allocating students to multinational groups for fourteen weeks increased intercultural interaction (Rienties et al. 2014). This research was carried out in an optional course in economics at a Scottish university. The course Economics of Poverty was offered to third- and fourth-year undergraduate students in the first semester of the academic year 2019–2020, before any restrictions on social distancing were imposed. One of the assessments required students to work in groups to produce a proposal for a pilot poverty alleviation project which accounted for 30 per cent of the final grade for the course. The assignment instructions and arrangements for forming groups were released in the first lecture (Appendix 1). A summative assessment was chosen for this research because an evaluated assignment would incentivise all students to participate and contribute positively as a team.

Students self-enrolled into groups of four by the end of Week 3, and those who did not have a group were matched randomly. The deadline for the submission was at the end of the semester in Week 11 to give students ample time to work together. A longer period of interaction in a diverse group would provide students with a better opportunity to adapt to a multicultural environment, alleviate wrong assumptions, learn about each other and utilise their differences productively. Since the main objective of this research was to analyse the impact of mixed groups on cross-cultural interaction, students were only provided with the topic and structure of the project proposal in the assignment guidelines. There was no other prescribed task or requirement that students had to achieve when working towards the final goal. The interaction within the group itself was not assessed.

Multinational groups

Economics of Poverty is a course that requires regular class discussions. In our experience of teaching this course for several years, we have noticed there is limited mixing of students in group discussions. Students with the same nationality tend to sit together. Our group arrangement was inspired by Sue Wright and Denis Lander's (2003) bi-ethnic groups, but allowed more flexibility in the number of nationalities per group. The group size was chosen to be four for two reasons. First, previous studies suggest that free-riding and group size are negatively correlated (Sandler 1992). A group of four is small enough to make non-participation and free-riding relatively difficult. Second, reported satisfaction with group size is optimal between four and five members (Hackman and Vidmar 1970; Slater 1958).

A total of forty-eight students enrolled in the course were divided into twelve groups of four. Their nationality and gender are presented in Table 1. Three groups had three students from the same nationality and one student from another, while one group had two students per nationality. The remaining groups had students from three nationalities.

Table 1.

Group information according to nationality and gender

article image

Although it was a relatively small class, we had forty-eight students, which met the rule of thumb for a large enough sample size (30) for statistical analysis. Table 2 compares the composition of students between the course, the undergraduate economics programme, the university and the United Kingdom in 2019–2020. Data in Columns 3 to 6 are from Heidi Plus, HESA. Most students were from the European Union, followed by the United Kingdom, then the non-European region. The student composition of the course seems to be more diverse than the degree programme, the university and the landscape of UK higher education.

Table 2.

Distribution of students by region of nationality in 2019–2020

Region Course Undergraduate Economics Programmes in the University Total number of students in the University Total number of students in UK universities
United Kingdom 37.50% 52.06% 64.34% 76.67%
European Union 47.92% 19.00% 10.75% 6.30%
Non–European Union 14.58% 28.94% 24.91% 17.02%
Unknown 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.01%

Source: Heidi Plus, HESA

Questionnaire

Student feedback was collected via an individual online questionnaire. The questionnaire was released only one week before the assignment submission deadline to minimise the Hawthorne effect, which refers to the tendency of individuals to alter their behaviour if they know they are being evaluated (Landsberger 1968). Responses were submitted individually soon after the group project was completed.

The questionnaire was designed to elicit information on the level and type of multicultural interaction, how students’ experience in this group project differed from their other group work experience, and whether intervention is necessary to increase intercultural interaction among students. The survey questions are presented in Figure 2. They include a mix of Likert-type questions as well as open-ended and reflective questions. Likert-type questions are commonly used by researchers to transfer qualitative value into a quantitative measure for data analysis purposes. A similar study uses Likert-style questionnaires to identify the challenges experienced by students from different countries (Propov et al. 2012). Open-ended questions allow respondents – in our case, students – to explain their positions and elaborate their answers.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Survey questionnaire

Citation: Learning and Teaching 15, 2; 10.3167/latiss.2022.150202

Question 1 asked students to list their topics of conversation within the group. The purpose of this question was to explore the breath of cross-cultural communications among students outside the group project. This area has not been discussed extensively in the literature, which tends to focus on teaching and learning activities in the course. This question also helps us understand students’ communication strategies and whether any efforts were made to cultivate cultural awareness.

Questions 2 and 3 are related to students’ learning experience in the group project. Students were asked to what extent this type of multinational collaboration improved their quality of work, about the benefits and/or challenges they faced, and whether this group formation intervention gave them a different experience compared to choosing their own group members.

Students are the recipients of the benefits of such activities and would have ideas that would be effective in their circles. Question 4 is the key to understanding whether students think more interventions are needed to promote cross-national interactions on campus, while the final question asks students to suggest ways to achieve the objective of multicultural interaction.

Ethical approval to carry out this study was obtained from the College of Social Sciences Ethics Committee at the university where this study took place. Although all the students were required to participate in the group project, they had to voluntarily give consent for us to use the data for this research. Out of the forty-eight students, forty-two gave informed consent for their responses to be used in this research.

Methodology of analysis

Qualitative analysis

The coding of textual data followed the guidance of Moria Maguire and Brid Delahunt (2017), who applied Virginia Braun and Victoria Clark's (2006) thematic analysis framework to pedagogical research. Answers to each open-ended question were typed and uploaded to word clouds, which are visualisations of word frequency in student quotes, to identify common themes. A larger text size indicates higher frequencies or greater weight. Both authors followed an inductive process to generate themes and codes, grouping the answers into various categories by extracting meaningful phrases. After cross-checking with each other and coming to an agreement, we counted the number of comments per category to find out the popularity of each category. Quotations about each topic give further clarification and depth to the analysis so that the experience of the students can be better understood.

Quantitative analysis

The level of discussion of various topics about the benefits and challenges of multicultural groups is summarised by the sample mean, median, mode and standard deviation of the number of topics students mentioned.2 Results are presented in total as well as by gender or region (UK, EU and international). Assuming that our Likert scale approximates an interval-level measurement, we used the t-test and analysis of variance (ANOVA) to measure whether there is a significant difference between the means of two groups and more, respectively. Although there are some disagreements about performing hypothesis tests on Likert-scale data, it is still worthwhile to present the results for future research.

Numerical values ascending from 1 are assigned to each Likert item to estimate the strength of the opinion in Questions 2 to 4. A larger number indicates stronger agreement for the five-level Likert scale and represents larger difference for the three-level Likert scale. Between-group differences are evaluated using the t-test and ANOVA test. The p-values of the t-test and ANOVA test are Pr(>|t|) and Pr(>F), respectively, where t is the t-statistic from t-test and F is the F-statistic from the ANOVA/F-test. We can conclude that there is no statistically significant difference between the group means at the 1 per cent significance level if the p-value of the test statistic is greater than 0.10. On the contrary, there is a statistically significant difference between the group means at the 10 per cent significance level if the p-value of the test is less than 0.10.3

Analysis of results and discussion

Students reflected on their group experience when answering the questionnaire individually. Answers to each question are analysed separately in this section.

Topics of interaction

Q1. In your interaction with your group members of other nationalities, what, if anything, did you discuss other than the group project?

The conversation keywords in Question 1 are presented in a word cloud in Figure 3. The keywords indicated by a larger text size are categorised into ten topics and their associated number of comments are presented in Table 3. Example quotes are included in the table to elaborate each category. Some students were keener to discuss different topics than others. The number of topics mentioned by each student ranges from 0 to 6, with an average of 2.88 per student and a standard deviation of 1.64.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Topics of interaction: Word cloud

Citation: Learning and Teaching 15, 2; 10.3167/latiss.2022.150202

Table 3.

Topics of interaction – Discussion types

Topics of discussion Number of comments Example quote
Home country, culture, language, religion 25 ‘We discussed each other's backgrounds, cultures and how they differ, and religion, e.g., halal finance’.

‘We did also discuss countries where we come from and a bit of traditions we were not aware of’.

‘We discussed many things with each other, such as what each person was going to do for Christmas and what Christmas was like in the various different countries’.

‘Beautiful places in the home countries of each person. Cultural differences when it comes to sex, drinking, or partying’.
Degree programme, other courses 22 ‘We discussed what classes did we take and coming exams’.

‘We also discussed about the course topics, especially in relation to the in-course exercises’.

‘One member is in third year so gave some advice on dealing with the third-year macro and micro courses’.
Interests, hobbies, social and leisure activities 22 ‘We did discuss a lot of things and figured out our common interests’.

‘We discussed about each other's hobbies’.

‘We also discussed what we all like to do in our spare time’.

‘We discussed backgrounds, day-to-day plans, and activities’.
Current affairs / politics 13 ‘We talked politics, but not much more’.

‘We also talked briefly about politics in our respective countries’.

‘Did discuss current affairs, economics and politics – Brexit and their point of view on that matter’.
University, student life 9 ‘We discussed our university life with one another’.

‘Had a bit of chat, general stuff like where we live’.
Degree programme / courses, compare other universities 8 ‘Yes – there were two British girls in the group (myself and my friend), and two Dutch girls. It was interesting to hear about the economics classes they studied back home’.

‘Especially they were interested in how it is for me to come to their university and to what extent it differs from my home university’.

‘We discussed the differences in the economics courses at our respective universities’.

‘This mainly involved the comparison of how the university year looks like and the outline of courses’.
Work, career, experience / internships 6 ‘We mainly discussed … summer internships’.

‘We discussed careers, which was interesting but not really related to nationality’.
Holiday / travelling 5 ‘Plans for the holidays’

‘We even invited each other to our country’.
Relationships 4 ‘There was discussion about … light-hearted discussions about another group member's romantic life’.
Dissertation 3 ‘I met the fourth group member through this project. With him, we talked about the challenges of his dissertation as he is a fourth-year student’.

Table 3 sheds some light on the type of discussion students engaged in. The most popular topic with twenty-five comments was about their countries and culture. This is consistent with the objective of this intervention, which was to encourage multicultural interaction and raise cultural awareness. The sheer number of students who engaged in discussions surrounding their countries and cultures indicate that simply providing students the opportunity to interact with each other can increase cultural knowledge and awareness.

There were twenty-two comments about topics related to other courses and assessments in the degree programme, which was unsurprising. We expected that students would engage in discussions about their courses and assessments. Topics related to hobbies, interests, and social and leisure activities also attracted twenty-two comments, indicating that the students had a healthy work–life balance. There were three comments specifically about dissertations, so the topic is presented separately.

Topics on politics and current affairs were also popular among students (thirteen comments). As this course is an elective in development economics, our students tend to be interested in current political, social and economic issues. It is a good sign that students took the group project as an opportunity to understand other countries’ politics and current affairs.

It was anticipated that students would discuss topics to do with university life in general such as accommodation and shopping (nine comments), which are likely to vary across countries. As this course is open for visiting students and home students who studied abroad, there were discussions that compared degree programmes across universities (eight comments). These comments are valuable for programme leaders who are responsible for programme design, operation and improvement. Surprisingly, there were only six comments about career and internships – perhaps this is a discussion that students would have with established friendship groups and career advisors. Finally, there were some light-hearted conversations about holiday plans and relationships (five and four comments, respectively).

It is noteworthy that four students indicated that they did not discuss anything else other than the group project. One such student explained this stance:

No. This is not because we are not interested in each other's cultures or background but rather we were all acquainted with each other prior to the project. Personally, I think the concept of trying to engage students culturally is important, but I don't believe the assessed project is the place for it. I'd suggest first and second year are best placed to create engagement or business school societies.

This comment suggests that some students prefer to have interventions in multicultural interactions early and under a more relaxed environment.

Table 4 presents the statistics for number of topics reported by students. The mean, median and mode indicate that males mention a slightly higher number of topics than females. The average number of topics is 2.96 for males and 2.72 for females. In the last column, most males indicated that they engaged in discussions of three different topics, while most females engaged in two. The cross-region results suggest that the EU and international students are more similar compared to the UK students. While all three groups have the same mode of three topics, the UK students have a higher mean but lower median, which suggests that their data is skewed to the right.

Table 4.

Number of topics

Number Mean (s.d.) Median Mode
Females 18 2.72 (1.69) 2.5 2
Males 24 2.96 (1.60) 3 3
UK 16 3.38 (2.09) 2.21 3
EU 19 2.56 (1.17) 3 3
International 7 2.43 (1.18) 3 3

The p-value of t-statistic for gender mean difference is Pr(>|t|) = 0.6015 and the p-value of F-statistic for regional mean difference is Pr(>F) = 0.2302. Both tests indicate that there are no statistically significant differences in the number the topics between the genders and regions at the 10 per cent significance level.

Effect of multicultural groups on quality of work

Q2. To what extent do you agree with the statement ‘Working in a group with different nationalities improved the quality of my work’?

Responses to Question 2 indicate whether students felt that working in a multicultural group was instrumental in improving the quality of their work. Results of the Likert-scale question are shown in Table 5.

Table 5.

Multinational group improved work – Likert

Number of responses Percentage
Strongly agree 3 7.1 %
Agree 16 38.1 %
Neither agree nor disagree 20 47.6 %
Disagree 3 7.1 %
Strongly disagree 0 0

Almost half of the students were neutral. No one strongly disagreed, while three students disagreed with the statement. There were sixteen students who agreed, and another three students who strongly agreed that it improved the work. The mean, median, mode and standard deviation of output quality are reported in Table 6 by gender and region, assigning a 5 to ‘strongly agree’ and a 1 to ‘strongly disagree’. A higher value indicates stronger agreement that working in a multinational group improved the quality of work. As shown in the table, the strength with which students agreed is the highest for international students across all three statistics (4 or above). Both EU and UK students have a lower median and mode of 3, while the latter has the lowest mean of 3.25.

Table 6.

Group improved quality – Statistics

Mean (s.d.) Median Mode
Female 3.33 (0.82) 3 3
Male 3.54 (0.64) 3 3
UK 3.25 (0.66) 3 3
EU 3.37 (0.67) 3 3
International 4.14 (0.64) 4 4

The p-value of the t-statistic for gender mean difference is Pr(>|t|) = 0.3726, and the p-value of the F-statistic for regional mean difference is Pr(>F) = 0.0576. The test results suggest that there is a statistically significant difference in the average output quality between regions but not between genders at the 10 per cent significance level. In fact, the regional mean difference arises from the differences between EU and international students – Pr(>|t|) = 0.0436 – and between UK and international students – Pr(>|t|) = 0.0304.

Benefits and challenges of multicultural groups

Q3. Explain your choice, highlighting the benefits and challenges of working in such a group.

Investigating further into students’ answers to the Likert scale in Question 3, we find that most students mentioned at least one positive experience in overall learning other than better grades. The various benefits and challenges explained by students are captured in the word cloud in Figure 4. A detailed categorisation with number of comments and example quotes is given in Table 7.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Word cloud on benefits and challenges of multinational groups

Citation: Learning and Teaching 15, 2; 10.3167/latiss.2022.150202

Table 7.

Benefits and challenges of multinational groups

Number of comments Example quote
Benefits:
Different points of view 14 ‘The main benefit I would say is that you have the combination of different backgrounds leading to people having different insights and angles’.

‘The benefits in such a group is that everyone has different perspectives and combining those perspectives helps give a broader view on the task we have to work on. Everyone has different knowledge and experiences, which is really helpful’.
Meet new people 7 ‘Great opportunity to meet new people’.

‘I think it was interesting to work with different nationalities and nice to do something different rather than just being with friends’.
Different approaches 5 ‘I'd say it improved the quality as we all have different ways of approaching things whether that is because of how we have been taught in our own country or not’.

‘It enabled me to understand the way of thinking of people from other nationalities, how they break down a problem and what their approach with group projects is’.
More innovative solutions 4 ‘More innovative solutions and ideas’.

‘Our group project focused on a region in Africa, having an individual in our group who had lived in Africa helped us to understand some of the realities of our project idea’.
Conversations about issues other than this project 3 ‘Interesting off work talks. Language barrier was not an issue’.
Better language, depending on group members 3 ‘Benefits: language improvements; help with some grammar’.

‘Sometimes the language used in the project by the students whose first language wasn't English could be basic or broken, but native speakers were able to rectify it’.
Working with new people motivates better work ethic / engagement 2 ‘I think I was perhaps more engaged with everyone in the diverse group’.

‘I think it was helpful in the sense that everyone wanted to get things done (i.e. if you were doing it with friends it would have perhaps been less productive)’.
Challenges:
Difference in work ethic / aspirations 6 ‘Language barrier was not an issue but working morale and ambition was different. But this is likely to be because of personalities and personal aims of different persons’.
Language barriers 5 ‘Challenges faces with grammar and academic writing. This involved me having to re-word non-native English-speaking group members’.
More effort and time to get to know one another 4 ‘When working in a group with new people, everyone is a bit more rigid and meetings are more brief, we will discuss exactly what needs to be done, make a plan as best we can and then go off in separate directions. Whereas I feel when working with friends or people you are already very comfortable with, you are more likely to work together longer, ask more questions, correct each other more and so on, the work is a bit more fluid and flexible. It feels less of a “rush” to get things done’.
Fixing meetings are more difficult 2 ‘The time to meet, for example, would be easier to schedule’.

The most common benefit (fourteen comments) is that diverse group members bring different points of view to the discussion. Multicultural interaction facilitates knowledge spillover. Related to this were four comments on innovation because students realised that working in a culturally diverse group fosters creativity. We found five comments about the different approaches that students took when tackling the project. Students learn from each other when collaborating and thereby enhance the final output. This is an aspect which students can make use of in any other teamwork they engage in.

Apart from teamwork, there were seven comments suggesting the advantage of meeting new people, especially from other countries. There were an additional three comments about gaining new insights into issues outside the project. A few related comments mentioned being motivated to have a better work ethic when working with new people. This was unexpected, as students usually are worried about a lack of work ethic when working with unknown people: ‘I think it was helpful in the sense that everyone wanted to get things done (i.e. if you were doing it with friends, it would have perhaps been less productive)’.

On the other hand, the biggest challenge, mentioned by six students, is also related to different work ethics and aspirations. However, it is not apparent that this was due to multicultural groups, as such differences are common in most teams. There were five comments which mentioned that some group members lacked English proficiency and that their work had to be proofread. This could be due to discrepancies in expectations of the written output because there were other comments such as ‘language was not an issue’. In contrast, three students whose native language is not English acknowledged the benefit of working with those who had a better grasp of the language.

There were four comments about the challenge of becoming acquainted with new people, such as taking more time to understand the way they work or being comfortable to ask questions. These comments vindicate the decision to have group projects over a long period so that students have the time to learn about each other. A couple of comments also mentioned the difficulties in arranging meetings, which might have been easier when working with known circles. The questionnaire revealed the negative experiences of multicultural group work that should be addressed head-on. An organised group-forming session and team-building exercise could have been part of this initiative.

Different experience in multicultural groups

Q4. Would you consider the experience to be different from what might have been if you had chosen your own group members?

While most students were neutral regarding quality improvement as shown in Table 5, the multicultural group requirement might still have an impact on their learning experience. The responses are shown in Table 8.

Table 8.

Difference in experience – Likert

Number of responses Percentage
No difference 19 45.23 %
Slightly different 20 47.62 %
Very different 3 7.14 %

Surprisingly, most students indicated that they found the experience to be either ‘no different’ or ‘slightly different’. The fact that the students felt there was not much difference in the experience could be interpreted that having mixed nationalities in the group did not adversely affect their experience. Students’ positive response to multicultural group formation is evident in the open-ended question. Two positive comments were:

  1. Ididn't expect to find such a nice group.
  2. Certainly – I did not know my group members before the project. Having to deal with different cultures is always interesting, and brings challenges but also opportunity.

Only three students thought the experience was very different due to the random assignment of a group member. This was elaborated by two students in the open-ended question, who indicated that there was an unengaged member of the group:

One group member who was not chosen but assigned at random, this group member did not communicate amongst the group as much, resulting in some conflicts between group members’ work, also resulting in other group members having to do more of the work than others.

This is a common problem in any group assignment, and the comment did not indicate whether this appeared to be a result of different cultural backgrounds.

Should there be interventions?

Q6. To what extent do you agree that the school should take steps to increase cross-national interaction among students?

The responses to whether there should be interventions to promote multicultural interactions are presented in Table 9.

Table 9.

Should there be intervention? – Likert

Number of responses Percentage
Strongly agree 11 26.19 %
Agree 13 30.95 %
Neither agree nor disagree 14 33.33 %
Disagree 4 9.52 %
Strongly disagree 0 0

In general, there was strong support for intervention to promote multicultural interaction, with twenty-four students either agreeing or strongly agreeing and fourteen students remaining neutral. There were only four students who disagreed, but most indicated that it was not that they did not support this view but that they preferred a different type of intervention:

  1. Ihad the feeling there was a very good diversification. I would suggest to let the people know each other in the class before forming groups.
  2. We should not be forced into groups; instead, discussion-based tutorials should be led. More student participation in lectures among students.
  3. First, I have selected ‘disagree’ above because I don't think it's fair to drop students into cross-national group projects just in the years that count towards their degrees. Some students have far more limited English, and this can make group work very tricky. I think that more mixed accommodation in first year would be the most effective way of integrating people. However, where there are large cultural differences (UK drinking culture vs other parts of the world) it could create tensions.

The mean, median, mode and standard deviation of the Likert scales, with 5 assigned to ‘strongly agree’ and 1 assigned to ‘strongly disagree’, are reported in Table 10.

Table 10.

Should there be intervention? – Statistics

Mean (s.d.) Median Mode
Female 3.83 (0.68) 4 4
Male 3.71 (1.09) 4 5
UK 3.63 (1.05) 3.5 3
Europe 3.74 (0.91) 4 4
International 4.14 (1.68) 4 5

All group statistics (mean, median, mode) lean towards supporting intervention. Except for UK students, the median and mode are greater than the mean, which suggests that the data is skewed to the right. International students are most supportive of intervention, while the UK students are the least desirous of international students to interact with the home students. Hence, school intervention would be helpful in enabling students to interact across cultures and help international students integrate with home students. The t-test confirms that there is no statistically significant difference between male and female (Pr(>|t|) = 0.6809), while the ANOVA test also suggests no statistically significant difference between regions (Pr(>F) = 0.4622).

Possible interventions to promote multicultural interaction

Q7. Can you make some suggestions which would be effective to increase team diversity from the student's perspective?

This is a follow-up question to Question 4, which asks students, who are the beneficiaries of such an initiative, to state their preferred interventions to achieve team diversity. Keywords of student responses are summarised in the word cloud in Figure 5 and then categorised into ten groups in Table 11.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Suggested interventions for group diversity

Citation: Learning and Teaching 15, 2; 10.3167/latiss.2022.150202

Table 11.

Suggested interventions for group diversity

Suggestions Number of students
Group allocation by teachers 8
Similar to this project 7
Group work in lectures/discussions 6
Opportunity for students to introduce themselves at the beginning 3
Gender mix rather than nationality 3
Outside class activities geared towards diversity 2
Social events / buddy system designed for multicultural interaction 2
Dedicated courses for group work 1
Group activity in classes earlier in the degree 1
More group activities 1

As shown in Table 11, the most frequent response (eight students) was for teachers to allocate students into groups, followed by that which mentioned the method used for this assessment (seven). There were six suggestions for such group work and discussions to be conducted within lectures rather than as a take-home assessment; and two comments were about outside class activities such as student societies that should be geared towards multicultural interaction. Three students suggested the importance of gender mix to be given priority over nationality, and another three comments were for students to be given the opportunity to introduce themselves and mingle, which would enable them to make friends and make up their own mixed groups. Related to this were a few other comments suggesting social events.

Conclusion and recommendations

In universities with large numbers of international students, an opportunity arises for students to gain first-hand experience of interacting across cultures, which could help them develop valuable multicultural skills. This research project investigated the effectiveness of mixed groups with different nationalities for promoting multicultural interaction. The design of the summative assessment was for students to work in groups of four made up of at least two nationalities over a period of eight to ten weeks. The purpose of this group formation was to promote multicultural interaction and develop multicultural skills.

The results suggest that students have positively embraced the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds, get acquainted with each other and discuss issues beyond the group project. Topics of conversation included their countries, culture, politics, current affairs, leisure activities, travel interests, university life, future plans and comparison of degree programmes in different countries. The most popular topic was their countries and cultures. This is a positive and encouraging outcome. Students have also discussed the politics and current affairs in their countries, but not to the extent that one would expect from students of economics.

Students who participated in this research strongly supported interventions to increase multicultural interactions. Given the importance of multicultural skills, the recommendation is to acknowledge that students should not be left to do this on their own. Diversity activities can be embedded within the degree programmes as formative or summative assessments or classroom activities. Further steps can also be taken to provide opportunities to engage in interactions across cultures at a wider level within the university with the help of the Students’ Union, Chaplaincy, Student Services and other campus entities.

Following from the need for interventions, students have mentioned that such multicultural group activities should be introduced earlier in the degree programme so that skills can be developed and honed. This will develop multicultural skills that would be beneficial in the job market as well as prepare them for activities in the later years of the degree. Students pointed out their anxiety when such attempts were made as summative assessments in their senior year when their grades matter more. This would work better if they have the experience in earlier years.

Students mentioned the challenges of getting to know new people and the time it takes to understand them. It would be beneficial to acknowledge the challenges that students might face and prepare them with tools to work together effectively. It is crucial to explain the importance of diversity and multicultural skills, as well as the benefits that this opportunity provides. A recommendation would be to have a time allotted to team-building before the group work, with students working in the same groups they were originally assigned to. Having some school-wide workshops to raise multicultural awareness and think about the skills they need to develop would be of immense value.

We arranged for students to work for almost a full semester on this group project, which gave them ample time to communicate, coordinate activities and resolve conflicts. Another important suggestion from our experience is to ask students to write a reflection of their multicultural group experience with their assignment, as it allows students to appreciate and cement the benefits of multicultural interaction, group work and skill development.

Despite the positive comments and requests to promote multicultural interaction, most students did not find this group project that different from what they have experienced before. This is because they have already interacted across cultures in student societies and other activities. Students have suggested that such multicultural interactive opportunities could also be created within classrooms as well as outside the classrooms using student societies, social events, team-building-type exercises, and so on. Although we recommend making the best use of such activities, we should be mindful that not all students would participate in these extracurricular activities, which could be due to practical constraints such as caring responsibilities, work commitments, and living too far from campus.

This study has inspired us to create more such opportunities of multicultural interactions for our students. We not only continue to require mixed groups in this assessment, but are also trying such introduce similar group formation in other courses.

An interesting area of future research this project has alluded to is to explore the type of interactions that take place among students. This information would be useful to design activities to achieve the objective of multicultural-skill development. Although this research was conducted in a small class of economics students, further research can be carried out in larger classes in various other disciplines for more robust results. This would increase the external validity and encourage the use of team diversity to develop multicultural skills.

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge with thanks the feedback from the anonymous reviewers, the editors, the audience at the University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference and Dr Michael McEwan.

Notes

2

Sample mean is the average of the data; median is the middle number in a sorted list of numbers; mode is the number that appears the most in the data; and standard deviation measures the spread of the data relative to its mean.

3

The null hypothesis is that there is no statistically significant difference between the group means, while the alternative hypothesis is the opposite. If the p-value is greater than the chosen significance level (0.01, 0.05 or 0.10), we do not reject the null hypothesis. If the p-value is less than the chosen significance level, we reject null hypothesis.

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Aktar, M. and B. Kroner-Herwig (2015), ‘Acculturative stress among international students in context of socio-demographic variables and coping styles’, Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues 34, no. 4: 803815. doi:10.1007/s12144-015-9303-4.

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  • Arkoudis, S. and C. Baik (2014), ‘Crossing the interaction divide between international and domestic students in higher education’, HERDSA Review of Higher Education 1: 4762. https://www.herdsa.org.au/herdsa-review-higher-education-vol-1/47-62.

    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Arkoudis, S., L. Hawthorne, C. Baik, G. Hawthorne, K. O'Loughlin, D. Leach and E. Bexley (2009), The Impact of English Language Proficiency and Workplace Readiness on Employment Outcomes and Performance of Tertiary International Students (Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne). https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/publications/documents/elp_full_report.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Cruickshank, K. E., H. Chen and S. Warren (2012), ‘Increasing international and domestic student interaction through group work: A case study from the humanities’, Higher Education Research and Development 31, no. 6: 797810. doi:10.1080/07294360.2012.669748.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • De Vita, G. (2005), ‘Fostering intercultural learning through multicultural group work’, in J. Carroll and J. Ryan (eds), Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All (London: Routledge), 7583.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gurin P., E. L. Dey, S. Hurtado and G. Gurin (2002), ‘Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes’, Harvard Educational Review 72, no. 3: 330366. doi:10.17763/haer.72.3.01151786u134n051.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hackman, J. R. and N. Vidmar (1970), ‘Effects of size and task type on group performance and member reactions’, Sociometry 33, no. 1: 3754. doi:10.2307/2786271.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hansen, H. R., Y. Shneyderman, G. S. McNamara and L. Grace (2018), ‘Acculturative stress and native and U.S. culture immersion of international students at a community college’, Journal of International Students 8, no. 1: 215232. doi:10.32674/jis.v8i1.161.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnson, J. P., T. Lenartowicz and S. Apud (2006), ‘Cross-cultural competence in international business: Toward a definition and a model’, Journal of International Business Studies 37, no. 4: 525543. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8400205.

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    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Landsberger, H. A. (1968), Hawthorne Revisited: Management and the Worker – Its Critics and Developments in Human Relations in Industry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ledwith, S. and D. Seymour (2001), ‘Home and away: Preparing students for multicultural management’, International Journal of Human Resource Management 12, no. 8: 12921312. doi:10.1080/09585190110083802.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Luo, J. and D. Jamieson-Drake (2009), ‘A retrospective assessment of the educational benefits of interaction across racial boundaries’, Journal of College Student Development 50, no. 1: 6786. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0052.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Maguire, M. and B. Delahunt (2017), ‘Doing a thematic analysis: A practical, step-by-step guide for learning and teaching scholars’, All Ireland Journal of Higher Education 9, no. 3: 335133514. http://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/335.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marangell, S., S. Arkoudis and C. Baik (2018), ‘Developing a host culture for international students: What does it take?Journal of International Students 8, no. 3: 14401458. doi:10.32674/jis.v8i3.65.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meng, Q., C. Zhu and C. Cao (2018), ‘Chinese international students’ social connectedness, social and academic adaptation: The mediating role of global competence’, Higher Education 75: 131147. doi:10.1007/s10734-017-0129-x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pascarella, E. T., G. L. Martin, J. M. Hanson, T. L. Trolian, B. Gillig and C. Blaich (2014), ‘Effects of diversity experiences on critical thinking skills over 4 years of college’, Journal of College Student Development 55, no. 1: 8692. doi:10.1353/csd.2014.0009.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Propov, V., D. Brinkman, H. J. A. Biemans, M. Mulder, A. Kuznetsov and O. Noroozi (2012), ‘Multi-cultural student group work in higher education: An explorative case study on challenges as perceived by students’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 36, no. 2: 302317. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.09.004.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rienties, B. and E.-M. Nolan (2014), ‘Understanding friendship and learning networks of international and host students using longitudinal social network analysis’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 41: 165180. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.12.003.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rienties, B., N. Johan and D. Jindal-Snape (2014), ‘A dynamic analysis of social capital-building of international and UK students’, British Journal of Sociology of Education 36, no. 8: 12121235. doi:10.1080/01425692.2014.886941.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ryan, J. (2005), ‘The student experience: Challenges and rewards’, in J. Carroll and J. Ryan (2005), Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All (London: Routledge), 147153.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sandler, T. (1992), Collective Action: Theory and Applications (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press).

  • Slater, P. E. (1958), ‘Contrasting correlates of group size’, Sociometry 21, no. 2: 129139. doi:10.2307/2785897.

  • Volet, S. E. and G. Ang (1998), ‘Culturally mixed groups on international campuses: An opportunity for international learning’, Higher Education Research and Development 17, no. 1: 523. doi:10.1080/0729436980170101.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wright, S. and D. Lander (2003), ‘Collaborative group interactions of students from two ethnic backgrounds’, Higher Education Research and Development 22, no. 3: 237252. doi:10.1080/0729436032000145121.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zhang, J. and P. Goodson (2011), ‘Predictors of international students’ psychosocial adjustment to life in the United States: A systematic review’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35, no. 2: 139162. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2010.11.011.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Appendix 1

Instructions for the group assignment

Suppose that you are a group of project leaders from a local NGO who are responsible for designing projects to reduce poverty in developing countries. You have been asked to write a proposal describing a pilot poverty alleviation programme for a region/group of people of your choice. The proposal should have the following sections: Section 1 introduces the pilot project and its motivation; Section 2 explains the details of the programme; Section 3 analyses the costs and benefits of the project, and the possibility of scaling up; and Section 4 concludes. Guidelines on how to write a project proposal will be posted on Moodle.

Instructions for group formation

Students will form groups of four members including at least two nationalities. Students should email the course coordinator by the end of Week 3 to confirm their groups. Groups which are smaller than four and students who are not in a group will be matched randomly.

Contributor Notes

Wenya Cheng is a Lecturer in Applied Economics at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, and a Fellow of the HEA. She previously worked at the University of Manchester as a Lecturer in Economics. Her research and teaching revolve around development economics, labour economics, trade and applied microeconomics. Email: wenya.cheng@glasgow.ac.uk

Geethanjali Selvaretnam is a Senior Lecturer at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, and a Senior Fellow of the HEA. Her research and teaching revolve around the economics of banking, development economics and applied microeconomics. Her research interests have recently moved into academic practices in higher education, where she is working on two-stage exams, inner feedback and self-evaluation, informal exams and intercultural interaction to enhance student experience. Email: geethanjali.selvaretnam@glasgow.ac.uk

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Learning and Teaching

The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences

  • Akanwa, E. E. (2015), ‘International students in Western developed countries: History, challenges, and prospects’, Journal of International Students 5, no. 3: 271284. doi:10.32674/jis.v5i3.421.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Aktar, M. and B. Kroner-Herwig (2015), ‘Acculturative stress among international students in context of socio-demographic variables and coping styles’, Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues 34, no. 4: 803815. doi:10.1007/s12144-015-9303-4.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Arkoudis, S. and C. Baik (2014), ‘Crossing the interaction divide between international and domestic students in higher education’, HERDSA Review of Higher Education 1: 4762. https://www.herdsa.org.au/herdsa-review-higher-education-vol-1/47-62.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Arkoudis, S., L. Hawthorne, C. Baik, G. Hawthorne, K. O'Loughlin, D. Leach and E. Bexley (2009), The Impact of English Language Proficiency and Workplace Readiness on Employment Outcomes and Performance of Tertiary International Students (Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne). https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/publications/documents/elp_full_report.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bai, J. (2016), ‘Perceived support as a predictor of acculturative stress among international students in the United States’, Journal of International Students 6, no. 1: 93106. doi:10.32674/jis.v6i1.483.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braun, V. and V. Clarke (2006), ‘Using thematic analysis in psychology’, Qualitative Research in Psychology 3, no. 2: 77101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brunsting, N. C., C. Zachry and R. Takeuchi (2018), ‘Predictors of undergraduate international student psychosocial adjustment to US universities: A systematic review from 2009–2018’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 66: 2233. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2018.06.002.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cambre, J., C. Kulkarni, M. S. Bernstein and S. R. Klemmer (2014), ‘Talkabout: Small-group discussions in massive global classes’, Proceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning @ scale, 161162. doi:10.1145/2556325.2567859.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cruickshank, K. E., H. Chen and S. Warren (2012), ‘Increasing international and domestic student interaction through group work: A case study from the humanities’, Higher Education Research and Development 31, no. 6: 797810. doi:10.1080/07294360.2012.669748.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • De Vita, G. (2005), ‘Fostering intercultural learning through multicultural group work’, in J. Carroll and J. Ryan (eds), Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All (London: Routledge), 7583.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gurin P., E. L. Dey, S. Hurtado and G. Gurin (2002), ‘Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes’, Harvard Educational Review 72, no. 3: 330366. doi:10.17763/haer.72.3.01151786u134n051.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hackman, J. R. and N. Vidmar (1970), ‘Effects of size and task type on group performance and member reactions’, Sociometry 33, no. 1: 3754. doi:10.2307/2786271.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hansen, H. R., Y. Shneyderman, G. S. McNamara and L. Grace (2018), ‘Acculturative stress and native and U.S. culture immersion of international students at a community college’, Journal of International Students 8, no. 1: 215232. doi:10.32674/jis.v8i1.161.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) (2022), Where do HE students come from, https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/where-from.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnson, J. P., T. Lenartowicz and S. Apud (2006), ‘Cross-cultural competence in international business: Toward a definition and a model’, Journal of International Business Studies 37, no. 4: 525543. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8400205.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Killingley, P. (2012), Prime Minister's Initiative for International Education, Education UK, http://epc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Pat_Killingley.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Landsberger, H. A. (1968), Hawthorne Revisited: Management and the Worker – Its Critics and Developments in Human Relations in Industry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ledwith, S. and D. Seymour (2001), ‘Home and away: Preparing students for multicultural management’, International Journal of Human Resource Management 12, no. 8: 12921312. doi:10.1080/09585190110083802.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Luo, J. and D. Jamieson-Drake (2009), ‘A retrospective assessment of the educational benefits of interaction across racial boundaries’, Journal of College Student Development 50, no. 1: 6786. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0052.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Maguire, M. and B. Delahunt (2017), ‘Doing a thematic analysis: A practical, step-by-step guide for learning and teaching scholars’, All Ireland Journal of Higher Education 9, no. 3: 335133514. http://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/335.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marangell, S., S. Arkoudis and C. Baik (2018), ‘Developing a host culture for international students: What does it take?Journal of International Students 8, no. 3: 14401458. doi:10.32674/jis.v8i3.65.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meng, Q., C. Zhu and C. Cao (2018), ‘Chinese international students’ social connectedness, social and academic adaptation: The mediating role of global competence’, Higher Education 75: 131147. doi:10.1007/s10734-017-0129-x.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pascarella, E. T., G. L. Martin, J. M. Hanson, T. L. Trolian, B. Gillig and C. Blaich (2014), ‘Effects of diversity experiences on critical thinking skills over 4 years of college’, Journal of College Student Development 55, no. 1: 8692. doi:10.1353/csd.2014.0009.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Propov, V., D. Brinkman, H. J. A. Biemans, M. Mulder, A. Kuznetsov and O. Noroozi (2012), ‘Multi-cultural student group work in higher education: An explorative case study on challenges as perceived by students’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 36, no. 2: 302317. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.09.004.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rienties, B. and E.-M. Nolan (2014), ‘Understanding friendship and learning networks of international and host students using longitudinal social network analysis’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 41: 165180. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.12.003.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rienties, B., N. Johan and D. Jindal-Snape (2014), ‘A dynamic analysis of social capital-building of international and UK students’, British Journal of Sociology of Education 36, no. 8: 12121235. doi:10.1080/01425692.2014.886941.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ryan, J. (2005), ‘The student experience: Challenges and rewards’, in J. Carroll and J. Ryan (2005), Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All (London: Routledge), 147153.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sandler, T. (1992), Collective Action: Theory and Applications (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press).

  • Slater, P. E. (1958), ‘Contrasting correlates of group size’, Sociometry 21, no. 2: 129139. doi:10.2307/2785897.

  • Volet, S. E. and G. Ang (1998), ‘Culturally mixed groups on international campuses: An opportunity for international learning’, Higher Education Research and Development 17, no. 1: 523. doi:10.1080/0729436980170101.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wright, S. and D. Lander (2003), ‘Collaborative group interactions of students from two ethnic backgrounds’, Higher Education Research and Development 22, no. 3: 237252. doi:10.1080/0729436032000145121.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zhang, J. and P. Goodson (2011), ‘Predictors of international students’ psychosocial adjustment to life in the United States: A systematic review’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35, no. 2: 139162. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2010.11.011.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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