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Integration and Teamwork between Home and International Students Through Outdoor Education

Info: 9681 words (39 pages) Dissertation
Published: 9th Mar 2021

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Developing an Understanding of Integration and Teamwork between Home and International Students Through the use of Outdoor Education


Higher education institutions such as universities, academies and colleges, are now a popular post-secondary option (Stewart & Knowles, 2000). There is a vast change from secondary education to higher education, so students must adapt very early within the first year to ensure a strong and stable foundation is made for the following years. University graduates have an important task of transition from university to work (Wang et al., 2017), and to enhance the chances of employment, communication and team cooperation have to be of a high standard (Liu and Chen, 2012).

A way in which universities can aid students is by equipping them with a wide range of transferable employable skills (Kalfa and Taksa, 2017). Students can excel through higher education when transferable skills in teamwork, task management, problem solving and leadership are developed (Prichard, Bizo, & Stratford, 2006). According to Hassall et al. (2005), employers believe that educational institutions such as universities, do not focus on the development of personal transferable skills and knowledge areas. Numerous research (Dyball et al., 2007; Kemp & Seagraves, 1995; Wisker, 1994) has been conducted which suggests teamwork and oral presentations have a number of benefits in higher education, ranging from improvements in self-confidence, communication, problem-solving and peer bonding. For example, Wisker (1994) stresses that teamwork and oral work, can help the development of a number of transferable skills. Dyball et al. (2007) study also shows that group activities can have a positive impact, by increasing student’s productivity and performance.

Academic ability and didactic teaching methods are key priorities which universities focus on when trying to develop students subject knowledge, but do not prioritise the development of ones behavioural and emotional skills (Buller & McEvoy, 1990; Roberts, 2009). There are several pre-existing transferable skills frameworks that have been proposed, but Washer (2007) put these frameworks into one set of essential transferable skills for universities, to ensure greater student success. The framework consists of communication, working with others, problem solving, learning how to learn, the use of information technology, numeracy, and personal and professional development. Mclean, Shaban & Murdoch-Eaton (2011), conducted an investigation into the skills, but not this particular framework, and found that when these transferable skills are implemented, it has a positive impact towards student’s independent learning. For this to have an impact, universities must implement transferable skills into their programmes. Universities say that they produce graduate attributes which match Washer (2007) framework. Each university has their own set of graduate attributes, they are different from other institutions but are often similar. For example, the University of Glasgow’s graduate attributes are: academic ability, personal qualities and transferable skills (Gla.ac.uk, 2018), while the University of Hertfordshire say they will develop students’ knowledge, skills and attributes (Herts.ac.uk, 2018). Even though universities say this, they fail to express how these attributes are supported. They are not always clear, as they do not explain how they can be achieved.

Effective teamwork consists of accepting responsibility for your own work and sharing credit, whilst listening and taking into account peers/colleagues ideas and suggestions. Communication and interaction is vital, regardless of what environment you are in when working with others, to ensure for a successful outcome. However, research suggests that meaningful interactions between home and international students are not achieved in a class or on a university campus (Leask, 2009). Volet and Ang (1998) conducted research into internationalisation in higher education institutions in Australia, and identified a lack of integration between the Australian students (home students) and Asian students (international students). They described this non-existent interaction as “one of the most worrying aspects of internalisation in higher education”. Further research by Robertson et al. (2000) investigated this and the results showed that international students felt isolated from their Australian classmates. The previous research has then been reinforced by Leask (2001), who studied the integration between home and international students in their own institution, University of South Australia. With one in four of the students at this university being international, they were concerned with levels of interaction between both sets of students. Students from 95 different countries were questioned and stated that they were very dissatisfied with the amount of integration they had with home students. The same result occurred when questioning the home students. Home students and academic staff both agreed that even if they tried enhancing the integration between both sets of students on campus, it probably would not last off campus. The reasons behind this could be due to language barriers, social differences, fear of saying something wrong and past experiences with the other students (Leask, 2009). Zimitat (2008) found that if inadequate preparation or support is given to international and home students when they are put together to complete group tasks, then valued and meaningful integration will not be achieved.

Research has found that, an individual’s cognitive ability can be developed when there are meaningful interactions (Ryan and Hellmundt, 2005; Sheets, 2005), and offer opportunities for effective learning (Ryan and Viete, 2009). Where there are environments which encourage group-learning, individuals realise that their understanding of different situations and materials differs from other group members (Arkoudis et al., 2013). When learners then recognise these differences, they have a chance to discuss their understandings with group members to settle these differences (King, 1996). This type of approach to learning can “play a role in thinking and securing engagement, learning and understanding in higher education” (Hardman, 2008). Awareness of own and other cultures can also be established through interactions between peers. Culture is not defined by particular parameters, as each individual is defined by their own specific attributes (Doherty and Singh 2005; Signorini, Wiesemes, and Murphy 2009). Gordon Allport (1954), devised the contact hypothesis, which is also known as the ‘Intergroup Contact Theory’. The idea of Allport’s theory states that “under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members”. The way in which to achieve this is to promote an opportunity for independent and cooperative interactions, to try and reclassify people saying “us and them” to “we” (Desforges et al., (1991); Dovidio and Gaertner, (1999).

In relation to this evidence, some Higher Education institutions provide Outdoor Education (OE) courses with the intention of trying to develop students understanding of teamwork, and integration between home and international students (Buller, McEvoy and Craun, 1995; Cooley, Burns, and Cumming, 2015). These OE courses require students in small groups to complete team problem solving activities that require communication and intense teamwork, whilst in a wilderness environment (Hattie et al., 1997). Breunig, Connell, & Young (2010) and Gass, Garvey, & Sugarman (2003), have showed that OE can improve communication, group cohesion, decision-making, leadership, interpersonal skills, self-awareness and confidence. OE courses are a social and enjoyable experience, which can help enhance integration through the use of team building challenges such as raft building. Thus, ensures students communicate and work together, preparing them for higher education life (Harvey and Drew, 2006). Individuals can input their ideas and communicate with one another when they are placed into groups to complete tasks, developing integration (Barcelona, 2002; Star, 1989). OE has been widely researched as an effective learning technique for students, resulting in several theories being used to explain their benefits. An example of one of these theories is Dewey’s experiential learning theory (1938). This specific theory states that it is important for students to learn through direct experiences, which creates a learning environment where students learn through exploration and reflection (DeLay, 1996).

It is noted that students seem to remember what they have learnt more when experiential learning takes place (Dewey, 1938; Dart et al., 2000). To examine this, semi-structured video diary rooms were used in the present study to evaluate learning experiences (Poole, 2007). This approach takes the participants away from other members, into a private space, to ensure participants can express their thoughts in a relaxed and comfortable environment (Cooley, 2015). Unlike one-to-one interviews, participants are allowed to think and speak at their own pace without the pressure of someone watching them, thus hopefully leading to more meaningful and descriptive answers.

Two studies (Noyes, 2004; Buchwald, Schantz-Larsen, and Delmar 2009) used video diary room entries to explore deep into children’s thoughts during life-changing situations. This offered children the freedom to say anything they thought to allow for a meaningful and descriptive passage of speech. It was found that both studies, along with benefits, had downfalls in their methods. Limitations such as trustworthiness and credibility of results were some of the main points noted from the studies, due to participants not completing entries when they had negative experiences and they could also pre-plan their responses as they knew when the entries had to be completed by. From this the probability of a social desirability bias was inevitably increasing. Another limitation that was also found was the answers the children gave were often irrelevant and off-course, due to there not being an interviewer present and no set questions. The present study investigated whether students in higher education were willing to be as open and truthful when sharing their observations/experiences, just as they tried to do with the children in Noyes and Buchwald’s study.

Therefore the present qualitative longitudinal study aims to see whether the effect of a 5 day OE course can help develop an understanding of teamwork and integration between home and international postgraduate students. The students were from several universities courses and comprised of various ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. They were invited to take part on an OE trip, based in the rural North West countryside. While they were there they underwent numerous team building challenges and various team sporting activities, whilst being observed to see how they cooperated and worked together over the duration of the course. The willing participants were questioned over several time points; prior, during and after the course, using semi-structured video diary room entries, which has never been used longitudinally before. The questions were open-ended to allow participants to speak freely about their thoughts and experiences. They were used to see whether the participants encountered any challenges, experienced any interactions with different cultures, or if they had observed any advantages or differences over time. The answers were then collected and thoroughly analysed using a thematic analysis approach, enabling for codes and themes to be identified from a rich and descriptive data set. Allowing for an insight into how home and international students perceived the course. 



All nine participants (M age = 33.22; SD = 5.18) were postgraduate students at a large, multicultural urban university in the UK. Five participants were female, and four were male. Overall, most were of different ethnicities and study in three different university departments: Biosciences, Psychology and Sport Science. The sample contained a mixture of home (n= 3) and EU/International (n= 6) students, with less than half (n= 4) speaking English as their first language (Table 1). Pseudonyms were allocated to the participants to hide their identities.

Pseudonym Age (Years) School Nationality English as first language
Josh Jones 27 Sports Science British Yes
Cheng Wang 26 Biosciences Chinese No
Agapi Papadopoulos 31 Psychology Greek No
Steve Williams 32 Psychology British Yes
Emma Smith 28 Sports Science British Yes
Vladlena Smirnov 33 Psychology Russian No
Arman Jadav 45 Biosciences Indian No
Fleur Van De Hoorn 30 Sports Science Dutch No
Olivia Wilson 36 Psychology Canadian Yes

Table 1. Details of participants

The OE Course:

The OE trip aimed to enhance participants’ teamwork, problem solving, communication skills and integration, which could then hopefully become transferable to every day university life. Throughout the course, they participated in a variety of engaging outdoor challenges which were delivered by trained instructors. All the challenges and activities used required the groups to use teamwork to successfully achieve the given objectives. Activities ranged from raft building, to more technical high rope courses. Outside of the activities students also had a house cleaning regime, and there was time to socialise and relax in the evenings.


Before the study took place, the nine participants involved were each given an information sheet about what the study would entail, and asked to complete a consent form stating their willingness to take part. They then completed a questionnaire for general demographic information. Data was collected on campus, and during a five day residential course at an outdoor pursuits centre in the rural North West. There were seven time points in which participants were asked to answer questions over the duration of the study. The first lot of questions were given to the participants one week prior to the course, the next were given at the end of each day they were at the outdoor pursuit centre, and two follow-up sessions were provided. The first follow-up session was conducted a week after they had completed the five days, with the second one being three months later.

The baseline questions prior to the study consisted of the participant’s hopes and expectations of the OE course. The questions which were asked at the end of each of the five days, related to what they had experienced, what challenges they had faced, and if they had noticed any differences. Reflection questions relating to future changes were then asked during the follow-ups. The process by which this data was collected was through the use of semi-structured video diary rooms. This is where participants were instructed to read question cards placed in front of them out loud, then provide a detailed response to each.    

Semi-structured video diary rooms:

The use of semi-structured video diary rooms were used as a method to collect the data in the present study. The process compromised of the nine willing participants being placed in a private room and positioned in a chair. They were then given a set of questions in which they had to respond in front of a video camera. The questions were varied throughout the days (Table 1.1), to ensure a real insight into participant’s experiences and observations. The semi-structured video diary room questions were broad to encourage students to respond with open-ended answers. From doing this, it stopped participants from answering with a simple ‘yes/no’, as the answers required a lot of detail and meaning (Smith, 2007).

The present study focused on the seven ‘understanding’ questions related to the study (Italicised in table 1.1). Through doing this, it enables for more in-depth data into how the participants understood the course, team members and experiences.

Time point Questions
Baseline Tell us a bit about yourself including your name, where you’re from, what you like doing and why you’re on the Coniston trip?


What do you hope to learn on this course?

Do you have any concerns about the course?

Tell us about your experience of working with people from different backgrounds and cultures during your time at the university?

What challenges do you expect to face regarding how well an international group is able to work together?

Day 1 What have been your first impressions of the course?


Thinking about what you previously said you wanted to learn on the course, have these hopes changed in any way since completing the first day?

What challenges do you expect to face regarding how your group is working together?

After working on tasks with your group today, have you noticed any cultural differences?

How do you think the international makeup of your group will impact your experience while at the camp?

Day 2 Tell us a bit about your experiences today?


What have you learnt so far on the course?

How has your behaviour affected how your group has worked together positively or negatively?

How have you found the interaction between students from different backgrounds and cultures?

Are there any challenges you as an individual have faced today working in an international group and how have you overcome them?

Day 3 What has been your most memorable experience today?


Have you noticed any changes so far in how you work in a group?

To what extent have you thought about how you can use the skills you are developing here when you’re back on the campus?

Have you observed any advantages about being in an international group?

To what extent has the interaction between students with different backgrounds or cultures changed throughout the camp?

Day 4/5 How was your final activity and how well were you able to apply what you have learned so far on the course?


To what extent have you developed the skills that you identified at the beginning of the course? Looking back are there any other skills you wish you had prioritised?

Are there any changes you want to make when you are back on campus and are there any skills that you want to develop further?

What have you learned from working in an international group that you could use during your academic work or future employment?

What has affected how well your international group work together?

Follow-up 1 What is your main memory of your time at the Raymond Priestley Centre?


On reflection what if anything do you feel you learned or gained while at the Raymond Priestley Centre?

How confident are you that you will be able to apply what you’ve learnt back on campus in the future?

To what extent do you intend to stay in contact with people who you met at the Raymond Priestley Centre and why?

Has the Raymond Priestley Centre had any impact on how you feel about working in an international environment?

Follow-up 2 What are your strongest memories of the Raymond Priestly Centre course?


To what extent have you reflected on your time at the Raymond Priestly Centre?

To what extent has your experience at the Raymond Priestly Centre changed how you work with others from different nationalities?

Following your visit to the Raymond Priestly Centre do you perceive there are any differences in how home and international students tend to work in groups. If so what differences have you observed?

How did you find giving Diary Room Entries?

How has giving diary room entries impacted your experience at the course both during and since?

Table 1.1. Semi-structured video diary room questions.

 Data Analysis:

Relating to the main research question, the analysis focused on the understanding of integration and teamwork. Fifty seven relevant diary room entries were collected during the duration of the study; 5 before, 36 during, and 16 after the course had finished. The duration of each entry ranged from 3 minutes 23 seconds to 19 minutes 33 seconds (M= 8 minutes 57 seconds), resultant to a total of 8 hours 29 minutes of video recording.

The diary room entries were recorded on a video camera and transcribed verbatim. An inductive thematic analysis was used after the diary rooms took place. Using the thematic analysis approach allowed us to understand a rich and descriptive data set, where codes and themes could be identified. A semantic approach was taken, which means the themes are identified just from what the participant has said, without making assumptions about the underlying meanings or structures of the answers given (Braun and Clarke, 2006).

When analysing the transcripts obtained from the diary rooms, guidelines produced by Braun and Clarke (2006) and Howitt (2010) were followed to increase organisation and clarity of the collected data (Table 1.2).

Step What was done Description of study process
1 Familiarise yourself with the data obtained. Although the data used in the study was previously collected and transcribed, watching, listening and checking the data again ensured accurate analysis and further familiarisation.
2 Produce primary codes. Every sentence or section of text was given a code, using qualitative analysis software (Nvivo 10.0.641).
3 Look for themes. From looking at the codes, themes were able to be produced due to the similarities within them.
4 Review themes which are generated. Themes which were created were reviewed to ensure internal homogeneity and external heterogeneity prevailed (Patton, 2003). Themes were added, removed and merged together.
5 Define and refine themes. Definitions and names were given to the themes, with direct quotes from participants.
6 Repeated at different time points. With this being a longitudinal study, we conducted data analysis for each participant at various time points throughout the course.

Table 1.2. Braun and Clarke (2006) and Howitt (2010) step by step guide of data collection. 


Focusing on the seven main understanding questions (Table 1.3) allowed for a meaningful insight into the participants understanding of integration and teamwork skills. From completing thorough thematic analysis of the answers obtained, codes were identified from the transcripts produced and then subsequently put into overarching themes (Table 1.4). Each theme groups something relevant about the data and relates it to the research question. A meaning or level of pattern response within the data set is represented by each theme (Braun and Clarke, 2006). This is done to acquire a broader level of analysis.

Time point Questions
Baseline What challenges do you expect to face regarding how well an international group is able to work together?
During 1.4: After working on tasks with your group today, have you noticed any cultural differences?


1.5: How do you think the international makeup of your group will impact your experience while at the camp?

2.4: How have you found the interaction between students from different backgrounds and cultures?

3.4: Have you observed any advantages about being in an international group?

3.5: To what extent has the interaction between students with different backgrounds or cultures changed throughout the camp?

Follow-up F2.4: Following your visit to the Raymond Priestly Centre do you perceive there are any differences in how home and international students tend to work in groups.  If so what differences have you observed?

Table 1.3. Semi-structured video diary room questions. Note: The abbreviations ‘1.4’ etc. are the day and the question number. F2.4 is follow-up 2. 

Table 1.4

A thematic analysis of the themes obtained from all participants when answering the seven understanding questions.

First level themes Second level themes Third level themes
Group work challenges Communication


Different outlooks

Language barriers


Different ideas

Cultural differences Many differences









Impact of international makeup Communication


Different cultures



Language barriers


Poor understanding

Not clear enough





Poor communication

Not good enough

Interaction between different cultures Communication





Language barriers














Advantages of international group Broader ideas


Overcoming language barriers


Explaining things


Making sure everyone understands

Repeating things

Slowing down when talking


Working together

Differences in how students work Noticeable difference


No noticeable difference

Home: prefer individual work


International: prefer group work

Worked the exact same as before

It was noticed that participant’s answers to some of the questions were similar at the seven time points. From analysing this, it was noticed that participants were able to cluster into two main groups based on their content and trajectory of learning. The two main groups were labelled as ‘Group A’ and ‘Group B’ (Table 1.5). Group A consisting of the four English as first language participants, and Group B containing the participants whose first language was not English.

Table 1.5. Each group of participants

The noticeable differences in responses to the questions between both groups at the various time points of the study are shown below. Quotes from one participant in the group are given, but provides a general perspective on the type of responses given as a whole group.


What challenges do you expect to face regarding how well an international group is able to work together?
Group A “Well one obvious thing is the language barrier, that would obviously be the most obvious challenge” – British male
Group B “Yeah I suppose just dealing with how different people feel about sort of getting into things and the activities yeah” – Greek female

As shown, prior to the course, Group A were language focused, they expected the most obvious challenge they would face when working in a culturally diverse group would be the language barriers. Blume and Board (2013) states that language use differs between every individual and people express themselves in different ways, with meanings of utterance not always being agreed. Group B were more concerned about the cultural practical differences when getting into the activities. Thinking that these practical culture differences may hinder the success of the team. Chamberlain (2005) proposes that these difficulties occur due to “simple lack of understanding of different cultures”.

Day 1:

After working on tasks with you group today, have you noticed any cultural differences?
Group A No, not really, no not at all. We all got along exactly as I had imagined we would get along, so no not at all” – Canadian female
Group B “I found some cultural differences regarding the outspokenness of some people and the less outspokenness of some people. I think that might be a cultural thing” – Dutch female
How do you think the international makeup of your group will impact your experiences while at camp?
Group A “Certain people didn’t get involved because of the sort of language barriers” – Canadian female
Group B “In terms of my experience, I just will learn more about different cultures in a sense” – Russian female

After completing the first day of the course, Group A didn’t notice any cultural differences as of yet, but think the international makeup of the group could impact their teamwork in the coming days. Therefore, from the answer in baseline and day 1, you can see that the English as first language students think the complications derived from the international students, rather than themselves. Differences in personality between cultures were noticed by Group B participants, with them reflecting on what they will learn about different cultures throughout the course. Group B are showing that they are willing to learn about other cultures, whereas at this point in the study, Group A appear as if they did not want to.

Day 2:

How have you found the interaction between students from different backgrounds and cultures?
Group A “The only thing would be maybe when explaining things you do to make sure that you’re a bit clearer with what we plan to do” – British female
Group B “It’s very hard for me to express a whole idea very perfectly so that people can understand me” – Chinese male

By day 2, Group A realised that the language complications in camp may also be due to them not explaining situations as clearly as they could be. They have started to realise that they may speak too fast to their international peers, and this may be the issue to why these participants do not get involved as much as they want them to. Group A are finding ways to overcome this, by explaining situations and ensuring everyone in the group understands. Conversely, Group B thought it was their own personal language issues causing their team to struggle when communicating. This could have been instilled into them by Group A participants, due to the way they came across when working in a group on the first few days.

Day 3:

Have you observed any advantages about being in an international group?
Group A “Yeah probably the best advantage is slowing down when trying to explain rules, not rules, when trying to explain the group ideas” – British male
Group B “Being in an international group, the biggest advantage is that people from different cultural backgrounds tend to have different ideas about the same task” – Chinese male

The previous day, Group A quoted that they needed to explain things more clearly when communicating with participants in Group B. They implemented this into the following day and thought it was the best advantage they observed as a team. Making for more meaningful interactions between both groups of participants. A variety of ideas from different cultural backgrounds was the biggest advantage observed by Group B. From this question, it has shown that the cultural differences are now being adapted to by both groups.

To what extent has the interaction between students with different backgrounds or cultures changed throughout the camp?
Group A (2 males) “All the Indian individuals stuck together and all the Asian, Eastern Asian stuck together and now it’s just much more intermingling” – British male
Group A (2 females) “There’s no difference whatsoever that I can see myself anyway, whether people have had different thoughts I’m not sure” – Canadian female
Group B (Dutch and Chinese) “ I don’t think that the backgrounds or cultures have had a lot of influence on that” –  Dutch female
Group B (Greek, Indian and Russian) “Now we are not in different sub-groups, we are having different groups, or just we are communicating across the groups, every single person is comfortable interacting” – Indian male

From the previous question, it seemed as though the interactions between home and international students were improving. Within both groups, answers for the following question differed (table above), meaning both groups divided into two further sub-groups. Coincidentally, the males and females split into sub-groups from Group A. When asked if the interaction had changed, the males thought it had, witnessing a lot more intermingling between different cultures. On the other hand, the females did not notice any changes in the interaction. When it came to Group B, the Dutch and Chinese student also did not notice any changes, but the Greek, Indian and Russian students did, saying everyone is now comfortable with communicating across different groups.


Following your visit to the Raymond Priestly Centre do you perceive there are any differences in how home and international students tend to work in groups. If so what differences have you observed?
Group A “No, I don’t think I have observed any differences from what I would have perceived before the course and what I perceived afterwards” – British male
Group B “I think what I observed so far is the home students here, they prefer to work individually really. I would say international students prefer to work in a group” – Russian female

When both groups were asked whether they perceived any differences in how home and international students work in groups, Group A participants said they did not notice any differences in how they worked before or after the course. Group B had a different feeling towards this, as they did observe differences in how home and international students work in a group. They stated that home students would rather work on their own, while international students prefer to work in a group.

From the given results, it can be said that the English as first language students and English not as first language students perceived the course very differently. The majority of answers given were different prior to the course, during the course and all the way to the follow-up, three months after the course had ended. Prior to the course and on the first day, Group A participants were very language focused and worried about the barriers present due to the international students not being able to communicate effectively in a group, putting the blame onto these students. Group B also noticed the cultural differences but were willing to accept them and progress as a team. Advantages were observed by both groups in the next few days, with participants doing more to enable successful interactions between everyone. Slightly divided opinions occurred within the groups, but after the course was complete Group A didn’t perceive any differences while group B did perceive differences, showing that the course benefitted the non-English as first language students a lot more. With the follow-up two taking place three months after the course had finished, this could’ve affected the responses as the participants had their summer break in-between.



This longitudinal qualitative study examined whether a 5-day OE course could help home and international students develop an understanding of teamwork and integration between the different cultures and nationalities present. The participants completed numerous team building activities and challenges each day, and were then questioned on their experiences from the day through the use of semi-structured video diary rooms. This approach gave the respondent flexibility when answering about their experiences, while allowing the researcher to aim the questions to a particular area of interest (Smith, 2009). To explore whether this study was effective, the participants were also questioned before and after the course. For the duration of the study, a thematic analysis approach was used when analysing the data, which allowed for a rich and descriptive data set.

Conducting the study in this way enabled for the possibility of meaningful interactions between home and international students to be met. It provided an environment which differs from a university setting, ensuring participants had to work in a team and communicate effectively with other people to successfully complete the given activities. Participants are being challenged both physically and mentally when completing each task, which can cause conflict within a group (Howden, 2012). Although disagreements between people are not ideal, if they are well managed it provides an opportunity to break down barriers such as communication and teamwork.

It was found that, developing an understanding of integration and teamwork could be gained from the use of this 5-day OE course. Home and international students perceived the course differently, with both sets of students having different experiences. From thoroughly analysing the data it was evident that participants were able to cluster into two groups based on the similarities in their learning. One group consisted of participants with English as their first language (Group A: 3 UK and 1 Canadian), with the other group containing participants where English was not their first language (Group B: 1 Chinese, 1 Dutch, 1 Indian, 1 Greek and 1 Russian). Prior, and for the first few days of the course, Group A were language focused, and were concerned about the language barriers and issues revolving around working with international students. The following days, they found ways in which they could overcome these barriers and noticed an improvement in how the team was working. When asked if they had observed changes in interaction half way through the course, opinions were split, with males and females having different thoughts. Males noticing a change in interaction, stating that participants with different cultures are now bonding with one another. However, females did not witness any changes in interaction. After the course had ended, males and females in this group both agreed that they have not noticed any differences in the way home and international students work in a group. From this evidence, it came be assumed that Group A participants bonded but did not generalise with the different cultures present. The aim of the study did not entirely work for this group of participants.

Prior, and during the entirety of the course, Group B noticed differences in cultures and were pleased to learn and adapted around them to ensure the team worked efficiently. With Group A participants being the more dominant group members and taking the lead, Group B participants felt as though the language barriers were from their own doing. Yet again, when asked if the socialisation between different cultures had changed after the third day, opinions were divided. Over half of them thought it had changed, as everyone was now bonding with each other, whereas the others did not notice a change in interaction. Group B had a different opinion to Group A after the course, as they specified that they had noticed a difference in how home and international students work in a group. They stated that home students would rather work individually, but international students would rather work in a diverse group.

The study has shown that OE can offer a pathway in which home and international students can develop an understanding of integration and teamwork, but it is not significant enough to say that OE is a successful way in which to achieve the desired outcome. From the course, all participants encountered challenges relating to the different cultures present, both sets of students found ways to try and overcome these issues, but international students were able to adapt around them more than home students. The understanding of different cultures did develop for all participants over the duration of the course, with teamwork skills also improving. However, this improvement in understanding and teamwork did not have any effect on the way English as first language participants worked on a university campus after the course. For these students, it showed that OE did not benefit their integration with international students in any way. The English not as first language participants did notice a difference on the university campus, with different international cultures working together and integrating more with each other, showing that the OE course did benefit them.


The present study aligned with a thesis conducted by Sam Cooley (2015), and aimed to explore whether the role of OE could help facilitate and develop an understanding of integration and teamwork skills between home and international students, using semi-structured video diary room’s to investigate the students’ learning experiences before, during and after. Both studies had similar environments and activities, and were conducted in the same way. However, the present study examined the understanding aspect of integration and teamwork on a five-day OE course, whereas Cooley (2015) examined the development of just group work skills on a three-day OE course. Cooley found that motivations for attending the course when the participants arrived at the OE centre varied; some hoping to develop interpersonal skills through group work, while others exhibited negative attitudes towards group work and uncertainty in why they were attending. Students then benefitted from the course as greater awareness of areas in need of improvement were displayed, along with enhanced competence. Overall, his study concluded that OE courses can offer an environment where interpersonal and intrapersonal skills of participants can be developed. Further research is required to see whether the effects of this study can impact student development long-term. The findings in the present study also suggests that participants can enhance their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, along with the majority being able to develop an understanding in integration and teamwork between home and international students. In comparison to Cooley’s study, the present studies explored whether this understanding of integration and teamwork reflected back on a university campus, seeing if it would have long-term effects. Unfortunately, it was found that, there was not a significant improvement of integration and teamwork between home and international students on a university campus post-intervention.

However, a meta-analysis of 96 studies that measured OE outcomes was conducted by Hattie et al. (1997). From these 96 studies, it was found that OE had a total of 40 benefits. These 40 benefits were made up of six main themes: leadership, academic, interpersonal, personality, self-concept and adventuresome. In the studies which included a follow-up session, a further 0.17 effect was noticed (equalling a total effect size of 0.51), compared to the smaller effect size (0.34) gained when measures were taken immediately after the OE course ended. This proposes that the benefits gained by the participants while they were on the OE course were sustained when they had returned back to university. From this study, you can see that OE courses can, in many ways, benefit participants inter and intrapersonal skills during and after their time on the courses.

While the present study and other research suggests that students’ teamwork improved, along with a number of other benefits gained from OE courses, there is still a gap in literature which focuses on the long-term benefits OE has on students in higher education. The evidence gained from follow-up sessions while students are back on a university campus was solely based on student’s comments on what they think, rather than observing and systematically collecting evidence on how they work with others after the course.

Whilst this study is a key step in helping both home and international students develop an understanding of integration and teamwork, it is important to identify a number of limitations. Firstly, although the use of semi-structured video diary rooms were used due to them being a modern way in which to obtain data compared to the traditional interview techniques (Cooley, 2015), they still have their limitations. Rich data was generally obtained, but some transcripts lacked detail, which was also a factor in Novakovic (2014) study. With the interviewee being in a private room, alone, with nothing but a video recorder in front of them, there was an inability to follow-up their answers. If something was said that required further clarification, it was impossible to do using this interview technique. Further probing may have been beneficial to obtain what was required from the interviewee. To solve this, the wording of the diary room questions needed to be faultless to circumvent interviewee’s misinterpretations, or step-by-step questions could’ve been used to ensure interviewee’s maintain attention and can be guided through self-reflection of experiences.

Secondly, the timing of the questions are another potential limitation to the study. At least one week before and one week after the course is the ideal amount of time that questionnaires should be administered (Hattie et al., 1997; McEvoy, 1997; Scrutton and Beames, 2015), as if it completed any sooner it may distort participant’s responses about their OE experiences. In this study, the second follow-up questions were completed three months after. Within this time the participants had their summer term in university meaning they were not on a university campus. With this follow-up question relating to whether they had observed any changes in the way home and international students worked in a group on a campus, the answers given may not have been representative of what was actually occurring. It is a long time in which they have to remember what changes, if any, they have witnessed, meaning they may not even remember and could possibly be giving false answers. From this, it may not be a true reflection or reliable data. For example, one participant said “I think because it’s been the summer holidays since I’ve done it, I haven’t really had that much of an opportunity to work within groups of home or international students”.

Finally, the study was very broad, with lots of different themed questions being asked. As ‘understanding’ was the focus of this study, only seven questions out of the 35 asked were relevant. This limited the data obtained in this area of interest, so a full understanding of experiences was not gained.

If the study was to be done again, the questions would be written in a way to ensure it is more specific to the area of interest of this study. This will guarantee every answer at every time point is relevant, giving a larger more detailed data set. Also, it would be more beneficial to analyse the data set blind. It was ironic that the English as first language participants clustered together, same with the non-English as first language participants. As they gave similar answers to questions, there was no hesitation when clustering them together as this was a perfect outcome to write about, but this may have only occurred due to the responses not being anonymised. It may have been the same outcome if it had been anonymised, but the thought of having these two sets of participants split perfectly, it was hard to resist clustering them together. To make sure it is more reliable in the future I would code the answers blind, to prevent any possible interpreter bias.

Higher education institutions fail or often avoid exposure to diverse group work (Halualani et al., 2004), but initial evidence has revealed that OE courses can provide this. The interactions experienced by these home and international students led to the development of understanding different cultures, integration and teamwork, along with developing a sense of belonging among students. To utilise these benefits, future research is needed. This can look at ways in which universities can promote culturally diverse teamwork, by using more focus groups or group work tasks within lectures. As there is also minimal evidence into how the learning from OE is transferred back onto a university campus, more research needs to be done in this area.


In summary, a unique longitudinal qualitative method of collecting data was established in the current study. The study supports the need for higher education institutions to provide OE courses, as it has the ability to allow students to express their learning experiences, as well as representing a variety of positive outcomes. The participants were willing to take part in the study and showed how comfortable they were when providing in-depth answers relating to their experiences and observations. The varied responses between English and non-English as first language participants showed that students had totally different feelings on the same aspect of teamwork challenges, but this allowed for a rich data set which focused on the research question. A real insight into how different cultures and nationalities perceived teamwork, integration and cultural barriers was captured, resulting in an interesting amount of dissimilar opinions. Not only did OE enhance the understanding of integration and teamwork, it also confirmed that there are possibilities for individual development which can benefit students long-term.


Overall, this novel qualitative longitudinal study has shown that there are potential ways in which home and international students can develop an understanding of integration and teamwork, through the use of a five day OE course. The environment in which OE courses are held promote the development of teamwork skills and increases self-confidence, which in turn lead to the encouragement of social interaction and self-reflection (Mezirow, 2000).    Although aspects of these were improved, it was noticed that student’s perceptions of understanding integration and teamwork varied throughout the duration of the study. It was evident that English as first language students had different thoughts on this compared to non-English first language speakers, allowing for clustering of these sets of students to form two groups, due to similarities in the content and trajectory of learning. The majority of the benefits gained were by students whose first language was not English, due to them feeling as if their knowledge on understanding different cultures grew throughout the study. Conversely, students whose first language was English, struggled to adapt to the culturally diverse grouping from the start. From the responses provided through the semi-structured video diary rooms, an abundance of themes were identified that showed the benefits OE can provide. Personal and group relationships were also acknowledged, which can possibly explain the reason why some students experienced further benefits compared to others. However, prior to the course, both sets of students had different feelings on how they thought they would work in a culturally diverse group, along with what challenges they thought they were going to encounter during the course. Therefore, students may have had preconceived ideas which may have impacted their interaction and teamwork. Participants with English as first language were mainly language focused, noticed advantages in overcoming these language barriers during the course, but did not notice any differences in teamwork between different cultures after the course. On the other hand, participants with English not as a first language, noticed these cultural differences and tried to adapt themselves around them, along with observing changes in teamwork between different cultures after the course ended. The study has shown that OE courses can definitely help students develop an understanding of teamwork, as all students unanimously stated that they witnessed improvements in how the groups operated as the course proceeded. Whilst requiring further validation on if OE courses can emphatically help develop an understanding of integration, the use of semi-structured video diary rooms has proven to be a successful method in collecting an informative data set.

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