About CAFÉ International

The Beginnings:

CAFÉ International began after a long period of observation of international non-English speaking background (NESB) students in technical courses. These students often worked much harder on their studies but performed at lower levels than 'domestic' or native-English speaking (NES) students. We observed that the stress associated with tests and examinations was also higher for NESB students. How does this relate to cognitive load theory, you may wonder?

When someone is under stress, their working memory capacity decreases (Qin, Hermans, et.al. 2009). If NESB students are already cognitively challenged by the necessity to study in English, then additional cognitive load  that is required by the presentation of assessment - exams, tests, and other assessments - with the additional reduction in working memory capacity caused by stress - will lead to reduced performance and failure.

We also theorised that technical keywords that were based on common English words would be more difficult for NESB students to parse, and that they would see these keywords as new words rather than using the complex schemas built for these English words which ESB students would be able to do.

First study:

With this in mind, we had an opportunity to compare a 'before and after' with a group of 51 Chinese students whose language of instruction was English, but first language was Mandarin. The results of that study can be seen in the paper "Assessing International Students - The Role of Cognitive Load" which can be accessed via the "Publications" page in this section. From this first study came a set of draft guidelines for creating assessments that would not add extraneous cognitive load to students during assessments, as well as a glossary of SQL keywords with translations in Mandarin, to assist these students to reduce working memory load during a time of stress.

Second study:

The second study was enabled by a grant from ALTA, the Learning and Teaching Academy of the Australian Council of Deans of ICT (ACDICT). This study used the draft guidelines from the first study with a mixed group of NESB and ESB students who were completing a database systems examination. These students were not only presented with an exam which used the draft guidelines, and used a set of glossaries of SQL keywords (available under the RESOURCES link), but they were also directed to a survey at the end of the exam, which asked about their mental effort during the exam and the usefulness of the glossaries. Their results in this experimental condition were compared to their performance in another technical unit, with particular attention to the potential difference between NESB and ESB student performance in each unit.

Further studies:

Currently studies are being performed in other areas of IT - cybersecurity and programming being two of these. Additionally, attention is being focused on learning and assessment that is not invigilated exams, given the COVID19 pandemic-related effects on the use of this type of assessment.

If you are an academic and you are interested in collaborating in any of the studies we are currently conducting, please contact us through the contact form on this website.


Qin, S., Hermans, E. J., van Marle, H. J. F., Luo, J., & Fernández, G. (2009). Acute Psychological Stress Reduces Working Memory-Related Activity in the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex. Biological Psychiatry, 66(1), 25–32.   https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.03.006