Publications from the project


Assessing international students - the role of cognitive load

Mason, R., & Seton, C. (2020). Assessing International Students: The Role of Cognitive Load. Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Australasian Computing Education Conference, 160–166.

Information Technology programs in Australian Universities have an increasing number of low-entry score and Non-Speaking English Background (NESB) students, which encourages educators to implement new strategies for these students to succeed. At a regional university, an undergraduate course on databases had previously been redeveloped using Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). The redeveloped course had been delivered with a resulting increase in pass rates and student satisfaction. The next year, a new cohort of international students from China performed poorly in the final exam after successfully completing the relatively challenging assessments. The exam scripts and the exam paper were examined through the lens of CLT. A new analogous exam was written applying CLT principles and given to the same students. The students performed significantly better in the second exam. Guidelines for the design of exams for international students and other struggling students are discussed.

Download here: ACM database.
Please contact authors via the contact form if you cannot access the paper.


Leveling the playing field for international students in IT courses

Mason, R., & Seton, C. (2021, February 2). Leveling the playing field for international students in IT courses. Proceedings of Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE ’21),. Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE ’21), Virtual.

Australia is a destination of choice for international students studying IT who in 2019 comprised 62\% of IT enrolments in universities. Studying in English is often problematic for students from a Non-English Speaking Background (NESB), leading to these students facing barriers with reading instructional materials, reading and writing code and learning English at the same time as learning technical skills. In the area of assessment, NESB students perform at lower levels than domestic students and, anecdotally, these students struggle with exams and tests, where cognitive resources are reduced as a result of stress. 
This paper is based on an earlier study where the exam format was modified to remove extraneous cognitive load, and keyword glossaries in Mandarin were given to Chinese students as part of a database course exam. The results of the earlier study showed significant improvement in student performance, leading to draft guidelines for developing exams for international students. 
The current study used these guidelines to redesign an undergraduate database exam, provided students with a choice of keyword glossaries in several languages, and surveyed students immediately after the exam. The results of this intervention were statistically compared with another technical course for students at the same level in the same semester. There was a significant interaction effect, with international students in the Database course performing better than would be expected without intervention. There was no longer a significant difference between international student and domestic student performance in the exam. Results are discussed with respect to cognitive load and mental effort measures.

Download here: ACM database.
Please contact authors via the contact form if you cannot access the paper.


Related Papers

(in no particular order)

Becker, B. A. (2019). Parlez-vous Java? Bonjour La Monde != Hello World: Barriers to Programming Language Acquisition for Non-Native English Speakers. Proceedings of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group Workshop 2019, 40–52.
Eastman, C. M. (1982). A Comment on English Neologisms and Programming Language Keywords. Commun. ACM, 25(12), 938–940.
Bretag, T., Horrocks, S., & Smith, J. (2002). Developing classroom practices to support NESB students in information systems courses: Some preliminary findings. International Education Journal, 3(4), 57–69.
Kim, D.-J., Ferrini-Mundy, J., & Sfard, A. (2012). How does language impact the learning of mathematics? Comparison of English and Korean speaking university students’ discourses on infinity. International Journal of Educational Research, 51–52, 86–108.
Paton, M. J. (2007). Why International Students are at Greater Risk of Failure: An Inconvenient Truth. International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities & Nations, 6(6), 101–111.
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.
Yip, D. Y., Tsang, W. K., & Cheung, S. P. (2003). Evaluation of the Effects of Medium of Instruction on the Science Learning of Hong Kong Secondary Students: Performance on the Science Achievement Test. Bilingual Research Journal, 27(2), 295–331.