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Overview & Purpose

With the current global pandemic, online learning has become the new norm for most students across the world.  It is anticipated that approximately 90% of all learning will be online during the time span of COVID-19 (Radcliff et al., 2020). Although this shift to online learning was involuntary, North American online education has seen a rise in popularity in current years even before the pandemic hit.  The Canadian Digital Learning Research Association reported that Canadian post-secondary online course registrations grew by 10% in 2018 and 2019 (Bates et al., 2019).  The US-based National Center for Education Statistics (Ginder, et al, 2019) reported that the number of students who took at least some of their courses online grew by 5.7% in 2017.  Moreover, online learning is increasingly being favoured by a growing range of students of various ages and diverse backgrounds, including international students (Best Colleges, 2019). Considering the current global pandemic and the popularity of online learning in recent years, it is evident that online learning is becoming a new trend for diverse learners. Finding strategies to teach culturally and linguistically diverse international students in online settings is essential to ensure the successful completion of courses by these students.

Several researchers have reported that cultural and language differences can significantly affect online interactions between students from various cultural backgrounds (Yee, 2013; Morris, 2009; Hannon & D'Netto, 2007).  One study (Liu et al., 2010) revealed that international online learners felt a sense of marginalization and even alienation from the domestic learner group even in a highly interactive communication-learning environment.  The literature also indicates that cultural differences have an impact on students' satisfaction with organization and technological issues associated with online courses, as well as the course design and delivery (Hannon & D'Netto, 2007).  Other researchers have asserted that online learning can be a powerful tool used to improve the learning and participation of online international students (Yee, 2013).

We were interested in developing a thorough understanding of the needs of international students in the online or open educational environment and exploring the broader topic of the promising practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse international students.  Our two-day virtual Research Symposium included opportunities for research sharing, professional development, and research collaboration by focusing on the needs of graduate students, faculty teaching international students, and those with an interest in the mainstreaming of online or open education.  The first day featured scholarship sharing sessions, two panel discussions (faculty and emerging scholars, and international students), a synthesis/debriefing session, and two keynote speakers on this topic. The second day provided an opportunity for researchers to engage in networking discussions. Given that our invitation and promotion of the event extended to researchers beyond the social sciences/humanities, as well as to international students studying science, engineering, and business, we saw an interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge.