I finally got to meet my students from the international college

Last week was a historic time for us at Vantage College (the International first-year transfer College that gets 2/3 to 3/4 of my time depending on how you count it or perhaps who you ask). Our very first students evar arrived. For the past week, they have been participating in a 1500ish-student orientation program for international and aboriginal students on campus. I have been the faculty fellow for a group of 20ish students, and in addition to our scheduled activities, I have been going out of my way to join them for lunch (which sometimes involves taking selfies with the students). 

As a quick reminder, Vantage is one-year residential college at UBC for international students that had incoming English scores a bit too low for direct entry. I am teaching our enriched physics course to these students and all of the courses in the college have additional language support in addition to the regular course support. Those that are successful in the program will be able to transfer into their second year of various programs and complete potentially complete their degree in four years. Although I am regular right-before-the-term-starts busy, I want to quickly reflect on things…

  • Although it wasn’t obvious to me at first, one of the reasons I am really excited about this is that it is a cohort-based program, where our science courses max out at 75 seats. I am really looking forward to building relationships with the students over this time and then hopefully getting to see them continue on to be amazingly successful UBC students.
  • Our teaching team and support staff might just be the most fantastically talented group of people on campus from a per-capita-awesomeness standpoint. And we (the physics team) have been poaching some of the best TAs in our department to work with us. Our leadership team is supportive, just as excited as the rest of us and seem to manage that magical combination of having both the students’ and instructors’ best interests in mind.  
  • The average level of conversational English of the students I have met so far has been much higher than I was expecting. The conversations may be slow and involve some repetition, but I have been able to have lots of genuine conversations.
  • The students are excited! We’re excited!
  • It has been really fun discovering how many cultural references and touchstones I take for granted. I was with a group of students when a Star Wars reference (our computer science department has a wing called “x-wing”) came up. Not that I was expecting them to get the reference, but I said something to the effect of “haha, x-wing, that’s a thing from Star Wars” and then realized that most of them didn’t even know what Star Wars was.
  • Designing a program from scratch has been a great experience. In the end our Physics courses are frighteningly similar to what my small first year courses looked like at UFV, but we got there through a lot of discussions, weighing options, etc

So meeting the students has turned all of this abstract planning quite real and what used to be the future into the present. I am so delighted to have met so many of the students with whom I’m going to spend the next 10 months. 

8 Comments on “I finally got to meet my students from the international college”

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    I wonder what’s worse: cultural references that no one gets, or ones that a small fraction get. In the latter, there’s this “in the know” that group suddenly has a good relationship with the faculty member. I find this happening to me more and more as I get older. Sometimes I really like it when just a few “get it” but I realize that it’s probably problematic.

    • Joss Ives says:

      Interesting point. I usually don’t think of it as problematic if it is something really nerdy where it is clear that they don’t get it because the people that get it have a particular set of interests that are not widely regarded as cool. That being said, I certainly never like to make people feel like outsiders.

  2. bretbenesh says:

    Ooh! A cohort sounds really great! I would love to figure out a way to do that a my school for all students.

    I am curious to learn how this cohort structure helps their English skills. On one hand, it seems like throwing them in with the other students could be better (immersion), but it also seems like it could be really good to do what Vantage is doing (they get more support).

    Do you know if it is known that Vantage’s approach is better? I hope so, because it seems like a cool model.

    • Joss Ives says:

      Unfortunately there are not much data out there. The tension is exactly as you point out: immersion vs. focused support.

      Some of the places where the focused support should provide some great advantages are:
      – Multiple faculty members are looking out for each student, so it should be possible for us to identify and respond quickly to students that struggle or seem to have trouble participating in various aspects of the program.
      – Cohorts facilitate making friends, which is one of the greatest predictors of post-secondary success.
      – There are language-support tutorials associated with each course, which would be extremely hard to do if they weren’t in a cohort. I can’t speak to how these language-support tutorials will work for all the courses, but in Physics two of the early foci will be helping the students negotiate their pre-class reading assignments and their quiz reflection/correction assignments. Both of these assignments are quite demanding from a reading and writing perspective and these language-support tutorials will be run by language-acquisition instructors with a physics TA also present.
      – The cohort structure has also allowed us to incorporate a year-long interdisciplinary project into the program. The project courses are run by the same people teaching the content courses.

      Personally, one of the main places where I’m not certain which approach is best is that we chose to put them in Vantage-only housing instead of having them mix with the rest of the student population. I think there are some community-building advantages of this, but we are also missing out on some powerful language development opportunities. It is also interesting to consider how much they would feel part of the greater UBC community if they have their own housing vs. being mixed with all the other students.

      We have a lot of plans to collect student feedback so hopefully we can learn quickly from our successes and mistakes. It is very fortunate that the program has very little institutional inertia, so we can react quickly when important potential changes are identified.

      Thanks for your thoughts Bret. This is going to be an exciting ride!

  3. Louise says:

    How many students are enrolled?

  4. Jared Stang says:

    When making my 4-minute string theory ad, I was conscious of not including some cultural references. But, watching the other mini talks, I was actually surprised by the how well the students got some references (like the Sheldon Cooper one).

    So maybe you (and Star Wars) are just getting old?

    Joking aside, I’ll be interested to hear about the response to your normal classroom antics.

    • Joss Ives says:

      First off, thank you for referring to my classroom behaviour as antics. The students would probably agree.

      I didn’t think about it at the time, but you are correct that they did seem to get a lot of the newer references. Perhaps I will have to dust off my Harry Potter and super hero jokes and retire any Star Wars ones I have lying around.

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