Southern Cross University shines in online offshore courses

Published 1 September 2021
International students studying at Southern Cross University Lismore campus

Southern Cross University is leading the way in creating meaningful online communities for its offshore cohort and study tours. Despite international borders being closed to learning, international students are still wanting to study in Australia and at SCU College.

For international study tour student Yui Ikegami, being able to experience Australia firsthand from her home in Japan has been a welcome experience.

SCU College is known as a leader in the sector for its pathway programs, including English Language Programs for international students. It has recently led a national curriculum project with 20 participating institutions through University English Centres Australia. The College is also well-known for the award-winning Preparing for Success Program and Transition to Uni pathways for domestic students, as well as a range of diploma courses in disciplines like health, business, arts, engineering and education.

While SCU College has been a long-time NEAS endorsed centre – the international gold standard – the College has recently been awarded the additional NEAS endorsement specifically for online courses for both the General English (GE) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses. Read more on the endorsement here.

SCU College Director Professor Thomas Roche said while other English Language institutions forced to ‘take a break’ in 2020 when Covid first hit, SCU College did not miss a day of teaching – carefully transferring all courses to online delivery as quickly as possible, with an eye on quality learning experiences.

Associate Lecturer Neil McRudden explained how lecturers had a steep learning curve transitioning to zoom to continue delivering the 20 hours of live ‘face-to-face’ learning a week for international students both in Australia and around the world.

“We started creating step-by-step Professional Development manuals right away as our teachers used trial and error to work out the best ways to keep students engaged online. Every day we introduced new skills and technology starting with zoom breakout rooms and live collaborative documents for students to work in small groups, through to now using fun competitive learning games such as Kahoot and Quizlet to combat zoom fatigue,” he said.

“Our teachers are incredibly hard-working and know how to read the room, and truly get to know new students even in an online setting, to keep students really engaged and interested in the content. In the early stages we had two teachers in every class to ensure every class ran smoothly, and now each teacher is fully equipped and has the ability to do incredible thing online including virtual reality tours.”

Mr McRudden said lecturers also set up group communication tools across WhatsApp, Signal, WeChat and Line – depending on the platforms each cohort could access – for students to quickly and easily be able to communicate with their lecturers and each other for personalised support, especially for internet problems, class access and enrolment advice.

“Amazingly, some chat threads have morphed into thriving online communities where they’ve really been able to get to know each other through sharing recipe ideas or chat about what they’re making for dinner, through to wishing each other happy birthday or good luck for job interviews. These communities have been a very positive social outlet for onshore students, many of whom have been away from families for more than a year now, and offshore students who are waiting to arrive onshore,” he said.

“Sometimes students need real-time support for seemingly quirky things – for example of our onshore students was petrified when a blue-tongue lizard come into his house so sent through a photo to his lecturers and we were able to let him know it was okay and talked him through how to put it back in the garden.

“And some teachers have started to set homework on there, where students can send a five-sentence voice memo answering a specific question and receive a voice-memo reply, which is much more engaging then logging into blackboard to type an answer.”

In addition to English-language courses, SCU College has also experienced a big surge in students applying for online study tours, especially from Japanese partner universities.

“Pre-Covid these groups would have come to one of our campuses at Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Gold Coast in person, and would have visited places such as SeaWorld, and stayed in homestays to have a real experience of living in Australia and learn about language use and cultural etiquette,” Mr McRudden said.

“Now word has spread about the online virtual experience we are offering these students. Each study tour spans across 3-5 weeks for 5 days a week, and we have a range of activities from using the incredible virtual tours of each of our campuses, to a live on-camera tour of the Koala Hospital at Lismore campus where they can ask the vet questions in real time, and even making use of interactive virtual tours of places like Uluru, Lamington National Park and the Byron Bay Surfing Festival – which are guided by us as part of our online lessons,” he said.

“The virtual homestay component has also been very popular, with families from the Australian Homestay Network now joining us online once a week to give these students a feel for what Australian home life is like, where hosts speak about themselves and their experiences, give a tour of their home, answer questions and discuss things like Aussie slang and weekend activities.

“These are the sorts of activities we’re doing to make sure our Study Tour Groups can feel as though they are getting an Australian experience and are part of university life here at Southern Cross, even though they can’t be here in person yet.”

For international study tour student Yui Ikegami, being able to experience Australia firsthand from her home in Japan has been a welcome experience.

She signed up on Kansai Gaidai University’s website, where she is studying, and is immensely enjoying Southern Cross University’s online study tour so far, saying it has made her want to come and study in Australia even more.

“The activities I have been part of include talking with host families in Australia and learning about Aussie slang phrases such as ‘G’day’, ‘I feel crook’ and ‘barbie’, and was surprised to hear that on Christmas Day there is a Santa Claus who goes surfing in Australia,” she said.

“We’ve had a virtual experience of Uluru with the Mutitjulu and Kuniya Walk and we were able to see traditional singing and dancing with Aboriginal people, and learn about how these people have cared for and respected nature.

“Another highlight has been the live tour of the koala hospital. It was a precious opportunity to listen to the guide and see Koalas moving a lot, and learning about environmental issues for koalas, because I don’t have a lot of chances to do such things in Japan.”

Media contact: Media and Content, content@scu.edu.au