Connections for Learning: An Innovative Program to Support Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

Saturday, 26 July 2014: 8:50 AM

Robyn E. Nash, PhD, MHSc, BA, RN, RCNA
Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Pamela M. Lemcke, RN, MLdsp, RCNA
School of Nursing, Queensland Unviersity of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Rena Frohman, MA, GradCertArts, BA
Student Support Services, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Australia

Cultural, academic and social challenges can present significant obstacles to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) students’ achievement of personal and professional goals. This paper reports on the Connections for Learning Program (CLP), a collaborative, co-curricular initiative that supports undergraduate and postgraduate CALD students in the Faculty of Health at QUT.

As expressed in the UNESCO Guidelines on Intercultural Education (2006), ‘intercultural education cannot be just a simple ‘add on’ to the regular curriculum. It needs to concern the learning environment as a whole, as well as other dimensions of educational processes’ (p. 19). Hence, the Connections for Learning Program team has intentionally designed the CLP to offer students a suite of learning opportunities that value-add to their course experience. The CLP’s learning focus is underpinned by the value placed on the lived history that students bring to the learning experience. The program is oriented to minimising the linguistic challenges which can make learning more complicated, sometimes referred to as demystifying the ‘hidden rules of academia’, and enabling students to grow personally and academically.

The CLP comprises a suite of student-focussed strategies and capacity-building initiatives for academic staff and clinical supervisors. Based on a needs analysis undertaken in 2009, the Program addresses three focal areas of student need - Academic, Professional and Socio-cultural – through four key strategies: Language and Literacy, Workplace Preparation, Staff Development and Community Outreach. The model underpinning the CLP draws upon the four pillars of intercultural education: Learning to know; Learning to do; Learning to live together and Learning to be (UNESCO, 2006). Engagement in the program has been substantial with more than 4,500 students participating in one or more CLP activities over 2010-2012 period.

Quantitative and qualitative data, gained through an action research framework, indicate that the CLP is having positive, sustained impact on academic and clinical outcomes. As an example, more than 70% of students identified in 2011 and 2012 as ‘at-risk’ of failing particular courses went on to pass these courses. These results are supported by feedback from clinical staff which highlights students’ improved abilities to engage constructively with clinical practice.  

Through its 4-pronged strategy and deliberative focus on creating safe, active learning environments, the CLP provides students with a powerful means to experience the ‘joy of learning’ (Wang et al, 2008). This is a strong catalyst for their engagement in the process and achievement of successful outcomes.