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International undergraduates’ perceptions of social engagement in online and face-to-face learning environments: a photo-elicitation approach to thematic analysis

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  • Toni McLaughlan
Article number11
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>3/02/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Smart Learning Environments
Issue number1
Number of pages18
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This mixed-methods study explores international undergraduates’ perceptions of social engagement with American peers at a US university comparing online to face-to-face environments. It addresses gaps in research on the social engagement of international undergraduates and on employing participant-generated visual approaches to investigation. Descriptive statistics from survey data showed that, while international students reported greater satisfaction, frequency, and comfort in engaging with American peers in face-to-face versus online contexts, they did not rate their overall of face-to-face interaction as highly as Americans did nor as lowly for online environments. Thematically analyzed qualitative data from photo-elicitation interviews prompted seven themes (disconnectedness, loneliness/homesickness, discourse expectations, building friendships, diversity and intercultural issues, anxieties, conflict) illuminating the nuances in attitudes among international undergraduates toward social engagement. Results suggest possible distinctions between international students based on region as a potential area of future study.