Learning from Study Abroad
A project of the Study Abroad Learning and Cost Alliance
Excerpts from the Project Proposal
Project One, GLCA: Learning from Study Abroad (LSA)
Study abroad, as a component of the academic curriculum within higher education, has increased nearly threefold in the past 20 years (Dwyer, 2004). As a result, the types and number of program offerings have also become much more numerous and varied. Programs differ not only in location, but also in length, curricular focus, language of instruction, extra-curricular involvement, academic setting, student accommodations, and in many other ways. In addition, there are many types of providers of study abroad: foreign institutions offering direct enrollment to U.S. students, one-to-one exchange programs between U.S. and foreign institutions, programs run by individual institutions solely for their own students, large institutionally managed programs open to students from any institution, and hundreds of professionally managed programs run by for-profit study-abroad organizations. The ways in which programs differ have become so numerous and varied that it has become difficult for administrators and students to know which programs best suit particular academic or personal goals.
Understanding the need to develop a better understanding of the relationship between characteristics of study abroad programs and the attainment of liberal arts learning objectives, the Teagle Foundation issued a grant – Liberal Education and Study Abroad: Assessing Learning Outcomes to Improve Program Quality – to three consortia of liberal arts colleges in 2005 to develop a means of gauging learning outcomes from study abroad and their relationship to program characteristics. The Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) worked with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) and the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) in developing an instrument to assess both program characteristics and the impact of study abroad on the acquisition of key liberal arts learning outcomes.
Through an extensive literature review and engagements of a faculty panel drawn from colleges within the three consortia, the earlier Teagle-supported project first identified three broad areas study abroad-related liberal arts learning goals with a total of eight specific outcomes:
- The ability to reason by developing an understanding that:
1. Culture influences how one thinks and reasons.
2. There are differences between cultures that influence norms.
3. Without being judgmental, cultural similarities and differences can be analytically compared and contrasted.
4. Certain universals of human existence transcend cultural differences.
- Self-reflective insights which:
5. Allow one to understand that one’s culture has shaped his/her values or beliefs.
6. Allow one to continue the development of his/her personal identity (values, beliefs, goals, etc.) based on a multicultural perspective.
- A capacity for effective action, which includes:
7. The skills to operate effectively in multicultural and intercultural situations.
8. The motivation to address issues of contemporary global concern.
The earlier project found that virtually no previous attempts had been made to gauge the degree to which students of liberal arts institutions attain such learning results from programs of study abroad; assessment of study abroad has consisted predominantly of surveys reporting student satisfaction with their experience. In seeking to ascertain student learning progress on substantive elements of study abroad, the development of our “Learning from Study Abroad” Instrument (the LSA) focused on two types of items: “choice alternatives” and “scenarios.” The choice alternatives are similar to those in most study-abroad research – they consist of student self-report about a given program and its impact on their thinking and behavior. The scenarios require students to make intercultural or international judgments by reading a brief story about a situation and then choosing the best response from among a number of alternatives.
In addition, a typology of program types was developed as a part of the LSA. In order to provide a more consistent framework for comparing study-abroad programs, a review of the literature analyzed discussions, descriptions, and characteristics of current and past study-abroad programs. The review examined proposed typologies and the associated program characteristics for the various program types. While some of these characteristics might be better assessed by institutional administrators (e.g., aspects of the program management), for this instrument only the student-evaluated characteristics have been included.
The LSA is designed to be given on two different occasions, both before and after a student has participated in a study-abroad program. The first administration collects information about student demographics and prior experience with other cultures and nations. The follow-up administration includes self-evaluative questions regarding language skills and questions related to the student’s study-abroad experience. A copy of the LSA was submitted to the Teagle Foundation in the final report of the previously funded project. (Note: The final report is available to download in PDF format from the Teagle Foundation website.)
The LSA instrument was designed to be administered in a longitudinal sequence, in which the same students take the survey first as they are preparing for study abroad, and again after returning from their programs of study; in addition, a comparison group of students who do not have a study abroad experience take a parallel version of the instrument on the same timeline.
In the initial development of the project we did not administer the instrument longitudinally: a total of 270 students completed it, 128 of whom were preparing to study abroad, and another 142 who had recently returned from a study abroad program. The decision to survey different students during the development of the LSA allowed us to contain costs in the preliminary test of the instrument’s validity. To engage this instrument in its full capacity, however, requires that it be administered to the same students twice – once as they prepare to embark, and again when they have returned from their program of study. The central purpose of the current LSA project is to administer this survey to a larger sample of students – a minimum of 1,000 – from colleges and universities in the U.S. that educate undergraduates through a liberal arts curriculum.
We conceive the GLCA Learning from Study Abroad Project as a three-year program of three overlapping phases: the first, from March through December of 2009 for initial project development, recruitment of participating institutions, and pilot testing the survey in a web medium. A second phase, extending from September 2009 through August 2011, will be devoted to a full-scale administration of the pre- and post surveys, along with the collecting and initial analysis of data. During this phase, the project will produce an analytic report for each participating college, focusing on its own students. The third phase, from May 2011 through March of 2012, will focus on extensive analysis of what will have become a sizeable data set, formulating and disseminating findings and conclusions from the project.
Beginning in the spring of 2012, we will draw together results from all three projects in the GLCA Study Abroad Learning and Cost Alliance, with an emphasis on the integration of findings and their application for institutional practice.
Dwyer, M. M. (2004), Charting the impact of study abroad. International Educator, 13 (1), 14-19.
Study Abroad Learning and Cost Alliance