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ACM Voices-Winter 2018

In the Winter 2018 issue of ACM Notes

Leveraging ACM collaboration to support faculty-led study away

By Joan Gillespie, ACM Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs

Joan Gillespie

Joan Gillespie

Significant research has been conducted on the impact on students of off-campus study and the structures and support — before, during, and after the experience — that contribute to their deep learning. Relatively little research has been done, though, on the impact on faculty who lead these programs in terms of their own teaching, research, and engagement with the college community.

I am one of the researchers for a study exploring this impact. We also queried faculty about the institutional structures and support they need to create sound academic, cross-cultural, and holistic environments for students in off-campus settings. The findings point to a potential new space for collaboration in faculty development for ACM.

Focus on faculty voices at liberal arts colleges

The research was sponsored by Elon University Center for Engaged Learning, Seminar on Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience, 2015-17. Other principal investigators on my team are Dana Gross, Associate Dean and Professor of Psychology, St. Olaf College; Sarah Glasco, Associate Professor of French, Elon University; Lisa Jasinski, Special Assistant to the Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Trinity University; and Prudence Layne, Associate Professor of English, Elon University.

We created and distributed two online surveys to faculty leaders of off-campus study programs at 28 institutions, which included member colleges of the ACM and the Associated Colleges of the South, plus Elon University. More than 200 faculty responded to the first survey, 72 of whom responded to the second survey. We have preliminary findings and will continue to analyze this rich store of data and personal narratives.

Benefits to faculty and colleges

What have faculty reported about their experiences leading off-campus study programs? The most significant changes relative to the classroom that faculty report include:

  • a new approach to teaching, notably, conscious reference to the stages of transformative learning
  • a willingness to explore and use new pedagogical strategies, for example, in structuring field-based and group work
  • greater awareness of and attention to students’ holistic learning and development, including global learning

Other, more predictable, benefits to faculty are the direct influence of the experience on course content, developing a new research area, and making new professional contacts in a different locale.

Training and institutional support are essential for faculty success in leading off-campus study.

Faculty who make note of these changes in off-campus teaching also say that they apply what they have learned when they return to campus, multiplying by many times the number of students who benefit from their off-campus appointments

Faculty development through these opportunities also follows the administrative track, benefitting the broad campus community. Faculty report that they gain confidence in their administrative skills through program planning, creating and overseeing budgets and managing on-site expenses, and mentoring a co-instructor or program assistant. Some faculty, having learned first-hand what is required to run a successful off-campus program, report that they have taken on a leadership role in their institution’s global initiatives.

Faculty respondents describe how essential training and institutional support are to the positive personal changes that they identify. Those who report high levels of institutional support, defined as training, compensation, recognition, and staff support, also report that:

  • they were eager to lead a different or the same study away program
  • they found study away to be a worthwhile use of time and energy; felt more connected to the mission of their institution
  • their relationships with colleagues were improved
  • they realized a renewed energy in their career

Practice and policy implications for ACM

According to the annual ACM Report on Student Participation in Off-Campus Study, in the last three years, 32-34 percent of ACM students who studied off-campus were enrolled in college-operated long-term programs, defined as quarter, semester, or longer in length. Enrollment in short-term programs, those of less than nine weeks, over the same period grew at some campuses and declined at others, with the average being 1,900 students annually, or just under 50 percent of total off-campus study enrollment.

An ACM-wide workshop would facilitate sharing best practices, mentoring, and pooling resources.

While these programs are not identified in the data as faculty-led, “college-operated” implies faculty involvement, and short-term programs also are likely to involve faculty as course-embedded field work or a January, May, or block term. Because faculty-led off-campus study experiences carry the potential to serve as faculty development and they also entail high opportunity cost, particularly at small institutions, the question is how our colleges can support faculty leaders of off-campus study programs in order to realize benefits that ultimately accrue to the entire campus community.

At the annual meeting of the ACM off-campus study directors in September, 2017, one of the agenda topics was the idea for a consortial-wide workshop for faculty who aspire to lead a college-operated off-campus study program. Response was positive, particularly from campuses that are expanding their faculty-led programming. The workshop would create a forum for sharing best practices, setting up mentoring relationships, and pooling resources across colleges.

Building on an ACM professional development model

This new workshop would be modeled on the existing annual workshop that the ACM holds every June for its upcoming visiting faculty directors and the permanent directors and staff of the ACM off-campus study programs. The two-day workshop covers a range of issues that faculty are likely to encounter with students who will be experiencing a new country and culture.

Do you want to be involved in planning a workshop for faculty leading off-campus study? Contact Joan Gillespie at ACM.

ACM draws presenters from the colleges and the ACM programs in Chicago, Costa Rica, Florence, and India to address such topics as negotiating gender identity and race overseas, managing psychological health and well-being, and facilitating cultural learning and adjustment.  Topics relevant to teaching responsibilities include using the site as classroom, creating reflection activities, and structuring “unstructured” independent student research.

Over the next months, the off-campus study program staff in the consortial office will develop a framework for such a workshop and canvass the colleges to determine the level of interest and commitment. If you would like to be involved in the preliminary planning, please contact me at or 312.561.5906.

<Return to the Winter 2018 ACM Notes>

This column was written for the Winter 2018 issue of the ACM Notes newsletter for faculty and administrators.

Copyright 2018