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Learning from Study Away (LSA)

Learning from Study Away (LSA) is a project aimed at developing assessment tools to better understand what students are learning on ACM off-campus study programs and to give program faculty and staff information that they can use for program improvement.

LSA has been developed through collaboration among ACM consortial staff, faculty and staff at ACM off-campus program sites, faculty advisory committees, and other faculty who have consulted on the project.

ACM students in India

ACM students in Pune, India.

Four questions have guided the development of LSA:

  • Are students able to demonstrate what they learned at the end of the term by seeing something new or in a new light?
  • Can students transfer their academic work to interpret the culture and society in which they are living?
  • How can the findings be used to adjust the content and delivery of our programming to support student learning?
  • Is involvement of stakeholders in the assessment a vehicle for their greater engagement in the off-campus program?

Program Sites

LSA began with a pilot assessment conducted during the 2013-14 academic year at four program sites which have on-site faculty and staff – Chicago Program, Costa Rica, Florence, and India.

In the years since the pilot, the LSA assessment has been expanded and includes the following ACM program sites: Botswana, Chicago (Chicago Program and the Newberry Seminar), Costa Rica (fall and spring programs), Florence (fall program), India (fall and winter/spring programs), Jordan, Shanghai, and Tanzania.

The Assessment

For the assessment, each student completes two exercises, in each case responding to a set of prompts.

  • Reflection Assignment: The students write reflections focused on their personal goals for their program participation – what they are hoping to accomplish and learn on the program – and on the stated learning goals of the program.
  • Neighborhood Walk Assignment: Students are assigned a neighborhood at their program site to explore and then write about what they observe. The location and instructions for the neighborhood walk are adapted to the geography, local customs, resources, and academic theme at each program site. For example: In Botswana and Jordan, students have walked through open air markets and talked with merchants. Faculty at the Newberry Library program have had students visit nearby public libraries to find out how the facilities are used by the local community. The Chicago Program instructs students to use different types of public transportation in navigating to a set of neighborhood assets, such as community centers, public art, and architecturally-significant buildings.

The students complete the pair of exercises twice. The first time is during orientation, soon after they arrive at the program site. At the end of the program, students are given copies of what they wrote at the beginning of the program and they repeat the two exercises, with slightly different prompts designed to elicit reflections on what has changed during the program. Have they accomplished their personal goals and the program goals? In what ways do they see the neighborhood differently now than when they first arrived?

Program faculty and staff, along with faculty advisors from the campuses, consortial staff, and other ACM college faculty, gather at workshops and Faculty Advisory Committee meetings to read and score the reflections using rubrics designed to assess the students' engagement with cultural understanding.

More information about LSA

By ACM staff members Joan Gillespie, Elizabeth Ciner, and David Schodt

The first year of ACM's pilot project called Learning from Study Away has yielded lessons about using assessment to improve our off-campus programs and our students' learning.

A collaborative effort drawing on people, resources, and ideas from across ACM, with support from the Teagle Foundation.

  • Questions about LSA? Contact Joan Gillespie, ACM Vice President & Director of Off-Campus Study Programs.