«Title: STUDY ABROAD AS A PASSPORT TO STUDENT LEARNING: DOES THE DURATION OF THE STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM MATTER? Jill M. Neppel, Master of Arts, 2005 ...»
Hypothesis one. ANCOVA results found the first hypothesis to be statistically significant. Significant differences were found to exist between the long-term and shortterm study abroad groups in terms of the perceived amount of growth in cognitive complexity each group experienced as a result of their respective study abroad experiences. The long-term group was found to attribute greater growth in cognitive complexity to the study abroad experience in comparison to the short-term group. For the purposes of this study, cognitive complexity was defined as intellectual change and growth, and measured as the ability to critically analyze ideas and information, learn on one’s own, and pursue ideas and needed information. The ability to learn more about new ideas and concepts, as well as the ability to see relationships and patterns, and to put ideas together, also formed part of the cognitive complexity construct.
Given this definition, along with prior research on learning outcomes, it is logical that long-term study abroad programs would be more conducive to nurturing participants’ growth in cognitive complexity, as compared with short-term programs. The National Survey of Student Engagement (2004) asserted that involvement in activities and experiences, which necessitate active learning and participation (referred to as ‘deep learning’) over passive learning, challenges students to think more complexly, due to the need to synthesize, integrate and apply learning. Results of this study imply that longterm programs are structured in such a way as to be more likely than short-term programs to encourage, empower and require participants to become more immersed in the local culture. This requires individuals to be more active and self-sufficient in terms of navigating the culture and pursuing the information necessary for understanding the new environment and deciphering cultural contextual clues. In contrast, short-term programs are limited by their design and time constraints. They seem more likely to introduce participants to the culture and the systems of the host country in a more packaged way (e.g., staying in hotels with other American students), which allows more passivity on the part of participants.
Hypothesis two. ANCOVA test results found the second hypothesis to be statistically significant as well. Significant differences were found to exist among the long-term and short-term study abroad groups in terms of the perceived amount of growth in liberal learning each group ascribed to their respective study abroad experiences. The long-term group was found to connect higher levels of growth in liberal learning to the study abroad experience in comparison to the short-term group. For the purposes of this study, liberal learning referred to tolerance and open-mindedness about new ideas and concepts. The notion of liberalism pertained to an appreciation for a broad, liberal arts education, enjoyment of art, music and cultural diversity, as well as a proclivity to discuss issues with an open mind.
The statistical significance of this finding may imply that individuals are more likely to become more open-minded, tolerant, and ethnorelative the longer they are abroad. Research on college student learning outcomes declares that students become progressively more liberal throughout the time of their college attendance, in terms of their ability to appreciate art, culture and ideas, as well as in their attitudes toward such issues as politics, religion, diversity, and social and gender norms (Astin, 1989;
Pascarella & Terenzini, 1996). It may possibly be inferred that the major catalyst for this increase in liberalism is the heightened exposure to new ideas, concepts, values, cultures and diversity of people within the college setting. In comparison, study abroad has the potential to take this exposure to difference to an even higher level. Study abroad participants find themselves in the midst of a new political, social and cultural terrain.
The extent of this exposure to difference is likely to vary, however, according to the length of the study abroad experience, and the related structural components of the program.
Prolonged exposure to a new culture and way of life is a facet of long-term study abroad programs that is lacking from short-term programs. Long-term study abroad participants are more likely to live among and take classes with a greater diversity of individuals than short-term study abroad participants. In addition, the greater likelihood that long-term study abroad participants will take classes with host national instructors, as opposed to American instructors, suggests that they will also be exposed to different ideas and ways of teaching and interacting in the classroom setting. For these reasons, it is not surprising that the long-term group evidenced higher levels of perceived growth in liberal learning over the short-term group.
Hypothesis three. Similar to the other three hypotheses, the third hypothesis was also found to be statistically significant. Unique to this hypothesis, however, ANCOVA tests revealed the length of time abroad to actually have a moderate effect size (Ŋ2=.054) on the perceived growth in personal philosophy for long-term participants in comparison to short-term participants. For the purposes of this study, growth in personal philosophy included growth in self-understanding, the development and refinement of values, and growth in awareness of the diverse array of philosophies and cultures. Additionally, this construct also included participants’ growth in ability to interact with people different than them.
The fact that this study found the long-term study abroad group to perceive that they had achieved a significantly larger amount of growth in personal philosophy over their short-term comparison group is deserving of considerable attention and suggests that study abroad, in particular long-term study abroad, should be a priority of colleges and universities. Indeed, results of this study indicate that participants in long-term study abroad programs are significantly more likely to increase their self-awareness, to develop ethics and values, and to grow in appreciation of diversity and multiculturalism.
Extrapolating from the research on learning outcomes (Astin, 1989; 1996; 1999; Kuh, 1996; & NSSE, 2004) allows us to infer that this growth in personal philosophy may be attributable to the myriad challenges presented to study abroad participants to step out of their comfort zones. These challenges depend in part on the nature of the study abroad experience, as well the length of the program. To varying extents, participants are challenged to adapt to a foreign country and to operate within the parameters of unfamiliar cultural, social, political, economic and educational systems. These experiences invite participants to question previous assumptions about global issues, their home and host countries, culturally different others, and themselves. This continual process of learning, questioning and reflecting over the course of the study abroad experience has the potential to result in significant learning and development, especially in the areas that characterize the personal philosophy construct (i.e., self-understanding, the development and refinement of values, awareness in the diversity of cultures and philosophies, and the ability to interact and form relationships with others who are culturally different). The findings of this study suggest that long-term participants are more likely than short-term participants to face these challenges in greater frequency, intensity and duration.
Given the fact that a large number of students are unable or unwilling to participate in study abroad for a variety of reasons, however, institutions of higher education should look to create comparable types of experiences that could likewise result in growth in personal philosophy for those students who remain at the home campus throughout their collegiate careers. For example, institutions could intentionally work to bring together individuals from different cultural or national backgrounds in the context of the classroom and beyond. Institutions could also do a better job of capitalizing on the rich and varied experiences and knowledge bases that are brought to campus by American students and faculty who have taught or studied beyond the borders of the United States, as well as by international students, by encouraging them to teach and share what they have learned and experienced to other students, staff and faculty on the home-based campus.
Hypothesis four. ANCOVA test results also found the fourth hypothesis to be statistically significant. Significant differences were found to exist among the long-term and short-term study abroad groups with regards to the perceived amount of growth in interpersonal self-confidence imputed to the study abroad experience. The long-term group was found to attribute higher levels of interpersonal self-confidence to the study abroad experience in comparison to the short-term group. The construct of interpersonal self-confidence was measured as leadership ability, ability to work as an effective member of a team, and confidence in expressing ideas orally.
It is highly likely that many facets of studying abroad contribute to this perceived growth in self-confidence, especially in relation to the long-term study abroad experience. For instance, studying abroad requires one to learn to navigate a new culture, a new political system, and perhaps even a new language. Individuals may achieve greater self-confidence through independent or group travel, as suggested by Gmelch (1977), as well as through meeting new people or eating new foods. The longer one is abroad, the more opportunities one will have for making new discoveries and for becoming more self-confident. Because the research states that female college students tend to harbor lower feelings of self-confidence than their male peers (Astin, 1989), advisors should be especially vocal about stating the implications of long-term study abroad opportunities when working with female advisees.
Additional findings. Using cross-tabulations to compare short-term and long-term respondents illuminated many noteworthy findings. To begin with long-term study abroad participants, it is important to note that almost 72% were seniors, which was a much higher proportion than that evidenced among short-term respondents (43%).
Additionally, chi-square statistics revealed that long-term respondents were much more likely than short-term respondents to have been stationed in a single, permanent location during the study abroad experience (95.5% vs. 39%). Almost a third of long-term respondents (31.3%) indicated that they had taken courses with host national students, international students and other American students as a part of their coursework; in comparison, only 2.9% of short-term respondents identified this to be an accurate portrayal of their own study abroad experiences. Long-term respondents were also much more likely than short-term respondents to have been instructed by natives of the host country (66.8% vs. 30.4%), and to have lived in either private apartments or university housing while abroad.
A closer look at short-term respondents reveals that they were much more likely than long-term respondents to have participated in study abroad programs coordinated by the University of Maryland (95.5% vs. 47.5%). Moreover, short-term respondents indicated at a much higher rate than long-term respondents that they stayed at hotels during their study abroad programs (61% vs. 3.5% respectively). Although a greater proportion of short-term respondents than long-term respondents indicated that their education abroad experiences occurred in foreign environments where English was not the official language (80.1% vs. 65.7%), short-term respondents were also much more likely than long-term participants to have responded that the majority of their classmates while abroad were other American students (91.6% vs. 35.8%).
There are also areas deserving of note where there was seemingly no difference between the long-term and short-term study abroad groups. First, the two groups did not differ significantly in terms of the number of previous international experiences each had had before participating in the education abroad experience in question. Furthermore, despite popular sentiment that students from lower socioeconomic statuses are more likely to choose short-term study abroad options than long-term study abroad programs (Hovde, 2002b), this study did not find this to be the case. In fact, short-term and longterm respondents were surprisingly equal in terms of their respective socioeconomic backgrounds, which was measured by this study as annual family income.
Examining the above differences in light of the research that is available on learning outcomes, allows the researcher to draw some valuable inferences in terms of the possible reasons why long-term study abroad participants manifested significantly higher perceived learning outcome scores than their short-term counterparts. Most relevant is Astin’s (1999) theory of involvement, which was founded on the notion that the more involved students are, the more likely they are to persist, learn, and develop. The following definition of involvement: “the quantity and quality of physical and psychological energy that is invested in the experience” (Astin, p. 528), is instrumental for comparing the different qualitative experiences of long-term and short-term study abroad participants. The above discussion of the results of the cross-tabulations suggest that the nature of the long-term study abroad experience requires a much higher level of physical and psychological energy to be invested, in comparison to the short-term experience. The majority of long-term respondents indicated that they were immersed in one location for a relatively long period of time, as opposed to traveling to multiple locations in the span of a few weeks, like short-term respondents. Furthermore, long-term respondents were more likely to expend a greater amount of psychological energy in terms of the quantity and quality of cross-cultural interactions required by the experience.
This relates to the available research on the impact of diversity on learning and development, which is a critical factor in the study abroad experience.