«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 ...»
There are a myriad ways to further classify and categorize study abroad programs, including academic focus, provider, site, instruction method, and length of program. It is important to note that there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of program. Looking specifically at short-term study abroad program models, Hovde (2002b) identified three types of study abroad courses that could be labeled according to their predetermined academic focus: topical; language training and cultural learning; and interdisciplinary understanding. The possibilities for topical courses are virtually limitless, in that the context provided by the culture and political, social or economic environment of the host country enriches the topic of the course by providing a comparative perspective or the addition of materials which would most likely not have been utilized on the home campus (Hovde). Courses that focus on language training and cultural learning do exactly what they imply. Immersion in another culture, however brief, is a useful tool that aids students in increasing their foreign language proficiency and their understanding of the host culture (Hovde). Courses that focus on interdisciplinary understanding are global in scope and deal with such topics as ethnicity, diversity, anthropological world problems, international relations, and economic development and sustainability (Hovde).
Other pedagogical considerations concern the site and instruction of the program (Hovde, 2002b). Whereas residential programs are located at one particular site, travel programs take students to multiple locations throughout the study tour (Hovde). A related consideration centers on who should deliver the course material to the study abroad participants. In the “transplanted” or “offshore” model, the U.S. American faculty member who has accompanied his/her students abroad is solely responsible for the instruction of the class as well as all aspects of grading. Conversely, it can be prearranged for one or more host nationals to teach the course material and conduct the evaluation of learning that has taken place (Hovde).
Program models may also be classified according to which individuals and/or entities coordinate, manage and direct the various aspects of the study abroad programs.
Tuma (2002b) identified the following possibilities: programs that are faculty-directed, programs that result from institutional and program provider partnerships, exchange models, consortium programs, and embedded programs. Faculty directed programs are offered through the home institution and are led by an identified faculty member. They may result from the work of an individual faculty member, an academic department, the international/study abroad office, or a combination of these three entities (Tuma).
Programs that result from partnerships between institutions and program providers are also quite common. In fact, the Institute of International Education estimates that 40% of short-term programs are sponsored by program providers, which include foreign universities, institutes, and adult education centers, as well as other U.S.-based and foreign organizations without U.S. accreditation (Tuma). Such programs enable students to study abroad, in spite of the fact that the actual home institutions in which they are enrolled may not have the finances or human resources to design and deliver study abroad programs on their own. Exchange models are essentially bilateral institutional agreements between U.S. American institutions of higher education and international institutions which involve the reciprocal exchange of students for agreed upon periods of time (Tuma). Another program model is the consortium model, which involves two or more colleges and universities sharing program resources and allowing any of the institutional consortium members’ students to participate in the consortium study abroad programs at an equal rate (Tuma). Finally, the structure of an embedded program requires that students participate in the short-term study abroad program as part of the academic requirement of the course, which usually lasts the entire academic term (Tuma).
Finally, study abroad programs can be classified by program duration. Study abroad programs deemed long-term usually last an academic year or semester. On the other hand, short-term programs, which usually take place in January, May, or the summer months, typically last between three and six weeks (but may range anywhere between one and eight weeks). Spencer and Tuma (2002) poignantly draw attention to the fact that the definition of short-term study abroad has changed substantially within the last fifty years. At one time, semester-long programs were thought of as short-term.
Currently, however, short-term study abroad conjures up images of study tours that last significantly less than one term (i.e., one to eight weeks total). Short-term study abroad, as currently defined, has a large coterie of both supporters and detractors. Many supporters maintain that the original goals and outcomes of study abroad are maintained or changed only slightly with this shorter format. Critics, however, assert that short-term study abroad is not nearly as effective as long-term study abroad. The controversy remains, as relatively little empirical research has been conducted that attempts to isolate and assess the impact of the length of study abroad programs on learning outcomes.
University of Maryland programs. Although length of study abroad program was operationalized as the sole independent variable in this research study, it is important for readers to know that there are general patterns of organization common to short-term and long-term study abroad programs. Given the myriad program offerings and study abroad opportunities available to students, however, it should be known that there are certainly many exceptions that exist. With this caveat noted, a brief description of the various program offerings of the University of Maryland, College Park (UM) will be provided in order to illustrate these general patterns. This section will also serve the purpose of orienting readers to the nature of study abroad at the University of Maryland, where this particular research study was conducted.
According to the University of Maryland’s Office of Study Abroad (2004), potential study abroad participants are able to choose from 44 total programs offered by the University of Maryland or University of Maryland system. Students are also permitted to enroll in non-University of Maryland programs, if the programs are approved by a member of the UM study abroad staff. If students wish to remain abroad for an entire academic year, they can choose between enrolling in a pre-arranged exchange program or an academic year study abroad program. Through the reciprocal exchange opportunities, University of Maryland students are able to study in Argentina, Great Britain, Brazil, Germany/Austria, Japan, Korea, or Sweden; in exchange, international students from those countries are able to enroll at the University of Maryland. These exchange programs would be aptly classified as total immersion programs because U.S. students enroll directly in the receiving foreign institutions. In addition to focusing on language training and cultural understanding, exchange program participants enroll in regular academic courses offered by the college or university, much like they would at their home institution. As an alternative to exchange programs, students also have the opportunity to enroll in various academic year programs, in which they receive more on-site support from the University of Maryland and resident faculty directors provided by the home institution (e.g., the University of Maryland or Towson University) or the program provider (e.g., Denmark International Studies [DIS]). There are four of these particular programs: Maryland-in-Nice, Study in Leiden, Netherlands, Study in Rome (offered by Towson University), and Denmark’s International Study Program (offered by DIS). Students also have the option of studying abroad for only a semester, either through one of the four aforementioned programs or through three additional offerings: Maryland-in-London, Maryland-in-Spain, and Semester in Germany: Engineering and German. These programs would be aptly classified as protective studies models, because students have the opportunity to interact with resident directors and program staff, as well as host nationals.
In comparison to the number of long-term programs, the University of Maryland offers far more short-term programs. In fact, the Study Abroad Office’s website (http://www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Intl/studyabroad/idxprog.html) advertises twelve summer programs and eighteen winter-term programs. The winter-term programs last a standard three weeks, but the summer programs range from ten days to six weeks.
Furthermore, a perusal of the respective titles of both summer and winter-term programs illustrates that, to a large extent, the academic focus of these shorter-term programs is either topical or interdisciplinary in nature, as compared to many of the longer-term programs, which focus more on language and cultural learning. For example, the summer
programs range from “Argentina: Politics of Globalization,” to “Western Europe:
HIV/AIDS in Western Europe.” Likewise, a sampling of the winter-term programs include: “Belize: Mayan Culture, Tropical Rainforests and Coral Reefs,” “China and Vietnam: Women, Culture, and Sustainable Development,” and “UK and France: London and Paris, A Tale of Two Cities: The Parallel Histories of London and Paris.” As opposed to the stationery semester and academic year programs, many of the shorter-term programs involve travel to multiple destinations. Additionally, short-term programs also differ from their longer-term counterparts in that they are developed, led, and instructed by University of Maryland faculty members with expertise in those academic areas. Once on location, many of these programs are supplemented by guest lectures given by host nationals who are considered experts in the areas of academia, government and/or industry. Finally, although many summer and winter-term programs involve homestays, they are much more likely to rely on hotel or pension accommodations than long-term programs.
Goals of Study Abroad A cursory look into the research and literature that exists on the subject of study abroad reveals a cornucopia of valuable outcomes commonly associated with study abroad. The next chapter will present a more thorough examination of the literature and published results of research studies. At this time, however, it is prudent to mention some key outcomes that are associated with study abroad, as they are often the variables of interest in study abroad research. First, there are the general education or academic goals of study abroad, which include increased foreign language proficiency, increased topical knowledge, the development of a well-rounded, general education, or technical and specialty training. Another important outcome area could be labeled cross-cultural skills;
such skills include the development of ethnorelativism, increased world-mindedness, a heightened interest in world affairs, and cross-cultural communication and interpersonal skills. Finally, cognitive and personal development are also touted as valuable outcomes
of study abroad. Cognitive development may consist of any of the following outcomes:
increased cognitive complexity, critical thinking skills, value-reflective thinking skills, tolerance for ambiguity, increased interest in intellectual pursuits and enhanced motivation to learn. Likewise, personal development may entail increased selfconfidence/self-efficacy, increased independence and autonomy, clarification of vocational goals, clarification of academic goals, and increased interest in travel.
A Comparison of Short-term and Long-term Study Abroad Long-term study abroad programs. Many involved with international education often see long-term study abroad programs as the ideal (Hovde, 2002b). Indeed, there are many touted advantages to programs that last the duration of a semester or academic year. Certainly, the reality that study abroad participants are allotted a longer amount of time in which to immerse themselves in the culture, to make lasting cross-cultural personal relationships, and to increase their foreign language proficiency cannot be looked at as a disadvantage. Accordingly, Kinsella, Smith-Simonet and Tuma (2002) have asserted that most international educators hold the common belief that a study abroad experience which immerses students in a foreign culture for a semester or longer is unrivaled in terms of how students’ worldviews and self-perceptions are affected.
Short-term study abroad programs. Critics of short-term study abroad programs speak disparagingly of the lack of academic rigor that they attach to study tours and of the inability of these programs, by their very design, to allow students the same depth of immersion as long-term programs provide. Despite these criticisms, however, it is clear, based on the popularity and proliferation of short-term programs, that there are still many advantages attached to short-term study abroad. The mere inception of short-term programs has permitted numerous students to study abroad who would not have done so otherwise (Hovde, 2002b). Beneficiaries of short-term study abroad programs have been those participants for whom cost is a major deterrent, as well as those students who either need to complete their degrees in as efficient a manner as possible, or those students with inflexible majors (e.g., science, engineering and math) that are notorious for rigid and highly sequenced course requirements (Spencer & Tuma, 2002). Furthermore, many students lack the confidence, preparedness, or drive to spend a semester or year abroad (Hovde). For these students, the allure of short-term study abroad programs may tempt them to participate, when they never would have thought to study abroad before. Such students may find short-term study abroad to suffice as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or it may whet their appetites for future longer-term study abroad experiences or home campus-based courses, activities, and experiences that are more global or cultural in nature.