«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 ...»
Purpose of the Research Study This study sought to investigate the effects of a study abroad program’s duration on the following learning outcomes: cognitive complexity, liberal learning, personal philosophy, and interpersonal self-confidence. The basic definitions of these constructs were borrowed from Inkelas’ extensive research conducted on the outcomes of livinglearning programs (Vogt, Longerbeam, Inkelas, & Owen Casper, in review). This research involved a psychometrically proven survey instrument (see Appendix A), which was modified for this study to measure the learning outcomes associated with study abroad (see Appendix B). Because of the similar foundations of these research studies, it was deemed appropriate to use common definitions for the shared outcome measures. As such, growth in cognitive complexity was defined as “intellectual change and growth while in college” (Vogt et al., p. 12). Moreover, growth in liberal learning focused on “openness to new ideas and concepts. The concept of liberalism includes an appreciation of a broad education, openness to differing views, ability to discuss issues, and enjoyment of art, music, and cultural diversity” (Vogt et al., p. 12). Next, growth in personal philosophy measured “growth in self-understanding, development of values, and awareness of differing philosophies and cultures. It also includes an item that measures growth in the ability to get along with different kinds of people” (Vogt et al., p.
Finally, interpersonal self-confidence investigated “confidence in working with others, including leadership ability, expressing ideas orally, team efficacy, and time management” (Vogt et al., p. 12).
These particular learning outcomes were chosen because, first, it was necessary to limit the number of learning outcomes for this particular study from the more exhaustive list of learning outcomes researched by Vogt et al. (in review). Second, unlike foreign language acquisition, it seemed reasonable to believe that the potential existed for each learning outcome (i.e., cognitive complexity, liberal learning, personal philosophy, and interpersonal self-confidence) to be significantly affected by the study abroad experience, regardless of the length of the program. Lastly, these learning outcomes were specifically chosen because of their previous association with study abroad (Carsello & Creaser, 1976; Dwyer & Peters, 2004; Gmelch, 1977; Hensley & Sell, 1979; McMillan & Opem, 2004).
Significance of the Problem National study abroad trends indicate that while the total number of students going abroad is rising substantially, the average amount of time sojourners are actually spending abroad is declining (IIE, 2004). Whereas, at one time it was the norm for students to spend an entire academic year abroad, the majority now spend eight weeks or less living and studying in their host countries (IIE). This inverse relationship between number of participants and length of sojourn makes one wonder about the potential repercussions to the American society, the global society, individual study abroad participants, and institutions of higher education. This research study, which was designed to compare potential differences in learning outcomes among participants in study abroad programs of varying lengths, attempted to add insight and quantifiable information to this topic. Following are a few of the most obvious justifications for the study.
First, this topic is of considerable societal significance. In an era of increased interdependence and globalization, the United States requires globally educated citizens now more than ever (Bikson & Law, 1994; IIE, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Accordingly, institutions of higher education are increasingly being called on by employers, the government, students and their parents to produce internationally savvy graduates (Bikson & Law; Carlson & Widaman, 1988). Study abroad is touted as a highly effective way to accomplish this lofty goal, both because of the immediate effects on study abroad participants and because of the indirect effects on students at the home institutions (Kauffmann, Martin & Weaver, 1992). According to Tuma (2002b), “Increasing the international experience of your students and your faculty leads to an enhanced internationalization of your campus and curriculum” (p. 66). As a result of teaching overseas, faculty members are able to infuse the courses they teach on the homecampus with cross-cultural experiences and activities, global perspectives, and innovative ideas and knowledge (Amel & Uhrskov, 2002). One might wonder then about the extent to which students who have studied abroad are able to have a similar effect on the campus culture of their respective home institutions, and whether the effect varies according to the amount of time the student spends abroad.
Furthermore, in a period that places a high value on institutional accountability (Pulley, 2002; Woodard & Komives, 2003), it is very likely that students and their parents, as well as university administrators and governmental agencies, will soon require study abroad professionals to prove that international education successfully produces the learning outcomes in student participants that it claims to generate. Moreover, since short-term study abroad is still relatively new, to a large extent it has not been empirically tested against long-term study abroad, nor has it been subjected to a rigorous outcomes assessment (Spencer & Tuma, 2002). Therefore, this study was conceived as a way to add to the research on this topic, since, regardless of length of program, the current literature on study abroad is fraught with contradictory and inconclusive results (Sell, 1983).
Another objective of this study was to help institutions that are attempting to justify whether or not to continue devoting finite time, energy, human and financial resources to the development, promotion and maintenance of short-term study abroad programs. If study abroad purports to result in learning and development for all participants, it needs to first be established whether or not programs of varying lengths accomplish this goal equally well. Additionally, it needs to be further determined whether or not nontraditional students are benefiting directly from the proliferation of short-term programs, as is commonly suggested. As stated earlier, the common perception is that short-term study abroad is more conducive to the needs of nontraditional students (Spencer & Tuma, 2002). With this in mind, it is important to assess the outcomes of short-term study abroad so that institutions may determine whether or not nontraditional students are both taking advantage of, and benefiting from, the increasing number of short-term study abroad options. This factor will continue to increase in importance, due to the fact that the expanding higher education enrollments are comprised of nontraditional students, increasing diversity in terms of race/ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and level of physical ability (El-Khawas, 2003). In order to provide more insight into this topic, sub-analyses were conducted on the various demographic factors represented by those study abroad participants who responded to the survey, the results of which are reported in chapter four.
The final point of significance concerns the fact that this study was conducted at the University of Maryland, College Park, where an increasing number of short-term programs are being developed to keep up with high student and faculty demand. This phenomenon makes it important to compare the effects of long-term (i.e., semester and academic year) and short-term (i.e., summer and winter-term) programs for purposes of assessment, evaluation and strategic planning.
This chapter has sought to provide readers with the appropriate context and knowledge in which to place the scope and purpose of this research study. The next chapter will provide a review of the literature and the results of past research studies, in order to establish what is currently known or thought about this topic, and to provide a rationale for the chosen research design and methodology, as well as the hypotheses of this study.
This chapter will begin with scholarly literature on college student learning outcomes and then proceed to the available research on study abroad outcomes. The focus will shift to the intersection of the research on these two topics. Finally, the research regarding length of time abroad will be discussed, as it was the critical focus of this research study. Ultimately, the purpose of this chapter is to review what is currently known and understood about learning outcomes associated with study abroad, in order to place the study into a broader context. The chapter will serve to illuminate both the gaps in our current knowledge surrounding this topic, as well as the inconsistencies apparent in the research. A review of the literature will provide a basis for the methodology employed in the study as well as the hypotheses that were empirically tested. After reviewing the literature, the reader should have the foundational knowledge to better understand the scope and purpose of the study.
Research on College Student Learning The impact of college on learning and development has been the focus of substantial research efforts. Researchers such as Astin and Kuh have studied student learning outcomes, as well as the roles that institutions and students themselves play in the learning that occurs. Recently, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) collaborated to produce a document entitled, Learning Reconsidered: A Campus-Wide Focus on the Student Experience, in which they proposed “new ways of understanding and supporting learning and development as intertwined, inseparable elements of the student experience” (2004, p. 1). This approach of viewing learning and development as interconnected processes that occur both during and because of college, regardless of institutional type, academic major and/or student demographic background, reveals the complex nature of this field of research. Multiple research studies have been conducted which have endeavored to isolate and examine an array of individual factors, but, as asserted by NASPA and ACPA, all facets of the college experience have the potential to generate student learning and development. This includes the impact of the academic curriculum, co- and extracurricular activities, friends, roommates, staff and faculty.
In an effort to synthesize the extensive college impact research, Pascarella and Terenzini (1996) reviewed 2,600 available research studies surrounding this topic. They too found that the changes that occur during college tended to happen in an integrated manner, meaning that cognitive and affective changes were found to be interconnected and mutually reinforcing. In the learning and cognitive change domain, Pascarella and Terenzini found that students made great strides during college. Students advanced in terms of their verbal, quantitative, and writing skills, as well as their topical knowledge.
As a result of higher education, students were also found to improve in their problemsolving and reasoning ability, critical thinking ability, reflective judgment ability, and intellectual and conceptual complexity. Overall, students were found to become better and more adaptive learners.
Pascarella and Terenzini (1996) also focused on attitude and value outcomes and found that college attendance resulted in the increased ability to appreciate art, culture and ideas. Between matriculating and graduating, students were found to adopt progressively more liberal attitudes toward issues of diversity, politics, social values, gender norms, and religious beliefs. Finally, during college, students were found to shift their value orientations corresponding to their educational and professional aspirations, from a preoccupation with extrinsic rewards to a greater concern for intrinsic rewards.
Students were found to undergo psychosocial changes during college as well (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1996), which the authors partially attributed to gains in cognitive skills and ability. College students were found to grow in their understanding of self, their self-definition, and personal commitment, as well as their healthy functioning of ego.
Students were found to improve in their academic and social images, as well as in their independence, personal adjustment, psychological well-being, personal development and maturity. Finally, students were found to have improved in their interpersonal skills and ability to relate to others who differed from them in terms of race/ethnicity, social class and/or culture.
The effect of student characteristics. Research has shown that various student characteristics (e.g., academic major and place of residence) and demographic factors (e.g., sex, race, socioeconomic class, and ability) have the potential to differentially affect the attainment of learning outcomes. For example, the benefits to students of living on campus versus commuting are quite substantial. Residents are more likely to get involved with co- and extracurricular activities, and to interact with faculty (Astin 1989; 1999).
Furthermore, they are more likely to succeed academically, to persist to graduation, and to develop in leadership ability, interpersonal and academic self-esteem, and liberalism (Astin, 1989). With regards to gender, it has been demonstrated that male students are substantially more confident in their interpersonal and academic abilities than female students, both at the time they enter college and when they leave (Astin, 1989).
Moreover, research has shown that the difference in ability between high and lowachieving college students, as measured by college admissions tests at time of entry, actually becomes more pronounced during the college years (Astin, 1989). However, with regards to self-esteem, academic ability has been found to produce divergent effects.
This means that throughout college, highly able students develop more academic selfconfidence in relation to their lower-achieving peers, but, in terms of interpersonal selfconfidence, the two groups tend to converge (Astin, 1989).