«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 ...»
Involving colleges. The role of the college or university in a student’s ability to learn and develop is not to be understated. In considering the potential for student learning, NASPA and ACPA (2004) attached a high value to the academic context, social context and institutional context, as well as to the student and the way in which he or she integrates the outcomes within the college context with its various interrelated components. In focusing on the academic context, NASPA and ACPA postulated that campuses which provide experiential learning opportunities, interdisciplinary courses, and opportunities for students to interact with faculty members are rife with learning potential. Similarly, they looked for evidence of personal relationships, group memberships and inter-group connections within the social domain. With regards to institutional context, they looked for campus cultures with established ethical codes and judicial processes, as well as abundant opportunities for students to procure and benefit from work-study positions, leadership roles, and assistantships. According to NASPA and ACPA, all of these domains interact to provide students with myriad sites where learning may occur.
Additionally, Kuh (1991), delineated five characteristics of “involving colleges,” a term that he used to describe institutions which encourage student involvement in coand extracurricular learning opportunities. An involving college possesses a mission and philosophy that is lucid, demonstrates institutional commitment to multiculturalism, and places a high priority on student achievement. It also takes full advantage of its location and campus environment to promote living and learning among its students. Furthermore, involving colleges actively encourage student involvement through the campus culture, manifested by history, traditions, language and symbols. The policies and practices of involving colleges are consistent with the institution’s mission and the needs and realities of the student population. Finally, administrators, faculty and staff of involving colleges actively support students in their learning and development in and out of the classroom.
The role of student involvement. Alexander Astin (1989; 1996; 1999) has published extensively on the correlation between student involvement and the achievement of student learning outcomes. He developed his own student involvement theory after conducting a longitudinal study regarding the environmental factors that are present or lacking when students drop out of college. He found conclusive evidence to support his theory that the more involved students are, the more likely they are to persist, learn and develop at the institution. He defined involvement as “the quantity and quality of the physical and psychological energy that students invest in the college experience” (1999, p. 528).
Accordingly, a large portion of the research on learning outcomes looks specifically at the learning and development that results from co-curricular and extracurricular activities and experiences. For example, Kuh (1996) focused on the impact of out-of-class experiences in his article What Students Learn Outside the Classroom. His qualitative study involved interviews with 149 seniors at 12 different colleges and universities. Through an analysis of the interviews, five outcome domains emerged: personal competence (i.e., self-awareness, autonomy, confidence, social confidence, and sense of purpose), cognitive complexity (i.e., reflective judgment and application of knowledge), knowledge and academic skills, practical competence (i.e., practical competence and vocational competence), and altruism and estheticism (i.e., altruism, and estheticism, characterized as gaining experience with individuals from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds). The study successfully linked out-ofclassroom involvement with learning outcomes.
Research by Light (1992) corroborated Astin and Kuh’s findings that cocurricular and extracurricular activities and experiences are fraught with learning and development potential. In fact, Light’s study, which involved interviews of more than 1,600 undergraduate students, found that when students were asked to describe a crucial moment or incident that had changed them profoundly during college, 80% of the participants chose an experience that occurred outside of the classroom. Helen Astin and Laura Kent (1983), moreover, found that increased self-confidence and self-efficacy ranked among the numerous benefits emanating from out-of-classroom experiences.
The results of the 2004 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) add further information and insight on this topic. Data were obtained from 160,000 first-year and senior students, randomly chosen from more than 470 national colleges and universities, in order to examine the intersection of student engagement and the attainment of learning outcomes. The NSSE concluded that students were capable of learning and development that far exceeded the growth caused by traditional pedagogical methods. In fact, the NSSE found that students learned more from being involved in activities that required them to be active learners and participants, as opposed to passive learners. This ‘deep’ learning is thought to result from activities that challenge students to think on deeper levels, by requiring them to synthesize, integrate and apply their learning.
In reporting on selected results of student engagement, the NSSE (2004) found that “Students who engage more frequently in ‘deep’ learning activities report greater educational and personal gains from college, participate in more enriching educational experiences, perceive their campus to be more supportive, and are more satisfied overall with college” (p. 12).
NSSE findings supported the tenets of Astin’s Student Involvement Theory.
Specifically, the NSSE found that the amount of time students were engaged with oncampus jobs, curricular obligations (e.g., writing a research paper, asking questions in class, or contributing to class discussions), and co-curricular activities (e.g., studying abroad, interning, or participating in a living learning community) was positively correlated to students’ self-reported measures of educational and personal growth (e.g., critical thinking ability, the ability to understand one’s self, and the development of a personal code of ethics). The following findings are especially notable. First-year students (81%) and seniors (87%) indicated that they had increased their critical thinking and analytical ability in college “very much” or “quite a bit” as a result of their involvement in college. Furthermore, 81% of first-years and 85% of seniors responded emphatically that they had acquired a broad general education as a result of college. Sixty percent of first-years and sixty-six percent of seniors indicated that they understood themselves well as a result of college. As for developing a personal code of values and ethics, 54% of first-years and 59% of seniors attributed this gain to college “very much” or “quite a bit.” Research on Study Abroad As briefly suggested in the last chapter, the study abroad research that is currently available is inconclusive and inconsistent. There are also large gaps in the literature corresponding to lengthy periods of time when there was a dearth of research conducted on study abroad. As will be shown in the subsequent sections, there are numerous reports available which assert that study abroad results in positive effects for study abroad participants. However, abundant research also exists to refute these positive results; these research studies have either associated study abroad with negative effects or no effects at all. In addition to the contradictory research results, there is also a lack of research comparing study abroad experiences based on such factors as length of time abroad, type of program model, and location of study abroad program. In an effort to demonstrate the range of research that exists, the limitations of the study abroad literature will first be delineated, followed by examples of research yielding negative results, inconclusive results and positive results.
Limitations of study abroad research. A scan of the study abroad literature reveals that much of the research is outdated. Furthermore, the collection of research studies attempting to measure the impact of study abroad have yielded contradictory and inconclusive results. For example, Sell (1983) reviewed multiple research studies, including five studies whose participants were questioned only once after their study abroad experiences and 15 studies that administered pre- and post-sojourn questionnaires, in order to assess the effects of study abroad on attitude change. Despite the fact that study abroad participants and program directors emphatically attest to the personal growth that results from cross-cultural experiences (Lee, 2002; Quade, 2002), Sell found that studies attempting to measure attitudinal change were seldom able to empirically verify the outcomes they were designed to test. Not surprisingly, multiple educators and researchers have opined on the array of plausible reasons for the wide-ranging results of study abroad research studies. According to Philip G. Altbach, the director of Boston College’s Center for International Education, one problem concerns the fact that research on study abroad has been sporadic (Rubin, 1995). Limburg-Weber (1999/2000), on the other hand, stated that it is not the research that is the problem, but the widely divergent opinions among researchers about the so-called “truths” of study abroad, as well as what outcomes should be studied. Additional critiques of the study abroad research concern the widespread use of small sample groups and one-group pretest-posttest designs lacking control groups (Carlson & Widaman, 1988). Furthermore, Sell’s reproach of the available study abroad research focused on “the loosely structured experimental designs, infrequent use of follow-up studies, and the lack of a theoretical base upon which further research can be assessed” (p. 141). Her final estimation is effectively summarized by the
following illustrative quote:
The impact of foreign experiences on participants is complex and multifaceted. It involves attitudes, preconceptions, motivations, country visited, and length of stay. No longer will pre and post measurement of a particular attitude or opinion scale suffice in analyzing this impact. Past research highlights the deficiencies inherent in such a methodology. Only when researchers include the entire range of contributing factors will attitudinal and behavioral changes be more readily
As suggested by Limburg-Weber (1999/2000), a major limitation of the study abroad research is the lack of consensus in the field regarding the outcomes that should be studied as well as what international education is ultimately meant to achieve. For example, many place a high value on foreign language acquisition; however, research studies which have attempted to measure changes in foreign language proficiency have been impeded by the limitations of the testing instruments used (Limburg-Weber).
Furthermore, a plethora of studies have attempted to study the impact of study abroad on personal development and growth in cultural understanding. Coehlo (1962) noted that researchers, educators and participants are often biased toward believing that growth in international understanding, multicultural competence and personal development automatically result from study abroad, despite the lack of empirical research to substantiate these august claims. Furthermore, those studies which have attempted to objectively measure the effects of study abroad on such variables as multicultural competence and personal development have been hindered by faulty and inappropriate research methodologies (Coehlo; Limburg-Weber; Sell, 1983).
Another poignant critique of the study abroad research comes from Sampson and Smith (1957) who ascribed researchers’ inability to assess changes in students’ levels of cross-cultural understanding to the ambiguity of such constructs as “international understanding” and “world-mindedness.” To this end, they created a new scale to measure world-minded attitudes, the Worldmindedness Scale, to replace the abundant scales that were being used at the time proclaiming to measure world-mindedness, but actually measuring international-mindedness. The two concepts differ qualitatively in that international-mindedness refers to a proclivity to be versed in international affairs and global issues, while using a specific nation and/or culture as one’s point of reference. The concept of world-mindedness refers to a value orientation, wherein one is concerned with the issues and problems of all humanity, and thus sees all nations and peoples as being interconnected and interdependent, as opposed to self-standing, disjointed entities.
A final limitation of the study abroad research concerns the prevalent data collection methods, which emphasize self-report assessment measures (Raphael & Lloyd,
2004) and the failure to use psychometrically tested assessment measures, as demonstrated by the frequent omission of reported reliability and validity scores.
Furthermore, much of the available study abroad research used descriptive statistics exclusively, most often manifested in frequencies. The use of more advanced statistical analysis procedures could lend more credibility to the study abroad research and produce more sophisticated results.
Study abroad research: Negative results. In spite of the obvious limitations of study abroad research, numerous studies have still been carried out by researchers, the results of which have yielded an array of outcomes - positive, negative, and inconclusive.
First, attention will be given to those studies whose results have been less than positive.
Juhasz and Walker (1987/88), for example, conducted a study wherein study abroad participants were compared with a control group comprised of students who remained at the home institution. Results of the post-test actually found members of the study abroad group to be less confident than members of the control group after the study abroad experience. The researchers actually interpreted this to mean that the students who had studied abroad had experienced increased levels of self-awareness thereby facilitating more objective self-assessments; however, many readers would perhaps question the validity of this interpretation, and instead take the negative findings at face value.