«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 ...»
Hensley and Sell (1979) compared their sample of 52 students, who participated in the Kent State University Geneva Semester Program, to a control group of 17 students who stayed at the home institution of Kent State. The research study used multiple regression analysis to assess attitude change associated with four total outcomes. Two of these outcomes concerned internationalist attitudes – worldmindedness and support for the United Nations (U.N.). The remaining two variables to be tested were psychological variables, and included self-esteem and tolerance for ambiguity. The study used multiple instruments, all of which used Likert scales. To measure worldmindedness, the researchers used Sampson and Smith’s (1957) Worldmindedness Scale. They used a test developed by Rosenberg to measure self-esteem, and a test designed by Budner to measure tolerance of ambiguity. To measure support for the U.N., the researchers developed a locally defined survey instrument, which included questions borrowed from a variety of sources, such as Lutzker’s 1960 internationalism scale, a 1970 Gallop poll, a 1963 Roper poll, and items that they had previously developed for other related projects (Hensley & Sell). Results of the study revealed that study abroad participants were not found to differ significantly from those of the control group on three of the outcome variables: worldmindedness, support for the U.N., or tolerance of ambiguity.
Pyle (1981) used interviews and the Student Development Task Inventory (SDTI), which is based on Chickering’s theory of psychosocial development (Chickering, 1969), in comparing 22 experimental group participants to a control group of 14 students.
Students in the experimental group participated in a three-week cross-cultural servicelearning project in Woburn Lawn, Jamaica, where they assisted community members with construction projects. The cross-cultural service-learning experience also included social and educational programs and events. For instance, members of the Jamaican government and faculty members of the University of the West Indies gave presentations on developing countries, and the government, culture and current state of Jamaica. The program included a component in which students lived and worked side-by-side with the host nationals, so that they would encounter rich cross-cultural experiences.
One limitation of Pyle’s (1981) study, in addition to the small sample sizes, is that neither group was randomly selected. Service-learning participants self-selected, and the members of the comparison group were purposefully chosen from those students who had an interest in the program, but for whatever reason were unable to participate.
Furthermore, this study was conducted with students who participated in a cross-cultural service-learning project, which differs from a traditional study abroad program. However, despite these limitations, a positive attribute of the study is the high reported measures of reliability and validity for the SDTI. According to Pyle, reliability was established through test-retest correlations and internal consistency which utilized the coefficientAlpha procedure; test-retest correlations ranged between.85 and.93, and the total coefficient for the inventory was.90. Validity was determined by the “concurrent validity of the congruent type and of the differential type” (Pyle, p. 511). Validity was found to be strong on the first two tasks (i.e., autonomy and purpose) and their subtasks; however, caution was recommended when interpreting the results of the interpersonal relations task and its subtasks. An analysis of the results indicated that, in comparison to members of the control group, study abroad participants experienced significant increases on gain scores for the total SDTI, for the autonomy task, and for the interdependence and mature life-style plans subtasks.
Unlike the majority of researchers, Gmelch (1977) did not conduct a strict quantitative research study. Instead, his approach could be aptly described as mixed
methods, since his observations and findings were drawn from the following sources:
entries from 51 journals collected from students in three different anthropology classes at various times during the study abroad program, travel logs required of students in one class detailing their travel experiences, a twenty-item survey instrument administered to all three classes at the end of the 6-week academic term, and informal conversations with students while acting as an instructor of a summer-term study abroad program in Innsbruck, Austria. Gmelch’s observations led him to a slightly different conclusion than most researchers, but is entirely in line with the results of Carlson et al.’s 1990 study of 400 students participating in an academic year-long study abroad program in Western Europe. Accordingly, Gmelch concluded that the personal development students undergo while abroad results from their independent travels, and not from the academic components of their program or even their residential living experiences. Gmelch found that the students he observed became more independent, mature, adaptable, self-confident and self-reliant. He concluded that these positive outcomes resulted from students’ independent travels, and the consequent need to constantly exercise critical thinking and organizational skills, as well as the need to successfully adapt to the cultures and environments of the places visited.
Intersection of Research on Student Learning and Study Abroad In calculating institutional benchmark scores, the NSSE (2004) relied on five indicators of effective educational practice: level of academic challenge, opportunity for active and collaborative learning, quality and quantity of student-faculty interaction, opportunity to participate in enriching educational experiences, and the supportive nature of the campus environment. Along with internships and practicum experiences, community service and volunteer work, participation in living-learning communities, research with faculty members, culminating senior experiences, and foreign language coursework, participation in study abroad was included in the list of enriching educational experiences. Students were asked about these specific activities and experiences because of their known tendency for providing students with ample opportunity to “synthesize, integrate, and apply their knowledge. Such experiences make learning more meaningful and, ultimately, more useful because what students know becomes a part of who they are” (p. 42). Active learning and educationally enriching experiences, such as study abroad, facilitate “higher-order learning,” “integrative learning” and “reflective learning.” NSSE describes higher-order learning activities as those that demand students “to utilize higher levels of mental activity than those required for rote memorization” (p. 21). Furthermore, integrative learning activities are “activities that require integrating acquired knowledge, skills, and competencies into a meaningful whole” (p. 21), and reflective learning activities require students to “explore their experiences of learning to better understand how they learn” (p. 21).
The potential of study abroad to result in significant personal development and higher-order, integrative and reflective learning necessitated that it be included in the NSSE’s (2004) evaluation of enriching educational activities. The impact of study abroad is most likely related to its structural components. As a co-curricular activity, study abroad has an academic component, and an added component that challenges students to apply their knowledge, skills and abilities in a foreign context that transcends the classroom. Study abroad participants find themselves grappling with another culture, perhaps another language, a foreign system of higher education, unfamiliar food and accommodations, and individuals previously unknown to them (both members of the host culture and fellow sojourners) while abroad. They also live in environments with social, political and value systems very different from ones to which they are accustomed, requiring them to reflect upon and think critically about their own convictions. Study abroad participants must successfully adapt to these myriad challenges for at least the duration of the study abroad program. Kinsella, Smith-Simonet and Tuma (2002) asserted that “for learning to occur, the emotional and cognitive growth must be internalized personally and integrated intellectually” (p.213). Furthermore, the leadership of the study abroad program and the design, including the pre-departure and re-entry orientations, must intentionally and successfully integrate goal-setting, personal reflection and meaning-making into the experience.
Impact of Length of Time Abroad In the introduction to their edited book, The Guide to Successful Short-Term Programs Abroad,” Spencer and Tuma (2002) emphasized that abundant literature exists on the traditional study abroad issues and results, yet scant research has been disseminated on short-term study abroad. These authors speak to a major deficiency of the currently accessible research and information on short-term study abroad. Indeed, few researchers have specifically studied the effects of short-term study abroad, and even fewer have included the length of the sojourn as a variable in their research designs.
Research conducted by Koester (1985) is one prominent exception. Using the statistical method of multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), Koester’s research study of 3,200 respondents looked at the effects of both length and type of international experience (e.g., participation in a U.S. sponsored study abroad program, direct enrollment in a foreign institution, independent international study, educational travel, paid international work, volunteer work, etc.) on nine outcomes. The statistical test of MANOVA did not reveal a significant interaction effect between the two independent variables, but significant multivariate main effects were found for both length and type of program. Therefore, these significant main effects were further analyzed through univariate analyses of variances. Koester’s study found the length of time abroad to have significant effects on the following dependent variables: increased interest in international events, increased interest in academic performance, improved selfconfidence, increased political awareness, impact on career plans, and establishment of cross-cultural relationships. The Student-Newman-Keuls Post Hoc Comparison Test of Means was employed to further analyze the significant findings, which enabled Koester to declare that the shorter international sojourns resulted in less significant changes than longer stays abroad. Specifically, experiences that lasted between one and three months resulted in less impact on students than the sojourns that lasted between three and twelve months. Koester’s study also examined the effects produced by experiences lasting more than twelve months. In discussing the time period of three to twelve months, the researcher stated, “This time frame appears to represent the optimum length, less time produces less effect and more time rarely produces even the same level of effect….[T]he choice of a three to twelve month stay produced the most changes” (p. 60). In critiquing her research, Koester lamented that the study did not further break down the three to twelve month period into two separate categories (i.e., three to six months and six to twelve months), and that a sojourn of less than one month was not offered as an option.
This could have potentially allowed for a more exact assessment of impact as it relates to the amount of time that an individual spends abroad.
Kinsella et al. (2002) conceded that some research has been published which refutes Koester’s (1985) claims, yet, in writing about the merits of short-term study abroad, they themselves stated that there is no equal substitute for the potential of longterm study abroad programs to impact students’ self-perceptions and worldviews. In fact, Kinsella et al. claim that short-term study abroad programs should not have the same objectives as long-term programs, since long-term programs are most often designed to increase cross-cultural skills and global awareness. According to Kinsella et al., shortterm programs are better suited as learning experiences that focus on the exploration of
topics within the host country and culture:
This is not to suggest that general cross-cultural skills of adaptation, and/or culture-specific skills (e.g., language learning, personal flexibility, appreciation for differences, etc.) are not learnable in a short-term program abroad format. To be academically honest with our students, however, educators involved with short-term programs must acknowledge that the same depth and kind of learning possible in a semester- or year-long program is less possible through a short visit to another society (Kinsella et al., p. 206).
Hansel’s (1986) report, titled The AFS Impact Study: Final Report, is an example of a study that purposely included the duration of the study abroad program in the research design. This report was the culmination of an assessment project begun in 1977.
The study compared three groups of students: those who had participated in AFS yearlong study abroad programs, those who had studied abroad on AFS short-term programs, and those students who did not participate in study abroad at all. The study relied on preand post-tests and on a behaviorally anchored rating scale. Students were compared in the following domain areas: intercultural knowledge and sensitivity, global issues awareness, interpersonal relationship-building, and personal values and skills. In reviewing the results of the study, both those results that specifically pertain to length of time abroad, and the results that pertain to the general study abroad experience (regardless of length of time abroad), will be reported here.