«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 ...»
Five variables were measured under the intercultural knowledge and sensitivity domain; i.e., understanding other cultures, open-mindedness, foreign language appreciation and ability, awareness and appreciation of the home country and culture, and awareness and appreciation of the host country and culture (Hansel, 1986). In general, AFS students showed larger average increases on all of these variables relative to members of the control group. However, statistically significant differences were only found on the following variables: understanding other cultures, awareness and appreciation of host country and culture, and foreign language appreciation and ability.
Furthermore, statistically significant differences were also found to exist between longterm study abroad program participants (those who had no previous international experience) and short-term study abroad program participants in awareness and appreciation of host country and culture and foreign language appreciation and ability, with the long-term program participants scoring higher on both of these variables. The reverse is true for the variable understanding other cultures, where short-term study abroad participants were found to have significantly higher scores than the participants of long-term programs.
The only variable thought to exclusively relate to the goal of global issues awareness was international awareness (Hansel, 1986). AFS study abroad participants evidenced statistically significant differences over their control group counterparts in this domain; however, no significant differences were found to specifically exist between long-term and short-term program participants.
The variables of interest under interpersonal relationship-building included adaptability, communication with others, high standards for personal relationships, and appreciation of own family (Hansel, 1986). AFS study abroad participants were associated with average increases in all four of these variables, but not all differences were statistically significant. On the communication with others variable, significant differences were found to exist between AFS study abroad participants and members of the control group, but Hansel qualified this finding by saying that the differences were probably due almost solely to the large statistical differences found between AFS study abroad participants with prior international travel experience and members of the control group. Of further interest is the fact that adaptability scores between AFS study abroad participants and control group participants were found to be statistically significantly different. AFS short-term study abroad participants were found to have significantly higher scores than any of the respondents who had studied abroad for a year, or who had remained at home. Hansel asserted that this finding may be explained by the fact that self-rating scales were used in the research study; thus, the disparity could be a manifestation of the higher levels of conviction felt among short-term study abroad participants who experienced less difficulty adjusting than students who remained abroad for an entire academic year. Another interesting finding was that AFS year-long study abroad participants were found to have scores that differed significantly from both shortterm program participants and members of the control group on the variable appreciation of own family.
The variables associated with personal values and skills included: awareness of opportunities, non-materialism, critical thinking, exchange of ideas, independence (responsibility for self), personal growth and maturity, and self-confidence (Hansel, 1986). According to the report, AFS study abroad participants experienced growth in every area relative to the control group. The amount of growth was found to be significant on the following variables: awareness of opportunities, non-materialism, critical thinking, and independence (responsibility for self).
Hansel (1986) conceded that few studies attempting to examine the differences in learning outcomes by length of time abroad have revealed significant differences, yet the few that have been able to do so are notable. The results of her study, along with her knowledge of the study abroad literature, prompted her to suggest a relationship between length of sojourn and intercultural learning. An alternative explanation, however, could be that students who self-select to participate in a study abroad experience already harbor such a predisposition. At any rate, she explained the surprising finding that short-term study abroad participants rated higher on the two variables, adaptability and understanding of other cultures, as the result of self-rating scales, where short-term sojourners felt more confident in their growth on these variables due to the nature of their
experiences and the structure of these programs. Beyond these findings, she concluded:
“it seems that the two-month and the year-long homestays offer roughly the same opportunities for learning” (p. 32).
In conclusion, a review of the literature shows that, in general, the desired outcomes of study abroad largely mirror those outcomes associated with higher education. Objectives such as foreign language proficiency and cross-cultural skills may be more keenly pronounced in the field of international education relative to higher education; however, there appears to be an equal focus on many of the educational, academic, career, and personal development values and objectives listed above, such as increased self-confidence/self-efficacy, critical thinking skills, cognitive complexity, value-reflective thinking skills, interest in intellectual pursuits, motivation to learn, tolerance for ambiguity, independence and autonomy, and clarification of academic and vocational goals.
The next chapter will explain the research methodology employed in this study, including the learning outcomes ultimately chosen as dependent variables. For this study, the length of the study abroad program was operationalized as the independent variable.
The two levels of the independent variable included short (i.e., summer and winter programs) and long-term (i.e., semester and academic year programs). The study investigated the impact of length of time abroad as it related to the measured amounts of the four learning outcomes.
To review, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a study abroad program’s duration on the following learning outcomes that are commonly associated with study abroad: perceptions of growth in 1) cognitive complexity, 2) liberal learning, 3) personal philosophy, and 4) interpersonal self-confidence. Ancillary studies were conducted to determine if there were differences in growth in learning outcomes among study abroad participants of varying background characteristics. A delineation of
the null hypotheses that guided this study are as follows:
1. There will be no differences in the amount of growth in cognitive complexity depending on the length of the study abroad program.
2. There will be no differences in the amount of growth in liberal learning depending on the length of the study abroad program.
3. There will be no differences in the amount of growth in personal philosophy depending on the length of the study abroad program.
4. There will be no differences in the amount of growth of interpersonal self-confidence depending on the length of the study abroad program.
Description of the Institution This study was conducted at the University of Maryland, College Park. This institution is a large public university and the flagship of the state’s higher education system. It is classified as a Carnegie Class I Research University and is located in the mid-Atlantic region of the country. According to the University of Maryland, College Park’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning (2004), approximately 35,000 students attend the University of Maryland; about 25,000 of these students are undergraduates and the remaining 10,000 are graduate students. A specific look at the undergraduate student population reveals that 91.2% of students attend college on a fulltime basis, whereas 8.8% attend part-time. Furthermore, the undergraduate student population is essentially divided equally between male (51.1%) and female students (48.9%). A look at the racial/ethnic breakdown of the undergraduate population reveals that the institution is predominately composed of White students (58.2%). The remaining undergraduate population can be further classified as follows: 12.1% Black/AfricanAmerican, 13.7% Asian-American, 5.5% U.S. Hispanic/Latino, 0.3% Native American/American Indian, and 2.4% foreign. The race/ethnicity of the remaining 7.8% of students is unknown. Approximately 24.5% of students are classified as out-of-state residents.
Description of the Sample In order to enhance the university experience, the University of Maryland offers students the opportunity to study abroad through short and long-term programs administered by the University of Maryland, as well as programs administered by other institutions and/or private organizations, provided that they have been reviewed and approved by the University of Maryland Study Abroad staff. Close to 1,000 University of Maryland students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad each year. This research study collected data through a web-based survey that was administered to all University of Maryland students who participated in at least one study abroad program during the previous academic year (2003-2004), summer 2004, fall 2004, or winter-term
2005. Table 1 is a depiction of the approximate number of students who studied abroad during this stated time period by program type according to Dr. Michael Ulrich, Study Abroad Director at the University of Maryland, College Park (personal communication,
October 4, 2004):
Table 1: Estimated Number of Participants According to Program Type
Because the sampling frame was large enough to yield potentially significant results, yet small enough to be manageable, the entire population of study abroad participants from fall 2003 through winter 2005 was sampled. Specific demographic information was collected from participants to ascertain whether or not the survey population was representative of the national population of study abroad participants.
Survey Instrument and Variables of Interest Data was collected through the use of a locally defined survey (see Appendix B), modified from the Residence Environment Survey of the National Study of LivingLearning Programs (Inkelas, 2004; see Appendix A), which was originally designed to research the outcomes associated with student participation in living-learning programs.
The NSLLP Residence Environment Survey was chosen as the model for this study because of its high ratings of reliability and validity for the measured learning outcomes, which were also of interest for this study. The original NSLLP survey contains forty-one total questions. The first and second sections of the survey focus on perceptions before entering college and college experiences, respectively. The next sections ask about the residence hall environment, perceptions of diversity, citizenship perceptions, experiences with alcohol, future activities, and overall satisfaction with college. The final section asks respondents for demographic information, which is further divided into questions about background information, high school information, and college information.
As noted above, the NSLLP Residence Environment Survey has been tested extensively for reliability and validity. Validity of the survey instrument was confirmed both via content and construct validity. The NSLLP researchers consulted the directors of 15 living-learning programs and surveyed 5,437 undergraduate students from four different campuses (the Universities of Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin) to assess the reliability of the item-sets as composite scales. Two survey methodology research experts were also asked to determine the appropriateness of the item sets comprising the construct scales. Feedback from these different sources was used to modify and improve the instrument. The instrument was further tested for construct validity via the following four statistical analyses: factor analysis, intercorrelation between subscales, sensitivity to group differences, and correlation to demographic variables (Vogt et al., in review).
Reliability of the constructs in the NSLLP Residence Environment Survey was established by testing for internal consistency of the composite scales. First, for the purpose of determining the consistency of the scales across the different campuses involved in the pilot study, a Cronbach alpha coefficient was found for the entire sample.
Additionally, separate reliability analyses were conducted with samples from the individual institutions. Cronbach alpha coefficients were also used to test for internal consistency across individual construct scales. Eight scales were omitted because of low alpha values; of the scales which were retained, the Cronbach alpha values ranged from.64 to.90. The Cronbach alpha reliability scores of the constructs of the 2004 NSLLP Residence Environment Survey applicable to the current research study are listed below.
(For a more complete list of the Residence Environment Survey reliability scores, including factor loading values and the Cronbach alphas for both the 2003 pilot test and the 2004 NSLLP study, please see Appendix C.) Survey questions. For the purposes of this research study, questions 10 and 11 of the Residence Environment Survey were retained (see Table 2), as well as many of the demographic questions. The remaining questions from the original NSLLP survey were omitted.