The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Studying Outcomes from Study Abroad: Pre-Travel Thoughts

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Written by: Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

Study abroad has become something quite common at many college campuses, Illinois State University included. Faculty may believe that such experiences for students constitute out-of-class opportunities to develop, apply, and/or synthesize knowledge and skills learned in the classroom. Students may engage in study abroad programs to see the world, nurture an appreciation of different cultures, develop enhanced disciplinary/vocational knowledge, or grow interpersonal/intrapersonal skills. This is not an exhaustive list! There are many faculty and student motivations for the growth in study abroad; however many who participate in such programs aren’t able to cite systematic evidence about student learning as a result of study abroad participation…So, my question is (for reasons that will become evident below) what does SoTL tell us about study abroad?

briggs blogCindy Miller-Perrin and Don Thompson published an article titled “Outcomes of Global Education: External and Internal Change Associated with Study Abroad” in New Directions for Student Services in 2014. This article provided a lovely literature review of possible learning outcomes resulting from scholarship on the study abroad experience, broadly categorizing these into two groups, explained below with a sampling of evidence:

External learning outcomes (focused on interpersonal and disciplinary learning) as a result of study abroad have been noted in areas such as second language acquisition, intercultural learning, globalization, and disciplinary knowledge. Internal learning outcomes have been noted in areas such as emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth following study abroad.

Though there is a good deal of SoTL work focused on external learning outcomes post-study abroad, Miller-Perrin and Thompson (2014, p. 80) report that:

“Although much attention in the research literature has focused on external outcomes, internal changes that occur in the lives of students who study and live abroad are also important…and, despite the importance of internal change, research addressing [these changes] has not received as much attention in terms of their connection to study abroad experiences.”

In my perusal of study abroad SoTL, I have noted other voids in extant research, most notably those focused on purpose and duration. Faculty plan and lead study abroad experiences for students for a variety of reasons that might impact learning outcomes and, similarly, the length of trip could impact learning outcomes (e.g., short term vs. long term study abroad. We don’t know far more than we do know – that much is clear!

In the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in three study abroad trips with students from my department. I have attended two as a faculty chaperone. I will serve as the director for the third in March 2017, as I accompany 33 students to Spain as part of a cultural immersion experience. Anecdotally, I believe that the students on the first two trips I was part of learned a great deal, developing an enhanced intrapersonal awareness as part of the travel process. As these were simply observations, I wanted to develop a study to investigate the outcomes of this experience for students. I have a bit of data to report, relative to internal/external learning outcomes already…and we haven’t even traveled yet!

A bit about this program to understand my context for study: Students attending this trip are all speech-language pathology majors from my university (two are graduate students, 31 are undergrads). Three-quarters of students had been out of the country before. This is a short-term, faculty-led trip which will take us to Spain for 10 days over my institution’s spring break. We plan to visit five cities and engage in a “day with a speech-language pathologist” practicing in Spain to learn about professional practices abroad. Students will earn three academic credits towards an independent study for participating in pre-travel meetings, travel activities, personal reflection, goal setting activities, and one post-travel meeting.

During our first pre-travel meeting, students were asked to list five things that they hoped to learn as a result of their study abroad experience. Results were as follows (categories where more than 5 students reported similar outcomes are reported):

External Learning Expectations (N=36) Internal Learning Expectations (N=52)
Learn about Spanish culture (n=14)

Become more knowledgeable about Spanish landmarks and history (n=6)

Speak Spanish with greater confidence (n=5)

Learn about speech-pathology practices in Spain (n=5)

Change my own self-perspective (n=10)

Be present (e.g., put my phone down; n=10)

Develop greater independence (n=9)

Take chances outside my comfort zone (n=9)

Develop an adventurous spirit (n=7)

 

Additionally, I asked each student to set a three personal goals that they would work towards before and during their study abroad experience. I provided no requirements as to what areas these goals needed to address, rather I asked students to focus on aspects of their own lives that growth would be impactful in their goal setting. A total of 99 goals were submitted. Of these, 19 of the students’ goals focused on external learning outcomes (primarily cultural learning and empathy) while 80 were focused on internal learning outcomes (broadly critical self-examination and mindset). Happily these more internally-focused goals were consistent with work my colleague Erin Mikulec and I have been doing in terms of defining “knowledge of self” as a result of out-of-class learning, which will potentially add additional layers of richness to our separate, but ongoing work (Friberg & Mikulec, 2016).

So, while there is the least amount of information in extant SoTL literature on internal learning, my students have shown a clear indication that expected internal learning outcomes are most predominant in their minds, pre-travel. During our trip, students will journal regarding growth towards achieving their goals and have been asked to submit at least one photo per goal, showing (from their own perspective) growth in their areas of focus. I am beyond curious to see how my students will represent their learning visually. Analysis of their reflective journals, final goal progress reports, and other qualitative data will – hopefully – yield interesting outcomes to grow the evidence-base for study abroad. Stay tuned!

Are you in the process of studying outcomes from study abroad? Please share in the comments below!

Blog References:

Friberg, J. C. & Mikulec, E. (2016). Developing a taxonomy to measure out-of-class learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Los Angeles, CA.

Miller-Perrin, C. & Thompson, D. (2014). Outcomes of global education: External and internal change associated with study abroad. New Directions for Student Services, 146, 77-89.

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