COVID-19 Updates and Research on Learning Objectives in Short-Term Programming
Partner News | March 3, 2020 | New series issue #21
Athena Coronavirus Updates and Factsheet Resource
Athena Study Abroad has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation. We have released several policy statements on the issue, and additionally have created a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fact Sheet (.pdf) resource that will be updated very regularly, aimed at providing information that assists students, offices, and organizations in making informed decisions on program cancellations backed by data.
Tuscania, Italy’s rolling hills and lush surroundings offer the perfect setting to explore yoga in a holistic manner, thanks to the new Yoga Wellness Workshop: Body and Spirit, offered in June. Students interested in this workshop may enroll in the workshop only (for 3 credits) or combine with another course (for 6-7 credits).
F.O.M.O. (or Fear Of Missing Out) is a common problem these days, made worse thanks to rampant social media posts depicting glamorous, air-brushed snapshots of impossibly perfect lives. Let us offer a few tips for minimizing your students’ F.O.M.O. so they can go abroad without worry about what is going on back home!
Around the Field:Sorrento Program Alum Advises Internships for All Study Abroad Students
For Rachel Jongsma, who studied at Athena’s program in Sorrento, Italy, hosted at the Sant’Anna Institute during Fall 2019, it’s quite simple: “If I met someone who planned to study abroad I would highly advocate for an internship experience. The benefits are infinite.” (She also is an advocate for Sorrento!) She knows this from experience: “My [GIS, or Geographic Information System] internship was the most beneficial experience for my career.”
Jongsma, now a Grand Valley State University senior in environmental and sustainability studies (a major requiring an internship), explains, “I worked part time in an office and part time on the field. In the office, I worked with a small company called PRISMA. The company is an ecological assessment and building code company. They complete assessments on the ecological standing for people who hire them who want to work in an area, and they make sure that what they do is done correctly and in a way that won’t harm the ecosystem, specifically ocean projects.”
Research Studies Students’ Learning Objectives in Short-Term Study Abroad Programs
By Dane S. Claussen, Ph.D., MBA Manager of University Relations Athena Study Abroad
“Student Learning Objectives: What Instructors Emphasize in Short-Term Study Abroad,” by Elizabeth Niehaus, Taylor C. Woodman, Angela Bryan, Ashley Light, and Erika Hill, was published in the Fall 2019 issue of Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad.
Researchers sought to find out what types and combinations of student learning objectives, with a specific interest in intercultural learning (broadly defined) goals, that faculty members include on their syllabi for faculty-led, short-term study abroad programs. They also were interested in the extent to which such learning objectives “align with the institutional imperative to produce globally competent scholars,” because 47% of U.S. higher education institutions include internationalization among their top five priorities in strategic plans, and 49% of institutional mission statements refer to international or global activities. However, the researchers did not directly compare syllabi’s learning objectives with such institution-level statements. Niehaus, Bryan, Light, and Hill are at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, while Woodman is at the University of Maryland—College Park.
In 2015, the researchers sought syllabi from “top” universities with short-term study abroad programs, based on the Institute for International Education’s 2014 Open Doors Report. A total of 473 course instructors from 72 institutions responded to a survey. About half the 473 instructors were asked to upload a syllabus for the researchers, and 113 of them did. Twenty-nine syllabi included no student learning
objectives, leaving 84 syllabi (from 53 different institutions) that contained a total of 663 learning objectives. Objectives per syllabus ranged from two to 23! Syllabi were distributed across the curriculum: 11 in visual and performing arts, 9 each in education and social sciences, 8 from business, 7 each from health and agriculture/natural resources, and so on, including one from homeland security. The majority of short-term courses were in Europe (46), followed by 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 9 in Asia, 6 in Oceania, 3 in Africa, 1 in North America, and 1 in Middle East/North Africa. The researchers designed a quantitative and qualitative content analysis that gathered data by academic discipline; whether student learning objectives focused on disciplinary content, intercultural content, both or neither; and the balance between types of objectives. Objectives coded as “intercultural” or “both” were then further coded for their focus on knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes. (The initial intercoder reliability coefficient was 82%, with disagreements among coders then resolved by consensus; the article does not break down the intercoder reliability by individual data point.)
More than 32% of learning objectives were discipline-centered, more than 16% were intercultural, almost 40% were disciplinary and intercultural, and almost 12% were neither. The majority (52%) contained more disciplinary than intercultural objectives. Among intercultural objectives, knowledge dominated with 75%, followed by 40% of intercultural objectives being skills-oriented, only 14% attitudes-oriented, and 9% focusing only on what the researchers called “exposure and experience.”
This study, showing more disciplinary than intercultural learning objectives, is contrary to a previous Niehaus study showing the opposite. They wrote, “This discrepancy points to a possible disconnect what instructors are thinking about in terms of the goals for their study abroad courses and what they actually articulate about student learning in their syllabi.” They write that their results may be due to instructors having “little formal training” in “intercultural learning” and “intercultural competence.” This might
be the reason. But it is possible that the approximately 50% response rate by instructors at only “top” institutions for faculty-led, short-term study abroad may not have given the researchers a representative sample of all U.S. faculty-led, short-term study abroad syllabi. It also is possible that in U.S. higher education, a broader “disconnect” exists between stated student learning objectives and other aspects of teaching and learning. After all, many U.S. universities have required every syllabus to contain student learning objectives at all, let alone those that conform to highly variable institutional rules, only in the last 10-15 years in response from accreditation pressure, and some faculty seem to write course objectives without the careful consideration they deserve. Moreover, most US faculty also have received little formal training in writing in either course objectives or student learning outcomes. In fact, the authors suggest, “education abroad
professionals might provide sample SLOs that focus on intercultural learning, especially intercultural attitudes and skills, and examples of course activities that might be incorporated to achieve those learning objectives.” (However, even then, faculty may adopt sample objectives without appropriately adapting them to their courses.)
PROGRAM: Quito is one of the world’s most overlooked gems. The city infuses South American, European and indigenous elements. This is why UNESCO – a primary authority on recognizing locations of significance – declared Quito as the very first World Heritage site. The Old City is rich with history, charming winding streets, and excellent shopping and eating. Quito is a marvelous contemporary city with all the modern amenities you would expect in the U.S.But the main reason Quito is so great: the people. Ecuadorians are warm, honest and service-oriented people who truly enjoy welcoming foreign visitors to their country.
Athena’s Quito, Ecuador program is hosted at the Academia Latinoamericana de Español, a top-quality, private, non-profit institution recognized by the Ecuadorian government. The school’s founder and staff share the same vision as Athena that personalizing study abroad is the key to the best outcomes and experiences.
TERMS: Spring, Fall, Summer, J-Term
COURSES: Language, Humanities, Social Sciences.