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Study Abroad Duration has Positive Effects on Social Responsibility and Identity

By Dane S. Claussen, PhD, MBA

Manager of University Relations

Athena Study Abroad

“Examining Relationships between Education Abroad Program Design and College Students’ Global Learning,” by Tara D. Hudson (Kent State University) and Rachel Tomas Morgan (University of Notre Dame), was published in the Fall 2019 issue of Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. Researchers administered the Global Perspective Inventory (GPI) to 207 students both before and after study abroad programs in 2012 or 2013. (A total of 397 students completed the GPI at least once, but only 207 completed it twice.) Of the students, 101 participated in an international summer service-learning program and 106 participated in a semester-long program. They wrote, “Semester-long programs occurred mainly in European contexts, with the exception of Chile and Mexico. For the programs in Europe, there was little to no predeparture preparation that included cultural content and no re-entry sessions. The programs in Chile and Mexico included significant service learning and internship opportunities, students lived with families in homestay placements, and there was pre-departure and re-entry sessions with cultural and global learning content structured into the program design. The international summer service-learning programs included a semester-long pre-departure course and a six-week re-entry course that bookended the eight- to ten-week service learning placements with local organizations.” Students went to various countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Of the education abroad programs, for the international summer service-learning program, 23% included English being spoken, 40% included living with a host family, and 91% included an internship or service learning. In the semester-long program, 53% included English being spoken, 35% included living with a host family, and 43% included an internship or service learning.

The Global Perspective Inventory captured data about Cognitive—Knowledge (“Respondents’ levels of confidence regarding what they know regarding other cultures”), Cognitive—Knowing (“Respondents’ recognition of the ‘importance of cultural context in judging what is important to know and value’”), Intrapersonal—Affect (“Respondents’ acquisition of emotional comfort [including self-confidence] with situations that are different from or challenge their own cultural norms’ as well as ‘level of respect and acceptance of cultural perspectives different from one’s own” [citations omitted]. The GPI also captured data about Intrapersonal—Identity (“Respondents’ sense of their own identity, purpose, and cultural background”), Interpersonal—Social Interactions (“Respondents’ engagement with others from different cultural backgrounds and cultural sensitivity”), and Interpersonal—Social Responsibility (“Respondents’ ‘level of commitment to interdependent living and the common good’”) [citations omitted]. Data are collected on the GPI through students marking a point on a series of 5-point Likert scales ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

The researchers tested various structural equation models, in other words, different combinations of independent variables and dependent variables to find statistically significant effects. They concluded, “None of the models found statistically significant effects for two of the four program elements (host family stay and participation in an internship or service-learning project) on students’ pre-test to post-test change on any of the four dimensions of global perspective,” but they found “program duration to have a positive impact on change scores on two dimensions: Intrapersonal—Identity and Interpersonal—Social Responsibility.” They noted the “ceiling effect may explain why we found in many cases (although not consistently) that three of the four study abroad program elements (host family stay, program length, and participating in an internship or service-learning project) had nonsignificant effects…” (The ceiling effect occurs when an independent variable no longer has a statistically significant effect on a dependent variable or variance is no longer measurable.) Their overall conclusion was that since program duration alone does not predict student learning gains, “intentionally structured learning activities are more important than program duration for facilitating student learning.”

The researchers were aware of their study’s limitations. One was that a different sample of students might produce different results, including the issue of which students went where and did what and the fact that all students were at only one institution and during only a two-year period. They also had to adapt the GPI because it changed from 2012 to 2013.

This was a solid study that should be replicated repeatedly with different and larger groups of students to help resolve conflicting results from similar studies. It is no surprise that Frontiers led its Fall 2019 issue with this study.

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