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Preparing the New (Global) Generation of Students: Study-Abroad Strategies for a New Generation of Students

 

Teaching a New Generation of Students
A National Symposium
November 18-19, 2016
Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College
Atlanta, Georgia

 

Jeffrey Gaab, Farmingdale State College, State University of New York

In 2013 the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) began an initiative to increase global awareness and learning in college classrooms. This was the topic of their fall national symposium. In October, several faculty and administrators from Farmingdale State College, a campus of the State University of New York, attended the 2013 AAC&U Conference “Global Learning in College: Asking Big Questions, Engaging Urgent Challenges.” As a result, that same fall, Farmingdale State College began a concerted effort to internationalize its curriculum, and to inspire students to examine issues of concern to the broader world. We believe that increased global awareness is vital in the preparation of the new generation of college students.

We approached the conference by asking how we, as faculty, could “globalize” Farmingdale State College. One of the questions we faced as we began the process included whether classroom discussion of global issues would suffice. We quickly realized that discussion of global issues in class was something we were already doing. However, our students seemed to engage global issues only when compelled to do so in class. Many of them had limited knowledge of global issues and international affairs. How could we get our students more interested in global issues? Further, how could we globalize the curriculum across the campus so that all courses reinforced the international theme? In short, how could we help shape our students into responsible global citizens? Before we could figure out how to make our classes more globally centered, we had to define precisely what we meant by “global.” What issues are important from a global perspective? What issues are important here in the U.S. but also in other parts of the world that would impact Farmingdale College students? Through identifying these commonalities, we believed that students would more easily be able to identify with other peoples of the world and obtain a global perspective.

Some of the issues we identified at the AAC&U conference as important global concerns included genetically modified organisms and food, overconsumption, terrorism, migration and immigration, renewable energy, and nuclear proliferation. But how could we motivate our students to examine these issues from a global perspective? We can introduce these global issues into our classroom, but is merely discussing these issues enough to give our students a global perspective? Can our students, many of whom are first-generation or non-traditional students, think globally if they have never, or rarely ever, been off of Long Island? Overall, only 40% of Americans hold passports for international travel, compared to 50% of Australians, 60% of Canadians, 75% of New Zealanders, and 80% of citizens of the UK (Ungar, 2016). Americans generally seem to travel less internationally. Does “thinking globally” mean travel or study abroad?

We believe it is vital that our students experience other parts of the world to broaden their college experience. Most of our students work full-time and cannot take off a full semester of work to study abroad, nor can they afford it. Some of the more high-end travel course experiences can cost between $10,000 and $16,000 or more (Gaboury, 2004). Since most of our students work full-time or part-time jobs, many of them cannot afford traditional study abroad options. Many students simply cannot miss work in order to study abroad. Grants, such as the Fulbright, are available for some, but certainly not the bulk of our students. We agree that we must get our students out of their insularity, since current and future employment demands will require familiarity with international companies, cultures, problems, and opportunities. In most academic and professional fields, even industry, study abroad experience seems to foster success, and may even lead to higher earnings after college (Ungar, 2016). So we believe that, yes, global learning must include some form of study or travel abroad experience.

A study abroad travel experience exposes students to other places, peoples, and cultures and is the surest way to get our students to think globally. Further, study abroad promotes global citizenship. Study abroad is also a form of applied learning, and is required for graduation at some colleges and universities in the United States. Whereas employers are somewhat ambivalent about the “cultural and global competencies” that study abroad curricula try to inculcate, research has shown that if students can clearly articulate how a study abroad experience has developed or strengthened their interpersonal communication and leadership skills, they are more likely to be hired (Harder et al., 2015). So our problem became how to devise a study-abroad experience that students could afford at Farmingdale State College and how to inspire them to participate.

At Farmingdale we developed a 10-12 day short-term study abroad option. The study abroad courses we devised required hybrid classwork throughout the regular semester, then a one-week concentrated travel experience with focused study on the ground in a particular location. Some have questioned short-term travel courses as blurring the distinction between education abroad and “educational tourism.” Others have argued that short-term programs benefit specific learning areas and disciplines such as field research and foreign language study (Giedt et al., 2015). If planned correctly, short-term study abroad courses can aid and support courses in the social sciences, including history. Held over spring break, summer, Thanksgiving break, or even January intersession, the travel abroad experience can be made both affordable and convenient. In addition to the coursework required for the class, students were required to study the host country and continent. Over the past several years we have completed two study-abroad experiences, in Germany (2015) and Great Britain (2016).

In order to increase the attractiveness of the study abroad courses, we offered courses that were required in programs with large enrollment, especially the Science, Technology, and Society program (STS), which currently has over 1200 students. In particular, we paired the senior seminar with an elective course so that courses could be available to all Farmingdale students. Students were required to complete a workbook on study abroad focusing on the European Union, Germany, or Great Britain, which counted also as their midterm examination, and was submitted before travel began. This was in addition to the regular coursework and assigned readings (Ferguson, 2013). Intensive, on-campus class sessions prepared our students for the travel component. While abroad, students were required to keep a journal designed to be both reflective on the travel experience and academic: students were required to focus their journal around four research/reflection questions based on the assigned readings for the class as well as on what they experienced day-to-day. Students were given two weeks after travel to complete the journals, and one chance at revising the journals before final submission.

Our first course was STS 400w/STS 300: “Science and Technology Development in Germany and Europe.” For this first, short-term study abroad course, we were able to take 10 students to Munich for Spring Break 2015. Pairing the study abroad experience with courses required for majors helped us get the necessary amount of students. STS 400w is the senior seminar in the Science, Technology, and Society Program and students were able to complete their senior requirement while traveling aboard. STS 300 was offered as an upper-division elective for those students who wanted to participate in the course, but did not need the senior seminar or who were not STS majors. Each day of the Munich trip, students visited some site relating to the development of science and technology in Germany and Europe. These sites included the BMW factory and museum, the German Museum for Science and Technology, major companies including breweries, and even Dachau concentration camp.

After formal instruction during the day, nights were left free. Students were introduced to local political issues and controversies, and were able to make contact with locals in restaurants and beerhalls, even on the streets, to learn about local issues and perspectives. We included sightseeing trips in the hope that one day they might return or pursue future travel. At the time the most pressing issue was the immigration policies in Germany and the European Union.

We were fortunate to be able to schedule a second short-term study abroad trip to Great Britain for 2016 Spring Break. This seminar, too, was tied to the theme of science, technology, and society, and was entitled “Science and Technology in England: Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.” Again a senior seminar dedicated to the study of science and technology, in this case the origins of the Industrial Revolution, and a history course on modern Britain were paired to get the requisite amount of students. From 17 March to 27 March 2016, FSC students and faculty visited Great Britain, specifically Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, and London, to learn the history of the Industrial Revolution. Students were enrolled in either their senior STS seminar (STS 400w) or a history class (HIS 305: “Technology and Society in England”).

The cradle of the Industrial Revolution includes Sheffield. Here students were able to examine original cotton spinning “Jennies” and steam engines, which represent the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution. Original steam engines from the eighteenth century demonstrated the significance of coal and steam power, the forces of mass-production and the modern factory. The Industrial Revolution made Britain the “workhouse of the world” and the first truly global capital city in the world since the Roman Empire. A trip to London was therefore absolutely necessary. We also required students to travel to Greenwich where they could visit the observatory and the prime meridian. Geography and astronomy, science and technology were essential for navigation and a truly “global” consumer economy and the global empire that was Great Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

The structure of this course corresponded to David Kolb’s “Model of Experiential Learning.” Kolb defines four stages of a proper experiential learning class (see McLeod, 2013; Kolb, 1984):

In our travel course experience, step one (Concrete Experience) was the travel component of the course. Reflective Observations consisted of the raw travel journals. Abstract Conceptualizations included critical thinking questions based on the workbook (midterm), and the textbook assigned for the class (which students were required to integrate into their journals). Active Experimentation was represented by the answers to critical thinking questions and comments from the instructor in the review of student journals, as well as student revisions of their original journals. The bulk of the writing and reflection for these classes takes place before and after the travel component is completed.

As part of their reflection students were asked to answer the following question: what do you think you learned from this particular study abroad class that you could not have learned from a regular, formal, lecture course? After an initial review by the instructor, students were allowed to take more time to reflect on their journals and revise their answers to this and other questions before final submission. The journals thus became more than just a travel diary; they became a scholarly review, as well as a “writing intensive” component.

How did we assess the courses? Assessment of study abroad courses is usually confined to foreign language learning, “intercultural learning,” and “global competency,” as well as to the categories of “personal growth,” “professional development” and “self-awareness” (Giedt et al., 2015, 171). We assessed the courses at Farmingdale from an applied learning perspective, first by measuring the interaction with students during and after the travel portion of the class, and second by reading their final journals from which we could measure what students had learned from the travel component of the class. Above all, constant writing, reflection, and revision as well as discussion made this class a serious academic seminar and experiential learning experience. Students were encouraged to supplement their journals with pictures and important news articles and other items from the trip at their discretion. The journals, once completed, demonstrated that our learning objectives had been achieved: to get students to think critically about global issues and experience another culture, while studying history and more formal academic questions.

Even though the travel and study was very intense, and compressed into a short period of time, we were able to accomplish all of our learning goals: to have our students study science and technology development in Europe, entice them to travel abroad, and to expose them to another culture, even the broader world. Student reactions to these short-term study abroad trips have been overwhelmingly positive. We believe that short-term, intensive study abroad experiences that require less time and money than traditional study-abroad courses may be the best way to entice most of our FSC students to think globally as global citizens.

 

 
 

References

Barkin, G. (2016). Undergraduate research on short-term faculty-led study-abroad. Council on Undergraduate Research, 36(4), 26-32.

Ferguson, M. (2013). Study abroad Europe: A workbook of need-to-know topics about the EU and the USA.

Giedt, T., Gokcek, G., & Ghosh, J. (2015). International education in the 21st century: The importance of faculty in developing study-abroad research opportunities. Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 26, 167-186.

Goboury, J. (2004). All abroad! Industrial Engineer, September, 33-36.

Harder, A., et al. (2015). Does study abroad increase employability? NACTA Journal, March, 41-48.

Luo, J., & Jamieson-Drake, D. (2015). Predictors of study abroad intent, participation, and college outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 56, 29-56.

McLeod, M., et al. (2015). Evaluating the study abroad experience using the framework of Rotter’s Social Learning Theory. International Journal of Study Abroad, 26, 30-38.

McLeod, Sean. (2013). Kolb – learning styles. SimplyPsychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html

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