“INTERNETional” Travel: Using Technology to Enhance Students’ LO in a Study-Abroad Course

Background

In an ever-increasingly interconnected world, providing study-abroad experiences to our undergraduate and graduate students seems to be a must, to develop much sought after intercultural competencies. Data released by the Institute of International Education shows that the number of US students that received academic credit for their study abroad courses increased by 3.8% in 2015/2016. Similarly, the number of international students enrolled in US higher education increased by 3.4% to 1,079,000 students in 2016/17. This number represents 85% more international students in US universities than a decade ago (IIE, 2017). Interestingly, California was the state that welcomed the highest number of students (157,000).

This growing activity has also encouraged scholars to understand if and how these study-abroad programs impact the students’ learning. Main learning outcomes discussed in the context of study-abroad programs point to cognitive, affective and behavioral outcomes.  Cognitive outcomes refer “to knowledge acquisition, apprehension of information from being exposed to new settings or novel data” such as language acquisition or cultural learning.  Affective outcomes refer “to changes in individuals’ attitudes and dispositions” such a change of disposition toward other cultures, and finally, the behavioral outcomes when the learning leads to a different set of actions based on newly developed skills, for instance, the capacity to adapt to local customs. (Varela, 2017 p. 533). However, the empirical findings on the positive effects of these educational efforts still remain inconclusive.

So, when I embarked last summer in the design of my first study abroad to Spain for the CI MBA students, I asked myself how technology could help not only to achieve the course LO’s but also with the logistics of the trip. This is my first effort to reflect on how the technology helped us.  Bear with me, this is an ongoing process* and I have more questions than answers.

Course

As part of our MBA, we offer a course called BUS 572 Graduate International Experience. This year Professor Antonio Jimenez (forever thankful Dr. Jimenez!), 23 students and I traveled to Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, and Toledo) over the course of ten days, to enhance students’ international global business perspective as well as to increase their appreciation for the culture and the people of Spain.

Group photo of BUS 572 Graduate International Experience class with Professors Jimenez and Ballesteros-Sola in Barcelona, Spain outside the National Art museum of Catalunya

Tools

In my initial reflection, I tried to distinguish between tools that were helping me to achieve the course learning objectives and the ones that were helping me to get the course organized. But soon I learned that this distinction was irrelevant.  Tools that a priori seem to be just helping with logistics, in the hands of the students turned out to be an unexpectedly powerful tool for group and one-on-one reflection. As always students showed me possibilities beyond my imagination.  Let’s get to the list of used tool started.

  • Google Forms: I used them on multiple occasions. For instance, I created a form for RSVP for the initial presentation of the course and later all required students’ information and documentation. This way the information was safely stored and could be retrieved not only from campus, but also in the target country if an emergency had arisen. I also carried all these files on a pen drive and scanned in my smartphone. I am also using Google Forms to collect anonymous feedback from students.
  • WhatsApp: In November 2017, five months before departure, I created a group, and I asked the enrolled students to download this app. It became indispensable to quickly address students’ questions, share relevant readings and videos before, during and after the trip. While in Spain it was constantly used to communicate meeting points and times and update each other on our whereabouts.  We are in fact still in touch and communicating. WhatsApp allows for asynchronous device-mediate communication (DMC) since students not connected can retrieve information at a later point, but also for critical synchronous communication.
  • Canvas: As is customary, our LMS allowed us to share more course documents and run some pre-departure online discussions. Canvas has also been used post-trip to share individual reflections, videos and more.
  • Canva: Not to be to be confused with the one above – allowed me to create visually appealing collaterals.
  • iCloud: Students started this idea. Thanks to our shared folder we shared thousands of pictures. It has been interesting to see how many different places students were able to visit and how much fun they had when there weren’t under our wing. ;->
  • Videos: Students are now preparing videos with Animoto, Sparks and iMovie.
  • Social Media: This one didn’t work out as expected and I have to take responsibility. I created and shared a hashtag #CSUCIMBASpain2018 mainly to be used on Twitter. I didn’t design a point bearing assignment that encouraged students’ participation. It never took off, and only one student (thanks Brad!) regularly posted. Maybe students were active while in Spain with their own private social media accounts, but I wasn’t able to build much of a community in these platforms.

It goes without saying, but when in Spain, we all used our smartphones to catch an Uber, to find good restaurants, to figure out our best routes in Google Maps, to follow the local news and of course to chat, video conferencing and talk with our loved ones back in California.

Some intriguing additional ideas were also discussed with colleagues before the trip but never implemented like running a virtual scavenger hunt in each of the cities we were visiting or use AR, maybe with Metaverse, to prepare an immersive experience.

Have you purposely incorporated technology on your study abroad program? I aim to spark a conversation among professors engaged in traveling abroad programs, not only on our CI campus but beyond.

Looking forward to hearing your reactions and suggestions!

Maria Ballesteros – Sola
Maria.ballesteros-sola@csuci.edu
@mariaspayne

References:

Varela, O. E. (2017). Learning Outcomes of Study-Abroad Programs: A Meta-Analysis. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 16(4), 531-561.

Institute of International Education (2017). Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors

Additional Readings:

Deans, P. Candace. 2012. “Integration of Study Abroad with Social Media Technologies and Decision-Making Applications.” Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education 10 (3): 299–336.

Lee, Lina. 2012. “Engaging Study Abroad Students in Intercultural Learning through Blogging and Ethnographic Interviews.” Foreign Language Annals 45 (1): 7–21.

Mikal, Jude P., and Kathryn Grace. 2012. “Against Abstinence-Only Education Abroad: Viewing Internet Use during Study Abroad as a Possible Experience Enhancement.” Journal of Studies in International Education 16 (3): 287–306.

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