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Important, but why? Research projects explore impact of 'study away'

Educators from 20 colleges and universities are exploring the impact of study abroad and domestic study away programs in a seminar sponsored by Elon's Center for Engaged Learning.

More than two dozen professors and administrators from across the United States and Canada are taking part in the 2015-17 Center for Engaged Learning Seminar, "Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience: Higher-Impact Study Abroad and Off-Campus Domestic Study."

Elon University welcomed to campus this June professors and administrators of study abroad and domestic study experiences at several colleges and universities who are teaming up to research how such travels shape a student’s academic and career goals.

The university’s 2015-2017 Center for Engaged Learning Seminar, “Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience: Higher-Impact Study Abroad and Off-Campus Domestic Study,” includes more than two dozen professors representing 20 institutions in the United States and Canada.

The group will meet for one week each summer through 2017 as teams work on research projects aimed at measuring key questions such as:

  • How students integrate their “study away” experiences with other global learning opportunities;
  • Curricular, programmatic and institutional factors that integrate study away experiences;
  • And the role of educators in facilitating study abroad and domestic study.

The seminar is led at Elon by faculty members Nina Namaste and Amanda Sturgill. They were joined this week by co-leaders Neal Sobania and Mick Vande Berg, two international leaders in the research of study abroad and domestic study experiences among college students.

The whole notion of research into global experiences is new, Sobania said. Until recently, many professors and administrators just assumed that studying abroad was good, though they couldn’t point to data to explain “how.”

Did an international or domestic study away experience change academic or career goals? Did it impact notions of citizenship? Or community involvement?

“We assumed we were doing a good job and that all that was necessary to make a student more globally aware was to send them abroad,” Sobania said. “The idea this week of bringing people together, from different institutions, to wrestle with the impact of these experiences on students and faculty…. is really critical.”

Joan Gillespie, vice president and director of off-campus projects for Associated Colleges of the Midwest, said global experiences give students preparation for the world they will enter when they finish their studies.

Inviting researchers from various colleges and universities to collaborate on research projects also is a way to share best practices from different types of schools, she added.

“This is a moment in higher education when there are a lot of questions being asked about the value of certain practices in the context of return on investment,” Gillespie said. “Any work that we can do to respond to these concerns with data that demonstrate the value of different kinds of … academic pursuits will help to inform the general public.”

The 2015-2017 seminar is the fourth such program sponsored by the Center for Engaged Learning. Previous research seminars have explored ways to teach democratic thinking, how writing learned in the classroom is used in other settings like internships or the workplace, and ways to foster mentoring in undergraduate research.

Research findings from the Elon seminars are intended to be shared at conferences, in journal articles and edited collections, and through the development of tools to share with other educators.

“We’re committed to supporting more research into high-impact educational practices,” said Associate Professor Jessie Moore, associate director of Elon’s Center for Engaged Learning, “and that’s reflected in the increasing frequency of our seminars.”




Eric Townsend,
6/17/2015 4:05 PM