Planning to study abroad this summer or next year? You may become part of a new three-year study on the effectiveness of international study, headed by Georgetown’s Office of International Programs.

Many studies in the past have measured second language acquisition in a study abroad situation. This study differs from its predecessors in its inclusion of intercultural learning and learning within a discipline.

“One of the things that has been a limiting factor in previous research that’s been done in a study abroad context is that almost invariably study abroad has been expressed as a generic concept,” Michael Vande Berg, director of international programs at Georgetown, said. “Really we know that the learning that takes place differs from program type to program type. So one of the things we’ve tried to do is identify programs abroad that offer a real diversity of programs.”

This study is intended to discover more specifically what those gains are and how they can be connected to the broader education of the students and future study abroad participants from varying specialties.

The result of the effort will be research that takes into consideration the many variables including duration, language in which courses are taught and the design of the program (faculty-led, direct-enrollment or designed for a specific university).

Several other aspects to this study set it apart from studies previously performed. The OIP study is not confined to the types of students and study abroad programs of a single institution. Instead, the approximately 1,000 student participants each year will be drawn from four different institutions – Georgetown University, Dickinson University, University of Minnesota and Rice University. To enhance the complexity of the study, 50 different sites and eight different languages will be evaluated.

Currently, tools exist to measure both language proficiency and intercultural learning. However, the third aspect of the study – learning within a discipline – does not necessarily have existing measurement tools in order to study the outcomes of study abroad experience. Therefore, though the study technically began in August, actual measurement of learning outcomes did not start until just before the holiday break when a group of Dickinson students who had been abroad for a brief, faculty-led program in Africa underwent its language and intercultural testing.

For the remainder of this semester, students who are participating in the study will take the language proficiency exams and the Intercultural Development Inventory, a questionnaire that places students along a continuum ranging from ethnocentrist to ethno-relative views, at the beginning and the end of their respective programs. Six months after their return from study abroad they will be asked to take the Intercultural Development Inventory for a third and final time.

Those students who take part in the study starting next fall will somehow be additionally monitored for language learning within a discipline. The process to determine what methods will be used to measure discipline specific learning outcomes is ongoing.

A workshop was held Dec. 7-8 with business and humanities faculty members from the participating schools to determine what exactly were the desirable learning outcomes for a student in particular fields. Based on the results of that workshop, the leaders of the study are now working with outside consultants to find existing instruments to measure these learning outcomes or create new ones if necessary for the continuation of this study during the next two years.

“What’s clear is that when students study abroad, clearly there are gains that students are making,” Vande Berg said. “The gains I believe differ according to changes in program characteristics.”

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