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Creating a Learning-Centered Program: Faculty-Led Study Abroad Programs

A Conversation with Emily Bahr, '14

 

Throughout the CSP program students complete assignments that align with the core values of the program. The Internship Learning Experience (ILE) project in Internship I class aligns itself very closely to the Theories to Practice and Transformative Learning values of the program. During the course, students learn how learning happens and how that impacts their practice. Students also learn how to write learning outcomes, implement the learning outcomes by shaping the environment, assess the learning outcomes, and improve the experience from the assessment. The ILE project asks students to find a current office practice in their assistantship area and improve it to become a more intentional learning experience. We sat down with Emily Bahr, International Studies Graduate Assistant, to hear about her ILE project, Faculty-Led Study Abroad Programs.

Why did you choose the topic you did?

            I choose faculty-led study abroad programs as the topic of my Internship Learning Experience (ILE) for several reasons. First, I have a strong interest in study abroad programs. I participated in three study abroad programs as an undergraduate student, over Winter Break this year I will participate in another faculty-led study abroad program to India, and my assistantship is in the Office of Study Abroad, so I had quite a bit of knowledge and experience I could bring to the topic. Also, the Office of Study Abroad has wanted to create learning outcomes for study abroad students for a while now, and because the ILE project involves writing learning outcomes, choosing this topic seemed like a good way to combine what I was learning in class with what I was doing in my assistantship. Finally, the Office of Study Abroad already coordinates a pre-departure orientation program for students before they leave to study abroad, and I currently have plans to design a re-entry program for students when they return home, so choosing faculty-led study abroad programs as my ILE topic allowed me to look more closely at what happens in between these two experiences when students are actually abroad.

What process did you use for the project?

            I began the project by gathering input from others on campus about what students should learn from participating in faculty-led study abroad programs. Specifically, I consulted the international mission statement for Western Illinois University and the mission statement for the Office of Study Abroad. Then I spoke with students who had participated in faculty-led study abroad programs in the past, as well as those who plan to participate in the future; faculty members who had led the programs in the past, as well as those who plan to lead them in the future; and each of the staff members in the Office of Study Abroad. At that point, I analyzed all of the feedback I received and used the general themes I noticed to write learning outcomes, all of which focused on how students can use their own experiences studying abroad to learn more about culture, stereotypes and assumptions they hold, the academic subjects they are studying, their own backgrounds, how to work through unfamiliar situations, and intercultural communication.

            From there, I thought about how I could shape the environment, or structure faculty-led study abroad programs to keep the focus on student learning. To do this, I thought about what I had learned in class about how learning happens, and then I suggested that these programs include rich, concrete experiences to supplement the information students gain through textbooks and lectures (for example, include visits to museums, religious sites, new landscapes, etc.), reflective conversations that would allow students to process through the experiences they have abroad as well as their feelings about them, and some free time for students to explore their study abroad locations on their own. Finally, when I thought about how to assess the learning outcomes I had written, I tried to come up with projects that would allow students to bring themselves and their own experiences into what they were learning abroad. For example, I suggested a photo journal, which would allow students to take pictures and demonstrate, through their own eyes, experiences they learned from while abroad. I also included an interview project that would enable students to have a conversation with anyone they choose from their study abroad location using questions they develop themselves.

What did you learn from the project?

            By doing this project I learned quite a bit about the degree of intentionality it takes to design learning-centered programs. My internship this past summer was my first experience with writing learning outcomes, and the ILE project was able to build on that and help me put together a much more thorough understanding of how to write good learning outcomes. The ILE project also reminded me that designing such programs is always an ongoing process. It was great to write learning outcomes and come up with ways to achieve and assess them, but I know that just because I am done with my project for class, it is not completely finished. As my office now begins to implement the ideas I presented in my project, I know that it will be important to continue assessing and making improvements along the way. Also, I learned quite a bit about collaboration through this project. My ILE required me to reach out beyond just the staff members in the Office of Study Abroad who I work with every day to hear from students and faculty members as well. It was nice to know that there are others on campus who are invested in these programs and the ways in which they can promote student learning.

How does it correlate to the theories-to-practice value of the CSP program?

            I think the ILE project is a perfect example of the theories-to-practice value of the CSP program. This project asked me to select a real experience from my practice in the Office of Study Abroad and then enrich it with all of the material I am learning in class. Personally, I really enjoy the concepts we study in class, but I sometimes have trouble actually incorporating them into my practice. This project, however, enabled me to do just that. I also know that after I graduate I will be required to design learning-centered programs in my role as a professional. Having already gone through this process in my ILE, I feel much more confident doing this in the future.