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An Online Alternative to Traditional Study Abroad

Wendy Howard (University of Central Florida, USA)
Glenda Gunter (University of Central Florida, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 3:45pm
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Oceanic 2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 4

How can we provide an international educational experience for students who are unable to travel? Come see a technology solution tested and evaluated at UCF.

Extended Abstract

An increasing number of employers are seeking college graduates with global experience and intercultural competence, but the traditional study abroad approach is not always a feasible option for many college students. Despite the many benefits of international education, there is an access issue due to financial and logistical constraints of traditional study abroad and only a small fraction of students enrolled in postsecondary education programs in the United States actually travel outside of the country for their studies (Berdan & Johannes, 2014). The Institute of International Education's Generation Study (Berdan & Johannes, 2014) think tank challenges educators to "Éfind new ways to extend international opportunities to those who are not currently taking part" (p. 5). While members of this think tank may not have had technology solutions in mind when they made this statement, the spirit of their message was to find creative ways to increase access to international education.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF) approximately 1% of the student population participates in study abroad programs each year (UCF Office of International Studies, 2014). The problem addressed in this study is insufficient access to international education opportunities for students who are unable to travel. Researchers with instructional design expertise at UCF's Center for Distributed Learning have proposed a technology-mediated strategy using Web conferencing software to include students back on the main campus in a live discussion with remote experts in the field during a short-term international study abroad experience. By adding the cost of one additional traveler to facilitate the online interaction, many students back on the main campus can participate online in real time. They can see and hear the site visit with experts in the field through the use of a Web cam and microphone. If hardware and Internet speeds allow, they can interact with the group in the field through their own Web cams and microphones. The online participants also have the online chat functionality to interact with the facilitator without disrupting a formal presentation and request an opportunity to address the group when appropriate.

Specific to this study Dr. Bernardo Ramirez, Associate Professor, Director e-MSHSA, and Director Global Initiatives in the Health Management and Informatics department, teaches a global health systems management course in the College of Health and Public Affairs at UCF. Due to low enrollment in previous study abroad attempts, he teamed up with two instructors from the University of Scranton to offer a joint study abroad course to study global health systems in Brazil and at the same time pilot tested the Web conferencing intervention with students and faculty back in the US.

The purpose of this study was to determine if the proposed technology-mediated intervention is a viable alternative to traditional study abroad for those who are unable to travel. There are many benefits to studying abroad (Berdan & Johannes, 2014; Chieffo & Griffiths, 2004; Deardorff, 2006; Detweiler, Welna, & Anderson, 2008; Goel, de Jong, & Schnusenberg, 2010; Hovland, 2010; Immelman & Schneider, 1998; McKeown, 2009; Roberts, Conner, & Lynn Jones, 2013; Rubin & Matthews, 2013; Spencer & Tuma, 2002; Tarrant, 2010), but for the vast majority of students at UCF there is an issue of access. While technology cannot reproduce the same experience of traveling abroad, the primary objective of this study is to determine if there is value in using Web conferencing technology to provide students with access to the same opportunity to interact with international experts in the field as their counterparts who were able to travel. This formative evaluation is the first in a series of iterative studies aimed at developing a viable, sustainable, technology-based solution through design-based research (Reeves, 2006). By evaluating the effectiveness of the proposed intervention, the goal is to extract best practices as well as areas for improvement in order to refine and re-evaluate in subsequent research cycles.

The evaluative activities involved in this study are intended to furnish information that will guide program improvement for future iterations (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2010). The output of this evaluation will be used to modify the design and serve as input for the next formative evaluation study. Based on the types of evaluation questions involved, this is both a process and an outcomes evaluation (Fitzpatrick et al., 2010) based on the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Quality Framework, which addresses the following Five Pillars of quality online programs: learning effectiveness, scale (cost effectiveness and commitment), access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction (Online Learning Consortium, 2014).

The evaluation sub-questions have been organized under each of the five pillars from the OLC Quality Framework as outlined below:

Learning Effectiveness:
- What is the difference in engagement with experts in the field between students who travel abroad and those who participate via web conferencing?
- How were the experiences of the online and face-to-face groups the same and how were they different?

- How can this intervention be improved?
- How does the cost of this intervention compare to previous technology-mediated attempts?

- What is the impact of this program on providing UCF students access to international learning opportunities?

Faculty Satisfaction:
- How did the instructors feel about their teaching experience with this technology-mediated intervention?

Student Satisfaction:
- What is the difference in satisfaction with the overall experience between students who travel abroad and those who participate via Web conferencing?
- What were online participants' reactions to the web conferencing system used in this intervention?
- What was the impact of technology on the students' ability to participate in remote instructional activities?

In an effort to develop a viable technology-mediated alternative to traditional study abroad, these questions have elicited both positive and constructive feedback to inform recommendations for future improvement. These questions have also captured elements that led to positive student experiences, satisfaction, and engagement so that they may be maintained in the next iterative study. Likewise the negative feedback has generated recommendations for improvement. In this presentation, the researchers will share the results of this evaluation along with recordings and video clips to demonstrate the technology-based intervention.

Lead Presenter

Wendy Howard is an Instructional Designer with the Center for Distributed Learning at the University of Central Florida, where she supports the online learning initiative by facilitating professional development training and providing individual consulting and support services to faculty on campus. With over fifteen years of experience in both instruction and design, she is currently pursuing a Doctor of Education degree in Instructional Design & Technology at UCF, and her current research is focused on engagement strategies, collaborative online learning, and blended learning.