Measuring the Impact of the International Experience

February 24, 2012

By Margaret Heisel

As the director of NAFSA’s Center for Capacity Building in Study Abroad, my priority is to develop and share materials and ideas that senior administrators on campuses need as they develop study abroad programming. These individuals have the goal of setting a long-term vision for study abroad programs, developing goals and strategic plans within the context of an institution's undergraduate curricula. For many deans and provosts, this is a new responsibility, since study abroad in the past had often drawn students from just a few areas of study and was not considered an essential element of an undergraduate curriculum.

To assist in this process, I've searched out some of the papers in the field on these issues, in addition to writing a few myself, and posted them on the Center for Capacity Building (CCB) resource page. But perhaps most importantly, I've tried to get out into the field to talk with individuals about the challenges they are facing and the ideas they are developing to contribute to the development of study abroad---how it fits into internationalization efforts, how different majors and programs are adapting traditional study abroad models to their fields and their students, how more faculty can be enlisted to participate in study abroad, what types of campus organizational patterns best support study abroad, how programs can set learning goals, and how to assess the degree to which those goals are achieved in different programs.

I have enlisted college and university expert leaders to join me in presentations at major U.S. conferences that focus on study abroad--NAFSA, the Forum, AIEA, AAC&U, the Colloquium on International Engineering Education, APLU, and others. These presentations promote discussion and attention to these topics, bring the issues to NAFSA and its members, and establish ties among like-minded leaders for purposes of mutual assistance and collaboration.

Those presentations are also available online, along with other papers and resources, including a new Web resource page showcasing research and tools that have been undertaken for the purpose of assessing learning outcomes in study abroad. The Web page contains links to a set of basic assessments that examine academic international experiences. The studies featured are cross-cutting in nature, involving multiple institutions rather than smaller-scale studies. Also featured on this new resource page is a link to a PowerPoint presentation on this subject from a recent presentation at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference in January 2012 by myself and two experts in the field, Dr. Richard Sutton and Dr. Mark Salisbury. These slides both survey the study abroad assessment landscape and also propose ways that campuses can engage with their institutional research offices to integrate study abroad assessment into overall undergraduate learning assessment.

This is only the beginning of what I hope will be an exchange of ideas, studies, research, and papers on this important topic as we strive to prepare the next generation of Americans to compete in the global workplace.


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