Monthly Archives: November 2013

Two Timelines Together

Beginning in the 1920s we can see small intersects between the industries of media and international education.  Furthermore, we can begin to relate the two and how developments in one have affected the other.

In the 1940s, scholars began defining international education.  Around this time, the radio was the primary source of news during World War II, and the importance of international awareness was on the rise in the United States.  News reports during this time had an international focus because of the war, and perhaps Americans were inspired to prevent wars by learning more about other cultures and understanding of each other.

The post World War era led to a rise in human interest in world peace, and the media has allowed for this to happen by providing an outlet for people to share this interest.  In 1946, the Fulbright Act provided that “currencies and credits of certain countries acquired by the U.S. from the sale of war-surplus materials could be used for international education exchange”.  This suggests one of the first expressions of government interest in international education.

In 1958, the U.S. government establishes Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to promote research in the telecommunications field, which is an international concept that requires collaborations between nations.  At this time, international education is still being defined theoretically and conceptually.  However, in 1963, Semester at Sea is founded by the Institute for Shipboard Education.  Its stated mission of “advancing cross-cultural understanding and respect and fostering in participants an attitude of caring and commitment to the world” defines its international education purpose (SAS 2007).

In 1987, control and regulation of national data network is transferred from the Department of Defense to the National Science Foundation.  This led to the development of HTML and the internet in the 1990s, allowing for citizens to have access to the web.  Study abroad programs emerged and moved on to online platforms, generating more reach to students in the nation.  In the academic year of 1996-97, there were 99,448 students who studied abroad, with 64.4% of them located in Europe.

Then, four major events happened in 2000:

  1. Government interest grew and by the year 2000, the International Academic Opportunity Act established the Gilman Scholarship Program, which offered awards and grants to undergraduate study abroad students.
  2. International Education Week was first held in 2000, as a joint initiative by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to highlight the importance of international student exchange worldwide.
  3. A memorandum sent to the heads of executive departments and federal agencies from the Clinton administration provided a glimpse into the importance of supporting international education.  It provided that “the U.S. needs to ensure that citizens develop a broad understanding of the world”, calling for an international study abroad program implemented in the education system.
  4. The academic year of 1999-2000 showed a 44.39% increase in number of American students studying abroad from the year 1996-97.

At the turn of the century was the rise of social media, enabling people across the globe to communicate with each other, share ideas and opinions, etc.  It also allowed for study abroad students to remain connected with their friends, family, and social networks at home.  Facebook launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005, and Twitter in 2006.  In addition to wireless cell phone capabilities, Internet access for study abroad students proves to be a great advantage.

The economic and technological developments in the United States made the country very desirable in terms of pursuing an education.  The academic year of 2008-2009 holds the record high of international students in the United States: 690,923.  The year before, 262,416 American students studied abroad–an 8.53% increase from the 2006-07.  It can be hypothesized that social media connected people and gave them an outlet of sharing their interests, possibly generating an increasing number of people interested in studying abroad.

Now, the world is moving toward globalization faster than ever, and word is spread through media in a matter of seconds.  Media and international education prove to be growing quickly and together, and it is likely that we will continue to see this trend.

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Study abroad students and internet access

It is often assumed that social networking sites and Internet access hinders study abroad students’ ability to immerse themselves in the culture of their host country.  Although many young students have a tendency to be wirelessly connected all the time, this is more difficult while abroad.  Most students purchase cheap prepaid phones only with minutes and texts to avoid roaming while abroad.

I think this lack of wireless frees students of distractions, and in a way it forces them to have a more engaging relationship with their surroundings.  Students abroad still have access to the Internet, and it is the balance between lack of wireless and access to Internet that enhance their study abroad experiences.

In an article in the Journal of Studies International Education, Jude P. Mikal and Kathryn Grace make the argument that the Internet helps students transition smoothly while abroad by allowing them to stay connected with their social networks at home.  Face-to-face (FTF) encounters with the host culture allow for learning culture and language, and this theory is often applied to study abroad.  However, Mikal and Grace find that more recent research suggests that Internet-mediate communication does not oppose FTF communication.  In fact:

“The Internet may be an effective means through which to access socially supportive peer networks, and break down barriers to communication–both of which have the potential to reduce stress and increase integration while abroad.”

The authors highlight that the two central principles of the normative models of intercultural adjustment are: that intercultural adjustment is marked by increased stress, and that stress reduction comes as a result of increased social interaction (Mikal 289). Related to this is the theory that the Internet is tool which helps individuals and groups of social networks maintain “significant and supportive relationships” (Mikal 290).

Mikal and Grace conducted studies, surveys, and focus groups to determine how the Internet is used by study abroad students.  It was found that students reported spending an average of 4.49 hours online per day; 1.49 engaged in online communication, 1.22 hours engaged in information seeking, 1.49 entertainment seeking.  Also, 85% of these students reported at least daily use of SNS.

Social Support

“The Internet has the potential to permit students to transition more smoothly.”

Students who go abroad and experience stressors like the inability to communicate in a foreign language, cultural differences, homesickness, financial problems, and academic problems, need a strong support network.  Many times the people in this network are at home.  As a result, students turn to e-mail, social media, and SNS (social networking sites), and the Internet to get the support they need and reduce the chances of feeling isolated.

Personally, I use a variety of SNS to stay in contact with friends and family on a regular basis.  When I went abroad, it was certainly helpful to remain connected in that way because it felt as though I was only gone physically; we could still communicate almost every day.  Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogs, e-mail, Instagram, and other platforms of media are providing a sense of continuity in study abroad students’ communication habits.  By having them and using them abroad, it helps to make their transition more smooth and less stressful.  Additionally, the Internet does the same for the post-study abroad experience and reverse culture shock that often occurs when returning home.  It allows students to remain connected to the people they met abroad, news from their host city, etc.  In short, the Internet helps students remain connected with life at home while being away for an extended period of time.

Academic Tool

Students are applying their technological “edge” to their experiences abroad to promote integration and reduce stress.

The Internet is an incredible resource for students and travelers.  The infinite amounts of data and information constantly being added to the web  are important for students to use.  Academic research and language learning is often enhanced by Internet use.

For example, I changed the language setting on my SNS, computer, and mobile to Spanish so that I felt more immersed in the Spanish culture while I was abroad, and it helped my language skills drastically.  Some ways I used the Internet in my academics while abroad:

  • I practiced Spanish by watching videos online and using apps like Google Translate
  • I did academic research online for my class assignments since textbooks were not required
  • Students in my Photography class posted blogs weekly to use as portfolios
  • Students in my Economics class used Google Docs to communicate, share notes, and collaborate while studying

Just as students use the Internet for academic purposes at home, they use it in academics abroad as well.  Students in Mikal and Grace’s survey wrote:

  • “Thanks to the support or information I found online, I performed better in my courses”
  • “Thanks to support I received online, this problem interfered less with my school performance”
  • “Thanks to support or information I found online, I felt more confident interacting with the host culture”

Information/Travel Resource

Mikal and Grace’s point out that students use online information to locate destinations of places of interest and cultural activities, or for travel.  By using the Internet to do so, “students created opportunities to interact with members of the target culture and to integrate more effectively” (Mikal 301).  Study abroad experiences rely on the students’ desires to connect with a culture or country, so when students use the Internet to learn about it, there is an advantage.  It can enhance their time abroad by teaching them both conceptually or historically, as well as by experience.

The Internet as a resource for travel is not a new concept, and it comes easy to young students.  Much traveling is done by study abroad participants, and it is a strong industry.  Travel companies in popular host cities have programs aimed toward study abroad students, like Discover Excursions, Bus2Alps, and Florence For Fun.  The Internet is their main platform used to reach students and prospective students before they get to the host city.  I was an intern at Discover Excursions, and they reached me through Facebook months before my program in Spain even began.

How It Helps

Students use of the Internet does not change drastically when going abroad, but it changes in context and in agenda.  The same networks and platforms are used, but for slightly different reasons; to find support from social networks at home, to learn about a culture a student is living in, to find local events/places, and often for travel purposes.  In conclusion, Mikal and Grace suggest “a subtle shift of students’ online peer networks from Amerocentric, to multinational” (Mikal 303).  This change will eventually lead to students’ ability to learning.

Study Abroad: How does social media help?

Generation Y has grown up connected.  Star Muir refers to this generation as “digital natives”, or young students who are native to a world saturated with media, technology, social networks, and anything and everything digital.  Digital natives, according to Muir, need a new system of learning otherwise they will face a “disconnect tragedy” (Drucker, 22).  To avoid said tragedy in all learning environments, the internet and social media can be utilized.

Of course, learning environments also include study abroad courses.  Since digital natives constantly use and are surrounded by various media outlets, it has become a real norm in their world.  The secret for educators is to use this idea to their advantage in educational situations.  For example, professor Orlando Kelm at the University of Texas at Austin uses blogging, photography, and YouTube regularly in his teaching, but especially at a special program he teaches abroad in China.

Blogging

MBA students at UT Austin participate in a Global Connections Program in China for two weeks, and Kelm incorporates the use of these mediums in the students’ learning.  Daily blog posts are required that allow students to reflect on the day’s activities and the learning that occurred.  Additionally, reading other blog posts and commenting on each one are required, enabling students to learn a variety of ideas and perspectives from fellow students.

“Traditionally, only the instructor views the majority of a student’s work.  When a semester ends, student work is graded, returned, and basically never seen again.”

Blogging platforms enhance not only one, but many students’ learning process by permitting feedback and providing an diverse number of reflections.  Additionally, prospective students have access to cultural blogs and thoughts written by past students, and it engages them and has an affect on decision making.

In a study abroad situation, blogging (or writing in general) can enhance the experience incredibly.  Kim Karalekas, New Media & Research Coordinator and founder of the blogger program at Academic Programs International (study abroad provider), says that writing is an invaluable activity, both on a personal and professional level.  Blogging provides an audience with various dimensions of an individual because content varies.  Students who blog abroad learn cultural writing and observation skills, while also providing readers and fellow students with personal stories and reflections on the experience.

Video/Photography

The ability of a student to do more than just memorize information is crucial to learning.  Photographing and taking videos in every day situations that demonstrate applied theory or idea learned in the classroom is another way that professor Kelm at UT Austin combines media with education abroad.

Kelm teaches his students David Victor’s LESCANT model.  LESCANT stands for: language, environment, social organization, context, authority, nonverbal, and time.  These are  each various “areas where cultural differences may affect communication” (Kelm, 512).  Kelm then requires students to take photos and videos throughout their time in China, that will serve as real-life examples of each of the seven areas.  Along with photos and videos, a caption with an explanation is required, as well as comments on other students’ work.

The benefit that students get out of this interactive learning assignment is the ability to identify what they have learned in the classroom and apply it to their own lives.  These students, digital natives, are already using a variety of media to document their trip so why not incorporate the learning into their technology skills?

Conclusion

Although Kelm’s pedagogy combining media and academics works well in a traditional setting, it works especially well in a study abroad setting.  “The reflective processes and the connection of learning to the real world are important…” (Kelm 518).  While abroad, students are usually immersed in unfamiliar cultures, and this experience is often “shoeboxed” (packed up and put away) after it is over.  Accumulating blogs full of reflections and videos/photographs of the time spent abroad and learning is an incredible advantage that media allows students abroad to have and keep alive.

Various forms of media have great effects on education abroad.  Providing outlets for reflection, a resource for prospective students, hands-on learning, and professional development are just a few of the ways media and technology better study abroad and its participants.

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Drucker, S. J. & Gumpert, G. (2013). Privacy, Identity, and Public Engagement among Digital Natives. Regulating Social Media: Legal and Ethical ConsiderationsVol. 2 (21-43). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Kelm, O. R. (2011). Social Media: It’s What Students Do. Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 75 (505-520). Retrieved from http://bcq.sagepub.com/content/74/4/505.full.pdf+html