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.


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.


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?


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.


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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s