Teaching/Learning/Scholarship

Cronk News: The Onion Meets the Chronicle of Higher Education

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If you love The Onion and snarky articles about things like study abroad AND if you love the Chronicle of Higher Education and interesting, well-researched articles like this, then YOU WILL LOVE the Cronk of Higher Education.

As a dear friend of mine who is Director of Residence Life at a university in Boston described it, "This [higher ed news] site begs us to take ourselves a little less seriously." It's fun to take a light-hearted reflective nonsensical jab at ourselves from time to time. Especially with so much to make fun of. 

How the Internet Screwed Up Study Abroad

I'm not sure what it is...but there's something changing about study abroad. And I'm not just talking about the morphing of the traditional "Junior Year Abroad" model to short-term faculty-led programs. We all know that's changing; we've all read the "Open Doors" data. No...something else is shifting. As I think about my first study abroad experience in college (nearly 10 years ago) and the experiences students have been having since then, it seems that technology is changing the nature of the study abroad experience.

I remember studying in Geneva during the spring semester 2001 and painfully counting out and relenquishing a few Swiss Francs for a few fleeting minutes at the internet cafe around the corner. At that time, taking a laptop abroad was still unheard of...let alone having internet in your housing or room. That would just be ridiculous. My housing still had rotary phones shared by the residents at the end of the hall. (However, from what I've learned, my old room at L'Accueil near the Augustan tram stop now has wireless internet on every floor. Incredible.)

Now, when I'm advising students or leading a pre-departure orientation, the advice I give and the questions I get about connectivity is completely changed. I think now we all assume that students have and will take laptops with them on their experiences (sometimes, even on the two-week 'glimpse trips'). And what's even more interesting is their ability to connect those magical devices to the internet (read: Facebook, Twitter, email, Skype, etc.) almost anywhere they go. For some students, their entire experience can be shared (almost) instantaneously with their friends and family back home. [Granted, this proliferation of connectivity around the world impacts all travel, not just study abroad.] Some universities are even requiring more connectivity and "reporting back" from experiences abroad. And sites like The GoAbroad Network are integrating the study abroad blogging world with a Facebook-esque social networking tool. Wow. Technology and study abroad sure have come a long way...

Does that lessen the value of the experience? Are we concerned that students will be less willing to give in to complete immersion, the disconnection of sinking deep into a culture, a people, a place? It's hard to do that when one hand is tethered to a twitter feed. I'm just sayin'.

On the flip side, the internet and information sharing now means that students have access to perspectives, opinions, experiences that would have never been availed to them otherwise. Encyclopedia Britannica didn't include first person narratives, but the internet, oh the internet, has so many blogs, and blogs about travel and other places that you can glimpse the world from your sofa while watching the Daily Show or the Real World.

What do you think? Technology? The internet? Social Media? Is it helping or hurting? Or does it just change the goals and the rubric on which we measure success? If it does change the way we measure/assess the experience...what are our goals? And with this new medium to work with/compete with, how willwe begin to reframe the experience? Is it enough to send them on their way and hope that the tactics of the past (even the recent past) will be enough to achieve the learning we're after? Technology: Friend or Foe?

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Image courtesy of metaroll on flickr

The Onion: Dead On or Dead Wrong?

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The Onion (a satirical and sarcastic news-ish website) published an article this week titled: "Report: More Colleges Offering Dick-Around Abroad Programs." Personally, I think the article is hilarious because anyone who has studied abroad or works in the field knows that there's plenty of "dicking around" during these programs. But, we also know that there's also plenty of "legitimate learning and cultural engagement" (whatever that means). 

Regardless of how funny I think the article is, it's important to point out that study abroad is not alone in the world of "higher education activities that involve dicking around." Student activities, Greek life, and service-learning programs all have "dicking around" coming out their ears too. In fact, I would argue that a large portion of the overall college experience involves a considerable level of doing nothing constructive, of doing the minimal amount to get by, and general laziness. With study abroad, they are just transferring the overall college experience to another country.

I also think it's worth mentioning that in the greater college experience, a large chunk of the learning and development that happens takes place in those unscheduled "moments" when students are randomly engaging with their peers, professors, and other staff on campus. Don't believe it? Read all nine billion pages of "How College Affects Students" and get back to me. By extension this is also true of the study abroad experience. It's not the classroom lectures in Salamanca or the time in the library in Kerala or the study groups at a cafe on the Gold Coast that have the biggest impact on students (although, those things are still very important). By contrast, it's the moments in between, the dicking around - as The Onion would call it - where the most learning and understanding takes place. 

But we also know that the learning in these "in between moments" is much more significant when students are engaging with the host culture and people. In other words, dicking around is better if they do it with the locals. 

I have a love/hate relationship with study abroad. On one hand, it's something that has the potential to change a student's life (like it did mine), an opportunity for her to learn about her own character and abilities. Along with this, study abroad can bring to light the varied social and economic issues that plague the world, the complex approaches to addressing them, and how we can all play a role in raising awareness or alleviate the problem all together. 

On the other hand, to some students, study abroad is just an opportunity to go shark diving. And unless you're a marine biology major, shark diving isn't that helpful to your overall learning/development in college. (I will give a big kiss to anyone who shows me research that proves this statement wrong.) 

Regardless of all this bantering about the value of study abroad and what students learn or don't learn, at the end of the day, it's better to go than not to go. 

So just go.