Beyond the Numbers: Enhancing the Quality of Learning in Study Abroad Programs

The University of Queensland, Australia

Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany
The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia


It is commonly assumed that studying abroad will automatically deepen students’ understanding of the world and themselves. Yet, what and how students learn while studying overseas is uncertain (Gothard, Gray & Downey, 2012). Research suggests two factors that impact on students’ cultural learning abroad are their expectations (Burgoon & Ebesu-Hubbard 2005) and their capacity for reflection (Bennett & Salonen 2007). This showcase will present an explorative study into the experiences of students from one Australian university who study abroad for part of their degree. The overall aim was to enhance the university’s Student Exchange Program (SEP), using an action research framework, whereby initial research leads to planning, action, and evaluation (Kemmis, 2007). There was particular interest in the impact of a new course, which involves students in critical, reflective and experiential learning throughout their SEP participation. Since the course is currently undertaken by a minority of students, a comparison between those in the course and the rest of the SEP cohort was built into the study design. A mixed methods approach, specifically “Explanatory Design: Participant Selection” (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007) was used. Loosely structured, narrative interviews were conducted pre- and post-exchange. Additionally, pre- and post- exchange surveys were used to: describe the demographic context of the study; guide the selection of interviewees, ensuring a representative sample; and assess the wider significance of the findings. Analysis of interviews revealed that students in both cohorts saw the value of study aboard primarily in terms of personal development. A separate analysis of the first WRIT3060 cohort revealed that they unanimously recognised the value of the course in terms of enhanced reflective learning, but many could not understand its relevance to their degree programme. Changes were made in the course’s second iteration, and subsequent interviews show this issue has been addressed to some extent. This showcase discusses these and other major findings from the study and outlines the next steps the university will take to enhance students’ learning in the SEP.

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