The recommendations below are based on the project team’s chapter to be included in the upcoming Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility. Recommendations may be revised pending the release of the project’s final report in August, 2015.
1. Pre-departure workshops
Well-structured and organised pre-departure workshops are critical to the success of international short-term study tours. Some points to consider include:
- The five areas of preparation identified from the study should be facilitated via a number of compulsory pre-departure workshops, conducted well in advance of the international experience.
- The design of the workshops should move from ‘serving’ students’ to ‘facilitating’ students’ individual and independent preparation. This approach has the potential to reduce the administrative burden on staff members while enabling students to gain confidence and appropriate knowledge.
- Students should be encouraged to work in small teams to conduct online research for information such as vaccinations, visa applications, local maps and currency, as well as other relevant cultural and linguistic preparation.
2. Selecting capable staff and improving staff capacity
The selection of study tour leaders and administrative support staff is critical to the success of study tours. Given that Australian universities employ a large and culturally diverse talent pool, it would be prudent to select staff with the relevant cultural experience, intercultural understanding, and appropriate global experience, to organise and lead international study tours.
- Universities could establish peer support groups that bring together academic and professional staff who are responsible for international study tours.
- Universities could offer and resource ‘train the trainer’ courses where experienced academic and professional staff could share their experiences in organising international study tours. These sessions could facilitate the development of transferable skills and improve the ways in which staff develop, promote and deliver overseas study tours in a range of different contexts.
- The volume of work required to organise and lead an overseas study tour needs to be recognised appropriately, and a degree of remission for other teaching and administrative duties should be provided.
- On-going training and updating of information (e.g. planning, liaising/networking, risk management, occupational health and safety, intercultural training) are crucial elements in maintaining suitable levels of competency and capability in coordinating successful study tours in Asia.
3. Manage student expectations
There is little advice in the literature on how best to manage student expectations in relation to short-term study tours. This largely unexplored yet prominent area has been identified in this study as a preparation category for both staff and students. As such, careful planning for this aspect should be undertaken.
- Pre-departure expectation management could be supported with context-specific scenarios, videos or case studies to be discussed as a group, in the pre-departure workshops.
- A potentially effective way of making expectations more transparent is to assist students in puting together a collegially developed code of conduct that includes categories such as appropriate behaviour and students’ responsibilities.
- Students who have participated in previous study tours to the same or similar locations are also an invaluable resource who can provide perspectives on both the cultural and academic components of the study tour.
- Maintaining a ‘travel journal’ is a good way to record key activities or personal reflections relating to learning outcomes, unexpected challenges and program experiences.
- Staff would also be expected to keep a travel journal comprised of detailed information and reflections about activities, coupled with observations of students’ challenges, learning outcomes and areas requiring staff intervention or input. During the study tour, the travel journals could be used formally or informally as the basis for engaged discussion, debate and collegially developed solutions to on-the-ground problems.
4. Post-return reflection
Post-return reflection and de-briefing are a critical part of the planning for an international study tour. A number of strategies could be used for post-return reflection:
- Students could prepare a summary report based on their record from the travel journal. Positive and negative elements of the trip as well as challenging issues regarding their thought processes and expectations could be demonstrated in this final work.
- Post-return workshops could be organised by students rather than staff members, to once again reiterate the importance of students ‘owning’ their learning. Students should be encouraged to conduct these workshops based on their own design, in consultation with the study tour leader.
- During the post-return workshops students should be encouraged to reflect on their original motivations, how the study tour assisted them to achieve their objectives and what they might do differently in similar situations in the future.
- Post-return workshop should be a celebration of students’ achievements, despite any unexpected challenges that may have arisen. To this end, a number of ‘awards’ could be presented to students based on a combination of staff and peer assessment. Such a positive approach has the potential to build students’ confidence and willingness to engage with Asia in the future.
5. Community of practice
One way for universities to raise the profile of study abroad programs and enable the sharing of resources and knowledge between program facilitators would be to establish a community of practice among study abroad staff members, both within the same institution and perhaps with appropriate external stakeholders.
“Well I think also if we just share basic resources to start with. I think it would be great for us all to get together. I really think that would be a great initiative.” – Academic leader, Malaysia study tour 2014
6. Use of Third-Party Providers
It is important that the issue of third party providers is addressed at the senior university management level so that a cautious and risk-aware approach is taken. It is imperative that third party providers have credibility and extensive experience, and that programs match university academic requirements as well as meet students’ expectations. In working with these providers, the following points should be considered:
- Third party providers may not provide adequate preparation in each of the five areas detailed above, although this is not necessarily the case for all providers.
- When using third party providers, the university is still ultimately responsible for academic content and for the safety and well-being of both staff and students. If relying solely on third party providers, there is a risk that the academic component will not be not be adequately integrated with the students’ international experience.
Future Research Directions
The research conducted in this study was based on interviews with staff and focus groups with students at one Australian university. While the respondents represented a wide range of academic disciplines and the countries visited for the study tours included numerous Asian countries, there are opportunities for future research to extend the work reported here. Future research in the area of preparation of short-term study tours to Asia could focus on the following:
- A national survey of staff and students at all (or at least a representative sample of) Australian universities to determine best practices in preparing students for mobility experiences in Asia. This survey could include targeted questions relating to third party providers of study tours;
- Interviews with staff and focus groups with students at a range of Australian universities to further explore (and extend) the five categories of preparation identified in the current research;
- A survey of staff at key Asian partner universities to explore host perspectives on how best to prepare students for a short-term study tour to their country;
- A survey of third party providers of student mobility experiences in Asia to determine their perspectives on how best to prepare students for a short-term study tour and/or student placement.