Increasing Access to Study Abroad Via a Blended-Learning Experience Model

Slotkin, M. H., Durie, C. J., & Eisenberg, J. R. (2012). The benefits of short-term study abroad as a blended learning experience. Journal of International Education in Business, 5(2), 163–173. 

With the 2013 Open Doors report finding that 76.4% of U.S. study abroad participants are White, there is much discussion in the education abroad field about how to increase access to study abroad for underrepresented groups (Institute of International Education, 2013).  Particularly given that the demographics of higher education participation are changing to include increased numbers of Black, African American, Hispanic,  Latinos, and non-traditional students, institutions like ASU are trying to determine how best to help their study abroad participation rates reflect their institutional enrollment makeup.  The article written by Slotkin, Durie, and Eisenberg details an emerging model that may hold promise for helping other institutions offer study abroad opportunities to these and other traditionally underrepresented groups.

Slotkin et al. describe a short-term study abroad program began in 2011 through the Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Business (FTCoB).  The FTCoB program included a short trip abroad to Madrid Spain in conjunction with an online learning component, thus constructing the blended-learning experience for this short-term study abroad program.  The reasons for the implementation of such a model are primarily because of the unique makeup of the FTCoB student population whereby:

  • 60% of the FTCoB students are enrolled in online programs
  • 39.4% of students enrolled in the offsite campuses identify themselves as minority students
  • 34.8% of online undergraduate students identify themselves as minority students
  • Online students are typically mid-career, full-time professionals pursuing a degree part-time
  • Offsite campus students are predominantly active military personnel, military veterans, or employees of U.S. government contractors and typically adult learner, part-time students

Because of the high level of minority and less-traditional students comprising the FTCoB’s student population, creation of the blended-learning study abroad experience was essential in ensuring its viability and being able to serve the disparate needs of these minority groups.

This article did not carry out a research study per se; instead it utilized a brief literature review to form the basis of the benefits likely to be derived for distance-learning students participating on a study abroad experience and then offered perspectives and discussion based on the experiences of the FTCoB program.  The review of the literature explored studies such as Donnely-Smith (2009) which made comparisons between distance learning and short-term study abroad, “mirroring previous debates held on the efficacy and rigor of online education, academics and administrators question if students can receive the same benefits in a short-term as opposed to mid or long-term programs” (Slotkin et al., 2012, p. 165.)   It appears that the debates about online learning bare similarities to those which are being launched at short-term study abroad programs at the moment.  Slotkin et al. continue by presenting literature (Donnelly-Smith, 2009, Mills, Deviney, Ball, 2010) which suggest that short-term programs can actually be ideal in that they afford students a more structured learning environment and that having an abroad experience to then translate into future career skills is particularly important for business students.  In terms of access, Slotkin et al. also cite literature that suggests short-term programs afford students, who have other obligations such as family or work and who represent minority or low-income populations, the opportunity to participate in an abroad experience that, “provide[s] them with the cultural and academic skills they will need to compete in a global workforce” (Mills, Deviney, Ball, 2010).

In terms of its strengths and areas for improvement, the article is very well organized, providing the reader first with an essential background into the unique demographics and structure of the Florida Institute of Technology and then presenting the authors’ hypothesis based on relevant literature.  The article ends with a succinct outline of the makeup of the program and a recapitulation of the main benefits the authors believe the blended-learning study abroad program afforded students.  Its contribution to the field is strong because, as previously stated, increasing the number of minority and less-traditional students in study abroad is a current topic of interest for the field at large, as evidenced by international education organizations such as the Diversity Network, and the numerous conference sessions at NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad dedicated to the topic.  However, as the article freely admits, research on the intersection of education abroad and online learning is in its infancy, and so there is much room for growth.  In the case of this particular article, the FTCoB program is relatively new and therefore its numbers too small to form generalizations for the field, however Slotkin and Eisenberg’s arguments are grounded in logical assertions based on the literature and hold promise for future research to be done in this area.

The perceived benefits that Slotkin et al. outline include:

  • Enhanced viability: the ability to pull from the online and offsite campus student populations meant a better chance for the study abroad program to meet its necessary enrollment numbers to be able to offer the program in the first place.
  • Enhanced diversity:  “Of the remote students who constituted the FTCoB study abroad, more than 70 percent identified themselves as African-American or Latino, in stark contrast to the predominantly white and international mix hailing from the main campus” (p. 168).
  • Enhanced experience for distance-learning students: whereas the online students typically only had interaction with university faculty via phone and e-mail, the study abroad program gave them a chance to interact with FTCoB professors, foreign professors, and their peers with many remarking “that they missed the process of contemporaneous discussion with their peers and professors” (p.169).
  • Enhanced relationship with the main campus: by affording online students the ability to have face-to-face interaction with campus constituents, Slotkin and Eisenberg propose that the FTCoB study abroad program may lead to increases in alumni participation and giving rates by this student population.  This is grounded in the claim they cite from Black et al. (2006), “campus visitation may increase the distance education student’s sense of inclusion into the university community at large.”

When I think about Slotkin, Durie, and Eisenberg’s article in relation to my experiences in working with short-term programs at ASU, I am excited at the possibility of further developing the blended-learning model to increase access for these underrepresented populations.  ASU currently does run a few short-term programs that include an online pre-trip module so I will plan to run some statistics to see if these programs have a higher participation rate of students from the ASU Online community or other marginalized populations than do our non blended-learning programs. With 9,612 students enrolled in the ASU Online program (Keeler, 2013), this seems like a sizable population from which to draw upon for study abroad participation and I have noticed an increasing number of online students apply to programs which I coordinate.  I think the possibility for more targeted marketing, advising, and resources for this population is great.

In terms of further study that might effectively build on this area of research, I think that it would be important to examine the needs of distance-learning students and non-traditional students in preparing for an study abroad program.  As I have slowly begun to see an increase in participation on study abroad programs from these two groups, I have noted that they involve different processes in preparing them for the experience.  One example is as basic as course the course registration process for online students.  Currently, there is not an automated process for allowing these students to register for study abroad courses as there is for our regular campus students and there is a lot of troubleshooting that goes on.  Similarly, when working with non-traditional students, they have specific advising needs in light of their family and professional situations that I feel would warrant specialized advising and pre-departure orientation sessions.  It would be very beneficial to learn what other specific needs these populations might have when pursuing a study abroad program.

Donnelly-Smith, L. (2009), “Global learning through short-term study abroad”, Peer Review, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 12-15.

Institute of International Education. (2013). “Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students, 2001/02-2011/12.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Keeler, S. (2013). Record number of students choose ASU. Retrieved June 13, 2014, Retrieved from

Mills, L., Deviney, D. and Ball, B. (2010), “Short-term study abroad programs: a diversity of options”, The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 1-13.

Slotkin, M. H., Durie, C. J., & Eisenberg, J. R. (2012). The benefits of short-term study abroad as a blended learning experience. Journal of International Education in Business5(2), 163–173.

Does Program Length Matter?

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.

Short-term Study Abroad Programs are on the Rise
Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus’ 2011 study focuses on a hot topic in the field of education abroad: the effects of short-term study abroad programs on students.  As a product of short-term study abroad programs myself, and considering that I currently work on short-term, faculty-directed programs, I of course see the benefits of these programs, but as they increase in prevalence, there are a growing number of professionals who call their academic integrity into question.  I think this study is a timely and important one because as the Institute for International Education details in its latest Open Doors report (2013), 51.50% of American students studying abroad do so on a program that is 8-weeks or less in duration.  With the continued growth in this sector of the field, we need more studies to aid in ensuring that the programs our students are participating in are indeed providing the meaningful impact that we want for our students.

Summary of Methodology and Findings
The study was conducted at a single institution on a short-term program of 10 days.  A small group of 10 students, studying in the Czech Republic were invited to participate, of which only 7 students actually participated fully.  The research questions Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus addressed were:
1.) What meaning do students make of their participation in a short-term study abroad experience, both immediately after the experience and a year later?
2.) How do the students attempt to integrate this meaning into their lives?
3.) To what extent do students follow through on new commitments or intentions developed as  a result of program participation?

The researchers used a case study approach grounded in Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning, which is a theory that “describes the ways in which students’ experiences alter their frames of reference, or the ways they make meaning of the world” (p. 215).  Methods included participant observation, document analysis, and 3 interviews: the midway point of the trip, right after the trip ended, and one year after the trip had ended.  The findings of the study suggest “students who had engaged in subsequent learning opportunities continued to find meaning in their study abroad experience. The experience had faded into a distant memory for students who did not integrate the experience into their lives in some way” (p. 213).

Strengths and Areas for Improvement
Among the study’s strengths, I found that the organization of the article was logical and made their processes and conclusions very easy to follow.  Concerning the literature review, I found it to be balanced, presenting both sides of this debate, something I have not always seen.  In particular, I was delighted to see studies such as Neppo and Chieffo (2005) and Griffiths (2004) included since these studies produced findings that confirmed benefits of short-term programs. Additionally, I think the piece does contribute to the field, providing a strong argument for requiring meaningful re-entry intervention with students participating on short-term programs.

However, the study is not without its shortcomings, and most notably to me is the small sample size.  For one, only a single program at one institution was studied.  In order to build more confidence in these findings, I think groups from a variety of institutions and short-term programs should have also been included.  Feedback from 7 students can hardly be considered a basis from which to make broad applications for the field.

Furthermore, I take issue with the study’s data collection methods because the researchers were leaders of the program in which they were assessing.  Perhaps this is a risk of action research, but I think the opportunities for bias are heightened because of the ties they have with the program, a fact that the researchers attest to in their limitations section stating, “although this was beneficial in that we participated in the same cultural immersion as the students and developed relationships with the students, there was a risk that we were too involved in the research outcomes” (p. 218).  This is an important issue for all action researchers of which to be aware when conducting research and I am reminded from recently reading Gould (1981) and Howard (2003).  Gould’s summary of Samuel Morton’s polygeny and craniometry studies is quite revealing in how easy it can be to make obvious errors in research when harboring such intense beliefs about what the outcomes should be.  Similarly, Howard makes an important point for student teachers that can be applied to action researchers as well: critical reflection of one’s own identity and biases is paramount before undertaking the activity in question.

New Ideas on the Importance of Re-Entry
Though there are some issues with how this study was conducted, the findings do seem logical and I would be interested to see these research questions continued to be studied.  In particular, I think the finding that those students who participated in an activity that made use of those experiences in the year that followed made more meaning from their short-term program than those students who did not is particularly important for the re-entry phase of education abroad programming.  As Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus explain, “The true test of any educational experience is the extent to which students integrate their new knowledge and understanding into their lives. As the results of this study show, “the extent to which students learn from a short-term study abroad experience may depend more on what those students do after they have returned home than on anything they did while abroad” (p. 223).  Too often, study abroad offices lack re-entry programming or coursework that could help alumni of short-term programs make meaning of their intensive experience.  Or, if something is offered, it is usually a welcome back pizza party with little academic structure designed to have students working through the reflective processes that would encourage transformative learning.  As the leader of our office’s re-entry team, however, I note, too, how difficult it is to get students to come to re-entry activities, be it a pizza party or otherwise.  Therefore, I think continuing with this line of research might be helpful  in order to to determine if an intervention, such as a required 1-credit re-entry course module, might be effective if introduced for all short-term participants.

There is More Work to be Done!
Aside from expanding the population included in this study so as to hopefully build more trust in the universal application of the findings, I think it will be important to examine the types of re-entry interventions that students participate in and what outcomes of transformative learning they lead to.  For the students in this study, three of the four students who claimed the short-term program in Prague had changed their lives went on to participate in additional international travel one year later, and the fourth student went on to complete an internship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where he reflected on plans to travel to a developing country in the future.  By assessing the types of activities students participate in post short-term study abroad and the meaning these students make from their short-term study abroad experiences later on, perhaps we as educators can gain new insight as to the types of resources and opportunities we should be plugging our students into upon their return.  I think this opens up opportunity to provide focused advising and recruiting efforts to help these students find more intensive, long-term study abroad programs, internships, and graduate programs that will help them more fully integrate their new-found self-confidence lessons learned on their short-term programs.


Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of a man. (pp. 30-72). London: Norton & Company.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

Institute of International Education. (2013). “Duration of U.S. Study Abroad, 2001/02-2011/12.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.

Know Thyself

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

The famous maxim in its original Greek. (Photo Credit:

For the readings this week, there was a common theme between a couple of the pieces that really resonated with me, and probably because I see direct correlations with my field of study, which is education abroad.  That theme is identity.  Not only do I see a relationship to my field, but I find the theme of identity applicable to our course’s guiding question on access, excellence and impact. Let me explain…

In Garcia and Ortiz’s 2013 piece, Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education, their argument is that it is impractical to hope to draw conclusions or prescribe solutions when dealing with a disparate group of individuals; you must acknowledge that every individual is comprised of multiple identities which colors their experiences and how they perceive the world.  As they explain, “A master category like race/ethnicity fails to account for within-group diversity based on people’s multiple social identities. Concomitantly, the education system’s failure to account for within-group differences renders these sub-groups invisible, and increases the risk that some students with special needs are overlooked and may not receive services to which they are entitled” (p.36).  By choosing to examine a subset through the lens of just a single, superficial identity, such as race, we as educators, fail to acknowledge that what works for one member of that racial group might not actually be what is best for another member of that same racial group who also identifies with another subset.

When I think about this principle in my field, one example might be concerning the dearth of African-American participation in education abroad.  When we make sweeping generalizations that the reason for why this population is under-represented in education abroad is because of economic deterrents, we fail to account for other factors that might be contributing to their decision to pursue this opportunity.  Perhaps they also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and have reservations about navigating another culture with this identity because of difficulties living with this identity at home. Or perhaps their parents never had the opportunity to study or travel abroad and so they do not even have the background from which to ask the right questions and start the research to take part in this opportunity.  The possibilities are as infinite as there are unique identities.

Perhaps more interesting to me, in terms of drawing comparisons to my field, was the 2003 article by Howard, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.  In my current position, I lead our Student Orientation and Re-entry Team (SORT). The SORT team is responsible for organizing our students’ pre-departure orientation meetings before they depart for their programs abroad.  As recently as this past year, I had a quintessential light-bulb moment when I realized that we were going about preparing students for their short-term programs the wrong way.  We had been focusing on introducing students to their host culture when really, one cannot begin to understand another culture before one understands their own culture, and more specifically, their own identity.  In a similar fashion to Howard’s argument that teacher’s need to engage in critical reflection to understand the particular biases that they bring into the classroom environment, so to do our students who are going abroad need to understand who they are as a person and an American and how that will influence their perceptions and understandings of a host culture.

Therefore, identity is perhaps one of the central foundations of problems related to access, equity, and impact because it is identity which raises the questions of who has access, is there equality across all involved, and what is the impact for individuals?  In terms of education, identity seems as though it may forever be the guiding light to which educational leaders must continually return in order to solve the issues related to these areas.


Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection.  Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.