Hot Topic: Curriculum Integration
Two Universities Strive for International Education Options Tailor-Made for Students in Highly Structured MajorsBy Stacey Hartmann GlobaLinks NewsWire Editor
For many students in majors requiring specific courses taken on a lock-step time line, it is difficult to study abroad without taking some kind of academic detour that can cost time, money and a delayed graduation date.
Even so, these students in the more structured programs of science, technology, engineering, teaching, mathematics, health sciences and most professional fields want to study abroad just as much as their counterparts in more flexible majors.
The desire to study abroad in those fields – what are referred to as ‘underrepresented fields’ in study abroad – is pushed by both faculty and students.
“Our current students understand the importance of a global society,” says Patrick Frazier, director of international education for Quinnipiac University, a private institution in Hamden, Conn., with about 450 students who study abroad each year. “For that reason, they want to study abroad.”
For students in underrepresented majors, a semester or year at a foreign institution can deliver high-value educational experiences, such as for a nursing student, who by studying in another country, learns first-hand how another part of the world delivers health care.
“I absolutely loved studying abroad,” says Alicia Loffredo, a junior nursing major at Quinnipiac who is from Portsmouth, R.I., and studied abroad in Australia last spring. “It was the best thing I have ever done, and I would do it again if I could. I didn’t expect it to help me so much with my education and experience, but it did. It really helped me to learn how to relate and talk to people from another country.”
The question then becomes: What can universities do to open pathways for students from more structured majors to study abroad within the academic requirements and stay the course toward graduation?
Solution: Curriculum Integration
“Curriculum integration is the best way to do it,” Debra Regan, director of study abroad at Plymouth State University, says of integrating study abroad into undergraduate curricula, a strategy pioneered in the late 1990s by the University of Minnesota.
Regan sees numerous benefits from this approach:
- More avenues for students to go abroad within the confines of their academic program.
- Increased likelihood students can study abroad and still finish in four years.
- Greater chances of cohorts of students from the home university participating.
- Pre-approved courses so students can be certain their credits earned abroad will transfer.
- Enhancement of academic programs by providing opportunities for students to take classes in their majors that they can’t get at their home institution.
- Recruitment appeal for the university with incoming students immediately seeing the opportunity go abroad at a specific time during their college years.
- More time for parents and students to plan and prepare.
- Increased likelihood study abroad can happen during an academic semester when financial aid is more likely to apply.
“Curriculum integration is just perfect for all of those reasons,” Regan says.
At first glance, the solutions for integrated study abroad would seem relatively easy: Select international institutions that teach similar courses and create programs for students to attend.
In reality, however, the process of finding good course matches between U.S. and foreign institutions — especially those in highly structured disciplines — is more like professional tailoring than buying off the rack.
In fact, many international education offices struggle to overcome a variety of obstacles to bring integrated study abroad curriculum options to fruition. Prime among them is the amount of research, time and resources required to pinpoint good curriculum fits.
This is especially true for smaller institutions with fewer resources, which is why some institutions, including Quinnipiac University and Plymouth State University, have chosen to work with a study abroad program provider to smooth and speed the process.
Quinnipiac University’s Search
Frazier started searching five years ago for study abroad options in several countries for Quinnipiac’s health sciences students.
“It’s very difficult to find because most countries have different criteria of what it takes to be in one of these health science fields,” Frazier says. “The second part of it is, they do it at a different time schedule.”
Quinnipiac health sciences majors typically can’t study abroad their junior year because they instead must go to hospitals to do hands-on work. This means the sophomore year is the best time to study abroad. Sophomores, however, are required to take a two-part Anatomy & Physiology course, with the first part in the fall and the second part in the spring. This is the crux of the problem.
“The spring class requires special things,” Frazier says, “such as having to do some dissections, working with microscopes and other aspects you traditionally can’t find in a study abroad program.”
Lynn Price, chair of the nursing department, says the way in which the health professional programs are structured definitely makes it challenging to study abroad.
“It’s disappointing when the nursing students or other health science students feel like they can’t participate fully in study abroad,” she says.
For this reason, Quinnipiac worked to set up study abroad options for the health sciences students in other countries. Plans came together first for Ireland and England. More recently, Quinnipiac worked to find course matches in Australia, where health sciences students also were requesting to study abroad.
“It’s finding the right fit,” Frazier says.
Plymouth State University’s Challenge
Campus internationalization is part of the mission at Plymouth State University, a comprehensive regional university in central New Hampshire.
Currently, about 100 Plymouth State students study abroad annually through direct exchange programs or independently through several program providers.
“We’re in our eighth year of being an international education office,” Regan says, “so we’re relatively new in the game.”
Even so, Plymouth State intends ultimately to offer an integrated study abroad option for each of its majors, Regan says.
“We’re really fortunate our faculty are very supportive of students having an opportunity to study abroad,” Regan says, “so if they can make it work, they do.”
As part of ongoing internationalization efforts, Plymouth State last year began working on the development of a cross-disciplinary program in New Zealand for students majoring in environmental science and policy, anthropology, geography and social science.
“We’re still in the working stage,” Regan says. “The more interdisciplinary we can make it, the more chance of student participation.”
University of Minnesota: Model for Study Abroad Integration
The University of Minnesota is a pioneer in efforts to integrate study abroad in undergraduate curricula.
In the late 1990s, the university began a pilot project to test new ways to achieve this integration with its Institute of Technology. The project was highly successful and doubled study abroad participation by its engineering and technology students each year.
The curriculum integration process requires significant collaboration between key leadership, faculty, academic advisers and study abroad professionals. The University of Minnesota’s model focuses on “the 5 Fs:”
• FINANCES: financing study abroad by increasing scholarships and ensuring availability of low-cost options, reminding students financial aid can be applied to study abroad, and cost-benefit analysis of the lifetime benefits provided by an international education experience.
• FIT: locating the right academic fit by working with faculty to match coursework, internships or research requirements.
• FACULTY: educating faculty and advisers on myths about study abroad and benefits of good study abroad programs for their students.
• FEARS: addressing student fears about what international education entails.
• FAMILY AND FRIENDS: assisting students with information to share with family and friends so they fully understand the choice to study abroad.
The University of Minnesota’s model continues to be followed by other universities across the country, but for smaller institutions with fewer resources, the process can seem daunting given the time and resources required.
Universities Seek Out Curriculum Integration Assistance
After deciding which courses they needed to find as part of their curriculum integration plans, both Quinnipiac and Plymouth State turned for assistance to GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, which offers the educational programs AsiaLearn, EuroLearn and AustraLearn, which specializes in Oceanic destinations.
Doing so provided them with significant support when it came to program research, reviews of lengthy curricula, and arrangements for meetings between home and abroad faculty.
AustraLearn’s staff “knows the universities they represent well, and they know us well, so as an intermediary, they’re better positioned to suggest a match,” Regan says. “They already have those great relationships established with the host institutions and with us.”
At Plymouth State University, the search for a program in New Zealand began with meetings with faculty to determine interest in an integrated study abroad option.
From there, AustraLearn helped facilitate the process by examining the offerings of its university partners in New Zealand.
For Quinnipiac, AustraLearn “did the legwork for me so I didn’t have to go to several different universities,” Frazier says. “They provided me with all of that information, which was incredible because the legwork on that one – it’s almost impossible.”
It took about a year to weigh all of the information and materials, Frazier says, but eventually Quinnipiac was presented with several Australian universities with equivalent courses. Ultimately, Quinnipiac determined only one – the University of Queensland – was a tailored enough fit for its curriculum.
“It’s not that those other schools could not teach Anatomy & Physiology,” Frazier says, “but they did not teach the subjects we needed to teach, when we needed to teach them.”
Benefits of Working with Provider on Curriculum Integration
With its Curriculum Integration Partnership (CIP) program, AustraLearn’s goal is to bring together key stakeholders – home university academic department, overseas partner university, and the home university study abroad office – to find a solution so more students can study abroad, says Steve Luther, AustraLearn’s manager of faculty and academic outreach.
As facilitator, AustraLearn assists in numerous ways, Luther says, including:
- Listening to the needs of the home university academic departments and study abroad offices.
- Determining which academic departments at the various overseas universities accept study abroad students.
- Researching possible course requirements and possible matches between a home university and its overseas partner institutions.
- Identifying when courses are offered.
- Gathering syllabi or course outlines and presenting them back to the home university for analysis.
- Arranging meetings between representatives of each university.
- Providing a comprehensive information binder back to the home university that can be immediately reviewed by the international education office and the faculty department.
- Providing marketing support to the home university once it approves a curriculum match, such as classroom presentations, student and faculty information meetings, and helping the study abroad office to promote the approved options on campus.
“It’s a long process normally,” Luther says. “It can take months if not longer.”
Ultimately, however, AustraLearn goes back to the home university “with options we know will actually work,” Luther says, “and that they can actually take to students.”
“The goal isn’t to restrict students,” Luther adds. “It’s to find programs that academically match well with the home institution.”
Finding a match
In Plymouth State’s case, a match was found with the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
“One of the challenges is finding the courses that seem to match up closely,” Regan says. “What we’ve found is, part of this course matches up, and another part of another course matches.”
The faculty is on board, Regan says, with home university representatives planning to travel to New Zealand to meet with their colleagues to look further into equivalencies in the courses.
“I think having faculty go and have those conversations really moves things along,” Regan says.
Plymouth State won’t be ready to send its students to New Zealand until after those meetings are finished, Regan says, but she is hopeful the program will go forward.
“Australia is our No. 1 destination where our students elect to go abroad, with New Zealand fast growing,” she says, “so that area appeals to our students.”
“Once you get this kind of program in place,” she adds, “it is perfect for your incoming student to know right from the get-go: You have the opportunity to go to New Zealand the second semester of your sophomore year.”
At Quinnipiac, the first group of health sciences students recently completed their study abroad semester at the University of Queensland.
“We recently got the grades back, and they all did well in the class,” Frazier says. “For us now, it’s an assessment: How well did they integrate into the program? We want to make sure they are able to build into the next level seamlessly.”
“If they do fine this semester,” he says. “Then we keep going.”
Loffredo, one of the Quinnipiac nursing students who participated in the University of Queensland program in the spring, says the courses she took in Australia were more challenging and based on only one or two tests, which made it difficult to get a good grade. She also found her instructors in Australia graded papers differently and expected much more independent work in the anatomy portion of her studies.
The challenges, however, taught her about other learning styles and how to relate and talk to people from another country. Overcoming the challenges gave her confidence she can succeed even when her environment changes dramatically.
“I was so happy when Quinnipiac started the program in Australia,” she says. “Although it involved different ways of teaching and was much harder, that is what going abroad is about.”
Loffredo says she would recommend the program to other health science majors. She also believes her study abroad experience will benefit her when she goes to look for a job because “the employer will know I was able to succeed in another country.”
“I learned more about myself than I have in my entire life,” she says, “and all I think about is going back.”
Editor’s Note: Patrick Frazier, who was director of international education for Quinnipiac University at the time this article was published, has taken a new position with Loyola University in Maryland.Print