Project Objectives and Rationale

 

Through a layered approach our project, Enhancing Programs to Integrate Tertiary Outbound Mobility Experiences (EPITOME) aims to:

 

  •   Undertake a longitudinal investigation of outbound study sojourners to identify the     characteristics that successfully achieve heightened intercultural competence and transformative experiences;

 

  •   Gain a deeper understanding of OMP participation rates, not only the enabling factors facilitating involvement, but more importantly, the barriers to participation given the alleged benefits;

 

  •   Provide those who lead OMPs with a comprehensive curriculum resource to guide their program design and amplify educational goals when preparing students for careers in a global environment; and

 

  •   Contribute gravitas to global expertise in Australian universities by providing robust evidence-based research to advance the field. 

 

 

With burgeoning numbers of OMPs in the Australian university sector and a lack of developmental resources, there is an inherent risk that OMPs will not only fail, but also create counterproductive outbound mobility experiences. The possibility of negative transformational outbound mobility experiences may be accentuated by the rapid growth in this sector (and accompanying dilution of expertise) and the condensed timeframe of many OMPs. A unique set of stresses and an abrupt learning curve characterise first-time experiences overseas (McKeown, 2009). The ‘first time effect’ not only includes great pedagogical opportunity, but also a heightened likelihood of severe culture shock, health issues, encounters with poverty, and difficulty grappling with their first experiences away from familiar environs (Downey & Gray, 2012). It is these ‘first time effects’ which need to be managed and staged to ensure they do not inhibit the intended OMP outcomes.The potential adverse impacts do not stop with the individual, but threaten recruitment and the maintenance of strong partnerships with international hosts. Accounts of distress overseas or failed projects will circulate in the home institution and may undermine host enthusiasm to receive students. With the expected growth in mobility programs and the need to up-skill new staff to support these activities, resources that reinforce efforts to attain our educational goals and decrease the change of negative outcomes, such as those offered in the 2010-2012 OLT-funded project ‘Bringing the Learning Home’ (BTLH; Gothard, Downey & Gray, 2012), should be expanded, and academic staff made aware of

outbound mobility best practice. Two members of this proposed project (Gray & Downey) were co-authors of ‘Bringing the Learning Home’,which provided a series of modules to prepare both students and staff for outbound mobility experiences with a focus on pre-departure, in-country and re-entry. While these modules offer an invaluable resource, we have identified a ‘blind-spot’ in the research design. By focusing on activities such as structure, sequencing and development of OMP itineraries prior to the engagement of students in OMPs, itineraries can be better aligned to deliver desired learning outcomes and manage the transformational expectations and experiences of students. Unpacking how successful, transformational outbound mobility experience itineraries are organised is crucial to ensuring the delivery of learning outcomes within the relatively short timeframe and complex context of outbound international mobility. Too often, pedagogical goals are 

secondary priority to the formidable risk management and pragmatic challenges in these ambitious 

programs, and the learning outcomes suffer (Gray & Neill, 2012). The downside of poorly designed and executed OMPs is negative student and staff experiences that inhibit future engagement within our region and undermine long-term goals for internationalisation across an institution.

 

EPITOME will utilise the work of Pine and Gilmore (2011) who posit that transformational experiences need to be staged through careful planning and management of participants. With OMPs often costly and accompanied by correspondingly high expectations, program directors and itinerary designers need to consider factors such as: sequencing of mobility activities; level of participation involved; level of skills required, and whether those skills can be assumed at the start or must be developed as part of the mobility program; and the emotions likely to be experienced by students at various stages of a mobility program. For example, itinerary designers need to recognise the intensity of culture shock and build students’ preparation in-country before subjecting them to some of the most potentially transformative encounters, such as meetings with groups in extreme poverty or with severe health issues. Sudden immersion in dramatically different culture and environment may exacerbate students’ sense of alienation and reinforce pernicious stereotypes. Additional factors that need to be managed as part of OMPs include risk-related procedures, weather extremes, and illness and unforseen events that require reorganising mobility itineraries (Dickson & Gray, 2012). Events such as the tsunami in Japan and changing security conditions overseas can either amplify learning opportunities or become obstacles that derail educational programs entirely. Pivotal in this phase is how students were prepared and how educational facilitators respond.

 

Our study will provide a greater understanding of the transformational nature and the long-term impact of outbound mobility experiences on participants. In order to achieve this goal, students that have previously undertaken placements will be interviewed to determine the impact (if any) of their prior participation. The research team will also follow longitudinally students participating during the course of this project with a view to creating a series of student case studies. Although our focus is on OMP and transformational experience, we acknowledge that for each student who participates, a number of students – when presented with the same opportunity – do not take advantage of the chance to learn overseas. Research has largely ignored this cohort of students, and hence little is 

known about why students who are otherwise inclined do not undertake these opportunities. Cost, country or countries visited, whether their friends were participating, businesses visited and leisure time opportunities are all important considerations for students in deciding whether or not to undertake a study tour (Evans, Finch, Toncar & Reid 2008). Providing funding and increased places for outbound mobility will have no impact on student internationalisation if these additional offerings cannot be filled. A new survey instrument will be created to study the impact of study tours and informal channels of information about opportunities overseas on this non-participating cohort to improve recruitment success.

 

In focusing additionally on the staff involved in outbound mobility, this project will review previous, existing and developing outbound mobility itineraries to document the learning strategies and assistance provided or required when determining outbound mobility journeys. EPITOME will lead to the development of a needs assessment report and ‘best practice’ foundational resource for staff asked to either develop an outbound mobility experience or assess the appropriateness of a program offered by a commercial entity providing OMPs. Such a resource will enhance the existing work produced by two members of our proposed research team (Downey & Gray) through the ‘Bringing the Learning Home’ (Downey, Gothard & Gray, 2012) by improving design of OMP itineraries ensuring they achieve stated learning goals.