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Tethered Abroad: Technology and Communication with Home During Study Abroad


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Technology has transformed the very nature of study abroad. While abroad, students now stay closely connected to their friends and parents at home. This session will explore how digital technology and students' connectedness with family and friends at home are affecting study abroad experiences and whether digital technology is always an impediment to personal and intercultural growth abroad or could actually help enhance student development. We'll present findings from our research, which explores the connection between students' technological contacts with family and friends and variables such as autonomy, self-regulation, and cultural learning. We'll then discuss how digital technology might be harnessed to help students engage more deeply in their study abroad experiences.

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Tethered Abroad: Technology and Communication with Home During Study Abroad

  1. 1. Tethered Abroad: Technology and Communication with Home during Study Abroad CIEE Conference November 5, 2015 Berlin, Germany
  2. 2. Listen... All Things Considered, NPR February 2015 Nina Keck ch-may-get-in-the-way-of-good-culture- shock-while-studying-abroad
  3. 3. Presenters Sue Robinson – Institutional Relations Manager, CIEE Barbara Hofer – Professor of Psychology, Middlebury College Stacey Thebodo – Assistant Director of International Programs, Middlebury College Meg Quinn – CIEE Academic Consultant
  4. 4. Our session will explore the questions: How are digital technology and students’ connectedness with family and friends at home affecting their study abroad experience and intercultural development? Is digital technology always an impediment to personal and intercultural growth abroad, or could it actually help enhance student development?
  5. 5. The Long Arm of the Digital Tether: Technology and Communication with Home During Study Abroad Barbara K. Hofer, Ph.D. Stacey Thebodo Middlebury College, USA CIEE, Nov. 2015
  6. 6. Acknowledgments To DIS for their support and cooperation To the many participants who took time to respond Middlebury College Faculty Development Fund Psychology undergraduate research assistants: Kristen Meredith, Zoe Kaslow, and Alex Saunders
  7. 7. Overview  Background literature  Prior research on college students and parental communication  The current research study  Discussion and implications for study abroad
  8. 8. Thinking back…. The first time you traveled out of your home country without your family for an extended period, how often did you talk with them? With your friends at home? What did you do if you were homesick or having difficulties?
  9. 9. Theoretical Background for our research on student-parent communication: Autonomy Autonomy is a key psychosocial task in adolescence, and in emerging adulthood (18-25): the capacity for taking responsibility for one’s own behavior, making decisions regarding one’s own life, and maintaining supportive relationships Autonomy is linked to educational and occupational attainments in the college setting and beyond Ideal: balance between support and individuation, becoming a separate person while remaining connected
  10. 10. Theoretical background Self-regulation  Self-regulated learning as regulation of goals, motivation, and behavior (Hofer, Yu, & Pintrich, 1998)  Positive outcomes of SR for college academic success and goal orientation (see Ross, et al., 2003) Parental involvement in education  In the U.S. - has positive effects in earlier years, yet little is known about the influence during college years  We need a developmental model of parental involvement Autonomy and self-regulation need to be understood in the context of technological changes
  11. 11. Our initial research question How do frequency, initiation, and content of communication between college students and their parents relate to psychosocial development in terms of emotional autonomy and self-regulation?
  12. 12. Background: Our prior Research Study 1: investigated transition to college through web-based surveys of entering first-year students  Surveyed in August 2005, students expected to communicate with parents on a weekly basis  Surveyed in December, students actually communicated with parents far more frequently (10.4 times per week) Study 2 design: all four years, residential liberal arts college and large research university (n=908)  frequency and mode of communication  Autonomy, self-regulation, parental regulation (both behavioral and academic), quality of relationships with parents, etc. Both studies also included surveys of parents
  13. 13. Study 2: Results Average weekly communication rate, summing all communication (cell phones, emails, etc.): 13.4  Liberal arts college  Total: 13.5 Student Initiated: 6.4 Parent Initiated: 7.1  Large research university  Total: 13.2 Student Initiated: 6.2 Parent Initiated: 7.0 Mode of communication: primarily 1) cell phones and 2) email
  14. 14. Frequency by year Year Frequency - weekly mean Parent/student- initiated First-year (n=213) 13.4 7.1 / 6.3 Sophomores (n=192) 13.2 7.0 / 6.2 Juniors (n=223) 14.1 7.3 / 6.8 Seniors (n=232) 13.0 7.0/ 6.0
  15. 15. Group differences in communication? No differences in frequency by parental income, distance from college, ethnic and racial background, or type of secondary school Females communicated with parents only slightly more often than did males, and were more likely than males to initiate the communication with parents
  16. 16. Self-regulation Student self-regulation was positively correlated with  Relationship with parents (.21**)  Attitudinal autonomy (.24**), functional autonomy (.27**)  Satisfaction with overall college experience (.21**)  Satisfaction with academic performance (.49**)  Enthusiasm for learning (.44**)  GPA (.40**) And negatively correlated with  Procrastination (-.71**)
  17. 17. Parental academic regulation Was positively correlated with  Total frequency of communication (.27**) And negatively correlated with autonomy (-.30**) No apparent positive connections
  18. 18. Communication, autonomy, and relationships with parents Students who were in the most frequent contact with parents were the least emotionally autonomous When the contact was slightly more student-initiated, frequency of communication was positively related to companionship, mutuality, and comfort and understanding High parent-initiated contact was correlated with control and conflict In some cases, students appeared to be trading off autonomy for closeness: Students who contacted their parents frequently reported close relationships with parents, but were less autonomous Students reported that parents were proofing (19%) and editing (14%) their papers (a potential violation of honor codes)
  19. 19. Study 3: Longitudinal follow-up Expected lower communication rates, but…  Graduates reported communicating with their parents more than when in college, and more than those still in college: average 17 times per week Parents who regulated behavior in college continue to regulate post-college Parental behavioral regulation was correlated with student perceptions of conflict and control in the relationship with parents
  20. 20. Study 4: Replication 2012-2013 (n=749)  Prior to arriving at college, students expected to communicate weekly with parents and would be satisfied with that – but they think parents want more  Communication increased further (22 times per week), fueled by texting (on top of continued connection by cellphones and email)  Frequent communication continued to be related to lower autonomy, lower GPA, and parental regulation of academics and behavior
  21. 21. Study 5: Study abroad and communication with home  Concern expressed in Chronicle of Higher Ed and by educators about the possible effect on cultural immersion of so much communication with home  Little empirical work on the topic  We reviewed literature on study abroad, student goals and expectations, and designed additional questions, plus with assistance from DIS staff members
  22. 22. Research questions • How connected are students abroad to family and friends? • How do students reflect on this aspect of their experience at the end of the term abroad? • How is this connection related to their development while abroad?
  23. 23. Method Participants: 417 students in a European study abroad program - 94% US citizens, 76% female  84.4% White/Caucasian,12.9% Asian American/Asian, 2.2% African American/Black/African, 1.7% Mexican American/Chicano, 3.4% Other Latino,1.4% Native American/Chicano, .7% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 3.1% mixed ethnicity, 1.2% other Procedure:  Students were sent a link to an online survey during final weeks of study abroad Fall 2013  Participants were compensated for their time by being entered into a raffle for Amazon gift cards
  24. 24. Method: Sample Measures  Student-parent communication - form and frequency  Connections with friends via Facebook and social media  Perceptions of connectedness  Student self-regulation  Parental regulation (both academic and parental)  Autonomy  Goals for study abroad  Three factors: Personal challenge while studying abroad, Cultural learning, Positive learning experience  Aspects of the DIS experience (housing, participation, etc.)  Many open-ended questions as well
  25. 25. How connected are students abroad? 80% reported that they were less able to be connected while abroad How did they feel about it?
  26. 26. Sample comments: “I began to have much greater experiences when I wasn’t connected” “I loved being totally free to immerse myself in the experience.”
  27. 27. Communication with home Given less connectivity, how much do they actually connect with family at home, summing all forms of communication? How does it compare to students in the U.S.? Who initiates most – parents or students? Your predictions?
  28. 28. Primary means of communication while abroad (in order): email, texting, instant messaging (Facebook chat, G-chat, etc., video chat), cell phone
  29. 29. Communication with parents Days per week: average 4 with mother, 3 with father More or less than at home? 52%: much less or somewhat less; 32%: about the same, 15%: more How much about your life abroad do you share? (1-5 scale from “nothing” to “everything”)  3.66 with mother, 3.22 with father; 16% share everything with mother and 9% share everything with father Satisfaction with communication – only 3% want less with mother, and 21% want more; 2% want less with father and 30% want more How satisfied do you think your parents are? 54% think mothers want more, and 42% think dads want more (and only 1% think either want less)
  30. 30. Parents - Accompanied them to DIS: 7% Visited: 55% “Expressed worry about you being abroad”: 38% said often or very often “Intervened on your behalf by contacting DIS”: 88% said never “…by contacting your study abroad office”: 91% said never Encouraged involvement in Danish culture: 72% Expected contact during travel and tours: 32% said never, 27% said very often or often Expected contact after travel and tours: 21% said never, 46% said often or very often Expressed anxiety about your well-being: only 42% said never
  31. 31. How is this connection related to student development while abroad? Frequency of communication with parents was weakly related to: parent academic regulation (.18**) parent behavior regulation (.14**) Some parents continue to regulate their college-age children even while abroad, as technology now makes it possible to do so
  32. 32. Communication and autonomy Weak correlations (lower than in previous studies), in the direction expected: Total amount of communication with parents was negatively correlated with autonomy (-.11*) Student-initiated contact was negatively correlated with nondependence (-.14**)
  33. 33. Many students report growing independence “What did you learn to do for yourself this semester that you hadn’t done before?” (open-ended) Sample responses: Cook, navigate without GPS, commute, plan trips, use public transportation, make big decisions without discussing them with anybody, ask strangers for directions and help, how to care for myself completely on my own when sick, travel solo, bike around on my own, go blindly into a new country and make friends when I don’t speak the language, find my way when I get lost, put a duvet cover on, cook a quiche, read for enjoyment during my half hour train commute, a whole new political perspective, how to use a shower that’s connected to a sink, how to explore the city alone and spend more time at parks and other public spaces, learned to enjoy down time alone (like on the train or metro with no wifi), to not be afraid to try new things to get the most out of the Danish culture
  34. 34. Overall communication patterns and social media On average, students reported spending 1.2 hours per day communicating with others via cellphones, computers, or other electronic devices (and use WeChat, Viber, Skype, Facebook messaging & chat, Kakao, Whatsapp, Facetime, etc), Google Hangout Students reported spending 1.6 hours per day on Facebook, on average
  35. 35. Sample comments “The Internet is both a curse and a blessing. It’s great to stay connected with people from home but it definitely provides a crutch and makes it easier to keep yourself in a bubble and not be forced to go out and meet new people.” “Viber has been very helpful when I talk to my family. My mom likes to be in touch every day.” “Having real conversations with my truly close friends or my boyfriend was tough. It was a temporary fix that made me so happy while we were talking but so upset after we hung up. It’s a frustrating paradox: you talk because you miss them, but talking makes you miss them more.”
  36. 36. Facebook and study abroad Sample question: “Sometimes I think more about how to present an experience on Facebook than actually experiencing it” 31% strongly or moderately agree
  37. 37. Facebook and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) 65% strongly or moderately agreed that Facebook and other social media sites led them to feel they were missing out at their home campus; only 22% disagreed Comment: “There’s no reason to be looking at the stuff while you’re at the Eiffel tower or Coliseum, but it’s hard not to if you have the access. It was definitely better not to have wifi while traveling.” Sample advice: “Everything and everyone will still be there when you get home, I promise.”
  38. 38. “I appreciated that people were not constantly on their phones while spending time with others. On my travel breaks and study tours though, I found that when wifi was finally available social interaction face-to-face almost completely stopped and people focused solely on their devices.” “Makes me aware of how much time I spend on my phone at home. Prefer walking down the street without cell signal or internet – freeing.” “I loved the freedom of having less connections and in certain situations it was very rewarding to go on without any ways of connecting and still surviving. Whenever I was preoccupied with adventures or consumed by conversations and people, life was completely grand. In contrast, sometime in the down time I fought off the feeling of loneliness and disconnect. When this happened I just made more of an effort to change my mindset and be grateful and present in the moment. I learned that here, I hope.” “I love it!! I love when people know that I’ll be out of communication. It’s stressful to always be ‘on’ and available via technology.” “I’m usually scared when I don’t have phone service because of safety. NO ONE WILL KNOW IF I DIE."
  39. 39. Study abroad factors & sample items: • Personal Challenge (5 items, a =.86) • e.g., “I challenged myself,” “I tried new things” • Cultural Learning (4 items, a =.78) • e.g., “I created friendships with people from other cultures,” “I learned about other cultures,” “I learned more about my own cultural values” • Positive Learning Experience (3 items, a =.72) • e.g., “I am pleased with my overall learning experience,” “I gained new academic insights” • Note: highly significant gender differences in first two – and not the third • Also asked about cultural involvement, participation in DIS activities, goals for study abroad, and an overall assessment of the study abroad experience
  40. 40. Overall satisfaction and communication “Overall, how would you rate your study abroad experience?” Mean: 4.46 out of 5 - a very satisfied group Negatively correlated (-.14**) with time per day spent communicating via cell phone, computers, etc. (Caveat: weak correlation)
  41. 41. Correlations with autonomy Cultural learning was correlated with functional autonomy (.23**), as was positive learning experience (.20**)
  42. 42. Cultural learning and related factors Cultural learning was positively correlated with: - participation in sports groups with Danes (.14**) - participation in other interest groups with Danes (10**) - getting together socially with Danish students (.28**) - commuting by public transit (.11**) - shopping for groceries and preparing meals (.19**) - exploring Copenhagen on my own (not DIS events) (.22**) Caveat: low correlations, but in the expected directions
  43. 43. Cultural Learning and Housing Housing N Cultural Learning (1-5) Foklehojskole 16 4.47 Host family 161 4.18 DIS living and learning 45 3.99 DIS residential comm. 81 3.96 Kollegium 77 3.99 Danish roommate 17 3.94
  44. 44. “Study abroad has changed my life….” In what ways? “Study abroad has given me a greater overall sense of the world and my place in it, especially with an eye toward recent US politics from outside the country.” “I’ve definitely become more independent, never happier to be an American, and my career choice has solidified even further.” “I want to apply some of the aspects of Danish life into my life: more simplistic and less competitive, more focused on the family, equality, healthy lifestyles, biking.” “I have seen so many things that I always dreamed of seeing and I can bring that back into my life. I have experiences to write about. But I didn’t become a Dane.” “It has opened my eyes to travel and what it means to explore and how to do it. It has challenged my beliefs and made me more aware of how I interact and come off to others. It has made me even more grateful for my life and it has helped me grow and understand myself and develop who I am!!”
  45. 45. “I’ve grown up, learned how to fend for myself, gained newfound personal and cultural awareness, traveled extensively throughout an entire continent, gained a great deal of independence, and have just generally become a more fully formed human being. The lessons I’ve learned about taking care of myself, emotionally, socially, and physically speaking, will help me for the rest of my life.” “I feel like I’m almost a totally different person that before I came here. I have gotten very involved in Danish culture and made long lasting friendships with a number of Danes. I’ve taught myself a good amount of Danish language and plan on returning here either next summer or when I graduate.” “I have learned more about my own culture as experienced through the eyes of people in another culture.” “I have a better sense of what parts of my views on careers, friends, family, consuming, food, etc., are based on my personal experience vs. the pressures and beliefs of US culture and society. I am more informed of cultural differences and I think that helps me to be more autonomous from US traditions or patterns.”
  46. 46. What advice would they give about others studying abroad? “The more you put into the experience the more you will get out of it. Learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. Be adventurous.” “TRY EVERYTHING.” “Get out of your comfort zone.” “Come with an open mind.” “Live with a host family.” “Live at a folk high school. Immersion is NOT going to a bar and meeting Danes. It is eating dinner with them every night , looking forward to returning home and hanging out with them, talking about cultural differences, and making memories.” “Don’t live with all American students” “Try your hardest to integrate with the native population. You will have time to hang out with Americans any time, any other semester.” “Buy everything at Tiger”…”Bring a jar of peanut butter”…. “Bring a reusable water bottle everywhere you go”…. “Don’t be afraid to be alone. Studying abroad is lonely, but in a good way…. “
  47. 47. “The technology, while your greatest ability to communicate, is often a hindrance on your experience abroad. Cut your phone off, and take the world in.” “…stay away from cellphones for a bit each day to practice being more fully in the present. Many students tend to focus on being on Facebook and other social media to a point where it blocks them from experiencing study abroad to the fullest extent possible.” “…know that life at home is going to continue without you and that is okay. Don’t dwell on what you are missing there or you will miss out on what is going on here.” “Enjoy the time you have travelling, and stop looking for a wifi signal every minute! Enjoy just being on your own and take time to explore some things without friends and see what happens!”
  48. 48. Implications? Students  Disconnect between students’ perceptions of how connected they are abroad and how much they are actually communicating/on social media  Effects of “digital tether” on cultural integration, learning, and development  Increased interest in programs that are “cut off” from technology? Education abroad advisors  Pre-departure advising and orientation  Challenging “FOMO” Resident directors and on-site staff  Orientation  Student demand/constant search for wifi Parents  Parent study abroad materials  Encourage students’ self-reliance, independence, and cultural involvement
  49. 49. ArtbyDanCretu Onlyconnect! © Meg Quinn 2015
  50. 50. Auf wiedersehen, old paradigm! Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. Immersion is not the goal. © Meg Quinn 2015
  51. 51. Only connect! “Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” -EM Forester © Meg Quinn 2015
  52. 52. Intercultural competence The ability to interact effectively and appropriately with cultural others. (aka empathy) © Meg Quinn 2015
  53. 53. Intercultural learning Cultural self-awareness Cultural literacy Intercultural skills (behavioral & emotional) © Meg Quinn 2015
  54. 54. Transformative learning “…includes the opportunity for reflective discourse in a climate of safety, within a mentoring community, with the possibility of forming durable commitments and acting on them” © Meg Quinn 2015
  55. 55. “Third Space” learning ‘Third’ is used to denote…where negotiation takes place, where identity is constructed and re- constructed, where life in all its ambiguity is played out. -English, 2002 © Meg Quinn 2015
  56. 56. “Maybe the real potential isn’t about our actions, maybe it’s about thinking about our interactions.” Leslie Perlow, “Thriving in an Interconnected World” © Meg Quinn 2015
  57. 57. development about all It’s © Meg Quinn 2015
  58. 58. What may we gain? 1. Tools for greater autonomy 2. Diverse voices & diverse resources 3. Customizable 4. Safe space for risk 5. Challenge & support 6. Asynchronous 7. A student-centered Third Space © Meg Quinn 2015
  59. 59. FINALLY! Suggestion time… © Meg Quinn 2015
  60. 60. 1. Curation Travel guides Currency calculators GPS / maps Language-learning and translation apps Study guides Blogs, news sources, etc. LMGTFY © Meg Quinn 2015
  61. 61. 2. Program aspects Tech management Alternative use of social media PTO w/support Tech mindfulness Media sharing discussions –e.g. Note to Self Logs, reflections, awareness questions Intentional photo sharing Apps / online resources Language & translation apps Maps: routes, pins, co-mapping, geocaching WUWC, “Pocket Anthropologist” etc. Q&A pages, forums, blogs, etc. © Meg Quinn 2015
  62. 62. 3. Curriculum More extensive use of program resources Co-teaching, cultural consultants, etc. Intercultural collaboration (CMC & GDTs)  Building, designing, problem-solving (e.g. Ashoka)  Blogs/wikis/Google docs  Art (e.g. Playing for Change, digital storytelling)  Language exchange, conversation partners etc. Online intercultural learning courses © Meg Quinn 2015
  63. 63. “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun” - Clifford Geertz © Meg Quinn 2015
  64. 64. How might we positively address the digital tether? 1. How might we foster reflective discourse about how students use technology (before, during, and after)? 2. How might we challenge “FOMO?” 3. How can we help students use technology to deepen rather than detract from their intercultural experiences? © Meg Quinn 2015
  65. 65. Resources The Role of Social Media in Intercultural Learning Tips for Using Social Media While Studying Abroad Using Twitter to Help Students Follow Foreign News Leslie Perlow’s talk, Thriving in an Interconnected World Note to Self (podcasts & digest) “Sherry Turkle’s Call to Reclaim Conversation” Fotobabble, VoiceMap, and StoryCorps © Meg Quinn 2015
  66. 66. Resources Like a Veil: Cross Cultural Experiential Learning Online (Merrywether) Improving Cross-Cultural Comm. Through Collaborative Technologies (O’Brien et al) Intercultural learning for Global Citizenship (O’Brien & Erikkson) The Impact of New Media on ICC in a Global Context (Chen) Third Place Learning Study Abroad Levels: Towards a Classification of Program Types/2013 Forum plenary talk (Engle) © Meg Quinn 2015
  67. 67. Resources Engle, L. & Engle, J. (2012). Beyond immersion: The American University Center of Provence experiment in holistic intervention. In M. Vande Berg, R.M. Paige, & K. H. Lou (Eds.), Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they’re not, and what we can do about it (pp. 284-307). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus. Hofer, B. & Sullivan, A. (2010). The iConnected parent: Staying close to your kids in college (and beyond) while letting them grow up. New York: Free Press. Huesca, R. (July 14, 2013). How Facebook can ruin study abroad. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Mikal, J.P. (2011). When social support fits into your luggage: online support seeking and its effects on the traditional study abroad experience. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 21 (17-40). Mikal, J.P. & Grace, K. (2012). Against abstinence only education abroad: viewing internet use during study abroad as a possible experience enhancement. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16(3), 287-306. Reinig, M. (April 2, 2013). How social media can enhance study abroad. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Wooley, S. (2013). Constantly connected: the impact of social media and the advancement in technology on the study abroad experience. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 4(2),
  68. 68. THANK YOU!