April 12, 2017

What role should we as education abroad professionals play in designing faculty-led programs?  As The College continues to increase the number of faculty-led programs we develop with our US partners through our custom programs team, this is a question that I find myself thinking about more.  There is no question that our faculty are the subject experts and know what course content needs to be delivered, but what role should education abroad professionals play in making sure that content is being delivered in the appropriate context abroad and takes full advantage of some of the powerful elements of an experience abroad?

In many cases education abroad offices are driven by numbers and when a faculty member comes with a program that can attract students, we are only too happy to have them run it so that we meet targets for student participation.  Even when departmental review or faculty committee is required to approve a program abroad, this review typically looks at the academic content and doesn’t consider elements of program design that can lead to a much richer and deeper experience. 

In a recent meeting with colleagues at Trinity University who ran a January program in London, the faculty leaders talked about intentionally designing the program with group dynamics in mind.  They pointed out how they as group leaders built in time everyday to review what had happened that day and how they might adjust the programming to highlight things that went well, cover things that might have been missed, and intercede if they  saw issues developing.  They pointed out how they intentionally planned activities to try to assure that cliques did not develop within the group and how participants who may have been less willing to speak up might be encouraged to do so.  These faculty leaders both came from a background that involved coaching and sports and when we pointed out that from our experience their thoughtfulness in taking the group into account when designing a program was quite unique they were surprised.  In their profession, group dynamics are the key to success and it was second nature to plan for that. 

As education abroad professionals, shouldn’t we be stepping in the same way around programming more frequently and encouraging faculty leaders to utilize our expertise on activities and scheduling that might increase participant’s cultural learning while abroad?  The Forum on Education Abroad’s Standards for Leading Short-Term Education Abroad Programs certainly do emphasize this kind of thoughtfulness in program design, but I wonder how we balance this need with our institutional goals of sending more students abroad? Within The College’s custom programs team, we often see this as a slow process of encouraging more intentionality in programming when an opportunity to have a dialogue with faculty about structure presents itself.