A perspective on third-party providers and study tour programs: A mixed method study
The University of Sydney, Australia
Dixon Appointments, Australia
This article presents an evaluation research outcome that used a mixed method approach. The study evaluated a short-term, study tour unit that was offered as an elective, credit-bearing, work-integrated learning experience for second year undergraduate students at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. The unit of study offered students up to five different international destinations (India, China, Philippines, Samoa and Malaysia) from 2014-2017. The evaluation research project focused on participants' perceptions of working with third-party providers when undertaking a study tour program. The results from the study helped the authors to highlight the complexities around the implementation of an inclusive and collaborative process that is often required when co-developing a short-term, study tour program for multi-disciplinary student cohorts at a university-wide level. A main outcome from the study was the development of a set of recommendations for university study tour staff who find themselves operating in similar contexts. The recommendations highlight some practical solutions for providing avenues for the integration of an inclusive approach when developing a study tour program with third-party providers.
Often, students choose an educational institution based on its capacity to provide short-term, international and experiential learning opportunities that focus on global employability skill development for job-readiness (Koernig, 2007; Marklein, 1999). Since the late 1990s, affordable, short-term, international study tours, which allow for flexible delivery modes have seen a dramatic increase in enrolment numbers (Daly & Barker, 2005; Hains-Wesson, 2017; Koernig, 2007). For instance, the Australian Government supports such initiatives, offering student grants, including the OS-HELP loan program that was introduced in 2004, the Study Overseas website, the World Class Campaign, the Asia Abroad and New Colombo Plan to name just a few (Livingstone, 2003; Potts, 2016). However, developing high-quality, short-term international study tour programs that focus on work-integrated learning outcomes is often fraught with difficulties (Crossman & Clarke, 2010; Gordon & Smith; 1992; Hains-Wesson, 2017; Shumilova, Cai & Pekkola, 2012). For example, there are concerns around what might constitute a high-quality, short-term study tour program, and in the areas of: 1) academic rigour for developing students' global mindsets and international discipline knowledge for job-readiness; 2) providing industry-linked projects and short-term internships; and 3) the utilisation of third-party providers (TPP) to help co-develop (and deliver) study tour programs that adhere to risk and quality assurance standards (Hains-Wesson, 2017).
Malicki (2013) provided a list of 22 TPP organisations, characterised as follows:
These providers most commonly are offering volunteering and internship opportunities, although academic short courses, clinical placements and language options are also represented. (p. 6)Given the many challenges, and more specifically, the increasing popularity of utilising third-party providers within the study tour landscape for the higher education sector, certain questions arise, such as how do we best collaborate across expertise to provide high-quality, short-term international study tour programs for students? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with TPP when co-developing and/or co-delivering short-term, study tour programs that include a work-integrated learning component? Therefore, one of the main purposes of the study was to critically investigate such questions by completing an evaluation research analysis that used a mixed method approach. Essentially, we desired a method, which would enable us to investigate the issues, challenges and the benefits of co-developing a university-wide, study tour program that contracted multiple TPP for several international destinations. Second, we aimed to develop a high-quality, short-term study tour program that involved the securing of short-term, international work-integrated learning opportunities for our students. Subsequently, we were keenly aware that the utilisation of TPP was going to be a key benefit for achieving such goals. We therefore anticipated that the mixed method approach would help us to determine what might constitute an effective way of working with TPP, while keeping in mind students' views on such matters.
...[a] duration of less than one month, field expertise and knowledge of the culture and society of the country that is being visited by the lead faculty member [and/or TPP], and student immersion into the culture that results in a gainful learning experience. (p. 1)We also position that a short-term, international study tour program which includes industry-linked projects and/or short-term internships is a form of work-integrated learning (Ballestas & Roller, 2013; Hutchings, Jackson & McEllister, 2002; Kolb, 2014).
What are the key recommendations for effective and inclusive collaboration amongst TPP, university teachers, students and university study tour staff to create a high-quality, short-term study tour program for work-integrated learning?
|2016/17||Malaysia||18||Winter and Summer intensive||50%||50%||5.6%||94.4%|
|* Summer intensive = 2-6 weeks; Winter intensive = 2-6 weeks|
In order to understand the range of international, work-integrated learning opportunities that each destination offered for students we present a Study Tour Work-Integrated Learning Typology (Figure 1). This was developed by adapting the Non-Placement Work-Integrated Learning Typology created by Kaider and Hains-Wesson (2015). This particular typology was tested and validated for a variety of work-integrated learning research projects funded by the Australian Collaborative Education Network [http://acen.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Enhancing-Courses-for-Employability.pdf]. The image presented in Figure 1 highlights the various formative and summative learning requirements that students undertook during their international component of the study tour program. No two study tours were the same (in-country learning) due to each destination incorporating a variety of different industry-linked and/or short-term internship engagements. For example, in Figure 1, the placement of the triangle symbol within the Study Tour Work-Integrated Learning Typology depicts the program's in-country work-integrated learning experiences for India, China and Samoa, whereas, the square symbol depicts the in-country work-integrated learning experiences for Philippines and Malaysia.
Figure 1: A study tour work-integrated learning typology
(adapted from Kaider & Hains-Wesson, 2015).
Overall, the program centred on providing students with the prospect to evidence and thus measure their employability skill development for job- readiness. This was a key focus of the study tour no matter what the experience level and/or proximity to the workplace and/or with practitioners when undergoing the in-country industry engagement. For students to achieve this, the following key experiential curriculum characteristics were used:
The program's unit learning outcomes and assessment criteria were developed by referring to the literature on best practice for study tour learning frameworks. For instance, Porth (1997), Tucker (1997) and Jones, Burden, Layne and Stein's (1992) research in this area was highly influential. Porth (1997) and Tucker (1997) defined the essence of an effective study tour as one that offers both classroom learning and hands-on experience in an international setting. They proposed (as well as Jones et al., 1992) a three-phase model that included: 1) pre-departure; 2) in-country; and 3) re-entry. A study tour framework that integrates flexible delivery modes such as face to face, online and blended learning for independent learning (Beattie & James, 1997) was also considered. Moreover, Hutchings, Jackson and McEllister's (2002) suggestions about providing students with the opportunity to maximise learning around tolerance and ambiguity, being open-minded, having empathy, being adaptable and flexible, understanding stress and how to manage it effectively alongside conflict resolution tactics were also highly valuable when developing the program. For example, Table 2 depicts the assessments that were used to measure students' learning for each unit learning outcome, which was purposely aligned to Kolb's (2014) experiential learning framework.
|How the assessments|
|1. Interpret prospective global experiences and challenges that are linked to theoretical knowledge which advances the understanding of discipline-specific job-readiness.||Assessment 1: A project proposal (750-1000 words) that focuses on projected international learning, students' personal and professional development and integrating theory with practice (worth 15%).||Assessment 1: During pre-departure preparation to allow students the opportunity to prepare for their international experience by completing research and to problem solve potential issues prior to arrival when working on projects or completing an internship.||Kolb's 2014 reflective component.|
|2. Share intellectual independence and creative skills to provide an account of the challenges and problems encountered while working in a global context for job-readiness.||Assessment 2(a): A group oral presentation (7-5 minutes) on project learnings that have occurred internationally and students' particular employability skill development area/outcome (worth 15%).||Assessment 2(a): During the international experience to allow students to report back on their learning to industry study tour staff TPP. Allows students to gain feedback for improving practice.||Kolb's 2014 theory and experience component.|
|Assessment 2(b): A reflective summary (750 words) on one incident and an employability skill development area that helped students to improve practice with clear reference to credible research (worth 10%).||Assessment 2 (b): During the re-entry phase to document key learning and an incident that occurred during the international learning experience.||Kolb's 2014 emotive component.|
|3. Summarise experience/s that focuses on theory informing practice and practice informing theory via the benefits of working within an international and multi-discipline context.||Assessment 3: A choice between an artefact and a reflective component (600 words) or a reflective essay (2500 words) that documents the overall learning and professional experience, industry engagements while illustrating the integration of theory into practice for improvement of practice and self-awareness as a professional (50%).||Assessment 3: During the re-entry phase to provide students with the opportunity to create, develop and reflect on project outcomes or internship learning experiences.||Kolb's 2014 reflection, emotive, theory and experience.|
|4. Frame the unit's learning outcomes and study expectations for effective pre-departure, international experience and re-entry participation.||Pre-departure: A one day, face-to-face workshop that covers ground rules, international learning expectations, health, well-being, assessment processes, cultural awareness and theory, language, conflict resolution, teamwork and working in multi-disciplinary teams (5%).||Pre-departure: During pre-departure preparation phase in order to allow students the opportunity to prepare for their international experience.||Kolb's 2014 reflection component.|
|Re-entry: A one day, face-to-face workshop that focuses on sharing experiences and stories for job-readiness, debriefing for challenging moments, articulating employability stories and an opportunity to evaluate the program as a part of students' professional practice (5%).||Re-entry: During post-learning phase in order to allow students the opportunity to debrief and share experience with peers and the university.||Kolb's 2014 reflection component|
Once the learning and teaching framework was finalised, we employed a number of TPP who allocated a facilitator for each destination. The TPP focus was to assist the teaching team to establish, operationalise and facilitate the learning component pre- and during the in-country experience. Whereas, the University's study tour staff assisted with the program's risk assessment, management, marketing and logistical preparation, and prior to the in-country component occurring.
In the following section, we display the different methods used, and how each method was employed.
In the following section, we position the data results in accordance with each method used. First, we present the online survey results that were gained from the TPP and university study tour staff. We discovered that three key themes emerged: 1) working with like-minded people; 2) working with students; and 3) preparing students. Subsequently, this led us to summarise the findings into key recommendations, which we present in Table 3. Second, we present the findings from the student focus group interviews. We discovered that three main themes emerged from the analysis, which were: 1) what is important to students; 2) learning alongside TPP; and 3) improving the program.
The TPP participants had extensive experience travelling and with supporting University study tour staff. The TPP participants also stated that they had backgrounds as either NGO company consultants, were directors or had experience with being professional tour consultants prior to taking up a position as a university TPP. The majority of TPP participants' foci for being involved in the program were mostly strategic. For instance, the TPP participants desired to work with like-minded people, provide industry connections and work-integrated learning options as well as to collaborate across expertise. As one TPP participant stated: "To apply current University education to the real world setting" (TPP for Samoa, 2016). Another TPP participant suggested that they were "...interested in the learning and teaching aspect" and "to know more about Australian leader students' vision and help [the University] to develop future entrepreneurship programs" (TPP for China, 2016). Whereas, the University study tour staff suggested that they were mostly experienced in supporting the delivery of University study tour programs. They also expressed how they enjoyed working for the University's Industry Study Tour program, because of its central delivery framework and its complexity around the multiple destination that occurred each year. As one university study tour staff person expressed it by saying:
As coordinator, taking responsibility and working with Industry Study Tours' students may be different to working with other mobility [study tour] groups. Each group usually has its own culture; however, Industry Study Tour group members (students and staff) will come from varied backgrounds with a range of expectations.Working with students
Confidence in students and their ability to see their potential a year or 2 after they have travelled is a key to success of a study tour. This change is not necessarily immediate from returning home after their Industry Study Tour. But a year or two down the track, through keeping in contact with the students and seeing what they are up to, and discussing the trip post re-entry.The TPP participants felt that some of the major benefits about being a study tour leader was when they received feedback from students, so that they could "make contributions to the program's design after each trip" (TPP for China, Samoa, Philippines and Malaysia, 2016). When they were not privy to these types of evaluation outcomes such as student feedback, the TPP felt that it was difficult for them to integrate effective changes in time for the next study tour.
Another key finding was that the majority of the TPP respondents stated that the University study tour staff needed to "prepare the students prior to departure, encourage them to research and explore about their destination, and make use of the online portals provided by [our company] should they have any concerns or questions" (TPP for China and TPP for Malaysia, 2016). Another TPP participant expressed it by saying, "greater planning and preparation is needed. So everyone is aware of dates and strategies for promotion so we attract the right students in the best possible timeframe" (TPP for Samoa, 2016).
Overall, the online survey responses allowed us to group the participants' main key suggestions. This in turn, aided in providing eleven key recommendations for possible best practice solutions when providing avenues for inclusive program development across expertise (see Table 3).
What is important to students?
One of the main findings from the discussions was that most students expressed how important it was for them that the TPP and University study tour staff possessed effective communication skills, understood management development, and the importance of incorporating meaningful industry connections when students complete their international learning experiences. Another key finding was that TPP and University study tour staff needed to be able to readily accept criticism and feedback from students by actively listening to their concerns. As one student pointed out, "without being able to sit down and talk, I didn't quite understand clearly what we were supposed to be doing" (a student undertaking the China study tour, 2016).
Learning alongside TPP
Students also stated in their interviews that they wanted to travel and learn alongside TPP, but only when they were open to their personal stories. One student stated it this way, "I want to be able to share future career narratives with them and to receive actual insight on how other cultures live and work" (a student undertaking the Samoa study tour, 2016).
|1||Develop and deliver robust curricular, and make learning outcomes clear for students.||Pre-, during and post- international experience|
|2||Provide TPP, university staff and students with first aid and mental health training.||Pre-international experience|
|3||Provide a systematic and an inclusive avenue for student selection processes. For example, applicants' academic and emotional readiness for an international experience.||Pre-international experience|
|4||Provide students with a thorough pre-departure workshop that includes cultural briefings that are linked to the research, the importance of respect, power/distance relationships, fluidity of time, cultural sensitivities (do's and don'ts) and dress code.||Pre-international experience|
|5||Provide students with clear ground rules, expectations and what constitutes effective leadership qualities with a clear understanding around expected behaviours and consequences; that as a group, students should look out for each other such as culture shock, but also understand that they need to manage their own expectations.||Pre-international experience|
|6||Ensure students get a chance to socialise and get to know each other Ð use icebreakers or social events.||Pre-international experience|
|7||Provide clear role clarity and expectations for both students and the university study tour staff and TPP.||Pre-international experience|
|8||Provide students with an online area (such as WhatsApp) to support students' communications styles pre-, during and post- international experience.||Pre-, during- and post-international experience|
|9||Provide students with online resources and as part of the assessment learning process for the benefits of being flexible and adaptable in times of complexity.||Pre- and during- international experience|
|10||Provide students with the opportunity to assist them to learn about resilience, patience and the importance of not judging others so quickly.||Pre-international experience|
|11||Provide students with the opportunity to share real world experiences to make learning deeper and richer.||Post-international experience|
Additionally, another student felt that when a TPP was not culturally from the country of destination or had never travelled to that country of destination that they should still acquire a good understanding of the language to help them navigate their time while in-country (a student undertaking the India study tour, 2014 and a student undertaking the Samoa study tour, 2016).
Improving the program
Many students suggested that it was imperative that clear communication occurred between the TPP and the University study tour staff. As one student stated, they felt less engaged or trusting towards their TPP, because "I remember asking "what are we doing tomorrow" and continuously asking "what time is this or what time is that?" (a student undertaking the Philippines study tour, 2016). Whereas, another student expressed it this way, "I think things could be handled a bit smoother but I understand it's difficult to try and organise it and change it based on the needs of everyone in the group" (a student undertaking the Samoa study tour, 2016).
Students could pin-point when the collaborative relationship between the TPP and the University study tour staff did not operate well and why. For instance, a student said, "I also thought there was a lot of confusion and conflict between the TPP and the University teacher. Not saying it was a bad thing because it helped us develop some skills to cope with that but it caused some stress (a student undertaking the Samoa study tour, 2016). Whereas, another student expressed it this way:
The expectation was it would be a more organised trip. I understand now it can't be because we're all from different disciplines so it would have been good to have expectations managed. Like I understand things are different in different countries. On the second or third day we had to have a group discussion and the facilitator had to explain why things weren't going to plan and it would have been good to know it beforehand (a student undertaking the Samoa study tour, 2016).When students expressed that they felt that a TPP met their expectations it was notably around the areas of being personable, easy to talk to and regularly communicating with them when they "were full of ideas", excited about the country of destination or future possibilities for international employment (a student undertaking the Philippines study tour, 2016 and a student undertaking the Samoa study tour, 2016). For example, a student noted that a TPP was "a great contact to move forward and I think she/he is an inspiration in lots of ways. I think she/he was a real plus, I think in every possible way, and she/he also gave us a real insight into the culture" (a student undertaking the China study tour, 2016).
The evaluation outcome helped us to highlight key recommendations that pointed us towards the importance of an inclusive team approach when developing study tour programs. For example, the TPP and University study tour staff often commented on the importance of understanding the aims of the program and its employability focus, but also acquiring professional development. TPP also made key recommendations on the importance of a shared approach for preparing students for short-term study tours that included industry-linked projects and/or internships. Whereas, students' opinion focused on the need to receive clearer guidelines and information around expectations and itinerary changes from TPP. Students commented on the value of working and learning alongside TPP and University study tour staff, but only when they were friendly, knowledgeable and took an interest in their personal career aspirations. Students also noted that TPP would do well to improve their communication skills and learn the language of the destination country if they were not from that country.
There were, however, limitations to a study such as this. The study had a modest participation rate and did not concentrate on the evaluation of the student learning experience nor the specific work-integrated learning benefits or outcomes. Rather, the research project focused on the opinions and experiences of TPP, university study tour staff and students when working and learning together. The study is therefore limited in its scope. Therefore, further research which builds upon this study would be advantageous.
What we ascertained from this study was the importance of continually finding new ways to create avenues for effective co-development opportunities with key study tour stakeholders. For instance, incorporating the key recommendations presented in this study, offering professional development sessions to TPP, inviting students to take part in curriculum design discussions with the relevant feedback being shared with TPP. This is especially important, given the many challenges, and more specifically, the increasing popularity of utilising third-party providers within the study tour landscape for the higher education sector.
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|Authors: Rachael Hains-Wesson is an Associate Professor in Work-Integrated Learning. She is responsible for leading the expansion of the scope and scale of work-integrated learning for the University of Sydney Business School. She has researched and written extensively on student learning and work-integrated learning. Her interests are in collaborative curriculum development and evaluation research for work-integrated learning and blended learning.|
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.rachaelhainswesson.com
Mary Appleby is an experienced leader in human resource management, in particular, organisational learning and development. Her roles in senior management have focused on developing solutions, advice and initiatives in leadership, employability, career development, work-integrated learning and driving business improvement. Currently working in industry, Mary brings a commercial aspect to her research projects.
Please cite as: Hains-Wesson, R. & Appleby, M. (2017). A perspective on third-party providers and study tour programs: A mixed method study. Issues in Educational Research, 27(3), 435-452. http://www.iier.org.au/iier27/hains-wesson-2.html