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The Pitfalls and Opportunities of Technology in Global Education

Posted By Administration, Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Pitfalls and Opportunities of Technology in Global Education



By: Christopher LeGrant - Diversity Abroad

According to most experts, the millennial generation is comprised of those born in 1982 and the approximately 20 years thereafter.  This would make me among the first of that generation and consequently it often feels as though I grew up in a time that bridges the world before and after the birth of the Internet.  This applies to my study abroad experience in the United Kingdom during the 2004/5 academic year as well.  For example, most people at that time had mobile phones but they were archaic by today’s standards with functionality limited to actual phone calls and new the rage, texting.  Social media was in its infancy and to call the U.S. I needed to buy an international calling card and use a landline.  Because laptop computers were still too expensive for most students and Wi-Fi was nonexistent, using the campus computer lab to email home was common practice.  

It’s true that 2004 offered a lot of conveniences over previous generations that needed to rely on things like travelers checks, payphones, and the physical mail but there was still a level of separation between myself and my community back in the United States.  Through the advancement of technology, most of these remaining barriers have since been erased.  In many places of the world students have instant access to their friends and family through social media and video/voice calls on their handheld devices, which can also be used to watch their favorite shows and listen to their own music. Because of this, many contemporary students studying abroad contend with a dependence on their support and social networks back home that can lead to very real challenges with language and cultural immersion as well as a possible sense of isolation while in-country.

However, this perspective is only one side of the double edged technology sword as there are many positive applications.  Students can use the Internet to learn an incredible amount about the host country and culture before they depart. Travel blogs and social media groups comprised of peers currently living in their destination of interest are now common and can provide great first hand information.  Websites like DiversityAbroad.com now exist to connect underrepresented students with opportunities and resources such as study abroad programs and scholarships that may have bypassed them completely in an earlier time.  While in-country, services such as translation apps, online payment terminals, and Google maps function to make everyday life easier.  

After returning home from an experience abroad, students can use technology to easily stay in contact with their host community, lessening the effects of language attrition and creating more opportunities to form lasting connections and friendships.  For example, I conducted my master's research in rural Nicaragua and the continued accessibility of mobile technology allows me to keep in contact with my old host community there with a level of closeness not possible even a decade ago.  Relatedly, students can continue to engage with media and news from the host country/culture, allowing for a degree of cultural and language immersion far after the program has ended.  They can also reflect on their experiences and then contribute to the same online spaces that originally helped inspire their journey.

Advising, Support and Professional Development

Technology also affects how we as professionals interact and support students.  The multiple and longstanding effects on recruitment are beyond the scope of this article but in terms of engagement, many providers and institutions can utilize both existing and custom apps to check in with their students while overseas.  Social media groups, forums and other online spaces dedicated to certain study abroad programs or cohorts can also facilitate connections between the students and their home institution.  Once these established connections are in place, professors and advisors can engage with students on reflection or career development exercises, allowing them to more fully process and leverage an abroad experience when they return.

Of course, this proliferation and ease of access to information is not just applicable to students.  Technology continues to be a powerful tool available to those seeking professional development for themselves.  For example, resources like Diversity Abroad’s Climate Diversity Notes and Diversity and Inclusion Advising Manuals can equip advisors and study abroad professionals with the knowledge to better support and advise underrepresented and diverse students without having to leave their office.  E-learning systems like our On-Demand Short Courses are also a cost effective way to provide organizations, institutions and individuals with the skills, thought leadership and best practices to become better at what they do.

In conclusion, it’s vital to understand that many of the same technological tools that may hamper a student's experience can be used to enhance it.  We as professionals can also embrace many of these same trends to become better at our jobs and to keep location-based global programing accessible, relevant and inclusive for all.  Only through this knowledge can we ensure that technology represents more opportunities than pitfalls for both the students we serve and the field of Global Education as a whole.

Tags:  advising  technology 

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DACA Students and Study Abroad

Posted By Trixie Cordova, Friday, June 26, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

At Diversity Abroad, our mission is to increase the number of diverse and underrepresented students that are aware of and take advantage of global opportunities. Recently, I attended a NAFSA session that delved into the unique needs of undocumented college students. As one of the most underrepresented student groups, I was curious to learn more about how those of us in international education can better support these students. During this session, professionals that work closely with undocumented and/or otherwise underrepresented students (first generation, high financial need, etc.) discussed this issue at length, from the stigma students face once identified as undocumented, to their own personal challenges dealing with “imposter syndrome” in college. This session really made me reflect on what can be done to better support undocumented students -- aiding them both to succeed in college, as well as potentially study abroad.

I discovered that there is still so much to learn about what makes their experience as students so much more challenging than any other student group. As institutions await or take action based on federal and state level policies (see: DREAM Act definitions below) dictating what they can provide, educators find themselves in a unique position overall, but especially if and when those students express interest in studying abroad. So what do we know about undocumented students and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and how can we ensure that our work ultimately helps us maintain student dignity within the process?

Below are some definitions of the various ways students may choose to identify. These have been provided by the presenters of the NAFSA session, Best Practices for Working with Undocumented and ‘DACA’-mented Students:

Undocumented Student:

A foreign national residing in the U.S. without legal immigration status. It includes persons who entered the U.S. without inspection and proper permission from the U.S. government, and those who entered with a legal status that is no longer valid.

DACA-mented Student:

An immigrant youth who has obtained benefits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (work authorized and deferred action from removal) that was established by Executive Action on June 15, 2012. These benefits do NOT provide lawful status.

Federal DREAM Act:

A proposal that will lead to legal status for undocumented youth who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, have good conduct, other requirements

State DREAM Act:

Vary by state, do not give lawful status, but can allow undocumented students access to in-state tuition, financial aid, and/or other benefits

DACA and the DREAM Act are NOT the same, but one of the key benefits for ‘DACA’-mented students is the potential to travel abroad with advanced permission from the Department of Homeland Security, for employment, humanitarian and of course educational purposes -- including study abroad.

It’s important to understand the mere fact that students self-identifying as undocumented is both an incredibly courageous and frightening declaration. Meng So, the Director at UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student’s Program (USP), spoke about how USP began in part due to one student’s experience with a UC Berkeley professor he had admired. After seeking out this professor for a potential mentorship and revealing his personal hardships to get into college, this professor not only refused to be a mentor; he also questioned how that student was even admitted in the first place.

Unlike the aforementioned UC Berkeley professor, I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to put personal politics aside and provide support to those students who are courageous enough to expose their hardships and ask for help. While some educators may not understand the stigma associated with referring to students as “illegal,” it is important to have this conversation at an office, if not at the institution-wide level. Doing so can truly transform the environment in which these students find themselves, and allow educators to become allies in a greater social justice movement.

While we await for the federal DREAM Act to further bring peace of mind to some students, it is my hope that undocumented and ‘DACA’-mented students can at least feel safe in confiding in international educators about how they identify, and that we can continue seeking opportunities to support undocumented students to succeed -- either on campus or abroad.

Tags:  advising  study abroad  Underrepresented Students 

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Unconscious Bias in Education Abroad?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

There’s a buzz in private industry about how unconscious bias is preventing more diverse and traditionally underrepresented professionals from accessing top level leadership positions within corporations. The case for having a diverse team of employees has been well documented (see Resources below), but it appears that when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and promoting we (humans) are hardwired to prefer those who look, think, and act more like we do (here’s a quick video that breaks down what unconscious bias is). As many industries are dominated, particularly at the top levels of leadership, by a fairly homogenous group of professionals (straight, white men), diversifying those who are hired and promoted at all levels appears to be more complex than changing a handful of policies (though that can be a great way to start!).

For many reasons, it makes sense that private industry is taking a serious look at how their current hiring and internal promotion practices might be limiting access to professionals who represent diverse backgrounds. One of the biggest driving factors for this may be that a company’s ability to compete in their field requires that they think innovatively to develop new solutions and create new products. Research has shown that diverse groups, when managed effectively, are more creative and productive.

While the business case for private companies might appear to be more explicit (more diverse teams leads to more sales), higher education could also benefit from exploring how unconscious bias may influence the recruitment and selection of diverse student populations as well as the subsequent services that all students receive once they are enrolled. Like so many other industries, higher education administration has not traditionally reflected the diversity of the student body on campus, and as a result institutions may have embedded and esoteric policies and practices that create unnecessary barriers to recruiting, hiring, retaining, supporting, and engaging diverse faculty, staff, and students.

Education abroad and international programs offices are not immune to these challenges, and must, if the commitment to diversify the student participation in education abroad programming is real, consider how unconscious bias might be impacting both student recruitment and engagement as well as hiring and promotion practices.

How do the learnings from corporations influence how we think about advising bias in education abroad?

Relying on study abroad office networks may not be reaching diverse and underrepresented students

Some of the most compelling findings from research done on unconscious bias in private industry is that while companies require that new positions be announced publicly and broadly, many hiring managers depend on personal networks and current employees to attract candidates for positions. Considering that our unconscious selves automatically think of people who think, act, and look like us, relying on who we know to recruit students and employees may actually be undermining our efforts to diversify those students we’re reaching.

One way we can begin to address this is to reach out to those on campus who may have connections with diverse students to not only get the word out, but to also collaborate to better understand how to connect with diverse students. This can include reaching out to other student services/affairs offices (e.g., multicultural/diversity, financial aid, Trio) as well as diverse faculty members.

These efforts can help us in not only reaching a wider audience, it also has the potential to expand our own networks so that when we do rely on who we know to spread the word, that audience is also more diverse.

Assumptions about certain student populations may be undermining the advising process

The implications for unconscious bias reach beyond recruiting and hiring; they also have the potential to undermine our interactions with diverse students as we prepare them to go abroad. Before students have the opportunity to tell us what their interests or concerns might be, many advisors may already assume they know what challenges students face (see an earlier blog about moving beyond what's wrong). We may assume that our Pell-eligible students want short-term programming and only present short-term study options in our advising session. Or we might start our conversation with a Latino student with a discussion about the Gilman scholarship. While students might take such advice in stride, students may also opt to move forward with their planning without re-engaging with the education abroad office, leaving the chance that they may miss important deadlines and information that otherwise would have been relevant to their experience.

We can begin to move beyond our assumptions by allowing the students to drive the conversation, taking note of their needs and interests, and providing information accordingly. We can also ask probing questions along the way to help them think about all of their options and consider all of the information and resources they have available to them.

It’s also important to engage students at all points in their experience with the office. Offices could include questions in existing pre-departure and re-entry surveys that ask students about their experiences with unconscious biases, or perceived barriers or challenges they may have had in their interactions with the office/organization. Involve the students in the process!

Hiring practices and ‘requirements’ may be undermining intentions to hire more diverse staff

Many of us in international education find a particular affinity with the idea that those in the field all share the common experience of having spent some time abroad during their lifetime. When it comes down to the type of job that you’re asking someone to do, though, is having an international experience really required to do the job well? This is just one example of how our expectations for job candidates may already be working against our interests in diversifying our staff (remember, those who have and do study abroad still reflect a fairly homogenous population). There, of course, may be positions that do depend heavily on an education abroad advisor’s own experience abroad. There are likely many positions, (e.g., accounting, office management), though, that rely more heavily on functional skills rather than the experience of going abroad.

Just as with our students, it’s important to engage current and former employees to better understand what the issues/concerns and strengths of our offices are. It may be helpful to survey current and former employees about their experiences and suggestions for improving the hiring/recruitment process.

It may also be worthwhile to explore how the current hiring and promotion process weighs certain experiences/skills over others to create a rubric that considers a wide range of talents that candidates bring to the table (e.g., add points for candidates who worked in college). It’s also important here to explore the full hiring cycle (e.g., screening resumes, interviews, onboarding, assignment process, performance evaluation) to assess potential unconscious bias. One good short-list for other suggestions is Diversity Best Practices “Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace” (pg. 15).


Unconscious Bias in Private Industry

Unconscious Bias in Higher Education

Testing Unconscious Bias

Case for Diversity



Tags:  advising  Diversity  Education Abroad Diversity  Underrepresented Students 

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Professional Development Opportunities to Learn More about Advising and Diversity

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 15, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 28, 2016

As we aim to increase access, inclusion, and diversity in international education, professional development is critical. Our offices and organizations can only be as successful as the level of training that has been provided to our staff who are directly supporting and indirectly impacting the students we serve. To this end, it is important that we begin to identify professional development opportunities to assist us in these endeavors. Although international education conferences are able to briefly touch on subjects of diversity and advising, the wide variety of topics that are discussed do not leave a lot of room for deep exploration of these specific areas.

Here are five conferences (in addition to the Annual Diversity Abroad Conference) to consider adding to your professional development plan to enhance your knowledge of diversity and advising in higher education.

NACADA Annual & Regional Conferences
NACADA is the Global Community for Academic Advising and is focused on building skills, knowledge, and awareness around topics of academic advising. Most study abroad advisors don’t view themselves as academic advisors, which can feel like a disconnect for the student. Consider attending this year’s NACADA conference, themed “What happens in advising, stays with students” to gain theoretical insight and practical tools for advising.
Annual conference typically held in October (though state drive-ins and regional meetings are held throughout the year)

NCORE - National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education
NCORE is a great opportunity to explore issues of race and ethnicity in American Higher Education. With sessions like “Stereotype Threat: A Threat in the Air, Mind and Body,” “Exploring How Faculty in Higher Education Respond to an Assessment of their Intercultural Competence,” and “How to Have Successful Classroom Discussions on Diversity Issues,” it’s clear that this conference can benefit everyone working to improve access, inclusion and diversity in international education from pre-departure to on-site and reentry.
Typically held in May

National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Annual Conference
Although NADOHE is geared toward campus diversity officers, the rich discussion can also benefit those of us working in areas of diversity in international education. This year’s theme was “Getting It Done: Rising to Opportunities and Challenges in Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education.”
Typically held in March

Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) Annual Conference
Although some study abroad offices consider themselves an academic unit and not as part of student services, there is a lot to be learned from the student engagement of student services professionals on our campuses. Since we are all interested in a common goal of crafting a valuable and enriching student experience, NASPA may be an opportunity to connect with your colleagues who work across campus and better understand their practices and learn from their experiences.
Typically held in March

Association for Orientation, Transition, & Retention in Higher Education NODA Annual Conference
NODA can provide insight into one of the key components of serving our diverse students well - preparation and orientation. With topics like “Online Orientation Trends: How To Measure Learning Outcomes & Assess Program Success”, this is sure to be a valuable event for the person responsible for orientation programming.
Typically held in late October/November (regular online learning and regional state workshops are held throughout the year)

We hope that you will consider adding one of these conferences to your professional development plan this year. There are many more conferences in higher education that can help you build knowledge, skills and awareness around topics of advising and diversity. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but hopefully this gives you somewhere to start. Have you participated in other conferences outside of international education that have been valuable? Which conferences would you add to this list?

Tags:  advising  diversity  Diversity Abroad Conference  professional development  professional skills 

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