The Importance of Reflection within the Academic Assignments of Study Abroad Programs
Plaza, Raymond Vidal
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Today, almost 305,000 U.S. college students are taking advantage of study abroad opportunities throughout the world. While study abroad experiences have has been increasing in number and scope, there continue to be questions about the importance and value of study abroad on the students�[BULLET] growth and development. This study highlights a summer study abroad program at Virginia Tech from 2008 �" 2012. Reflection and transformative learning serve as the primary theoretical frameworks for this study. The work of Dewey (1933), Mezirow (1991, 1997), Moon (2004), Whitney and Clayton (2011) and others help to provide additional insight into better understanding reflection and transformative learning. The methodological framework is a qualitative case study focusing on the student participants from summer 2012 and examines the role of reflection in the academic components of the program and whether or not reflection helped to further enhance the influence and impact of the experience on the students. I collected data from photo journals, weekly reflection papers and their final exam paper, all of which comprised the academic requirements for this credit-bearing course. The participants consisted of seven female identified students and four male identified students, representing the following academic disciplines: Human Development, Geography, Political Science, Journalism, Studio Art and International Studies. Through content analysis (Mayan, 2009; Merriam, 1998), I discovered the themes of self-awareness and visibility and presence. These two themes provide a deeper understanding about how the study abroad experience has a distinct influence on the students, as can be evidenced through their academic work. While the two themes help to further reinforce the importance of reflective practice, the study also reveals that reflection can be problematic as well.
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