Applying Standards to Creative Programming in Education Abroad

Article excerpt

Programs for American undergraduate students abroad reflect the range of choices available to program sponsors in location, community partners, curriculum, housing, facilities, staff support, term length, and admission requirements. Quality standards for programs abroad allow for these differences, provided in each case that the program format adheres to its goals for student learning and development. In this respect, standards for quality in education abroad follow the same principle as those for all institutions of higher education in the United States: strict adherence to the institutions mission and flexibility in planning how to achieve that stated mission.

The Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) is a nonprofit program provider that is organized as a consortium of nearly 175 U.S. colleges and universities whose representatives direct its academic governance policy and procedures. Founded in 1950, it operates ninety programs at thirty-two locations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America. In 2008-09, IES enrolled more than five thousand students in fall, spring, summer, full-year, and short-term programs.

IES Abroad offers an example of an international education system that applies principle to practice, adhering to two sets of standards in operating its programs of education abroad, the IES Model Assessment Program (MAP) and the Forum on Education Abroad Standards of Good Practice. Both sets of standards are explicit in describing the framework for planning and operating a program abroad and the types of policies and procedures that are required to support the framework. IES Abroad administrative and teaching staff collaborate to interpret the standards in the context of the locale and to create a total learning experience to support goals for student learning and cultural adaptation. Two examples are presented here of the creative application of the standards to the planning of intentionally designed, fully integrated educational environments: internships and community-based learning in Rome and field study in Beijing.

COMPREHENSIVE STANDARDS APPLY TO A VARIETY OF PROGRAMS

The IES MAP standards emerged from discussions across IES with international administrative and teaching staff and members of the consortium about what constitutes academic quality in education abroad, specifically in terms of programming for students' intellectual and intercultural growth. The document focuses on three categories: (l) the student learning environment, including coursework, internships, and field study; (2) resources for student learning, including administrative and teaching-staff qualifications, student qualifications, facilities, housing, health, and safety and risk management; and (3) the field of assessment of student learning and development abroad. These categories serve as a framework for the design, development, and evaluation of programs abroad. The IES MAP is undergoing its fifth revision - evidence of expanding goals for student learning and development abroad, the dynamic nature of educational opportunities, and the changing academic and sociocultural needs and interests of the American undergraduate population.

The IES MAP served as the starting point for the Standards of Good Practice, first drafted in 2004 by the Forum on Education Abroad. The forum undertook the project of writing clear and comprehensive standards for the field shortly after its creation to provide a means to assess program quality in light of the growing number of student enrollments abroad and of program types. The forum was awarded the status of Standards Development Organization by the federal government, conferring legitimacy to the Standards of Good Practice for a variety of program types. The Standards of Good Practice address the same categories as the IES MAP standards and also articulate standards that apply to the field at large. As guidelines for program evaluation, both documents follow the premise that a program should be evaluated according to its own mission and goals. …