By David Rudd
Director of Research and Assessment
Consider the phrase study abroad; two words, a verb and a noun, an action and a place. Viewed separately, they each connote two distinct meanings: one implying engaged consideration and contemplation; the second word, a reference to someplace else. Yet, we seldom consider the words study abroad distinctly. More commonly, we view them as a single concept with a single inferred meaning. They are linked in the idea that the “somewhere else,” and the act of engaged contemplation, form the basis of an holistic learning environment. Any student or educator who has experienced study abroad inherently understands the connectivity between the two distinct words.
Phrased differently, it’s the relationship and interaction between the formal, curricular structure and the out-of-classroom experiences in the “other” that enhance learning and create the holistic experience comprising the definition of the words study abroad.
We value that holistic learning environment and advocate strongly for its use. We encourage students to engage in meaningful ways while abroad in order to enhance their studies. We build co- and extra-curricular programming to facilitate this process. We advocate for integration and the benefits which are derived from experiences such as homestays, community service projects, and internships. We intentionally build connection between curricular and co-curricular experiences in endless ways.
And yet, at the end of the experience, we unceremoniously drop the linkage, moving the curricular achievements to a permanent grading record, and relegating the co-curricular achievements to scrapbooks, photo-albums and anecdotal stories. What was holistic and intentional disappears.
The field of international education, or more precisely study abroad, is in need of further description and validation in regard to the relationship between the curricular and co-curricular learning. Arguably, no other field is better positioned in the world of higher education to begin the work of validating, describing and perhaps even measuring co-curricular learning. Personal experiences and anecdotal evidence (and some data) tell us that learning is not monopolized by the curricular world. And common sense tells us that there is credible and sophisticated learning that occurs outside of the academy.
Valuing the intentional introduction of cultural engagement in the form of co-curricular activities, Arcadia University prides itself on the quality of co-curricular activities that are provided to students from the time of their arrival in country until departure. In accordance with our mission and view, we acknowledge that learning is central to what we do and who we are. We interpret learning in its broadest sense, within and outside of the classroom, as we enable students to discover more about their chosen academic areas of study, their surroundings and themselves. Our approach is holistic and intentional. We are committed to making education abroad a transforming experience for all of our students.
We are an academic community, and our programs and activities are tied closely to our mission of educating students internationally through education abroad. All of these efforts constitute what we call the Arcadia Advantage.
There are numerous individual examples of the Arcadia Advantage. Each program has them. The essential component is the learning experience in the classroom, courses, study and research activities that are academic credit bearing. The Arcadia Advantage is made up also of co- and extra-curricular activities. To name a few, we offer comprehensive orientations, cultural and educational excursions, internships, service learning, volunteering, lecture series, film series, field research, workshops, capstone projects, language partnerships, and more. Combined, the curricular, co- and extra-curricular activities constitute the education abroad experience.
Students receive a university transcript for achievement in the academic coursework and study, and we are now developing and implementing a Co-Curricular Learning Certificate to acknowledge the out-of-classroom achievements. The intent of this certificate is to acknowledge the fundamental importance and centrality of learning that occurs outside or alongside the formal academic structure on a study abroad experience. Arcadia University delivers a program of co-curricular activities to facilitate such learning; the Co-Curricular Learning Certificate is a vehicle to document it.
The delivery, description and measurements of co-curricular learning is imperfect. But one could reasonably argue that our commonly held system of grading, testing and transcripting is equally imperfect. Both are flawed tools that attempt to describe the subjective concepts of development and learning. Time and practice has given weight to the formal curricular measures that are now common practice throughout the world. I would suspect that time and practice will do the same for co-curricular measures if educators demonstrate the strength and courage to stand behind what it represents.
We validate the co-curricular learning experience largely through implication, assumption and anecdote. Developing more sophisticated measures to describe, detail and delineate it is a step toward the ultimate goal of reporting in total the sum of a holistic and life-changing educational experience.