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Archive for the ‘NAFSA Research Connections’ Category

The January issue of the journal Teaching Theology & Religion aligns the topic of study abroad with the discipline of religious studies. There are many interesting essays in the collection, including one by Elijah Siegler which explores the ways in which the framing of research in the discipline of religious studies can help mitigate some of the problematic aspects of study abroad. In “Working through the Problems of Study Abroad Using the Methodologies of Religious Studies,” Siegler incorporates vignettes of students’—and his own—experiences and reflections to demonstrate how issues such as the essentialization of the “other” and the colonialist baggage of study abroad can be examined through approaches used in the academic study of religion. The four applicable approaches that he identifies include: (1) a move from the study of text to the study of “the embodied” place, (2) a move from looking at religion as something “timeless” to something historical, (3) a move away from looking for something “authentic” in religion (i.e., rather than searching for the beliefs, artifacts, rituals, behaviors, etc. that could be identified as the pristine version of the religion, current trends in religious studies question the notion that such elements of religion exist), and (4) a move toward self-reflection. Siegler suggests that all of these approaches can help students as they make sense of their experiences abroad. Siegler shows how these techniques can be applied to international education through the use of examples from a study abroad trip he led to China. Along the way, he presents situations that demonstrate student learning and student awareness, as well as offers some guidance to study abroad leaders.

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Most administrators, faculty, and staff at universities in the United States can share stories about their accreditation process. In fact, the process of accreditation often leads institutions to develop narratives that establish who they are, what they do, and what they intend to become. The framework of an accreditation review can help institutions reaffirm, or shift, how they view themselves and how they want others to perceive them.

Yet, what does accreditation mean? Does accreditation represent quality? Does accreditation symbolize power? Does accreditation signify compliance? Why would institutions outside of the geographical area serviced by an accrediting agency voluntarily choose that agency? For those who make that choice, what do they hope to gain?

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How does internationalization manifest itself around the globe? Does internationalization always serve the needs of the local community? Is the purpose of internationalization the same in every country? Gifty Oforiwaa Gyamera considers these questions in her study of internationalization efforts at three public universities in Ghana. In “The Internationalisation Agenda: A Critical Examination of Internationalisation Strategies in Public Universities in Ghana” published in International Studies in Sociology of Education, Gyamera considers the important, often unaddressed question: can internationalization undermine, rather than support, local higher education?

Gyamera depicts the internationalization efforts at these three universities through the words of the institutions themselves and those who work or study there. She examines the schools’ mission statements and goes further in-depth with interviews from the faculty, staff, and students. Among the 57 individuals she interviewed, she finds criticism for internationalization efforts from a variety of perspectives. Some argue that internationalization encourages institutions to sell themselves by using language such as “world class,” or stresses a focus on the profit-generating potential of higher education. While others question the use of “experts” to help them with their internationalization efforts, as these experts often come from outside of the community. Still, others express concern that internationalization is a modern form of colonialism. As one professor at the University of Ojo tells Gyamera, “‘I don’t necessarily disagree with internationalisation, I disagree with the way internationalisation has meant that we westernize our system’” (Gyamera 2015, 120). While Gyamera offers a diverse landscape of viewpoints on internationalization, the common themes that surface reveal doubts concerning the implementation of internationalization.

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How do micro-level forces, such as funding, staffing, and personal relationships, affect not only the success, but the manifestation, of internationalization? How do micro and macro factors influence what is meant by “international knowledge?”

Jonathan Z. Friedman and Cynthia Miller-Idriss explore these questions in their article, “The International Infrastructure of Area Studies Centers: Lessons for Current Practice from a Prior Wave of Internationalization.” Friedman and Miller-Idriss extrapolate from what they learned through interviews with personnel about the internationalization efforts of area studies programs, to offer a way of understanding internationalization at institutions in general.

While internationalization is often framed in global terms, Friedman and Miller-Idriss instead discover it is the local factors—such as organization resources (including the funding of the center), individual personalities (including the influence of the center director’s background and inclinations), administrative personnel (including having someone to process the paperwork required after SEVIS), and interpersonal relationships (including the need to bring faculty from professional schools into the area studies programs)—that shape the model of internationalization for these area studies centers, and consequently, the institutions at large.

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University leaders often proclaim that one of their strategic goals is to graduate “global citizens.” Implicit in this goal is the belief that students, upon graduation, will feel more deeply connected with their world. This assumption is challenged when the second-class status of native-born, noncitizen students is reinforced, rather than mitigated, at an American branch campus. What is gained when local interpretations of the presence of an American branch campus and an “American” curriculum are explored rather than assumed?

Based on her ethnographic work in Dubai and Doha, Neha Vora, in the article “Is the University Universal? Mobile (Re)Constitutions of American Academia in the Gulf States,” exposes a surprising paradox. On the one hand, American universities assign specific missions, values, and curricula to their international branch campuses. On the other hand, students often interpret and respond to these missions, values, and curricula in unanticipated ways.

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Why do international students study abroad? What qualities and attributes do international students think that American universities value?

Many scholars devote their research toward exploring the reasons why international students choose to go to school abroad. Discussions of push-pull factors, human capital theory, branding, and family influence have all framed the conversations surrounding the motivations and hindrances to mobility. However, Mindie Lazarus-Black and Julie Globokar suggest using a different source to understand international student mobility, namely, the personal essays students submit to admissions officers. Lazarus-Black and Globokar demonstrate that these essays reveal not only what motivates students to go abroad, but also what these students perceive that admissions officers want to know about them.

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Does the way we think about how change occurs affect the way we think change could occur? Can we become more conscious of the assumptions that frame our vision of change? If we are more conscious of these assumptions, do we approach change differently?

Adrianna Kezar, Sean Gehrke, and Susan Elrod, in their article “Implicit Theories of Change as a Barrier to Change on College Campuses: An Examination of STEM Reform” published in The Review of Higher Education, explore these questions in their research on the changes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at 11 different college campuses in California. Through observations, interviews, training exercises, and annual meetings of 55 faculty and 22 administrators over the course of three years, the researchers both assess and seek to influence the way in which participants view change on their campus. Kezar et al. made their subjects aware of the assumptions they were holding and then examined how this awareness affected future conversations. The most prevalent implicit theories of change are that change is top-down or bottom-up, thereby ignoring the model of distributed leadership. Among the STEM participants, some believe that change requires funding (because in their fields, they associate “research” with first getting funding for projects), while some believe that data itself can convince others to enact change, and others believe that change has to occur at the departmental level. While the authors acknowledge that some of these implicit theories are based on evidence, they demonstrate that making implicit theories explicit can help push participants to think differently about solutions.

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Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces Sesame Street, proudly proclaims a mission to “help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder” through programs that reach across more than 150 countries. This mission, of course, is far from simple. In fact, through the work of Naomi Moland’s recent research on the Nigerian version of Sesame Street, it becomes clear that in the process of helping kids grow “smarter, stronger, and kinder,” the complexities of the world surface in both concrete and profound ways.

Naomi Moland’s article “Can Multiculturalism be Exported? Dilemmas of Diversity on Nigeria’s Sesame Square,” published in Comparative Education Review, discusses the production of a Nigerian version of Sesame Street called Sesame Square. Moland depicts how the producers, writers, and developers strive to create a balanced, educational program in the face of competing ethnic, religious, and cultural divisions within the country, and the varying ways they feel that divisions should be approached. Moland interviews Nigerian and American staff members of Sesame Square, and studies the transcripts of 78 episodes to examine the challenges of creating a program both relevant to, and respectful of, the tapestry of peoples in Nigeria. Along the way, she shows how elements of daily life become fraught with symbolism when these elements appear on television. For example, she shares the following vignette: “One Christian Nigerian creator described a film shoot wherein an Igbo girl in a tank top with thin straps was told to wear a jacket, because the clothing may be offensive to Muslims. This creator asked, ‘If it’s okay for another child to wear a hijab, then why can’t she wear [a tank top]?’ (Nigerian creator, October 28, 2011). Even though a hijab is a religious (and ethnic) symbol and a tank top is not, the tank top came to symbolize non-Muslims” (Moland 2015, 11). Every character’s dress, every reference to daily life, and every story line can present a challenge that can stall or prevent the release of an episode.

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