Friday, June 7, 2013

Duke University Study Shows the benefits of international collaboration

This blog is a re-posting of an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. View the original article here:

Interacting With International Peers in College May Confer Lasting Benefits

By Karin Fischer

American students who interact more with their classmates from abroad don't just gain greater cultural awareness but also develop skills that benefit them after graduation, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University.

The study, which is described in an article published in the Journal of International Students, draws on data from comprehensive alumni surveys of some 5,675 former students from the 1985, 1995, and 2000 graduating classes of four highly selective private research universities. The surveys were administered in 2005, approximately five, 10, and 20 years after those classes graduated. (The institutions are part of a pre-existing research consortium and agreed to share survey data.)

As part of the surveys, alumni were asked a series of questions about the extent to which they had interacted with groups of fellow students while on campus, their level of involvement in certain academic and extracurricular activities, and how much their undergraduate institution had contributed to their development in 21 areas. Only the responses from former students who indicated they were American citizens were examined in the Duke researchers' analysis.

Over all, 67 percent of the respondents from the 1985 cohort reported having some or substantial interaction with classmates from overseas, while 75 percent from the Class of 1995 and 79 percent from the Class of 2000 said they did.

The researchers—David Jamieson-Drake, director of institutional research at Duke, and Jiali Luo, an assistant director of institutional research at the university—found that students who had substantial engagement with peers from abroad reported significantly higher levels of skills development in a variety of areas.

While some of those skills, such as speaking a foreign language or relating well to people from different racial, national, or religious backgrounds, would seem a natural result of greater cross-cultural exposure, other areas might be less expected. For instance, the analysis found that understanding the role of science and technology in society and synthesizing and integrating ideas and information both positively correlated with international interaction.

Alumni who had high levels of international engagement while in college were also more likely than their peers to question their own, and society's, beliefs.

Participating in cultural or ethnic clubs, having contact with faculty members out of the classroom, or taking courses outside the major were strong predictors of greater international interaction, the study found. By contrast, membership in a fraternity or sorority had a negative association with international engagement.

The researchers acknowledge that there are limits to the study: It relies on alumni's self-reported improvement in skills development, not on more-objective measures of student learning such as standardized-test scores, and experiences during the years since graduation could have affected the respondents' retrospective perceptions of their college education.

Mr. Jamieson-Drake is also quick to say that the study does not prove causation but rather that there is a "correlation with, a strong association with" international engagement and the development of certain skills. "It's a strongly contributing factor."

In recent years, American colleges have begun to enroll more international students, particularly at the undergraduate level, in part with the goal of providing domestic students with more diverse and cross-cultural experiences. But, as Mr. Luo and Mr. Jamieson-Drake note, there have been few empirical studies of the extent to which international students contribute to the cultural and intellectual life on American campuses from the perspective of domestic students.

Not only do their findings suggest there are real benefits, but they indicate there are actions colleges can take to foster international interaction, such as creating more interdisciplinary courses, urging faculty members to engage more with undergraduates, and encouraging students to expand their social networks beyond culturally homogenous groups, like fraternities and sororities.

"Institutions," Mr. Luo said, "can build bridges."


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