An Increasingly Diverse South

Bar chart showing increasing diversity of the Southern U.S. population as represented by the mix of ethnicities among residents in age groups: under 15 years old (most diverse) to 75 years old and older (least diverse)

Source: Chart from p. 5 of “State of the South: Recovering Our Courage — Executive Summary,” published 2018 by MDC at MDC calculation of 2016 data using Economic Modeling Specialists International (Q1.2017).

Attending the Transformative Learning Conference as a First-Time Attendee

Written by Therese Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, UCO College of Business ISOM – 

As a first-year Assistant Professor at UCO, I received a wonderful opportunity to attend the 2018 Transformative Learning Conference in Oklahoma City.  In exchange for volunteering one day of the conference I was able to attend one day with the registration fee waived.  I worked at the registration desk for the first day on Thursday.  I believe that I enjoyed that as much as I did attending the conference on Friday!  I met wonderful people who volunteer their time to make sure that the conference runs smoothly.  I was able to meet and visit with many other attendees at times registration was not slammed with those picking up name tags and programs.  It was a great experience.

Word Cloud with words describing 2018 Transformative Learning Conference

On Friday, I attended sessions.  I especially enjoyed Peter Felton’s Plenary Session “Partnering with Students for Transformative Learning” and his afternoon workshop “Viewing Transformative Learning through the Lens of SoTL.” (  As a new professor, the ideas of Transformative Learning and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning are all new to me and I find them enlightening.  I was able to take this opportunity to learn more about them and to focus on how I would be able to use these concepts in my own growth and the growth of my students.

The workshop that was held by Peter Felton was particularly helpful in working out a problem that I experienced just the evening before in a class.  In technology classes I tend to demonstrate concepts while discussing them and encourage students to work along with me.  During this particular class, it was apparent that the majority of students were not working along with me and were not really paying attention but were probably working on the assignment that was due later that evening.  Because of the nature of the class I cannot really restrict computer usage during this time.  I really do want them to work on the computer on the examples that I am demonstrating.  At the end of class when I asked if there were any other questions and I received several that were exact duplicates of questions that had been asked (and answered) at the beginning of and during class, I became very frustrated.

When Peter Felton encouraged us to use our classroom experiences to develop a research idea I was eager to zone in on this problem.  My original question of “Why don’t students pay attention when I’m discussing and demonstrating technical issues?” went through several iterations until, with the help of others at my workshop table, it became “In your opinion, what is the best use of your time during the class period?”  While I attempted to make it a research problem; it became a simple question to ask my class.  I created an anonymous online poll that asked this with multiple-choice responses of “Working examples along with the professor”, “Working examples on my own”, “Working on assignments”, “Working with other students on group projects” and “Something Else”.  Sixty-two percent of the class chose “Working on Assignments.”  Based on responses to this one question, I have begun to make some changes to how this particular class is organized.  I am in the process of ‘flipping’ the classroom so that students will review the material before the class period and come with questions.  I spend a few minutes discussing questions and then giving them assignments they can begin to work in class.  It is too early to tell if this will be successful, but at least the students were involved in the decision and will have some ownership of the results!

I also attended a roundtable session “Interdisciplinary SoTL Scholar Research” which was very informative and furthered my interest in planning a research project in this field.  Marty Ludlum, Linda Harris, Sam Ladwig and Jill Lambeth from UCO were all very sharing with how they developed their projects and some of the insights they were able to publish as a result.

Another valuable roundtable session was “Transformative Learning Across Business Disciplines” led by Marty Ludlum and Randy Ice of the UCO College of Business.  I enjoyed hearing how they were implementing other disciplines into the study of another.  I would really like to have the opportunity to have more exposure to transformative learning trends in business areas.

The day ended with short poster presentations of various projects including many that involved students in the research.

I considered both of the days that I attended the Transformative Learning Conference as a valuable use of my time and I hope that I will have the opportunity to attend one or both days next year!

(The word cloud above was created at and used the words from the 2018 TLC program.)

Daring Greatly through Peer Communion

Written By Steven Dunn, M.A., Office of Research Integrity and Compliance; and Psychology – 

Daring Greatly Book CoverWith a background in psychology, I was aware of Dr. Brené Brown’s work and had a strong curiosity towards her book, Daring Greatly. Reading the text alone offers any reader a communal exchange between zirself and the voice of the author in the narrative. By participating in CETTL’s faculty book club, I was offered the opportunity to read and discuss this book with approximately eight regularly attending faculty and staff members. Outside of merely reading the book and exchanging ideas with peers, I was charged with leading the group.

Adding this additional responsibility to my participation was a compelling way to absorb material with higher retention. Isn’t this what we tell students, “Study as if you will be teaching others the material?” This is the same concept all educators should use in approaching the effort of teaching; however, teaching peers felt different. These are individuals with the same as or better skills at deciphering material and finding application of said material. I would say that this move transcends teaching or leading in the traditional sense, becoming more of a communion of material with others. The group I was to lead could not have been a better group with whom to feel this communion of information. Most of the group participated with a willingness to exemplify Dr. Brown’s words through their experiences, which added multiple layers of understanding of the material revealing several instances of growth for myself and most of the group.

…shame anchors students and faculty from moving along in the stream of living, learning, and growing

The book covers several components of what the author identifies as daring greatly but the central point that resonated in the group was the notion of shame and how shame anchors students and faculty from moving along in the stream of living, learning, and growing. It was fascinating to see faculty come to terms with elements of shame that they deal with, which instantly connected them with the students in their course. This felt connection led to a few group members developing insights on possibly understanding struggling or at-risk students better, as well as generating novel ways by which these students could be better encouraged to engage in class. This encouragement was applied both through class assignments as well as updates to the educator’s classroom environment. Learning with my peers seemed first nature as we discussed the several how’s and why’s about feeling brave and empowered. Riding such positive feelings is exactly why it is important to have this communion with peers, because life isn’t a field of daisies (this analogy is supposed to represent that life isn’t easy – if you are reading this and suffer from extreme allergies, my apologies).

The most important component of this communion was that working with peers presented a grounding to realism. I would say that this is most important because we as educators walk into very different atmospheres of discipline, making certain changes easy or not possible. It was in the struggle of communal application that real and honest considerations of application could be seen and understood in a concrete way. Being peers, the effort of communion in dipping into the material for usability generated a more realistic and considerate use of the material and growth, with advancement as an educator.

Brown, C. B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, N.Y.: Gotham.

Starting the Intellectual Engine Online

Writen by Tracy Fairless, M.A., Director of Learning Design, Center for eLearning and Connected Environments –
“Students should be made to grapple with the material and receive authentic practice in thinking like an expert,” said Carl Wieman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In The Chronicle of Higher Education (2012) article entitled “Harvard Conference Seeks to Jolt University Teaching”, Wieman addressed the need for applying new approaches to teaching and learning. There is no mistaking the importance of covering concepts and theories in core undergraduate courses. However, emerging research calls to question the traditional teaching practice of lectures and standard forms of assessment and seeks to challenge professors to place emphasis on questions rather than answers.

How do we move our classrooms from a torrent of content and obscured answers to one driven by critical thinking?  Perhaps even more challenging, how do we develop eLearning classrooms that challenge thinking and give rise to transformative learning experiences?

The learner experience in the college classroom [intellectual engine] is not far removed from that of the driving experience of a well-designed automobile. There are individuals that prefer to drive only when necessity calls and they have limited knowledge of the automobile and how it functions.  It is simply a mode of transportation. There are those that may enjoy the driving experience but never question the mechanics of the automobile and take for granted the engine will start with the turn of the key.  Then, there are the auto enthusiasts that want to know every detail of the engine and how it can be tweaked to improve performance. The enthusiasts ask questions, seek more information, and compare and contrast to shape their driving experience. Interestingly, the enthusiasts will experience driving in a much richer and memorable way. They are likely to share their knowledge with others and may find their path is altered by the driving experience.

Coming back to learning, how do we start the intellectual engines in students? How do we encourage learner enthusiasts? Perhaps one essential part requires the use of logical questions that incite reflection, reasoning, analysis, and lead the learner to identify connections and draw conclusions.  Online threaded discussions, blogs, vlogs, and other tools can be used as a tool [medium] for interactions, however, the tool is not the driver of the experience. In fact, the tool has little impact and can easily be substituted for one of many alternatives. Regardless of discipline, teaching students to be the author of questions that prompt critical thinking places the student in the driver’s seat. When used in conjunction with the professor’s expertise [transfer of knowledge], teaching through creative questioning can lead students to move beyond the exposure to new concepts while exploring complex ideas, issues, and problems. Students that are led to create their own questions, to reflect, and to judge underlying assumptions are provided the opportunity to develop problem-solving skills and a more personal connection with the subject. The learning experience can include exposure to information previously unknown or blind to the learner.  Such personal recognition lends itself to deeper integration with the potential for a transformative experience.


The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching, and Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2018, from

Berrett, D. (2015, February 5). Harvard Conference Seeks to Jolt University Teaching. Retrieved February 1, 2018, from

Launching Heroic Journeys of Transformation for Our Students and Ourselves

Wesch_YouTubeScreenshot10.12.2007You’ve heard of Michael Wesch. (Here’s a YouTube reminder from a decade ago; Wesch, 2007.) In an intensely reflective keynote presentation in the spring of 2017, he examined what he and Ken Bain (2004) both call “big questions.” Bain discusses the big questions a college class might help students answer that relate to the larger issues of the class. In Wesch’s keynote, his self-reflection on the big questions in his life leads to empathy made explicit for the student experience.

Wesch’s journey of self-discovery leads him to appreciate the full human experience, and in his 2017 keynote and the follow-up discussion afterward, he says we faculty must figure out how to help students through a time of transformation. His advice for the first step is realizing that when we teach, we shouldn’t just be teaching content, just be teaching skills. We should also work to help students through a major life transition on their own heroic journeys, whether they are 18 or 55 years old.

Faculty, too, are on heroic journeys of self-discovery, of connecting and re-connecting to the important and the sublime, of searching for ways to help students learn. The result for both faculty and students can be transformation.

The art of asking yourself questions is something to cultivate on your heroic journey as a college professor, and it is also a shortcut to helping your students experience transformative discoveries. Please take the time to click here, then here.

The first link is to Professor of biology at Penn State, Chris Uhl‘s, assignment to students early in his 400-person Environmental Science class. The assignment is a powerful process for launching each student’s heroic journey of transformation by leveraging the power of asking questions of self and others.

The second link will take you to a co-authored piece by Uhl and one of his students (Uhl & Lankenau, n.d.) about their transformations as teacher and student. In it, Uhl describes his own disorienting dilemmas as a faculty member. The first dilemma occurred when he was shaken by Parker Palmer’s observation (1997) that we teach who we are, and the second dilemma was triggered when he believed he had been an outstanding teacher for a class during the term, only to realize the true impact of his teaching in the eyes of his students (when he could even see their eyes, as most avoided eye contact when handing in the final exam).

Michael Wesch and Chris Uhl are college faculty who have done the deeply personal and transformative work of wrestling with disorienting dilemmas as teachers to come out on the other side with a new relationship to self and students. In the process they have become far better at building environments, assignments, and activities meant to launch heroic journeys that lead to their students’ transformations.

If Wesch and/or Uhl spark your curiosity about big questions and heroic journeys as routes to student transformation, here’s a suggestion: Create your own personal Learning Manifesto (Uhl, n.d.).

Then launch your own heroic journey.



Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Palmer, P. (1997). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Uhl, C. (n.d.) The power of questions. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from

Uhl, C., & Lankenau, G. (n.d.) BiSci3 as a hero’s journey. Retrieved February 6, 2018, from

Wesch, M. (2017, April). Gen Z Goes to College, and a 40-year-old Anthropologist Tags Along. Keynote address, Kurogo Conference, Orlando, FL. Retrieved February 5, 2018, from

Wesch, M. (2007, October 12). A Vision of Students Today. Retrieved February 5, 2018, from


Company Culture and Employability

Source: Hora, M. T., Benbow, R. J., & Oleson, A. K. (2018, January). Beyond the skills gap: Preparing college students for life and work. AAC&U Annual Conference, Washington D.C.

Source: Hora, M. T., Benbow, R. J., & Oleson, A. K. (2018, January). Beyond the skills gap: Preparing college students for life and work. AAC&U Annual Conference, Washington D.C.

Co-authors also refer readers to: Rivera, L. A. (2012). The case of elite professional service firms. American Sociological Review, 77(6), 999-1022.

Transforming Digital Forensic Science Education with Service Learning

Written by Mark R. McCoy, Ed.D., Professor, Forensic Science Institute –

The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (2011) defines service learning as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service learning represents a potentially powerful form of pedagogy because it provides a means of linking the academic with the practical. There is growing evidence that having students apply theoretical material learned in the traditional classroom in a “real world” setting has a positive effect on student learning and interest in the subject matter (Astin et. al., 2000). Service learning projects also benefit the community by providing new perspectives into the work of universities and strengthening community relationships with faculty and students.

This article will provide examples of incorporating service learning into digital forensics course curricula. Service learning projects completed by University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) Forensic Science Institute students that integrate forensic science discipline knowledge with practical applications in the community emphasize the efficacy of service learning as a tool for transformative education.

The Oklahoma Tornado Victim Project

During the afternoon of May 24, 2011, several large tornados touched down in Oklahoma killing at least ten people and leaving a path of damage fifty miles long. Following the devastating tornados, the community pulled together to help tornado victims with their immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter. While those needs were the most urgent and critical following the storms; tornado victims began to take stock of what else they may have lost. Many had computers and other digital devices that stored precious memories in the form of digital pictures and videos that were damaged by the high winds and rain. Others lost important business and personal documents that were stored in digital format. Recovery of this information requires specialized assistance and could cost hundreds of dollars. Digital Forensics students, using the knowledge and skills they learned in class and the same high-tech equipment used to solve crimes, were able to recover gigabytes of treasured memories and important documents for tornado victims. This service learning project provided a rich learning experience for students allowing them to apply discipline knowledge to a real world problem, and it integrated meaningful community service while strengthening ties with the community.

UCO student restores digital memories as part of service project for Oklahoma community hit by tornado

Electronic Recycling and Data Destruction

Digital Forensic students examined hard drives for CDR Global Inc. an information technology asset disposition and asset recovery services company. The hard drives are recycled by CDR Global for companies and individuals that are disposing of their old computer hardware.  As part of CDR Global’s certification process, they must have the hard drives forensically audited to ensure that no private data remains on the hard drives after being run through their own wiping process. Students perform the examinations as part of their digital forensics class and instruction on validation and verification of forensic tools. The digital forensics students used the tools and techniques learned in class to examine the selected hard drives. This forensic audit process uses multiple methods to exam data at the lowest level to ensure all the data has been removed. Digital forensics students were again able to use discipline knowledge in a practical application that served a need in the community.

Service learning at the Forensic Science Institute offers a transformative learning experience to students by developing “beyond-disciplinary skills,” broadening students’ perspectives in relation to themselves and their community, integrating meaningful community service, and placing students at the “center of their own active and reflective learning experience” (CETTL, 2015). These projects are tied to UCO’s Service Learning & Civic Engagement tenet. Service learning integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Students’ reflections demonstrate beneficial growth from linking the academic with the practical. These ventures also benefit the community by providing new perspectives into the work of the university and by strengthening relationships with faculty and students (McCoy & Porterfield, 2016).


Astin, A.W., Vogelgesan, L.J., Ikeda, E.K. & Yee, J.A. (2000). How Service Learning Affects Students. Higher Education Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles.

Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning (CETTL): The University of Central Oklahoma. (2015). Transformative Learning. Retrieved from

McCoy, M.R. & Porterfield, C. (2016). Service Learning in Forensic Science: A Tool for Transformative Education. Transformative Learning Conference, April 1, 2016. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (2011). Retrieved from:

Modeling The “Openness” of Learning Environments

Article written by Bucky J. Dodd, Ph.D., Center for eLearning and Connected Environments-

Openness and Learning Environments

Technology constantly gives us new and exciting ways of enhancing learning experiences. Early digital technologies focused on opening new delivery channels. We continue to see digital learning technologies transform the way we connect and learn from other people. In many ways, we have seen learning environments shift from information focus to socially focused platforms.

With this continuous advancement of learning technologies, an important dimension of learning environments is becoming more prevalent: openness.

The term “open” in education tends to focus on open educational resources, or licensing that allows people to use, adapt, and share learning resources. This type of openness is critical to solving many of the issues we face in education.

In this post, I expand on this concept a bit to define openness as the types of broader dynamics that are present with a learning environment. I’ll borrow concepts from systems thinking to describe how interactions happen in learning environments as being part of an open or close system. Finally, I offer two comparison models of learning environments and highlight the advantages of open learning environments.

Why Openness Matters

For the most part, education has historically operated in closed systems. A closed system is one that has limited inputs, outputs, and feedback loops. For example, a college course is often taught in a classroom setting using many of the same techniques, methods, and resources that have “proven” to be successful in the past. Yet, through what measures are we determining success? Are these measures internally driven or drawn from outside of the learning “system”?

On a surface level, open learning environments increase access, affordability, learner success, sustainability, and scale. These are all important issues facing our education systems today.

Even more important, openness of learning environments allows the learning process to be more visible and inviting of critique and new ideas. This allows ideas to merge and develop by valuing diversity of thinking. These types of dynamic interactions can only occur in open learning systems (environments).

Comparing Two Learning Environments

The following video compares two learning environments that embody varying degrees of openness.

You can view the “closed” learning environment here.

Model of Closed Learning Environment

This blueprint shows a traditional “closed” learning environment which lacks external inputs and experiences for the learner. You’ll notice on the following profile, there is an emphasis on information and interaction from the facilitator.

Profile of a traditional closed learning environment with no external inputs

In contrast, you can view the “open” learning environment here.

 Model of Open Learning Environment

This learning environment model shows much more diversity and variety of external inputs that shape the learning experience. This is shown in the profile below which is more balanced in terms of information, dialogue and feedback. There is also a greater emphasis from the learners’ interactions.

 Profile of Open Learning Environment With Multiple External Inputs

Implications for Learning

The change from designing closed to open learning environments is one that is not easy for many educators and learning professionals. The goals of information control, accuracy, and efficiency are all strong forces that reduce the openness of learning environments.

When designing learning environments, there are important reasons to keep some parts of learning environments closed such as where privacy and security are required.

That being said, there are also many opportunities where learning experiences can benefit from more open learning environments. Allowing ideas to be shared, contradicted, and critiqued are all important benefits of open learning environments.

Furthermore, open learning environments can leverage other open learning environments to create a type of learning network, or ecosystem. In this regards, the diversity of the environment has both learning and scaling benefits.

Leaders and designers of learning environments should start by assessing the openness of the learning environments they create or are a part of. [pullquote]Next, determining appropriate ways of creating more open systems can facilitate transformative learning experiences.[/pullquote]

Concluding Thoughts

The openness of learning environments will continue to fundamentally shape how we view the future of learning. With a growing emphasis towards interoperability of technologies and information, the interoperability of learning experiences will also present many different challenges and opportunities for designers of learning environments. Finding appropriate ways of creating more open learning systems/environments will only spark innovation and facilitate new and creative ways of helping people learn.

Bildung and TL – hmmm

Article by Ed Cunliff, Ph.D., Adult and Higher Education –

I confess that I bought the book titled, Transformative Learning Meets Bildung (Laros, Fuhr, & Taylor, 2017), because I wanted to be supportive of a friend, colleague, and advisory board member for the Journal of Transformative Learning. Annika Lehmann and her colleague Thomas Neubauer had written a chapter entitled “Bildung as Transformation of Self-World-Relations.” I couldn’t read that chapter without first reading “Bildung: An Introduction,” and then I wanted to see what the connection was between Transformative Learning (TL) and systems thinking, and then how parent training in Italy connected to TL in another chapter… etc., etc., and so forth, until I had finished the book, including Annika’s chapter.

Image of book cover for "Transformative Learning Meets Bidung"

Most people with an interest in TL would be likely to identify Jack Mezirow and the US as founding father and flourishing home turf; but TL certainly is an internationally-recognized construct, and is the source for rich practice and research discussions. Transformative Learning Meets Bildung (Laros, et al, 2017) is an excellent example of the European interest in TL and is well worth the read/study for a variety of reasons. Much like listening to news from the BBC provides an alternative to US focused news, so this book offers a uniquely European view.

The opening of the book is an attempt to conceptually link TL to the concept of Bildung. While the argument is made that there is no literal translation of the word Bildung, the following helps: “It refers to processes of interpretation, understanding, or appropriation of knowledge that transforms the learner’s personality.” (Laros, et al, 2017, p. ix). Conceptually it dates back 200 years, and is similar to what we might think of in the US as “liberal education”. A distinction the editors make between TL and Bildung is that Bildung is considered a life-long process, applicable across age groups while TL is usually spoken of in relationship to adult education.

Depending upon one’s introduction to TL, it is possible to see it only as an individual, developmental process, or perhaps solely from a societal perspective. Here you will find multiple perspectives, though the book still leans more towards the individual rather than the societal perspective. One of the more individual oriented chapters is Libby Tisdell’s (one of the very few US authors in the book), describing her TL experience as she travelled the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Strongly grounded in the theoretical framework, she describes her own journey and learnings from walking this nearly 500-mile pilgrimage. The self-reflection and mindfulness experience may be imagined through her statement,

“I returned home from Santiago de Compostela on August 14, 2012, and worked on integrating the experience, which even now, 18 months later continues to be ongoing. In short, I felt in many ways transformed by my Camino experience: I had indeed walked my way into a new way of being… (9p. 347).”

Having visited northern Spain many years ago, I can see the green and gray hills and the points where land touches the ocean. My feet, however, refuse to imagine the distance.

The type of critical self-reflection that Tisdell describes is characteristic of TL, and is addressed in other chapters in the book as well. Referencing Annika Lehmann and Thomas Neubauer’s contribution, they bring self-reflection as part of the process of connecting self to the external world. TL can, at times, get embedded within the introspective or psychological process. Their argument is that TL can draw from the concept of Bildung to a more holistic view and connect the individual through self-reflection into a relational process, the individual within the environment; “… that self and world are not two entities of different and incompatible categories. … Self and world then are to be conceptualized as two entities being (living) in the same system of logic” (p. 58). While as educators it may appear easier to focus on TL solely as individual transformation or from the view of social change, the connections made by these authors is worthy of, dare we suggest, some critical reflection. Are we not living “in the same system of logic?”

In another thought-provoking chapter titled “A Re-Imagination of the Transition to Adulthood,” Amanda Benjamin and Sarah Crymble suggest “… the process of building adult identities for young people incorporates perspective transformation” (p. 247). Often educators make significant distinction between working with youth and working with adults. The authors challenge the idea that TL is solely for adults or that there is a simple distinction between adults and youth. If you have ever wondered when you became an “official” adult or what it means to be an adult, then you may appreciate this excerpt: “It is our position that there is no stable category of adulthood, and, therefore, it is far too limiting to presume that young people are simply unable to undergo transformative learning based upon the fact that they have yet to meet various arbitrary criteria (p. 249).” Our system of education, both in the US and in Europe, supports a distinction between teaching youth and teaching adults. Benjamin and Crymble challenge the limitations of that perspective, using Bildung as a contrasting model to TL, and provide some research-based findings to further the discussion.

It can be challenging at times to understand TL and Bildung from a theoretical perspective – what exactly are the distinctions and of what significance are they? They are similar and yet different. Both are living models and offer educators and learners opportunities for engagement intellectually and in being. This book offers an opportunity to get multiple perspectives on both theories. Reflect on!


Laros, A., Fuhr, T., and Taylor, E., (Eds.). (2017).

“See the World, Serve the World” – Transformative Learning and Short-Term Study Abroad

Written by Jarrett Jobe, PhD, Executive Director, Leadership Central — 

One of the positive impacts of globalization over the past 25 years has been the tremendous growth of international study abroad programs and experiences in higher education. During this time, colleges and universities have expanded their international study opportunities to students, which include multi-disciplinary academic programs at new global destinations not previously offered to students.  These programs have also expanded their learning outcomes from focusing solely on global/cultural competencies to service learning, leadership, and business/entrepreneurship. Students return from these experiences with new perspectives and an understanding of a diverse world, a deeper appreciation of varied cultural practices and beliefs, and expanded knowledge of their place in their own communities. NAFSA finds that study abroad and its impacts on students are significant in the following learning outcomes: improved grades, retention, graduation rates, language learning, intercultural understanding, enlightened nationalism, and employability.[1] NAFSA recommends more research on the topic, but emerging evidence is clear on the benefits of these experiences for students’ growth and development. Yet these results have focused primarily on long term (6 months or more) international experiences and there is a growing number of higher education experiences that fit into the short-term (less than a month) description. The small amount of research that has been conducted has been positive, reporting results consistent with longer programs, but also continues to call for additional research.[2]

Students on a study tour with UCO

Short-term programs have been developed to solve two primary challenges related to international education. The first is the cost of semester or yearlong programs. Many students have neither the ability to save the amount of money necessary nor the option to take on additional student loans for these longer programs. The second challenge is separation anxiety from peers and family. Students are cautious about missing key events at home and their ability to navigate a foreign country/community for extended periods of time.[3] Short term programs can help to mitigate these two concerns for students wishing to participate. .

UCO’s Leadership Central, in partnership with the Leadership Minor and Academic Affairs, developed short-term programs that combined global/cultural emphasis with leadership and service learning in 2013. Leadership Central recently completed the 8th Global Service and Leadership Study Tour totaling 80 student participants in these programs.  Destinations for these programs included Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, South Africa, Costa Rica, and Uganda; they focused primarily on affordable housing, literacy, and sustainability. As these programs were developed, attention to the unique assessment challenges of short-term study abroad was needed to determine evidence of transformative learning and student growth.

UCO’s Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) and assessment rubrics provide solutions to these challenges and have supported the creation of consistent, intentional, and thoughtful learning outcomes for short-term international experiences at UCO. The STLR framework, based on AAC&U value rubrics and developed by 20 faculty across campus, provide the foundation to effectively develop course specific learning outcomes that can be integrated into these short-term international courses. These rubrics help to provide three key components to our assessment process:

  1. Consistent set of values to guide assessment. Terminology and language that is shared across multiple disciplines and higher education.
  2. Tiered system to measure a student’s progress after the experience. The exposure, integration, and transformation levels fit well into assessing a student’s growth through an international experience. This is particularly effective across the three topics we include: service learning, leadership and global/cultural competencies.
  3. Learning outcomes that guide course development and material.

Through the implementation of the STLR rubrics and assessment model in our short-term study tours, we have started to develop “best practices” to support quality assessment and course development across any discipline or destination. The practices include the following:

  • Pre- and Post-Test – Capturing students self-reported progress through a pre- and post-test survey is vital to measuring their perception of growth and development. Education research has encouraged this type of assessment for many experiences and should be required for international experiences as well. The development of such an instrument can also help to support intentional learning outcomes that support course development and progress.
  • Multiple methods of reflection – Developing diverse methods of reflection allows for students to process and communicate their experiences in a more dynamic approach. Written, group and individual discussions support multiple opportunities for students to effectively process their interactions and learning.
  • Observations – Distinguishing student actions is critical to recognizing change in attitude and behavior. International experiences typically have fewer students so direct observation is easier to engage and can provide strong validation to a student’s reflections post course. Recorded notes of a student’s attitude and behavior during these short-term programs can prove invaluable in determining their transformation and growth.

The STLR rubrics combined with these best practices  supports a robust and effective assessment process of the Global Service and Leadership Study Tours. STLR was formally introduced on our campus in Fall of 2015 so there are limited results, but early research  supports the value of short-term experiences. Quantitative data is currently limited, but as more students participate in future experiences, research can include more statistical analysis. Qualitative data, to include written reflections, group and individual interviews  presents valuable results. Three examples are included here:

  1. “The first day we struggled to connect with the students as there was a clear language barrier. It was difficult to work with the curriculum and goals of the program. After the first night I challenged our group to learn 50 words of the local language and the change was night and day. Students responded well, listened, and completed the worksheets and activities with no problem. The day before, it was a struggle just to get them to sit down. Building this connection, no matter how small, made our efforts more successful.”
  2. “We learned about the health effects of affordable, quality housing in class but seeing the family, particularly the two children as they prepared to move into a new home, brought everything full circle. Access to housing has economic benefits, I knew that, but recognizing the other impacts it can have on health and positive family outcomes made me realize how important this access is.”
  3. “This experience has changed my life. I now understand privilege, not just economic privilege, but how the location of where I was born has determined a significant amount of my success and opportunity. I need to help to create this opportunity for others.”



[2] See Carley, Susan and Tudor, R. Keith “Assessing the Impact of Short-Term Study Abroad” (2006). Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective: Vol. 1: No. 2, Article 5. Available at: and Kurt, Mark et al. “Assessing Global Awareness Over a Short-Term Study Abroad Sequence: A Factor Analysis” (2013). Frontier: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad: Vol. XXIII, p. 22-41.

[3] See Walker, Jessica, “Student Perception of Barriers to Study Abroad” (2015). HIM 1990-2015. 1890.