Learning Outcomes of an International Program in Cuba that Offers Undergraduates Opportunities in Authentic Research in Environmental Policy
McLaughlin, J. and Esparza, D. (2018). Learning Outcomes of an International Program in Cuba that Offers Undergraduates Opportunities in Authentic Research in Environmental Policy. 5th European Congress of Conservation Biology. doi: 10.17011/conference/eccb2018/107354
© the Authors, 2018
Short-term study abroad experiences are the most common type of undergraduate study abroad programs in the United States. Despite their prevalence, very few pedagogical frameworks exist that assist faculty in developing and implementing such educational programs. Moreover, and to the best of our knowledge, little empirical research exists on students’ learning outcomes following their participation in a short-term study abroad experience with an integrated, authentic research praxis. To address these potential gaps in the literature, two pedagogical frameworks were used to structure an international embedded program in Cuba which allowed students to engage in authentic research experiences topically centered in international environmental policy. While in field, students were able to explore and investigate the biodiversity of Cuban terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, initiate conversations focused on environmental policy and sustainability with local experts and faculty, and work on methods to confront prominent environmental and sustainability issues that afflict this developing nation and the world at large. Following their field work, students worked to synthesize and analyze all collected field information and data while furthing their research through extensive pimary literature and policy review. at their home institution. Two frameworks were used to shape this course and implement a Course-based Undergraduate Experience (CURE): a three-step ‘field course experiential learning model’ for short-term study abroad programs, and a simple and flexible four-step pedagogical framework that guides an instructor through the process of designing and implementing a CURE. To quantify students’ learning outcomes, we conducted an analysis of the content and delivery of students’ research findings through their dissemination of a research poster presentation. This was completed using an internally designed rubric to assess students’ intercultural awareness, cultural competence, and global knowledge resulting from their authentic research experiences in Cuba. Furthermore, the rubric also assessed overall comprehension of the complex concepts associated with environmental policy, sustainability, socio-cultural barriers, and of their research projects. In addition, we conducted semi-structured interviews with students a posteriori to obtain a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of students’ affective shifts in the domain of research and environmental policy following their participation in the CURE/short-term study abroad experience. Lastly, descriptive interpretive analysis of student artifacts (i.e., students’ journals and assignments originating from their time in the course) were coded for converging themes. Preliminary quantitative and qualitative analyses of student artifacts and feedback indicate that students benefited in their understanding of international environmental policy, with an emphasis on the broader relevance of their research and an overall expansion of knowledge and affect in the domain. Student’s semi-structured interview responses coupled with the analysis of their poster presentation indicate that students possess a newfound and explicit awareness of intercultural and socio-political and environmental factors resulting from the experiences students underwent during the CURE. Altogether, these analyses have shown that participation in this short-term study abroad experience/CURE has mediated an overall improvement in students’ research and presentation skills whilst furthering their understanding of the field of conservation biology and informing their future actions as researchers and environmentally-conscious citizens. ...
PublisherOpen Science Centre, University of Jyväskylä
ConferenceECCB2018: 5th European Congress of Conservation Biology. 12th - 15th of June 2018, Jyväskylä, Finland
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- ECCB 2018