Redesigning Education Abroad at MSU

A screenshot of MSU Office of Education Abroad website.
By Jeff Grabill, Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Technology and Chris Long, Dean, College of Arts and Letters

In late June, Provost June Youatt and Dean Steve Hanson requested that we co-chair a university-wide committee to articulate a vision for education abroad at Michigan State University rooted in our 21st-century world-grant mission. Specifically, we were asked to assess the opportunities and challenges of expanding student participation in education abroad experiences, and to examine the current funding model and related institutional systems and practices. November was set as the deadline by which we will provide guidance to the Provost.

In accepting this assignment, we recognized an opportunity to put the MSU Learning Design Strategy (LDS) on which we have been working into practice. The LDS was created to empower the MSU community to make decisions about how we design learning experiences that are shaped by our values–quality, inclusivity, and connectivity. The calcified structure of a traditional university committee is limited in its capacity to cultivate habits associated with these values, so we have attempted instead to facilitate a design process.

Since transparency is required for both inclusivity and connectivity, and quality is fostered by self-reflection, we write today to provide an update on this process and to consider the opportunities it affords us as a community.

First, a bit of context about why we are having this conversation at MSU now. We were once the leading US institution in sending students abroad, but more recently, student participation in education abroad has not kept pace with the consistent annual increases in education abroad enrollment seen across the nation. Although there are many contributing factors to this gradual decline in rankings, we are taking the opportunity of this moment to ask a different set of questions. Rather than focusing on problems or on technical issues associated with operations, we are in the process of imagining the opportunities education abroad opens for our students at MSU.

The process we put in place is a design inquiry guided by a steering committee. The committee is currently composed of the following people:

  • Sekhar Chivukula (Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education)  
  • Melanie Jacobs (College of Law)
  • Steve Kautz (College of Social Science)
  • Karen Klomparens (Provost’s Office)
  • Deborah Moriarity (College of Music)
  • Phil Strong (Lyman Briggs College)
  • Lynn Paine (College of Education)
  • Sherry Henry (College of Business)
  • Sue Carter (College of Communication Arts and Sciences)
  • Rob Glew (International Studies and Programs and Education Abroad)

The role of the steering committee has been to frame the design process by providing a provisional vision to guide our work together. Based on the results of this process which itself will be informed by a broader group of voices, the steering committee will help author the report that we provide to the Provost in November.

So where are we right now with the process? Our design inquiry has now moved into a phase organized around four work groups. One looking at the student experience of education abroad, another looking at learning outcomes and assessment, a third at program models, and a final group examining financial models. Those working groups are led by steering committee members but are more inclusive of faculty, staff, and students around campus. Some of you reading this may have been asked to help. Others may be asked in the near future.

As we write this update, we are optimistic that we can help move MSU toward broadly accessible education abroad experiences that focus on student success, active learning, and innovative community engagement. To do this effectively, we’ll need the good will and best insights of those of you across the university committed to creating transformative education abroad experiences for our students.