As a high-impact pedagogical practice, short-term study abroad is frequently utilized in social work education as an internationalization strategy to build students’ global competence. However, its impact is not clearly understood.Examination of study abroad’s impact is particularly timely given collective discussions across higher education of when, and in what form, such initiatives will resume in a post-COVID-19 educational landscape. The purpose of this systematic review was to synthesize and map evidence on outcomes of short-term study abroad for undergraduate and graduate students using Hunter’s Model of Global Competence as the analytic frame.
Following PRISMA and PRISMA-S guidelines (Moher et al, 2009; Rethlefsen et al., 2019), we searched peer-reviewed articles published after Jan.1, 2002, yielding 2,890 articles. Two reviewers independently screened for inclusion criteria: (a) faculty-led, (b) credit-bearing undergraduate/graduate level course, (c) short-term, and (d) assessed a global competence-related outcome, resulting in 446 articles. Two reviewers then conducted full text reviews using consensus processes, and extracted and coded the data. A matrix framework modeled on Evidence Gap Map methodology (Snilstveit et al., 2016) was used to synthesize and visually depict the findings.
Studies (n=93) were published between 2004 and 2020, and sample sizes ranged from 4 to 651 including undergraduate students (49.5%), graduate (11.8%), or both (31.2%; 7.5% not reported). Of the 217 total global competence outcomes reported, global competence knowledge was assessed most frequently (41.5% of all outcomes), followed by attitudes(37.3%) and skills (21.2%). The majority of global competence outcomes (89.4%) were coded as having a positive direction of effect.
Across knowledge outcomes, strong evidence was observed for “knowledge of other cultures” and “globalization knowledge,” with weakest support for “knowledge of world history” and “knowledge of one’s own culture.” Underutilization of students’ creative works for assessment represented a methodological gap. The most consistent empirical support among attitudinal outcomes of STSA was observed for “non-universal worldview” and “openness to new experiences” with comparatively little support for “willingness to take risks.” Overall, the weakest evidence was among skills outcomes, demonstrating only modest support for improved “ability to collaborate across cultures,” no studies assessing “cross-cultural assessment” skills, and homogenous assessment approaches.
Conclusion and Implications
Systematic review results support use of faculty-led STSA to enhance social work students’ global competence. Evidence Gap Map (EGM) findings provide direction for instructors to address evidence gaps by incorporating learning activities and assessments related to students’ understanding of world history and their own cultures (knowledge), their willingness to take cultural risks (attitudes), and students’ cross-cultural assessment capabilities (skills). Further, EGM results suggest that instructors should consider using non-traditional assessment approaches to evaluate changes in students’ attitudes and skills, including instructor observation and student creative works such as blog posts and photo narratives. By incorporating these findings in developing and leading STSA programs, social work educators can both enhance students’ global competence and support the application of social work learning goals in a global context.