IIE Networker - Fall 2006 - (Page 51)

Knowledge Network Research An Education Abroad GPS: By Glenn Cerosaletti The Importance of Data Collection Jon Krakauer’s popular 1997 book Into the Wild recounts the true story of Christopher McCandless’ tragic death in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. McCandless, an honors graduate of Emory University and an experienced traveler, undertook a bold experiment in selfreliance when he ventured into the wilderness near Denali National Park, intending to live off the land. Although he was in well-charted territory, McCandless insisted on leaving the map behind, along with almost all of his worldly possessions. In defiant and futile pursuit of a wilderness experience, McCandless decided that if he couldn’t find uncharted territory, then he would simply discard the map, thereby creating his own terra incognita. Incredibly, he almost survived—almost. Like McCandless, professionals in education abroad are in (increasingly) charted territory. Years of well-orchestrated data collection have produced a reliable map (IIE’s Open Doors) that charts the rapid growth of the field. Yet, perhaps because our individual job descriptions so rarely prioritize research, there is a tendency toward the sort of willful ignorance that McCandless displayed. We are usually too busy dealing with the latest student emergency to have time to read and synthesize the available data. When the demand does arise for comparative data from the field, all too often it is a “dean-ly” emergency that must be answered in a matter or days or even hours, thus precluding any systematic or well-reasoned analysis. Unlike Christopher McCandless, though, education abroad professionals are not only obliged to take the map with us and read it, but we also share responsibility for mapping the continuously changing topography of our field. many students from our universities were studying abroad? What if we had no idea how our participation rates compared to those of other institutions of the same Carnegie classification? What if we didn’t really know how many U.S. citizens were matriculating for degrees at overseas universities? What if we really had to navigate without a map of our field? In fact, in spite of advances in data collection, management, and analysis, some of these data remain elusive. Pre-computer international educators were not statistically oblivious, of course; they simply had to work harder to plot and compile the fundamental waypoints that our current technology can tabulate automatically. Perhaps they were better for it: they had to invest more time and effort to track students, and as a result, they came away with a more intimate knowledge of study abroad enrollments. In contrast, today we have the capability to extract and manipulate large volumes of data about our burgeoning enrollments with relatively minimal effort. We can, and we do sometimes somewhat. I’m reminded of an observation by Robert J. Foster, an anthropologist at my institution, whose research has focused on a major U.S. distributor of soft drinks. Such modern corporations are able to gather vast data warehouses about customer preferences and behavior through techniques such as credit card transaction analysis, shopper’s club memberships, website usage data, and so on. When you consider how much of our daily lives are conducted electronically, you begin to realize the mind-boggling quantity of information that can be recorded and collected. However, Foster’s research revealed that, in fact, most of this data went unused. It remained available for future analysis, perhaps, but the obvious conclusion is that we have the potential to collect more data than we know what to do with. The Open Doors Report The great advantage that we have in U.S. education abroad is also our greatest challenge: no one has a monopoly on the data and research in the field. We are fortunate to have IIE to serve as a clearinghouse and to provide infrastructure for our essential data collection efforts. The Open Doors report includes key analyses, such as leading destinations, fields of study, student profiles, internships and work abroad, and participation rates. These data provide the lay of the land for the field, and the Open Doors report should be required reading for all professionals, regardless of how long they have worked in the field. The report is available online (http:// opendoors.iienetwork.org), and the website includes additional data tables that are not published in the printed version. For example, the website features a series of charts that show study abroad enrollments of various durations, categorized by Carnegie type. Clearly, this is not your father’s data analysis: it contains a level of granularity and sophistication that were not possible in our field a generation ago. These are the result not only of technological advances, but of the diligent efforts of IIE and our education abroad leadership. NAFSA’s Education Abroad Data Collection Subcommittee grew out of an initiative founded in the late 1990s under the leadership of Kathleen Sideli, of Indiana University. The subcommittee continues Data Collection and Knowledge For those of us who have come to the field within the last 15 years, it is hard to imagine what it might be like without personal computers—indeed, what it was like before these information-age tools came into being. What if we didn’t know how http://opendoors.iienetwork.org http://opendoors.iienetwork.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IIE Networker - Fall 2006

IIE Networker - Fall 2006
Message from Allan E. Goodman
Up Front: The International Education Diary
Leading the Way Toward True Global Engagement: A Challenge to American Colleges and Universities
The Lincoln Commission and the Future of Study Abroad
Destination India: Opportunities and Challenges for Expanding Study Abroad in a Nontraditional Location
Heritage-Seeking and Study Abroad: A Case Study
State Department Resources
Short-Term Programming
Community College
GLBT Issues
Branch Campus
Central and Eastern Europe
Freshmen Study Abroad
The Browser: Index of Advertisers

IIE Networker - Fall 2006