What are study tours and what makes a great one?

Study tours are essentially a form of active based learning.  Rather than the classroom being your world, the world becomes your classroom.
Between Facebook distractions and ‘death by powerpoint’, the allure of classroom interaction with teachers – either ‘chalkin’ and talkin’ or via the whiteboard – just doesn’t hold for most students anymore.  Academic staff no doubt do mix things up a little – case study discussion, youtube clips, student presentations but classroom fatigue has definitely set in. Teachers would claim that attention spans are getting smaller while students counterclaim that teachers are becoming more verbose.  Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Whatever the case, it’s clear to most students that spending your entire degree in the classroom simply doesn’t cut it anymore.  Both undergraduate and postgraduate students alike are demanding a more real experience than what the classroom offers.  This is not to say that they don’t expect such experience to be couched in conceptual frameworks explained by their teachers just that they need to have the opportunity to combine such conceptual discussion with real world context.
china tours for students
So what are the 6 key things make a great and relevant study tour?  Consider these:

1. Linking the study tour to learning objectives

The better academics don’t simply ‘set and forget’ – setting assignments but then letting students meander through the new countryside.  Creating a clear structure for your program that includes specific expert and cultural visits that meet particular learning outcomes is critical.  For instance, if it is a group of engineers you are taking to a far away country and cross cultural HR management is a topic you are trying to convey, you might consider having a presenter present that country’s approach to project management.  You might follow this up with a break out discussion over breakfast the next morning.  Such an element might be included in the assignment the students are doing.  In short – everything links up.

2. Balancing contextual expert visits with cultural visits

Study tours usually err either on too much expert or too much culture/free time.  Striking a balance is important.  There is also the opportunity to combine the two and host an expert presentation in a particularly important part of the country.  Discussing the historic significance of the Great Wall of China in the Subway cafe located at the entrance to this national park might give the opportunity to discuss the cultural sensitivity of running such a retail establishment in such a culturally significant location.

3. Time for reflection/time for break-out

As most of these study tours are quite short (2-3 weeks) you really need to make every post a winner.  Notwithstanding the need to rest occasionally, do consider breakfast time (or immediately before); lunch time (the group are usually traveling together between expert/cultural visits most days); and on the coach/bus between cities or expert/cultural visits.  Don’t do it too much as you will tire the group out and do remember that postgrads are more used to such a relentless pace than undergrads.

4. Student participation

Ban the iPad/tablet.  Students say they are taking notes in meetings but most are checking facebook and emails and of those who are trying to take notes, many simply can’t keep up. Strange as it sounds in this digital age, make them writie it down.  You will be surprised how it focuses them – just encourage them not to lose their notes as there is simply no digitial back up 🙂
Have them prepare their questions before the visits but instruct them to be flexible enough to drop questions if they have already been answered. Instruct them to try and ask questions that occur to them based on the expert’s presentation.

5. Understand the needs of undergrad students are different to those of postgrads

Most postgrads have work/real world experience.  Most undergrads are under 21 years old.  It is a dichotomy.
Undergrads need concepts and models and then to have context explained via the models.  Post Grads have their own context and need to have the models introduced to them to help explain this context.  Undergrads: from abstract to concrete. Post Grads: from concrete to abstract.
Either way, such context is no doubt challenged by what they are seeing and hearing in the new country and the academic needs to act as moderator and facilitator around such discussion.

6. 2-3 weeks is enough

Most study tours don’t require more than two or three weeks.  You are in the classroom 168 hours a week when on tour.  Aside from sleeping, this leaves a lot of hours to learn.  Try to maximise these hours where possible – too many cities, for instance, means too much travel time and not enough learning time.  Also consider the academic’s energy levels.  Even if there is a team of 2 (or more) it is still a pretty tiring experience as availabilty to students is nearly 24/7.

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