Online Abroad: International Education in Brazil & Italy

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Instructional designer and instructor team share their innovative "Online Abroad" model to provide students who are unable to travel access to international activities on a traditional study abroad trip. Come see a live demo, review of evaluation research, and discuss how you might be able to internationalize your own curriculum.


Dr. Wendy Howard is the Program Director of the Pegasus Innovation Lab at the University of Central Florida, which is an incubator of experimental projects focused on digital learning innovations that can be developed and refined through rapid prototyping and then promoted throughout the university to maximize collective impact on student success at scale. With over twenty years of experience in both instructional design and teaching, her current research is focused on faculty development, collaborative online learning and internationalizing the curriculum through technology.

Additional Authors

Gino Perrotte is an award-winning instructor. He facilitates multiple courses including Public Speaking and Technical Presentation, Communication and Family, Intercultural Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Attitudes and Persuasion, and Nonverbal Communication. Perrotte’s research is focused on diversity-related studies, nonverbal communication and identity expression. He is a contributing textbook author for culture, diversity and professional dress. Perrotte is actively involved with campus initiatives such as the Faculty Diversity Think Tank, the Women’s and Gender Studies Advisory Board, and he is an Ally for LGBTQ+ students. Perrotte has an M.A. in Interpersonal Communication from the University of Central Florida and a B.S. in Business Management from Grove City College. He has participated in design-focused continuing education classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Gino has also studied Italian language, culture and cuisine. Perrotte values and promotes international and interdisciplinary education. He creates and leads innovative undergraduate study abroad programs where students travel to Italy to study the role of cultural patterns, verbal codes and nonverbal codes in the development of intercultural and interpersonal communication. In addition to his career at UCF, Perrotte has a diverse professional background in coaching, training and development. He continues to stay current with industry trends and the entrepreneurial world through his consulting work and human communication blog.

Extended Abstract


Employers continue to seek college graduates with global experience and intercultural competence, but the traditional study abroad approach is not always a feasible option for many college students (Fischer, 2015). Despite the many benefits of international education, there is an access issue due to financial and logistical constraints of traditional study abroad and only a small fraction of students enrolled in postsecondary education programs in the United States actually travel outside of the country for their studies (Berdan & Johannes, 2014). The Institute of International Education’s Generation Study (Berdan & Johannes, 2014) think tank challenges educators to “…find new ways to extend international opportunities to those who are not currently taking part” (p. 5). While members of this think tank may not have had technology solutions in mind when they made this statement, the spirit of their message was to find creative ways to increase access to international education.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF) approximately 1% of the student population participates in study abroad programs each year (UCF Office of International Studies, 2014). At the same time, more than 75% of the students took at least one online course (UCF Center for Distributed Learning, 2014), which suggests a culture of technology acceptance. This prompted the development of an Online Abroad model to provide students with access to international learning opportunities through web conferencing technology. Although technology cannot reproduce the same experience as traveling abroad, there is value in using web conferencing technology like Adobe Connect to provide students with access to the same opportunity to interact with international experts in the field as their counterparts who were able to travel.



Most traditional short-term study abroad courses provide students with an opportunity to tour local facilities or discipline-specific destinations and interact with local experts and locations in a foreign country. Web conferencing technology like Adobe Connect allows students back on campus to participate in tours and live discussions along with the students in the field.

By adding the cost of travel for one additional program leader to facilitate the online interaction, many more students can participate online in real time at a distance. They can see and hear the site visit with experts in the field and experience the locations through the use of a web cam and microphone controlled by the online facilitator. Additional communication channels allow online students to actively participate as well under the moderation of the online facilitator. If hardware and Internet speeds allow, they can interact with the group in the field through their own web cams and microphones. At the very least, the online participants also have the online chat functionality to interact with the facilitator or other participants without disrupting the formal presentation and to request an opportunity to address the whole group when appropriate. This communication model is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Venn diagram that shows group in the field intersection with online students and an online facilitator in the intersection

Figure 1. W. Howard’s illustration of the communication model (Howard, 2015).

(If the image does not display, please go to this link:



Through a series of iterative formative evaluation studies, the goal is to develop a viable, sustainable, technology-based solution using design-based research (Reeves, 2006). The output of each evaluation is used to modify the design and serve as input for the next formative evaluation study. As such, each formative evaluation results in a refined set of best practices as well as areas for improvement to be implemented and re-evaluated in the subsequent research cycles. Specifically, each evaluation is objectives-oriented (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2010) based on the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Quality Framework, which addresses the following Five Pillars of quality online programs: learning effectiveness, scale (cost effectiveness and institutional commitment), access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction (Online Learning Consortium, 2014). The following evaluation questions are used to address all five pillars in each formative evaluation:

  • Did the program accomplish what was intended?
    1. What is the difference in student engagement with experts in the field between students who travel abroad and those who participate via Web conferencing?
    2. What is the difference in student satisfaction with the overall experience between students who travel abroad and those who participate via Web conferencing?
    3. How were the experiences of the online and face-to-face groups similar and how were they different?
    4. What is the potential impact of this program for providing UCF students access to international learning opportunities?
  • Was the program implemented effectively?
    1. What were online participants’ reactions to the Web conferencing system used in this intervention?
    2. What was the impact of technology on the students’ ability to participate in remote instructional activities?
    3. How can this intervention be improved?
    4. What were the instructors’ perceptions about their teaching experience with this technology-mediated intervention?
    5. How does the cost of this intervention compare to previous technology-mediated attempts?

At this time the pilot study with a global health management study abroad course in Brazil was successfully completed and used to inform the current formative evaluation study of an intercultural communication study abroad course in Italy.



Based on the pilot study, Web conferencing technology appears to be a viable alternative that is not necessarily as immersive as traveling abroad, but it does provide its own set of benefits to higher education students. The initial formative evaluation revealed clear areas for improvement, including technical and procedural elements, but instructors and online participants did find value in the experience. Was it perfect? No. Was it successful? Yes. Was it encouraging? Definitely. Exploration of the evaluation questions under each of the five pillars of the OLC Quality Framework revealed both success factors and areas for improvement in each of the following categories: learning effectiveness, scale (commitment & cost), access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction. These results were noted and implemented in the second formative evaluation in Italy, which is currently under analysis. Specific findings from Brazil study and additional findings from Italy study will be reported in the conference presentation.



The presenters will provide two distinct perspectives: the instructional technologist/online facilitator viewpoint and the instructor’s perspective. After a brief live demonstration of the technology used in these studies, the audience will be invited to join a group discussion on how they might utilize the online abroad model to internationalize their own curriculum at their home institutions. Participants in this session will also be provided a list of resources, including the research data, to refer back to after the conference.



Berdan, S., & Johannes, W. (2014). What will it take to double study abroad? New York. Retrieved from

Fischer, K. (2015, May 29). A global education opens doors but leaves many shut out. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Boston. Retrieved from

Fitzpatrick, J. L., Sanders, J. R., & Worthen, B. R. (2010). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon Publishing.

Howard, W. (2015). A formative evaluation of a technology-mediated alternative to traditional study abroad. University of Central Florida.

Online Learning Consortium. (2014). The 5 Pillars. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from

Reeves, T. C. (2006). Design research from a technology perspective. In J. Van den Akker, K. Gravemeijer, S. McKenney, & N. Nieveen (Eds.), Educational design research (pp. 52–66). London: Routledge.

UCF Office of International Studies. (2014). University of Central Florida assessment. Assessment Archives. Retrieved March 16, 2015, from