Curriculum and Itinerary: Together or Separate?

I am noticing a trend in our work with faculty-led programs: as the number of faculty-led programs increases across the country, requests for what we refer to as “off-the-shelf” programs is also increasing. More frequently, faculty and education abroad offices are asking our input in the design of the academic portion of their programs. They say, for example, we want to study engineering/art history/marketing abroad. What do you have to offer?  What contacts can you suggest? Can you put together a program on this subject?

Perhaps it’s our (Seminars’) history of developing customized programs that gives rise to our reluctance to say “yes” to such requests. We have worked almost exclusively over the past 45+ years putting together programs for faculty based on what they want to teach and what they want their students to see, do, and learn. And we have found that relationship–where, generally, the professor develops their specific academic goals and expectations while Seminars generally provides the logistical and travel support on site–has worked well.

But, is the landscape of faculty-led programs changing? Are faculty and education abroad offices looking to providers for academic guidance more often than in the past?  Are faculty relinquishing ownership of the curriculum in education abroad courses?

Actually, I think they’re not relinquishing control so much as not realizing how connected the travel and on-site logistics are with the learning goals of their syllabus. At Seminars we think of the traditional syllabus and the itinerary combining to make a whole course. They are two interwoven parts of one whole. Ideally, they work together to be mutually supportive. (Or they can antagonize each other.) Which is what makes it essential to consider the itinerary at the same time as you design the syllabus.

For example, I worked with a course on global justice in India some years ago. We were able to secure a discounted rate at a 5-star hotel in one location (for various reasons) and presented it to the faculty as an option. They initially were delighted to know they could stay at a luxurious hotel for a reasonable cost. However, once we also presented the academic implications of such a choice, the delight became problematized.  What message will you send your students as they observe and reflect on justice, poverty, inequality, and the caste system in India–if you’re sleeping in a luxury hotel at night?  Is it the message you want to send?  Is it the experience you want them to have?  A 5-star hotel may well fit in to such a course, but one must first be aware of the impact logistics will have on your academic goals.

Which comes back to the increase in requests to design itineraries for faculty without first understanding their academic expectations and learning goals for their students. I don’t believe you can put together travel and logistics without first understanding how the student experience on site is meant to fit with what the faculty will be teaching.

Is this a trend you are seeing on your campus or other campuses? If so, how do you think about planning for faculty-led programs?


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