Research Proposal for LIS 588 – Research Design in LIS (Spring, 2014)
Phoning Home: An Analysis of the Use of Video Chat by International Students
According to the 2013 Open Doors Report, the 2012-2013 academic year saw a record enrollment of 819,644 international students in U.S. institutions of higher education. Of those students, 9,804 are documented as having attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the second highest number at a single U.S. institution. With these students comes a desire to stay in contact with family abroad. While domestic students, particularly in-state domestic students, are often able to visit family for vacations, due to financial pressures, time and distance, and sometimes visa considerations, many international students do not leave the United States until they have graduated. In addition to being far from family and friends, international students are living in a country that may be very different from their own, speaking a language that may be different from their own, and with cultural norms and values that may be different from their own. This makes technologies for staying in contact with family even more important to them.
International communication technologies have been increasing in both number and speed. While in the past students were restricted to air mail and the occasional expensive overseas telephone call, essentially cost-free region-free technologies such as email and instant messaging have appeared over the past two decades, leading up to the current additional offerings of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and high resolution video chatting. With these communication technologies students are able to contact their families at any time, night or day and either receive an immediate response, or one within 24 hours. For many of these same technologies the immediate response becomes a real-time two way dialogue between people on opposite sides of the Earth that does not carry the prohibitive fees of earlier international calling plans. This ease of communication has made it much easier to remain directly connected with home support groups, and reduced the need for students to become involved in the place where they are currently studying just to have social interaction.
Relatively little research has been done into this area of study. I have found research on student engagement using non-video chat social media (Saw, Abbot, Donaghey, and McDonald, 2013) and the use of video chat technology to improve internationalization within the classroom (Jones, Dean, and Hui-Chan, 2010). A 2009 column in Communications of the ACM acknowledges the use of social media and technologies such as Skype to keep international students in contact with family (Greengard, 2009), but does not go into any detail. The most relevant research that I have found to date appears to have been presented at the 2013 American Educational Research Association annual meeting. Neete Saha and Aryn C. Karpinski presented a paper entitled “The Impact of Social Media on International Students’ Satisfaction With Life and Academic Performance” in which they reported results of their research, finding that “90 percent of the 415 international students surveyed said they were active on Facebook, and 85.4 percent said they used the voice-over-IP service Skype as the main way to contact friends and family” (Strausheim, 2014). Unfortunately, this research has not yet been published or made publically available. This research overlaps with some of my interests, but seems to focus on the use of social media to mitigate stress due to cultural clashes rather than on the communication technologies themselves, leaving the door open for additional study in this area.
My interest in this area rises from several origin points. I spent my third through tenth grade years living overseas away, accompanying my parents to multiple foreign countries. I was able to continue my education in English and stay with my immediate family, but I have first-hand experience living and studying in a country different than my home country. I also have considerable second-hand experience with international student communication with home. My college freshman roommate was from the Philippines and during the 2000-2001 academic year she made use of the newly emerging ability to contact her family using instant messaging services and MSN Messenger’s rudimentary video chat program. I am now a ConvoPartner with the Intensive English Institute and have talked to my ConvoPartners about how they use Skype to talk to their families back in their home country. Some have been single, some have been here with partners and children, but all have wanted to talk to family and be able to see them when they’ve been apart a long time. The significance of Skype and other video chat programs for both mental health is already being studied, but few studies appear to be in process on how video chat impacts students’ engagement with their host countries and host institutions and how that impacts their non-academic experience in the United States.
 Open Doors is an international student enrollment report issued each November by the Institute of International Education and supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.