Looking at bright side of transitioning to virtual formats

Over the past year, converting traditional on-site courses to virtual classrooms has been more of need than convenience. Closed borders and enforced lockdowns have left international education with little other choice than engaging in virtual activities and speeding up the implementation of new digital tools – even when on-site classes seemed to be the choice of preference. In this process of adapting and responding, we find it important to focus on positive experiences and ‘small wins’.

In August 2020, in the wake of the pandemic, the UCPH International Summer programme decided to convert the IARU Course ‘Privacy challenged in past, present and future: a multi-disciplinary approach’ to an online course. Reflecting on the challenges of adapting the course to an online format, course director Mette Birkedal Bruun, Professor of Church History and Director of the Centre for Privacy Studies at UCPH, explains: “It’s important to identify the strengths and advantages of the respective formats. To dwell on all the things that actually (may) work well.”

More student interaction and non-hierarchical classroom

Professor Bruun highlights the use of Padlet, Zoom breakout rooms as well as plain screen sharing as beneficial features for the learning experience.

Zoom breakout rooms and Padlet are useful tools for setting clear expectations and processes for the students, making room for better student interaction and engagement, Professor Bruun says.

The virtual setting also allows using the students’ location to unfold specific topics. One of the topics of the IARU Course was ‘Architectural framing of private space’. Professor Bruun explains how this topic was effectively elucidated by asking students to show their particular physical surroundings and by inviting them to reflect on their respective architectural settings. This is a good example of integrating students’ own background and circumstances in the learning process – in a way that would not be possible in the physical classroom.

Connecting local and international students

In International Education, the tendency amongst local and international students to keep to themselves is a well-known challenge. In this respect, the virtual format might also prove to be valuable. According to Professor Bruun, breakout rooms proved useful in connecting international students with local students – while also encouraging meaningful interactions between them. ‘Intro-rooms’ with students sharing screens, on the other hand, were useful for the more spontaneous interactions.

The virtual routine demands resources

While the virtual classroom is no substitute for the physical exchange experience, the ‘small wins’ – from meaningful interactions between local and international students to the incorporation of students’ own surroundings in the class – are valuable intercultural experiences. Nonetheless, just as with the physical exchange experience, adopting digital initiatives is an exacting process that requires time and resources.

By Alexandra Osorio Brito and Sara Dinesen

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