Even before COVID19, the environmental impact of travel was a concern and some international educators sought to reduce our carbon footprint. Virtual Exchange fosters global awareness, relationship building, cross-cultural communication and understanding, all without ever boarding a plane.
Study abroad and mobility programs are increasingly facing challenges. The current COVID-19 pandemic has halted nearly all international travel, and is particularly true in the case of university-related travel. Visa and financial restrictions prevent many students from ever having the opportunity to study abroad. Policies and finances deter international student enrollments. Cost-cutting has also reduced average study abroad durations, limiting students’ exposure and diluting their cross-cultural gains.
Today’s technology makes teacher collaborations and student connections, team-building and group projects even easier through virtual platforms. If even some academic conferences are considering the shift to virtual presentations to reduce higher ed’s carbon footprint, why would study abroad remain unaltered?
COVID19 has created breathing room for planet earth. We can capitalize on that as we emerge from the pandemic shut-down. Let’s pay heed to De Wit and Altbach’s advice in their article “Time to Cut International Education’s Carbon Footprint.” They note that short-term mobility is particularly problematic for its high carbon emissions and prominence over longer-term study abroad programs. They suggest that “funding agencies and universities drastically restrict short-term study mobility (of eight weeks or less) to those forms of mobility that are climate neutral: using fewer flights and more trains or other less polluting transportation.”
Virtual exchange allows students to engage in four to twelve week international, team-based and project-based learning. They develop intercultural, technology and communication skills through a robust project that is carefully created and stewarded by faculty at the classroom level. Rather than participating in a one or two week study abroad that can sometimes offer limited intercultural development, a semester-long virtual exchange collaboration can lead to true interaction among students in different areas of the world.
Virtual exchange creates a more equitable and accessible form of international education for a greater student audience, all while reducing carbon emissions. Virtual exchange can be more accessible to a variety of students: The student who has a job and cannot afford to take off work to travel; the father or mother who cannot leave their children at home to travel; the international student who cannot access travel privileges, and more. Visa restrictions should not prevent a student from gaining a globally-minded educational experience. As De Witt states, "While mobility will remain a key aspect of internationalisation, much can be done to shift priorities to carbon-neutral forms of exchange that will, at the same time, widen the scope of internationalisation and make global learning for all possible."
In addition to creating more carbon-neutral study abroad programs, strengthening internationalization efforts at home campuses is a key step forward. Let us help you develop a virtual exchange project to drive your global learning goals forward and provide your students with the international education they want and deserve.
June 2, 2020
Written by @AlexaJeffress