Before COVID-19, and even as we face the challenges of Omicron around the world, there has been much discussion about what an international education should be for interested students and how it aligns with institutional priorities.
In our series of articles last year, we considered the basic institutional models of global universities and networks.
What does a semester or year abroad mean from the undergraduate student’s view? How is the abroad experience different and valuable compared to the experience during the rest of a student’s education?
Imagine if Susie, a third-year student majoring in political economics at Arizona State University, were interested in a semester in Salamanca. She could enrol directly in the University of Salamanca or her institution might have established a programme in the city.
Pablo, from Queen’s University, Belfast, wants to study global economics in an immersive way. He needs a programme that will provide academic credit and help prepare him for a career in diplomacy.
How can these disparate institutions serve their students and help them succeed in their educational pursuits in a way that prepares them for their next endeavour? How about a semester online that brings them together as they study their key subjects at the highest level of intellectual challenge while being at a new location immersed in the local community?
To make the experience even more valuable, there might be a capstone project whereby Susie and Pablo decide to work together, bringing knowledge from their current locations, their shared course and their ‘home’ institutions.
In current programmes, while students have enjoyed travelling to other institutions, there has often been an academic compromise required in the process or even the need for a student to step away from their academic area while abroad because course quality is inconsistent across institutions or course offerings do not align with the student’s requirements for their course of study.
Taking the cross-cultural experience that is the best of what has traditionally been delivered from a semester abroad, we can now conceptualise what is wanted in a new environment where universities leverage existing networks.
In particular, we have learned during the virtual semesters of COVID that one institution can convene or host partnering institutions and develop a robust curriculum available from anywhere in the world.
Virtual curriculum delivery can drive a new paradigm in education that provides the dual opportunity of a curated curriculum with an immersive in-country experience such as Pablo and Susie are looking for. So, as we look to 2030, what will make international education a rich and accessible experience?
The purpose of study abroad
First, we have to focus on the purpose of a semester abroad. It goes beyond academics, especially from the student perspective. Seeing another country and the opportunity to travel are often a primary focus.
These immersive experiences that enrich societies around the world also serve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially when they are broadly available.
Just as important, as we have learned in the recent past, we have to consider the safety of programmes.
According to Patrick Morgan, chief international safety officer at the University of Michigan: “Many winter term programmes have been approved to accept students; students just have to prepare better. In collaboration with our international education partners, we [have] created a unique process to guide them and make their experience abroad safer and more successful.”
In other words, a semester or other short-term programme can and should:
• Provide a rich academic experience;
• Be sustainable during uncertain times;
• Provide a robust, high-quality and safe in-country student experience;
• Allow for a short-term internship if consistent with students’ interests;
• Offer opportunities for students to bring their international perspectives to their coursework;
• Encourage students to bring knowledge back to their home country;
• Be accessible to most students regardless of resources and continue the trend towards an increase in underrepresented students participating in study abroad programmes, given new models continue to provide greater access; and
• Allow a student to maintain the time frame needed for graduation. It was observed by Brookings that students with access to an online curriculum are more likely to graduate and in less time.
After conceptualising the ideal international experience, do institutions, faculty and curriculum design specialists need to go back to Square One and start afresh? The answer is to build on the latest technology and follow a new paradigm in curriculum delivery: Curate-Flip-Facilitate (C-F-F).
C-F-F consists of faculty designing a course as a curator of content (lectures) on each topic available across platforms from around the world from the best lecturers. Students could watch the curated content (flipped classroom), some delivered by their own professor and then the faculty could facilitate discussion among the students. Delivery could be virtual or in-person.
Academic benefits from the C-F-F model include:
• Professors develop original content on their areas of expertise and leverage the highest quality content from around the world as part of the curriculum;
• An enhanced curriculum is ‘more international’ and inclusive. For example, a professor in France accesses material from the United States. Social work students learn from case studies and research from leaders in the field from other countries;
• Various facilitation models (in person, online or hybrid) enable reach to a global student body, with video networking platforms extending the conversation to a 24/7, ‘on demand’ environment;
• Professors or instructors have more time available to focus on facilitation, the international student experience and their own research;
• More interactive class sessions allow students to become more engaged with the topic and with classmates; and
• Students have the opportunity to join instructors as co-facilitators of discussions, leading to a deep, cross-cultural learning experience.
Courses offered through the C-F-F model for a semester online can offer experiential benefits to a student wanting a more inclusive experience and-or more flexibility for integrating work, internships or other extracurriculars in the schedule. Decoupling academic delivery from the student-life experience is also more flexible and sustainable in uncertain times. For example:
• Students become part of a new community from around the world in the shared learning environment;
• Hosting institutions can design an immersive student-life experience through extracurricular programmes, work and professional development;
• Students can participate in a semester online from anywhere, allowing for immersion in extracurricular activities or work;
• Students can invite online classmates into other aspects of campus life, such as cross-institutional efforts or competitions;
• The educational experience is more meaningful because the classroom is more inclusive, with lectures and student participation from around the world. The COIL programme, designed somewhat like this concept, provides the first proof of concept of the value of collaborative education as seen during the COVID pandemic; and
• Undergraduates will be exposed to a diversity of academic areas and various professions.
The strength of a new paradigm
Embracing a C-F-F model provides an opportunity for any institution to participate in a programme that grows their brand across the international education marketplace and benefits their students.
An institution can choose to lead in curriculum development, participate with partners and host students from other universities and encourage students to have an international experience as part of their programme.
This collaborative design also helps affiliated faculty gain global recognition for their ‘expert content’. In any case, having established, peer-reviewed courses provides quality assurance for the curriculum and its academic integrity that has been curated by their own experts and can be reviewed at any time.
Looking to the future means thinking about a global market for education that is accessible and collaborative, and provided by leveraging technology to serve students like Susie and Pablo.
The semester online – or C-F-F model – is a new paradigm in education because it benefits students, the institution and faculty. Being flexible in delivery with a strong curriculum, C-F-F can be used within any programme or campus experience that wants to call on a different mode of content creation as well as bring in international participation for a semester or year.
Kathy Edersheim and Gretchen Dobson are co-authors of this series on the curate-flip-facilitate model for virtual and international education. Edersheim is president of Impactrics, an organisation of experts in international alumni relations, community development and leadership training that provides consulting to universities and membership organisations. Dobson is a global engagement strategist, author and academic with 28 years’ experience across six continents.