A Worldwide Web of Virtual Learning
Like countless students who had plans to study abroad this spring, a dozen students enrolled in Kirkwood Community College’s six-credit Rome program found themselves unable to travel to Italy as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak spread.
“They should still be in Rome right now,” Dawn Wood, MA, the Iowa college’s dean of global learning, said in late May. Instead, students participated in virtual museum tours and completed the program’s learning experiences and assignments at home.
“We canceled the travel portion, but we didn’t cancel the academic portion,” Wood says.
Even before the pandemic forced virtually all U.S. institutions and many of their global counterparts to shutter campuses and shift to online learning, virtual experiences had become a vital part of international education.
From virtual exchange programs targeted at the large number of students without the time or financial means to study abroad to virtual advising and orientation for inbound and outbound students, many institutions have adopted online tools and models as part of a continuum of experiences that support the internationalization mission.
“We’ve been trying to push all the options. Now we’re limited to the only option,” says Wood. “That’s an opportunity to refine [virtual learning] and give faculty more tools to use it in their classrooms.”
At a time when higher education faces questions about its relevance and campuses weigh the risks of reopening, virtual international experiences are seen as a way to maintain student engagement. However, creating effective virtual programs requires careful planning and revisiting the overall goals of international