Virtual engagement in learning is vital for global higher education, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While higher education institutions weather the challenges of the pandemic, universities have also undertaken innovative programs of international education and have been highly engaged in virtual global classrooms with agility. In an effort to feature intercultural immersion and the development of global citizenship, universities as drivers of innovation enlarge opportunities for transformative online learning and reframe partnerships beyond campus.
Virtual programming with interdisciplinary encounters
To engage in multidisciplinary collaborations and deliver SDGs-led impact, institutions of higher education worldwide generate online programs with global partners. These collaborative ventures highlight SDGs-oriented curriculum and nurture the mindset of entrepreneurship. For example, National Taiwan University (NTU) has launched short-term online programs such as Understanding of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through Food and Culture highlighting the incorporation of SDGs into local cultures. In partnership with the Kyung Hee University of South Korea, NTU Plus Academy develops an innovative SDGs-aligned curriculum to feature interdisciplinarity including life science, ecology, and evolutionary biology, humanities in medicine, and geography. In addition, the virtual tour about Taiwan was delivered to gain an understanding of culture and society. Meanwhile, students from different universities are allowed to enhance cross-border exchanges through social media.
According to a report released by World Economic Forum, students need to develop 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration in order to tackle complex challenges. While faculty members deliver interdisciplinary online teaching, it is essential to address pedagogical innovation for preparing students how to navigate the complex world in addition to bolstering capabilities of idea generation, problem-solving, and networking. To equip domestic and international students with intercultural competence and requisite knowledge, NTU Plus Academy has organized an online Global Vision Workshop entitled “Pandemic and Change” in collaboration with university partners in the Asia Pacific. Through academic partnerships, the virtual platform enables students to consider the impact of the pandemic at political, social, and economic levels.
Collaborative online learning beyond borders
What approaches could universities employ to grow adaptability and integrate online technology into the internationalization of distance education? Through galvanizing online resources from numerous universities within The Association of East Asian Research Universities, NTU has launched the Global Learning Initiatives Program aimed at the delivery of theme-based courses. The virtual networked collaborations not only address student-driven learning but also build an environment of dynamic digitalization. With International Study Group Projects, the Center for Teaching and Learning Development of NTU has fostered virtual collaborations with university partners including Kyoto University, Kyushu Institute of Technology, University of Tsukuba and Kobe University. Hundreds of international and domestic students participate in the programs to enhance intercultural capability and digital fluency through adopting technology in education. In terms of the joint endeavors with partners, NTU implements the project to build the capacity of teaching and learning in the transnational setting and hosts international project week where final presentations of group pairing are delivered with the format of video. The program facilitates student engagement in international academic exchange through semester-long online discussions and highlights collaborative problem-solving.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly transformed the landscape of higher education beyond national boundaries, a wide range of learning models are emerging, and in particular online learning is becoming paramount among higher education institutions. During the pandemic, NTU navigates the challenge of preparing students for the technology of learning as well as the facilitation of online education and virtual exchanges. Institutions of higher education are required to plan for sustainable education and enrich students’ transformative learning experience with virtual internationalization in higher education, aiming to cultivate students as active learners.
Community outreach to harness inclusivity
How could online learning provide participants with engaging experiences beyond the campus in order to embrace inclusivity, diversity, and equity? To what extent would multiple stakeholders of education including the government, universities, and K-12 schools team up to play the important role of technology and develop networked learning? Over the past years, the Program of International Companions for Learning funded by the Ministry of Education of Taiwan has been organized in order to materialize internationalization at home. Thousands of international and domestic students of NTU participate in the program to engage in cultural exchange and immersive learning with K-12 school children across Taiwan. The program of blended learning underscores weekly Skype sessions for one semester in addition to school trips. Additionally, official certificates issued by both Ministry of Education of Taiwan and NTU would be delivered to international students in order to recognize their contribution upon completion of weekly joint reports and final survey. Meanwhile, students are allowed to obtain credits through participation in the program. With the establishment of the International Companions for Learning Student Association, support services could be provided to participating students within the community of online learning regardless of age, nationality, religion and ethnicity. To innovate online learning and put global education at the fingertips of children, the program not only benefits international and local students but also equips children with collaboration and communication skills, particularly for those in disadvantaged areas.
To what extent would institutions of higher education reap the benefits of undertaking digital programs while grappling with the pandemic? While the world-famous platforms of distance education have significantly drawn millions of learners, the networks of partnerships could empower the virtualization on and off-campus. Emerging innovative practices of virtual learning could unlock opportunities despite geographical distance. As changemakers, institutions of higher education are instrumental in shaping the future landscape of online learning with devotion to collaborating with multiple stakeholders.
World Economic Forum. (2016). Ten 21st-century skills every student needs.
Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/21st-century-skills-future-jobs-students/