In a large international project, Ulrika Persson-Fischier and Philipp Baur have tested methods to get the same dynamics and collaboration in virtual classrooms as face-to-face. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.2021-02-12
Pathways to better virtual classrooms
Educational methods for better virtual classrooms have been studied and developed in a large international project. Experiences from the project have now been documented to share its findings with more lecturers.
Virtual classrooms are, of course, of great and immediate interest during this pandemic. However, they are also an important approach to use for travel-free internationalisation. Students in Europe and Latin America worked on shared tasks remotely in the course Developing Entrepreneurial Solutions in Innovative Global Networks as part of the LISTO project.
The ambition was not only to have shared lectures but also to have the students from the different countries work together on shared tasks using only digital collaboration tools and without meeting in person.
“This is so incredibly on topic right now. We studied how to achieve the same dynamics in a virtual classroom as would normally only exist in a physical classroom,” says Ulrika Persson-Fischier, a teacher in the course and lecturer at the Department of Civil and Industrial Engineering. “For example, we divided the students into groups, and each group was asked to present a slogan and a logo for their group at the first class. That encouraged the students to create a sense of belonging and trust in each other. All students need to feel that they can contribute and have the confidence to do so.”
More than streaming
The course focused on developing a multicultural capacity for innovation linked to sustainable development. The students collected data in their local realities, compiled the data and looked for solutions together.
“So this is not any kind of filmed or streamed lecture. The idea is for the students to work together and build empathy and understanding for other contexts and other cultures,” says Philipp Baur, project coordinator at the Division for Internationalisation. “This is exactly what is needed for sustainable development. Based on local conditions, looking for solutions together that may be either local or more generally applicable.”
Internationalisation is an important concept in the university world. However, there are inherent problems. For example, the conflict between simultaneously working for sustainable development in the university’s activities or the fact that students are unable to travel for various reasons.
“Using this method, any course can have an international angle. The students learn to understand what reality looks like on the other side of the world and gain skills in how to manage differences, which are important soft skills,” says Ulrika Persson-Fischier.
Education, not technology
Both Ulrika Persson-Fischier and Philipp Baur stress that this is about education, not technology.
“Unless the lecturers have talked through the fundamental educational idea, no technology is going to be helpful. It is important to understand each other as lecturers and the educational building blocks we use. Pre-course planning takes a great deal of time. Once the course is in progress, there is not the same flexibility as in a physical classroom,” says Ulrika Persson-Fischier.
One obvious challenge is finding time for the lecturers to get to know each other.
“This type of project, with funds allocated for development work, is fantastic of course. I would really urge everyone who can to take part in a similar project, preferably in collaboration with the Division for Internationalisation, which has a great deal of experience. And both the course and my experiences make my work as a lecturer easier,” says Ulrika Persson-Fischier.
Model for the Enlight project
“This way of structuring courses will be especially important in view of the new Enlight project, in which Uppsala University will start exploring the opportunities for creating a European university along with eight other universities,” says Philipp Baur.
Facts about LISTO
LISTO is a project financed via Erasmus+. The goal of the project capacity building, with a focus on university-industry relations, entrepreneurial skills in education and university strategies for innovation.
Ten universities, three from Europe and seven from Latin America, are involved in the project. The project is being coordinated by Uppsala University.
AIMday in Latin America
The LISTO project also used the AIMday collaboration model, which was developed at Uppsala University.
“AIMday was developed for a Swedish context, but it is relatively neutral and we have found that it also works really well even for large universities in Latin America with which we collaborated in this project,” says Philipp Baur.
- IVC Handbook, with experiences of the International Virtual Classroom
- AIMday book, with experiences of arranging AIMday in Latin America
- LISTO Toolkit, with experiences of becoming an entrepreneurial university.