Facilitating digital mobility in international exchange programs

How can educational institutions adapt to the increasing difficulty of international travel? We’ve taken a deep dive, and looked into how a group of institutions used innovation to combat the issue.

By Marcus Stensland

Over the last year, no human being on the planet has been left unaffected by the global pandemic. Whether economic, social, or health-wise, everyone has had their daily routines drastically changed. The educational sector is no exception, and during the past year, they had to think in innovative ways to keep the state of education as normal as possible. Nord University Business School in Bodø have tested methods that battle the issue of internationalization and exchange programs during the pandemic.

How can innovation solve the exchange issue? 

Sandra Wiik, a consultant at Nord University Business School, found an innovative way to help students who were not able to go abroad one semester last year.

“It all started with the annual internationalization conference ‘EAIE’ being cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, they chose to do it digitally with different speakers and writers sharing their thoughts. Windesheim University of Applied Sciences launched the idea of hosting a virtual exchange program during the autumn semester of 2020, and I immediately sent them an email to show our interest in the project”.

Sandra Wiik, consultant, Nord University

Following great interest from multiple universities across Europe, Windesheim decided to go through with the idea of a virtual exchange program.

In essence, the virtual exchange program looked like this: 

  • The participants were split into 4 people groups across universities and countries.
  • Every participant created an avatar, and all met in a virtual space called “Virbela”.
  • Virbela was used to meet other participants, host lectures, and have team meetings.
  • Each team was assigned to play the business game ‘The Blue Connection’ by Inchange.
  • Over the course of 7 weeks, the teams had to manage a fictional bike factory and make their economy as circular as possible.
(Screenshot, Virbela, youtube.com)

New horizons for landlocked students

Henrik Holm Tvinnereim, from Nord University Business School, had the chance to participate in the virtual exchange last semester.

“I got an email from the business school saying they wanted students to do trial runs for the virtual exchange program. I immediately thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know students from other countries, so I applied right away”.

Henrik Holm Tvinnereim, International Marketing student, Nord university

Henrik was one of 50 students who participated and thinks that the socialization aspect of such an exchange program is more important than the educational.

“Personally, I wasn’t that hung up on what type of business or entrepreneurial skills we were going to learn, but rather, the possibility to further develop and strengthen my linguistic skills. I also learned a lot about circular economy, but the networking benefits were even more valuable to me”.

Henrik Holm Tvinnereim, International Marketing student, Nord university

Tvinnereim was teamed up with students from England, Germany and Poland. The program in total included students from Nord University, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, University of Lincoln, Technische Hochschule Ostwestfalen-Lippe, and Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences.

The potential of a virtual exchange

Although just a trial run, Wiik believes that this format of international exchange can be highly advantageous in the future.

“A big part of why we believe in the potential of this form of exchange, is the opening of new doors. Not all students get the opportunity to travel abroad for a whole semester, for example due to having a family or studying a degree that doesn’t fit the traditional exchange format. With the digital mobility that this exchange program can open the door for virtual exchange for a lot of students”.

Sandra Wiik, consultant, Nord University

The virtual exchange program was hosted by Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. Nord University Business School was one of 6 participating universities. Engage was not involved in this particular program, but are always interested in showcasing innovative methods to educate, especially on digital platforms. This article is meant for showcasing the innovative method used to perform an international exchange program, but Engage did not contribute to it. To read more about how Engage contributes to innovative education, see our “Educators” section at engage-centre.no