In order for all students, regardless of their background, to be able to take part in international learning opportunities, the opportunities have to be inclusive and comprehensive. What does this mean and how can we enhance students’ equal opportunities to develop multicultural and global competences during their studies? To increase and improve inclusivity of internationalisation activities of students, diversifying international learning opportunities is a must, as this blog post explains. We will introduce two useful ways to do this, along with new ideas for professional development.
To increase inclusivity of internationalisation activities of students, diversifying international learning opportunities is a must.
Multicultural competence is one of the working life competencies that each degree programme must take into account in their curricula. It refers to a student’s ability to work in a multicultural professional community and customer environment, the ability to take into account the effects and opportunities of global developments and phenomena in the field and having necessary language skills. In addition, sustainable development goals related to one’s professional field are more or less international and global in nature and hence also linked to international and multicultural competencies.
Internationalisation is for all, or is it?
Semester-long student exchanges have traditionally been seen as the main way for students to develop their international competencies, but the world and the students are changing. In the past years, already prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAS sector in particular has witnessed a somewhat steady decline in the volume of semester-long student mobilities. Despite the numerous opportunities and travel grants available, not every student finds a long-term mobility period abroad a viable option. We can also see changes in the student body with an increasing number of adult students and students with children, making semester-long absence from home impractical.
Not every student finds a long-term mobility period abroad a viable option.
Furthermore, there has been discussion about inclusivity in internationalisation activities. Many studies are indicating that participation is, on the one hand, inherited, meaning that students coming from an academic background are more likely to take part in international opportunities. On the other hand, participation in international opportunities tends to accumulate so that students with international experiences are more likely to take part in these activities even more. Barriers preventing participation can vary from institutional factors, such as insufficient funding and lack of information about opportunities, to environmental obstacles, such as low income and society not valuing international experiences. They can also be attitudinal, viewing international activities as something for others, not for everyone, and certainly not for me. (Siekkinen, 2013; Siltala, 2013; Alliens, Gabriels, 2021).
Co-creating an international classroom through virtual exchanges
Virtual exchange is a form of internationalisation at home. It is a way to internationalise the curriculum and offer teachers and students an opportunity to interact and collaborate online with peers from partner institutions abroad. It also provides a good way to introduce a different language, such as English, into the students’ professional vocabulary. Virtual exchanges can make internationalisation more equal and inclusive for all students, as international learning can now be built and experienced in one’s own classroom without travelling.
Virtual exchange can be an instrument for providing highly relevant international and intercultural learning experiences to students.
One should, however, understand the distinction between different forms of “international learning on-line”, and when mere online lecturing transforms into a multicultural learning experience for students and teachers involved. Through co-creation with colleagues from partner universities, virtual exchange can be “an instrument for providing highly relevant international and intercultural learning experiences to students, but it also allows these experiences to be integrated in the curriculum through bottom-up implementation”, as Sake Jager from the University of Groningen points out.
In order to take the leap from a virtual lecture to a virtual exchange, collaborative teaching and learning should be put in the centre of activities. COIL, short for Collaborative Online International Learning, is a good model to use. Metropolia staff have been offered training on how to develop COIL opportunities for students into already existing courses and modules through the U!REKA network since 2021, and a new set of training sessions are planned for spring 2024.
One can start to integrate virtual exchange and COIL into one’s classroom by taking small steps at a time. How about beginning with a short, collaborative segment in an existing course module? There are no set minimums or maximums of what it should be, it can be one assignment or one theme. Start small and build from there. Two basic principles are as follows:
- students work online under the direction of teacher/-s, together with students and teacher/-s from a partner institution, and
- the project is planned and taught in collaboration with teacher/-s from the partner institution.
At its best, the teachers have a community to design, plan and execute teaching and the end result provides students with an opportunity to interact with peers, so they can develop intercultural competences and digital skills while working together on subject-specific learning activities.
For more inspiration, see Niina Huovinen’s blog post on “Creating International Classrooms through Virtual Exchange”.
Blended Intensive Programmes (BIP’s)
To expand the student and teacher experience one step further, is to engage in an Erasmus+ Blended Intensive Programme, or BIP. BIP is a more flexible form of mobility where short-term physical mobility abroad is combined with virtual co-learning, hence the term blended. Universities are able to engage in Erasmus+ BIPs in two ways, either as an organiser that hosts a group of teachers and learners from partner universities, or as a partner that sends participating teachers and learners.
BIP is a more flexible form of mobility where short-term physical mobility abroad is combined with virtual co-learning.
The central idea of a BIP is that it brings learners together to work collectively and simultaneously on specific assignments that are integrated in the blended intensive programme, both counting towards the overall learning outcomes. The physical mobility duration of 5-30 days makes it more accessible to those unable to participate in semester exchanges.
A BIP can give students positive experiences in international projects, providing perhaps the first international classroom experience abroad, and encouraging them to seek more, and longer-term exchange options. But it’s not just students who benefit from a BIP, as it provides teachers an opportunity to build upon their earlier experiences with virtual exchanges and add on new components. It can also provide fruitful experiences, building their intercultural teaching skills and global networks.
In the spring 2023 a survey of 196 academic coordinators of BIP’s studied how BIP’s are being employed in European Higher Education and what the experiences of the coordinators have been to date. (RobertO’Dowd, University of León, Spain and Sina Werner, Ruhr-University Bochum,Germany) The students and staff benefits included:
- Having the opportunity to work in international teams (33%)
- Developing a professional network (27%)
- Developing intercultural skills and an intercultural perspective (23%)
- Experiencing new ways of teaching and new perspectives on the subject matter (16%)
Where to go from here?
Diversifying student population and improvement of inclusion in mind, we need to widen the scope of international learning opportunity options available to students. Virtual exchanges and blended international learning opportunities with short-term physical mobilities are some of the new ways for teachers to bring global learning experiences in the classroom.
- Check out your institutional info for any announcements on virtual exchanges and BIPs.
- Work with your International Relations Adviser to identify options
- Finding colleagues to collaborate with is a common challenge. Start with your institution’s partner network. At Metropolia, you can start with our Erasmus+ EUI network U!REKA Shift.
- Don’t forget that semester exchanges are still available to your students as well.
Metropolia is currently a partner in Erasmus+ Cooperation Partnership project Inclusive Comprehensive Internationalisation (ICI) that aims to find new solutions as well. ICI staff training will be offered for Metropolia staff in the spring of 2024 aiming to help teachers, degree programmes and other staff to develop inclusive and comprehensive international learning opportunities accessible to all students.
The journey towards multicultural competence requires innovation, inclusivity, and a willingness to embrace the ever-expanding landscape of global learning.
Education continues to evolve and so should our approaches to internationalisation. As we see it, the journey towards multicultural competence requires innovation, inclusivity, and a willingness to embrace the ever-expanding landscape of global learning.
Tia-Maria Sjöblom works as an International Relations Adviser in the School of Culture and Creative Industries. She has been coordinating many BIP:s as a sending and hosting role and is passionate about facilitating positive impact that BIPs can have on the students and teachers.
Tiina Piipponen works as an International Relations Adviser in the field of technology and as a Project Manager for the Inclusive Comprehensive Internationalisation project at Metropolia. All things related to international and intercultural competence, diversity, inclusion and equity inspires her.
Terhi Topi works as an Erasmus Institutional Coordinator. She is responsible for Metropolia’s Erasmus mobility funding and reporting. She has been actively involved in developing BIPs at Metropolia. The ability to unlock doors for international options for students and staff is close to her heart.
Huovinen, Niina: “Creating International Classrooms through Virtual Exchange”. In Metropolia blog Hiiltä ja timanttia.
Rogler, Andreas, Elina Lehtomäki, Johanna Lampinen: Unlocking the potential of online learning in the internationalisation of higher education. Finnish National Agency for Education. Reports and surveys 2023:3.
Jager, Sake: “Digitalisation in International Higher Education, Online International Education: The Case for Virtual Exchange”. ACA Think Pieces. Oct 2022. Article 6.
European Commission: Blended mobility implementation guide for Erasmus+ higher education mobility KA131. European Commission 18-07-2022.
O’Dowd, Robert and Sina Werner: “Blended mobility in European Higher Education: A survey of Blended Intensive Programme. Summary of the main findings (preliminary results). 2023.
Allinson, K., Gabriels, W.: Maybe it will be different abroad: Student and staff perspectives on diversity and inclusion in student exchanges. SIEM Research Report. 2021.
Siekkinen, Taru: Kansainvälistymismahdollisuuksien tasa-arvo koulutuksessa. Jyväskylän yliopisto. Koulutuksen tutkimuslaitos. Työpapereita 29. 2013.
Siltala, Anne: Kuuluuko kansainvälisyys kaikille?: Kansainvälistymismahdollisuuksien tasa-arvo CIMOn ohjelmissa. Taustaselvitys, 08/2013. Kansainvälisen liikkuvuuden ja yhteistyön keskus CIMO.