Study Abroad Through Online ClassesElizabeth Matthews | Assistant Professor in the Center for Worker Education, City College of New York
Every year, approximately 250,000 undergraduates participate in a study abroad experience for a semester or yearlong program. These intensive cultural experiences offer many benefits to college students, including the ability to learn in a different country, immerse themselves in new/unfamiliar cultures, and share and exchange ideas with peers and professors who may hold different perspectives then their own. For many students, a term abroad is a highly positive and unforgettable part of their college experience.
The benefits may even extend beyond the college years as many employers look favorably upon candidates who have experience learning and working with people of diverse cultures.
Unfortunately not every student who wishes to can participate in a study abroad program. This may be especially true for adult learners who frequently are juggling full-time jobs, children and other personal obligations with school. These students may enjoy and greatly benefit from a cultural immersion program, but may not have the funds, time or resources to take advantage of these special programs.
One possible avenue for providing a study abroad type of experience to a wider range of students could be through the use of online classes. With this proposed model a faculty member in a university in the USA (for example) would partner with a faculty member(s) working in a university in Europe, Asia, Canada or elsewhere. The professors would collaborate and design an online course that would be cross-listed at both campuses. These courses could be run asynchronously, providing students with videos, podcasts, readings and interactive exercises. Ideally these courses would offer discussion boards and group assignments—to provide a forum for cross-cultural exchange and collaboration among the students and faculty from both universities, thus providing a study abroad-like experience.
Of course, a few logistical issues need to be anticipated:
1. Online Platform Choice
Many colleges/universities already offer online/hybrid courses and there are a variety of different class platforms available. In order to offer an online class between two universities, issues of which platform to use might come into play as well as issues of registering students from both campuses. Some platforms offer a manual registration method. Alternatively faculty members might be able to use a non-academic platform (such as WordPress) to build the class.
2. Faculty Time
Building an online class is a tremendous amount of work. In order to create an engaging classroom, professors need the support, resources and time for planning. In an environment of ever-increasing budget shortfalls, a college would need to commit to supporting professors with this type of project before a course could be ready for students.
3. Language of Instruction
Many academic institutions around the globe offer some instruction in English, however faculty would need to be cognizant of the issues that non-native English speaking students may face when trying to learn complex content in a language other than their native tongue. Fortunately, the online classroom can provide many tools that support students, such as video replay options that allow students to re-watch content, and/or reduce the speed of a video or podcast. That said, other supports may be needed depending on the class. Certainly though, it may be more beneficial to offer a class in another language (for example a French literature class offered between a French and an American university, in French).
Using online classes can be a good way to provide an international learning opportunity to all interested students. Certainly these can’t replace a semester living in a different country. The physical and cultural artifacts of “place” are not present, but what is available is the potential for cross-cultural dialogue, exposure to different viewpoints and unique collaborative experiences that can benefit students academically, professionally and personally. With this method, students can participate in an engaging cultural learning experience without worrying about budget, travel or visa restrictions.