USF World News

USF World Crosses New Frontiers in Global Learning Via Virtual Global Exchange

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 4, 2022) -- Studying abroad is a powerful vehicle for the exchange of ideas, cultures, and perspectives. While it has been a consistent front-runner in the formative experiences of young college students, a new, more inclusive opportunity is blazing trails and easily avoiding many of the roadblocks that limit participation in education abroad. 

At the University of South Florida, students can participate in an authentic international experience via Virtual Global Exchange (VGE), without leaving their Tampa Bay classrooms. Considered a cutting-edge opportunity for USF faculty members and their students, VGE has taken virtual reality technologies “by the horns” and implemented them in a manner that helps foster intercultural dialogue in a unique way: 

“With this technology, USF instructors can engage in meaningful classroom conversations and projects as easily with someone across the globe as they could with someone just down the road. While not a substitute for the experience of traveling to another country and engaging with people face-to-face, it can still create a space for a global experience,"  -- Rene Sanchez, Assistant Director of the Education Abroad Office, USF World.

Students engage in intercultural dialogue, participate in interdisciplinary knowledge exchange, and develop intercultural awareness and competency through individual and collaborative learning experiences. According to Sanchez, “VGE helps infuse meaningful intercultural interactions for students, providing them a different perspective they may not encounter otherwise.” Many students never get the opportunity to study abroad due to a lack of financial resources, time, mobility, or because of travel restrictions. VGE renders international education accessible to a variety of individuals in an effective, interactive, and real way, fostering diversity and inclusion like never before. 

Benefit for Students  

Engagement with online education has increased over the past two years, with academic institutions looking to improve their student's educational experience through current classroom practices that employ the latest technological and pedagogical innovations. Universities that enroll international students and engage in study abroad programs are looking for the next evolution in international educational praxis and engagement. 

One such program that utilizes the pedagogical benefits of the Virtual Global Exchange program at USF is the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications, particularly within Kevin Hawley’s Visual Design for Global Media course: “The Virtual Global Exchange program has provided such a unique and positive experience for the students,” said Hawley, USF faculty. Hawley’s students here at USF collaborate with students in a Corporate Communications course in the Departamento de Comunicación Social at Universidad del Norte (UniNorte) in Barranquilla, Colombia. Students work virtually and collaboratively in mixed teams to explore the similarities and differences in how global brands represent themselves, and how they are perceived, in the US and in Colombia.

"In the spirit of universality and equality, we do not specify the language of collaboration, and the [final] presentations themselves are a blend of English and Spanish, as the students see fit. This has been such a valuable program, particularly during the pandemic when students could not study abroad, but it has proven so popular that we will continue the collaboration even as things return to normal.”  -- Kevin Hawley, faculty member, USF

360 degree global learning video

Click above to view a video featuring 360º Global Learning

Used in tandem or as an individual experience, USF World’s Education Abroad office also provides faculty and students access to 360º Global Learning. Exposing students to globalized innovation and ideas through virtual reality, 360º Global Learning can instantly insert an individual into a digital international destination within seconds, while also having access to live connections with local university students, professional guides, and experts in the field. Engaging students and faculty in a way that has never been seen before, 360º Global Learning and the Virtual Global Exchange provides access to up-to-date, real-world content accessible through a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, smartboard, Smart TV or Virtual Reality Goggles. Indeed, virtual reality might be the groundbreaking approach to international education praxis and engagement that educators have been looking for.

Opportunities for Faculty

Virtual Global Exchange isn’t just beneficial for students. VGE experiences can facilitate faculty professional development, deepen new and existing institutional collaborations, and provide the opportunity to network with colleagues from around the world.  

“Investing in International Partnerships is key for faculty to develop programs with new global collaborators," explains Adriana Morales, Global Partnership Administrator for USF World. “And Virtual Global Exchanges expand that opportunity for faculty, colleges, and universities to establish new networks, which always opens new avenues for in-person collaboration and meaningful, formal institutional partnerships.” 

Last June, a USF World delegation from the Muma College of Business and the Education Abroad Office travelled to England to learn more about Coventry University’s successes with virtual global engagement in the classroom. The delegation included Dr. Jean Kabongo, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Accreditation, and Dr. Russell Clayton, Associate Professor at Muma College of Business: “Our trip to England allowed me and Dr. Jean Kabongo, as faculty, to network with multiple faculty members at Coventry University. We also engaged in training on Virtual Global Exchange best practices, which was led by Coventry's international engagement office.” said Dr. Clayton. “Our time at Coventry has already led to post-trip conversations between me and two Coventry faculty that will result in two VGE opportunities in Muma College of Business MBA courses.” 

Enriching USF’s Global Impact

Faculty are encouraged to take advantage of VGE as a high-impact learning experience that can be fitted to a variety of course levels or learning outcomes for their student's educational needs. “Including VGE [into the curriculum] has elevated the classroom experience, as students are actively engaged in learning about the course topic from different perspectives from their international counterparts,” said Dr. Nazek Jawad, Professional Development Specialist with the USF Office of High Impact Practice & Undergraduate Research. “Through VGE, students can recognize their role in addressing global issues and can develop cultural sensitivities while researching an issue outside of their own communities and understand norms and customs that are unique to local communities, rather than just applying their own norms and values to the project of researching different cultures.” 

Faculty considering VGE for their classrooms should reflect on how the program can help reinvigorate syllabi, expand an instructor’s pedagogical toolkit, and internationalize any curriculum by providing renewed and unique perspectives. “Through VGE, students can cultivate their cultural awareness as well as their academic and interpersonal skills,” commented Dr. Maria Gonzalez, who works with the program from Colombia. “Working on the project via virtual collaboration helps students learn about different cultures and the global challenges faced by different communities.” 

Indeed, USF students who have participated in the program are intrigued by how local problems can be identified as universally shared across global communities. One program participant commented that collaboration through VGE programming revealed commonalities in each student’s culturally unique, lived experience. Another USF student described their experience with the program as unparalleled, stating that they “haven’t encountered any other program that provides this kind of real-world global experience in the classroom." 

Sanchez reminds us that VGE can also contribute directly to career readiness: “It can help students engage with course materials while gaining experience in communicating across cultures, working in different time zones, and collaborating in ways they will be expected to do in the workforce.” 

As USF continues to embrace the benefits of the Virtual Global Exchange, the program’s converged opportunities for student and faculty success will be a pivotal tool in expanding the university’s global impact. 

To learn more about VGE and get involved, contact Rene Sanchez, Assistant Director of the Education Abroad Office, USF World at: rene@usf.edu