For those of us teaching courses for UTS students taking ‘outbound’ international programs, the Australian government’s international travel restrictions forced a rapid re-think of what we can offer. One theme of UTS’ Model of Learning includes ‘a focus on international mobility and international and cultural engagement’. How does this continue if our students are unable to leave Australia?
Of course, students do not have to leave the country for this experience: UTS is an international community in which to learn. Our community collectively speak more than 130 languages and have diverse backgrounds, traditions, world views and life goals; and the curriculum in UTS courses includes content and perspectives which draw from a range of international contexts. But the opportunity for students to engage in ‘learning abroad’ does provide unique experiences and challenges. When these are appropriately scaffolded, students are better prepared for culturally and linguistically diverse workplaces either in Australia or globally.
One area of learning abroad which has grown rapidly in the past few years is short-term intensive programs offered in July (Winter) and Summer sessions. Our faculty – the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – includes these in open electives available to all UTS students who want to complete an international internship or study at one of UTS’ international partner universities full-time for 2-4 weeks.
Until the changes brought about by COVID-19, students travelled independently to the international location to complete their chosen program. In addition, they completed coursework as part of the UTS subject with learning activities before, during (online) and after their international experience. The subject is designed, not only to prepare students for the intercultural experience, but also to guide their purposeful reflection on their international learning and application to their respective professions.
But what options do we have now with the international travel ban in place? Working with colleagues in UTS International, we initially thought we would have to cancel any July 2020 options for students. But, as all of us at UTS have had to do, we started thinking how we could continue in online mode. Our international partners who had previously offered face-to-face courses or internship placements also did the ‘pivot’ and realised they could offer online opportunities. After all, working remotely is what the whole world is now doing – so, why not our learning abroad programs too?
Therefore, for July session the pre-, during and post-experience teaching will all happen online for a group of students now preparing for their various courses or internship experiences they will complete from Sydney, with partners based in locations as diverse as Noumea, Barcelona, Ljubljana, Jakarta and Berlin.
Our pioneer group of online international learning students is very enthusiastic about this opportunity. Some missed out on exchange experiences this year and want to immerse themselves more in their chosen language, while others have never had the opportunity to travel internationally so are grateful to bump up their CV with a virtual international internshipDr Beate Mueller, School of International Studies and Education
While we look forward to a time when our students can travel internationally again, being forced to incorporate remote programs into our subjects is what many of us in the field of international education have wanted to do for years. Online international programs provide options for students who may not be able to travel internationally, so that they too have the opportunity to develop their international and intercultural capabilities. Our environmental impact is naturally also lessened if we increase student participation in international learning programs without sending all of them off in aeroplanes.
Future sessions will hopefully include an expanded range of online international programs – even if, in 2021, some students can start boarding a flight once again.