06:30 AM

Virtual global exchange projects introduce students to other cultures

International travel graphic

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges across the globe have had to modify how classes workshops and other events have been offered over the past 15 months. Likewise, the pandemic halted traditional study-abroad programs, thanks to travel restrictions, grounded flights, closed borders, and general health concerns surrounding coronavirus.

As a result, colleges have had to become creative in how they offer students a global experience in lieu of traditional study-abroad options.

An alternative to in-person travel

WCTC has connected with the nonprofit organization Gazelle International to develop unique virtual exchange projects. Interested WCTC faculty are partnered with an instructor abroad to team teach, and WCTC students collaborate virtually during class to complete a project, interact with students from another country, and learn more about a new culture.

Melody Reichoff, WCTC Global Education coordinator, said while in-person study-abroad opportunities were paused starting early in the spring semester of 2020 – and are on hold for at least the 2021-22 school year -- the College was eager to incorporate global aspects into classes virtually.

“I am very passionate about international education, and I think it’s important for students to have experience with people from other cultures – even if it’s not in person,” Reichoff said. “International educators are used to adversity and change; we had to be creative in how we offered these opportunities, and that was moving to online.”

Global Business instructor Sue Dragotta and Information Technology instructor Matt Green were two faculty who incorporated a virtual exchange component into their spring 2021 classes. To start, Dragotta and Green both participated in three distinct sets of workshops – the first, to introduce instructors to the approach; the second, to connect educators with one another and develop strategies for virtual exchange teaching; and the third, to design a project.

Partnering with students in The Netherlands

Dragotta and a ROC Midden Nederland instructor developed a project focusing on cultural differences in advertising in the United States and The Netherlands. The U.S. and Dutch students researched both countries’ client-related behaviors, rules and legislation, and the dos and don’ts of advertising in each market. Students then created a PechaKucha slide show – 20 slides with 20 seconds of commentary per slide -- to explain their findings.

Global Business student Morgan Dorn said the exchange was a great way to meet and get to know the Dutch students, and the topics that were discussed directly related to her program.

“I learned about the different ways that countries do business in my first class at WCTC, and participating in this project made it more real to me,” she said, noting the exchange was a part of the Global Cultural Experience/independent study course.

While the spring group involved just a few WCTC students, Dragotta has plans to incorporate this project into her Global Marketing classes on a larger scale.

“I think it’s worth the effort,” Dragotta said of developing the international project. “Global Business students have some interest already in different cultures, but I like the idea of exposing all Marketing students to something a little more interesting where they get to talk to people from The Netherlands,” she said.

Partnering with students in Mexico

In the IT area, Green was matched with an instructor at Prepa UDEM in Mexico, an International Baccalaureate World School, to design a project that involved students conducting cultural research and sharing information about their countries. WCTC Dual Enrollment Academy IT students and Prepa UDEM students met in groups to complete “Programming Cultural Awareness: A Virtual Project Between Nations,” with WCTC students creating a PowerPoint and website. The project connected the courses Cultural Competencies (Prepa UDEM) and Web Development (WCTC DEA).

Besides the Gazelle project, Green and his students have also been involved in other virtual global experiences this past academic year. This includes a Tri-National Seminar with schools in Germany, Ireland and Qatar (plus WCTC and Madison College) -- with a focus on kindness and U.N. sustainability goals; and a service-learning project with BIT Connections club members to tutor individuals at Bangladesh training center in Bangladesh on topics including Photoshop, video editing and website creation.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we’re giving students the opportunity to do something special and unique while there are so few opportunities in general,” Green said.

Moving forward with international opportunities

In looking ahead to the fall 2021 semester, additional instructors from various programs are planning to offer a global project in their classes, and participating instructors have already completed Gazelle training in recent weeks, Reichoff said.

“This has been really great in that it opens access to more students, and so far, it has been very positive,” Reichoff said. “In a normal year, people can’t always commit to a longer amount of time off for travel, so this makes it available to more students.”