21 Apr 2020
by Yael Israel-Cohen

7 tips for implementing virtual mobility

7 pitfalls virtual mobility


The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the doors on most of our brick-and-mortar institutions, leading many universities to move many of their activities (international and otherwise) online. But shifting from the physical to the digital isn't as simple as it sounds. Those considering implementing virtual mobility programmes will want to watch out for these seven potential pitfalls on the path to virtual mobility. 

In recent years, virtual mobility has emerged as an innovative way of connecting students in a multicultural, international learning environment without anyone having to go abroad. The primary benefit of virtual mobility is that because of its low cost compared with physical mobility, it is accessible to many more students. It also provides a classroom experience that sets students up for a jobs market in which companies are increasingly working in more global and virtual collaborative settings.

For these reasons, virtual mobility has the potential to be an important aspect of the internationalisation strategies of higher education institutions. As with all new ideas, however, the road from theory to implementation is full of pitfalls.

In this article, I would like to offer some insight into how to overcome the challenges of establishing virtual mobility, based on my experience as Coordinator of WILLIAM, an Erasmus+ capacity building project, currently in its second year, that focuses on Internationalisation at Home.

Each of the partner institutions is working on implementing virtual mobility across a range of disciplines. For almost all of the partners, virtual mobility is a new tool to incorporate within the work of the international office. Hence, how to create the infrastructure, get faculty involved, provide incentives and choose the right course and lecturer are all questions that have floated around in our discussions.

Based on our experience, the following are some tips that may be useful if you are just beginning to think of how to engage with virtual mobility on an institutional level and introduce it within your courses.

Tip 1: Think strategy (not activity)

As a first step, virtual mobility requires thought about creating the right institutional infrastructure, from the planning stage through to implementation and evaluation. While virtual courses can be implemented by faculty without wider institutional support as isolated activities, it will be much harder to scale up if aspects such as best use of resources, knowledge transfer and training are not considered from the get-go.

Tip 2: Create buzz and buy-in

Among faculty and students, the rationale and benefits of virtual mobility must be clearly laid out. Universities are known for their traditional ways. As with other new pedagogical approaches, promoting and marketing of virtual mobility are vital.

Tip 3: Offer instructors a clear roadmap and IT support

Courses that are based on virtual mobility require detailed planning regarding the course, the syllabus, the partnership, the structure and the content of each session. IT support is also crucial. These aspects should be clearly articulated to potential instructors as a step-by-step process, with support provided for each step.

Tip 4: Training, training, training

Teaching a class with virtual students is simply not the same. Do not assume that all instructors can make the transition from face-to-face instruction to having virtual students interacting in the class. Pick your professors and courses wisely and then offer the necessary training to support their efforts.

Tip 5: Consider monetary incentives

To pay or not to pay, that is the question. Instructors who take on a virtual course will be putting more time and energy into it, at least in the pilot phase. While we do not have a clear recommendation here, the question of compensation is one that is always raised and needs to be considered as part of an institutional strategy.

Tip 6: Evaluate and learn

Get feedback from professors and students on the academic and social experience in a standardised manner, so that lessons can be learned and best practices devised.

Tip 7: Connect to platforms

In recent years, platforms have developed to help institutions implement virtual collaboration and Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). Such platforms are critical, helping institutions and lecturers to network and find partners for the creation of virtual mobility opportunities.

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