Students go on virtual exchange to Virginia: 'This is the most fun programme there is'
University lecturer Dario Fazzi and postdoctoral researcher Gaetano Di Tommaso set up a virtual collaboration with the United States last year thanks to a VIS grant. And it was a such a success the project will be repeated next year. Fazzi is looking forward to once again offering his students a multicultural experience from home.
'We set up a programme with the idea of exploring particular ecological threats in delta regions,' says Fazzi, who partnered with the College of William and Mary in Virginia for this purpose. Together, they studied current environmental problems in the US state, but also what is happening closer to home, in Zeeland. 'We asked students to focus on social concerns that have arisen around ecological issues in these deltas and analyse the responses of both local and national authorities,' Fazzi explains.
Fazzi looks back positively on the overseas cooperation. 'The virtual exchange is part of a course I used to teach. For one of the assignments, we merged our classes so that students worked in mixed groups. My students really enjoyed that and so did the students from Virginia. They especially liked the cross-cultural exchange and the fact that they could explore local issues from a transnational point of view.'
As icing on the cake, the US students were recently able to visit the Netherlands. 'We all got together for a final workshop in real life, where we continued what we had been doing online. That was great fun to do.'
For next year, the plan is to repeat the programme with the same partner university. However, Fazzi does want to make some adjustments. 'We want to further improve the online learning experience for our students. For the next round, we’re going to make sure they have more time to meet the deadlines, so we might have to extend the programme by a week,' he explains. 'We also want to film some places in Zeeland with a 360-degree camera, so that students can visit and experience these places better through VR.'
Although Fazzi is full of praise for the exchange, he says the programme is not for everyone. 'A virtual exchange only makes sense if you think intercultural communication and teaching will improve the lectures you teach. We wanted our students to challenge their own ideas and preconceptions, and this proved to be a great tool for that. If you also teach topics that require your students to put themselves in someone else's shoes to better understand their position in the world, then this is by far one of the most fun and effective programmes out there.'