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ENVOIE - Online international learning across the disciplines

Date:21 September 2017
Author:Sake Jager
Typical OIE configuration
Typical OIE configuration

ENVOIE (Enabling Virtual Online International Exchange) is a teaching and learning innovation project recently launched at the University of Groningen. ENVOIE (pronounced /ˈenvɔɪ/, as in English 'envoy') aims to promote Online International Exchange (OIE) as university-wide practice.

OIE is a form of computer-mediated learning in which students from two or more universities work together online (in pairs or small groups) on learning tasks which are part of the course work in each institution. The online sessions usually take place outside class hours, before specific deadlines but at times determined by the pairs or groups themselves, as in the illustration above.

Over the next 1.5 years, ENVOIE will set up such online exchanges with international partners in several courses in the faculties of Arts, Behavioural and Social Sciences, Economics and Business, Theology and Religious Studies, Spatial Sciences and University College Groningen.

There are several reasons why teachers and departments are interested in developing such exchanges:

  • Multiple perspectives on learning content: Having students from different geographical, cultural, socio-economic, or disciplinary backgrounds work together online may afford unique perspectives on course content, which may be less easily attainable in locally situated learning. This is an element in several projects, such as in the BSS project in Environmental Psychology, where tasks on the basis of ‘environmental footprint inventories’ from NL and US students respectively are the point of departure for online work.
  • Intercultural competences: Working online with a foreign partner inevitably involves intercultural communication. This facilitates integrating intercultural communicative competence (ICC) in the curriculum, for instance as an extension to International Classroom activities which are more focused on classroom-based learning ‘on the ground’ in the university. The development of ICC is an element in all the exchanges currently planned in ENVOIE. It will be exciting to see how ICC-related learning outcomes can be aligned with discipline-specific tasks and assessment in the project.
  • Preparation for physical exchange: Students meet virtually before they meet each other face-to-face at a later stage. As an example of this, Research Master students of the course Things that Matter participate in a summer school that is part of their programme, but in the period leading up to the summer school they work together online to create virtual exhibitions with artefacts from libraries and museums in their respective institutions. In a similar way, spatial sciences students get to know their American peers before meeting them face-to-face during a field-study exchange which is part of their BA.
  • Digital skills: Collaborating online obviously also involves using a range of digital tools (video conferencing, chat, blogs, wiki, video recordings, etc.). Competence in using such tools (media literacy) enhances students’ employability. Of course, it also contributes to the development of digital skills of teachers teaching the course, as part of their continuous professional development.
  • Internationalisation: OIE provides a form of internationalisation at course level. It fits in well with the university’s strategy of strengthening bonds with international partners. At least four envisaged collaborations occur in the context of strategic partnerships (UNAM, UDC, U4, Erasmus Mundus). The OIEs thus created offer space for educational experimentation, which is preferably sustained by a mutual Memorandum of Understanding but does not require setting up a joint programme.

Previous experiences with OIE in the Faculty of Arts and elsewhere have generally been positive, both with teachers and students. For these exchanges to become valuable learning experiences, it is essential that they are linked to relevant learning outcomes and embedded in course assessment and reflection. This will be one of the challenges for the project. 

A truly innovative aspect of the project is that this form on online international learning is being introduced across the disciplines at such a substantial scale. The project team consisting of professors from diverse disciplines, internationalisation officers from several faculties, ICC experts, professional development staff and eLearning coordinators at both faculty and university  levels (ESI, Language Centre) promises to be a source of creativity and inspiration for this new type of learning.

For more information about this exciting new project, check out the ENVOIE website, which will be available soon.

A general outline of the project and a list of participating professors and departments can be found in the original project application.

Sake Jager

Project manager ENVOIE

More information: s.jager


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