The Norwegian Panorama VE/COIL Partnerships Initiative marks a significant milestone as Norway's first national-level Virtual Exchange and Collaborative Online International Learning (VE/COIL) program.
The Institute offers a dynamic, cohort-based approach, providing online professional development, in-person workshops, personalized mentoring sessions, and campus visits. These resources empower each participating team and partnership to leverage the versatile VE/COIL modality for transformative changes within their classrooms and institutions.
Numerous Norwegian institutions, many venturing into co-teaching and co-administration of VE/COIL courses for the first time, have embraced this initiative. As a result, VE/COIL is reshaping the landscape of how Norwegian higher education institutions engage with the global community, mirroring its transformative impact in countries worldwide.
Throughout four months of online exchanges, guided by the expertise of the Institute's faculty and their international partners, and culminating in an immersive in-person workshop in the vibrant city of Bergen, Norway, individual participants themselves undergo profound transformations through these immersive learning experiences.
The Initiative unites 19 higher education institutions representing Norway, the United States, and Japan. It was designed for Norwegian higher education institutions to partner with and learn from the more established VE/COIL communities in the USA and Japan. Among these institutions, nine unique projects are being supported, some of which involve trilateral partnerships.
One remarkable aspect of this Initiative lies in its ability to foster brand-new partnerships. For instance, VID Specialized University in Oslo and St. John's University in Queens, NY, discovered common ground during an AAC&U online networking session, leading to a unique collaboration. They're linking first-year undergraduates at St. John's with graduate students at VID to explore the concept of community across different cities and cultures. This highlights the potential of virtual exchanges in forging connections and expanding global collaborations, enhancing Norwegian internationalization.
In Norway, higher education is characterized by a strong commitment to quality and accessibility. The country is home to over 300,000 students, of which approximately 24,000 are international students. Additionally, around 20,000 Norwegians are studying abroad, showcasing the nation's dedication to fostering global perspectives and experiences among its students.
Norway boasts a robust higher education system, comprising 23 state-owned universities and university colleges, alongside nearly an equal number of private institutions. These institutions are strategically located throughout the country. A strong commitment to geographical and financial accessibility ensures that students from various backgrounds can access quality education without significant constraints.
Even in the far reaches of Svalbard, an Arctic Archipelago, there exists a university center with a strong international profile, exemplifying Norway's dedication to expanding the horizons of education across borders. The Norwegian Panorama VECOIL Partnerships Initiative complements this nationwide educational landscape by creating a platform for cross-cultural collaborations that enrich students' learning experiences and prepare them to thrive in an interconnected world.
As Norway continues to invest in higher education and embrace transformative initiatives like VECOIL, the nation moves closer to achieving its goal of having 50 percent of its higher education students participate in a study abroad program by 2030. By fostering internationalization efforts and providing innovative learning opportunities, Norway cements its position as a global leader in higher education and nurtures a truly interconnected and inclusive learning community.
In the context of internationalization efforts, VECOIL serves as a powerful complement to physical study abroad programs. It offers students and faculty unique opportunities for global engagement, breaking down financial and logistical barriers that may hinder physical mobility. This inclusive approach to global learning democratizes access to international experiences while also building new pipelines for physical mobility programs, helping ensure that more students can benefit from cross-cultural interactions and transformative learning opportunities.
Throughout the Initiative, faculty members embraced innovative approaches to student engagement, acquiring insights from facilitators and fellow participants. Assignments and activities designed to integrate students from diverse backgrounds into multicultural groups empower them to establish communication norms and collaborative decision-making processes. Departing from conventional structures, educators provide students with opportunities to cultivate collaboration, critical thinking, and intercultural communication skills. The outcomes extend beyond academic growth, nurturing global citizenship and the capacity to navigate diverse perspectives.
One key aspect of the Initiative was helping these educators to think about their activity design from a holistic perspective, ensuring an effective mixture of synchronous and asynchronous student activities for a more inclusive learning environment. This included utilizing a matrix to map their plans to help ensure an effective mixture of synchronous and asynchronous student activities in order to build a more inclusive learning environment for all students in the respective courses.
Administrators were encouraged to think expansively about the potential of VE/COIL beyond specific partnerships, broadening faculty and student participation on their campuses. Expert contributions from Europe further enriched administrators' learning, reinforcing the value of such collaborative platforms.
To foster greater connection, collaboration, and cross-cultural understanding among the cohort, AAC&U introduced an icebreaker activity at the in-person workshop. Inspired by UNESCO's Story Circles, this activity encouraged participants to share their personal stories, intertwining cultural heritage, diversity, and educational experiences. The activity broke the ice, fostering a sense of community and mutual understanding among the diverse group of educators, most of whom had only ever met online over the past few months.
Though there was initial skepticism about the process, participants came away with realizations about their own authentic listening, a desire to continue the stories, and a natural gravitation towards the people who had been assigned to their circle during later social functions. This greatly contributed to participants being able to connect with one another on a human level and expand on the community that had been developed online since the start of the Institute.
This activity and the resulting connections it helped foster during the workshop facilitated participants seeing the importance of icebreakers and community building in their collaborations. As a result of the activity and the sharing that took place during the workshop, many partnerships adapted, enhanced, and, in many cases, expanded their plans for such activities between their students.
The icebreaker activity was followed by two days of formal workshop activities and informal social gatherings. These activities included a plenary session on day one focused on setting the stage for internationalization collaborations between the USA, Norway, and Japan.
The day two plenary session focused on the importance of assessment in those activities while presenting options to help gauge student learning in VE/COIL courses. Other activities included the opportunity for each institutional team to spend time working with their international partners. This included continuing to build the plans for their course level collaboration and student activities. In addition, the administrators attending were able to discuss and brainstorm new possibilities for partnerships between their institutions. This collaborative work took place both during workshop sessions dedicated to each of the Institute’s two tracks, as well as during dedicated partnership working time.
In addition, each partnership shared a presentation outlining the status of their project on both an administrator and faculty track level. Each partnership’s administrators shared a pitch deck to a campus stakeholder of their choice on the benefits of VE/COIL and their projects. The faculty track shared an update on the plans they are developing for the series of scaffolded activities students will undertake during their collaboration.
To enhance the experience, John E. Fowler and Daniel Stanford, workshop facilitators, planned a range of social and networking activities before, during, and after the workshop. These activities, often simple and cost-effective, such as walking tours, added depth and authenticity to the participants' cultural immersion in Bergen.
These social opportunities also facilitated additional connections on personal and professional levels and helped model the importance of building in time for social experiences for students into their collaborations. The positive energy these activities helped create at the workshop was a reminder that sometimes, the most basic ideas for human connections are the most powerful, and workshop organizers should not overlook the value of incorporating them into their agendas.
The workshop also included an opportunity for participants to tour HVL’s Bergen campus. Day one concluded with a dinner hosted by HK-dir at the Bergen Aquarium where participants were able to further bond with their partners. Day two concluded with an extension of the icebreaker activity with each participant taking turns to share their feedback on the icebreaker and how it helped inform their community and partnership building during the workshop’s two days.
In line with the inclusive approach of VE/COIL, it nurtures global citizenship by creating an environment where diverse perspectives converge. One of the most compelling reasons for embracing VE/COIL is its capacity to tackle collaborative projects that span different disciplines and cultures, allowing for a comprehensive examination of complex issues, and fostering innovative solutions to global challenges. This interdisciplinary approach not only enhances the learning experience but also equips students with essential skills in today’s ever-evolving workplace, including critical thinking and problem-solving, necessary for effectively addressing global issues.
VE/COIL promotes inclusive education and nurtures global citizenship by creating an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives and cultures converge. It encourages students to engage in culturally responsive practices, appreciate global interdependencies, and develop a sense of shared responsibility for the world's challenges. By preparing students to embrace diversity and collaborate across borders, VE/COIL empowers them to become global citizens capable of effecting positive change in their communities and beyond.
The VE/COIL partnership of Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Kansai University, and Florida International University exemplifies the importance of such interdisciplinary collaboration for addressing global challenges. Professors Vedrana Jez, Masato Ueda, and Lukas Danner plan to have students from distinct disciplines—Economics, Political Science, and Chemical Engineering—collaborate to research multinational corporations' social responsibility reports and analyze their alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Another trilateral partnership between the Norwegian School of Economics, Setsunan University, and Michigan State University will pilot a VE/COIL project exploring sustainable financial approaches based on different regulations and market forces in various countries.
Within the realm of VECOIL, instructors have autonomy to design their projects and curricula, fostering an environment where they can explore innovative teaching methods and address topics that align with their expertise and interests. This freedom allows educators to venture beyond traditional boundaries and engage in cross-cultural collaborations that promote critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and open dialogue. As academic professionals embrace this freedom, they contribute to the creation of intellectually stimulating learning experiences for their students, fostering a transformative and inclusive global learning community.
Professor Jon Braddy at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and Professor Kari Jegerstedt at the University of Bergen intend to explore American and Norwegian queer history and contribute to The Norwegian Archive for Queer History. However, FGCU faces uncertainties due to potential conflicts arising from a newly enacted state law that restricts funds for programs advocating diversity, equity, and inclusion. Amidst these complexities, navigating thoughtfully becomes evident. Engaging in open discussions, assessing the implications for academic freedom, and finding a balanced approach that upholds the principles of inclusive education while respecting the legislative framework are essential.
Amid uncertainty and rapid change, VECOIL offers a stable, scalable, and sustainable way for institutions to internationalize their curricula, fostering a global perspective in more students regardless of physical mobility constraints. By harnessing the power of technology and collaboration, higher education institutions can continue to engage in meaningful partnerships, paving the way for a more interconnected and inclusive future.
With 2023-2024 academic year underway, the ripple effects of the Norwegian Panorama VE/COIL Partnerships Initiative will begin in the classroom, but their impact will extend far beyond. As student learning outcomes become better known, the experiences gained, connections made, and insights shared will inform the design of future VE/COIL courses, inspire deeper partnerships, and contribute to the ongoing transformation of higher education on a global scale.
The journey of VE/COIL is just beginning for Norway, and its impact on higher education will continue to unfold in the years to come. The goal of this Initiative is for Norwegian educators and institutions to embrace the transformative force that the VE/COIL model provides, moving closer to realizing the vision of a truly interconnected and inclusive global learning community.
Envision a future where VE/COIL empowers educators, innovates global learning, and brings together minds from around the world to address the complex challenges of our time. In this bright future, we are united by the shared pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and the relentless drive to create a better world through education. The Norwegian Panorama VE/COIL Partnerships Initiative is a testament to the power of collaboration and the potential of technology-enabled education in shaping a brighter tomorrow for higher education worldwide.