This has been an exciting and highly innovative project in the healthcare field. The inception of the project was ground-breaking and allowed the main participating universities to experience international activity in a different way. The aim was to enhance the experiences of whole cohorts rather than single students and in doing so provide a transformative experience not only for students but for staff and community partners also.
The physical exchanges offered students and staff unique opportunities to immerse themselves in a different culture and enter discussions about how local problems can be solved differently in their respective countries. These exchanges offered ‘gold standard experiences’ and it was noticeable that those cohorts that undertook both physical exchanges and virtual learning events found the physical exchange offered a better quality of intercultural experience from which they could learn. However, the resources to undertake these events were immense and are unlikely to be sustainable without external monies.
The virtual events offer a more sustainable option for the future. What is key to these events is the identification of web platforms that support the regular communication between students and formal opportunities to present materials internationally. Throughout the project we have worked with several models and conclude that students work better when paired with one other institution; however, access to a range of other institutions through virtual conferences enhances their intercultural experience.
Experiential learning opportunities were key to engaging students from different international backgrounds. These projects with community partners needed to offer learning opportunities which supported the virtual student discussions. When projects varied too greatly students struggled to find the links so that they could draw out the similarities and differences. To support the students, materials were needed to help them find focus in their virtual discussions. Staff needed to support sessions to help students to manage any misinterpretations of the brief and assist with making links between countries.
The relationships with community partners were key to the success of the project and these relationships needed to be nurtured and were best when the activities were embedded in the wider curriculum. This allowed for the relationships to become mutually beneficial, a key aspect in sustaining the relationship.
The impact on the 643 students who have been involved in MIROTS over the years has been profound. They report through their evaluations having gained personal and professional confidence; increased willingness to work in diverse/emerging areas of practice and deepend their understanding of contextual including cultural factors in their own and other European societies. Here are some quotes from the students’ evaluations that summarizes the positive impact of the project: “The exchange was a brilliant and exciting opportunity to meet other OT students and to learn about education and health care in other cultures.” “Since coming back from Sweden I have reflected a lot over the whole experience and what I have learned has shaped and developed how I think about OT and how I see the world in general.“
The impact on the students differed between the physical exchanges and the web-exchanges. For example, the evaluation from the 3 web-exchanges shows that 71% of the students considered participating in the project had successfully “Offered students exposure to international perspectives and comparisons” compared to 90% of the students participating in the physical exchange. On the evaluation question whether the project had “Increased students' confidence about the possibility of working abroad” 63% of the students from the web-exchange considered the project had been successful doing this, compared to 81% of the students in the physical exchange. Students reported that after the project they understood the professions role in Europe better, their willingness to work in other European countries had increased and the Universities involved have had an increase in students engaging with Erasmus Mobility.
A model presenting experiences and thoughts on key questions to aid the development of projects such as this was developed. This model of International Collaborative Education is presented on the next page.
Building the themes on the strengths and competencies of each participating University was essential for making each exchange contextually relevant. It resulted in slightly different perspectives on the three different physical exchanges, which made each exchange exciting and stimulating for staff and students. It also enabled each University to make use of and share their expertise, on-site resources and existing community partnerships.
Project required full commitment from at least two members of staff at each institution plus the infrastructure to support administrative and technological tasks related to IT, budget, room bookings, catering and hospitality, accommodation, transport, pastoral support, travel, marketing and advertising.
Building sustainable relationships with the community organisations which go beyond the learning activities is important.
All universities should consider how events relate to the overall curriculum, the timing of activity and if grades/ awards are awarded to the activity to ensure equal commitment of all students.
Social time is crucial to help build collegiality and develop a deeper understanding of culture. Students value informal gatherings, time to get to know one another and opportunities to spend time in the host city.
1. Student compliance with requests for research is unpredictable, so more options for review of the data is required
2. The research ethics requirements for different Universities should be considered. Some universities require ethics approval for research involving students, but others do not. So advance planning across all partners is essential to allow for differing timeframes and requirements.
3. Consideration could be given to handing out hard copies of surveys for students to fill in (if they wish) at the end of a lecture. This may improve response rates.
1. While virtual Learning events such as web exchanges and digital technologies do incur some staff costs, they are more sustainable in the long term and less likely to be impacted by political changes.
2. Web-exchanges and digital technologies offer more flexibility for the future to suit different curricula, years of study and offer opportunities for a range of partners.
3. Sustainability must prioritise the needs of community partners
4. Creating shared learning materials e.g. videos, case-studies and/or worksheets, help in making events sustainable year-on-year and ensure that all partners are equally prepared.
It is essential to timetable test-sessions into the planning and preparation of the exchange for them to run as smoothly as possible.
The use of an innovative and intuitive web-based programme to support student development and output was invaluable. In 2019 this was provided by a web-based e-poster platform. This allowed all partners to work collegiately and collaboratively in the design of a virtual poster, generating debate and an enquiring mind from fellow students.
Even though independent, self-directed learning is encouraged, students need ongoing support to manage technical difficulties, differences in understanding between the three student groups, and guidance towards their presentations.
Consideration should be given to the placement of the web-exchange in the semester. As it involves 5-6 weeks work for students, interaction with busy times of the semester and/or exam periods is not advised.
Where students are using a second language more time should be included in the schedule to allow rest periods and processing time during discussions.
1. Agree a list of responsibilities for all members in the project board including involvement in work packages
2. Agree the importance of a strict timeline to follow
3. Agree on a partner budget of the total grant for all three years and specify clear budget categories
4. Apply for Exceptional costs, since it is useful to have in case of “hidden costs”
5. Decide early in the project how project meetings are to be organised and documented.
6. Agree on ownership/property rights of data and project results
7. Follow the proposal in detail and document all results and save materials
8. Discuss implementation of results and sustainability regularly.