Immersive Learning Hub: Online Exchanges and Virtual Tours

In the last few years, the RIAS has become a national and international hub for immersive learning. Its staff has designed, developed, and implemented a series of online programs, including Virtual Exchanges (VEs) and Virtual Reality tours (VR), which have been used to promote quality education (SDG4), enhance students’ intercultural communication skills, and foster a better and critical understanding of sustainable democracy.

RIAS-built VEs are short programs (typically, 3-5 weeks) during which students from different universities in Europe and the United States work together on shared projects and assignments. These programs are part of a global effort to improve distant learning and fall within an educational approach applied by hundreds of schools and universities worldwide called Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). In 2021, the Dutch Ministry of Education has launched a multi-year plan to fund VEs with the aim to improve both internationalization and digitization within higher education and the RIAS staff have been granted and has successfully managed several of these grants.

Online Activities

VEs consist in both synchronous and asynchronous activities that students carry out online. The activities that the RIAS staff have devised include interactive icebreakers, self-assessed international surveys, online map-making, role plays, and the production of Virtual/Extended Reality videos (VR/XR). While engaged in such activities, students do (asynchronous) research together, write online contents, develop common strategies, and present orally. Teachers have therefore a wide array of possibilities to assess students’ research, writing, and presentation skills throughout the program. At the same time, teachers can also ask students to compile final reports, which can be assessed as final papers in different courses.

Easily Integrated

The main advantage of RIAS VEs is that they can be easily integrated in pre-existing courses as stand-alone assignments. Another important advantage is that VE can help students achieve learning goals that are usually present across multiple existing programs at different universities. VEs can indeed help students to grasp different socio-political and historical dynamics through comparative approaches, stimulating cross-language learning, improving knowledge of policymaking processes at different levels of governance, and broadening up debates around urgent socio-ecological issues.

So far, the RIAS has been partnering with the College of William and Mary (USA), De Paul University (USA), Navajo Tech University (USA), the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (USA), Emory University (USA), University College Roosevelt (Netherlands), Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (Netherlands), Algoma University (Canada), Sao Paulo University (Brazil), and Essaouira University (Morocco).

Increase Diversity and Inclusion

The main opportunities of immersive learning rest in the development of transferable skills, in the widening of our students’ international experience, and in offering them an opportunity to do an intercultural exchange that is affordable and sustainable at the same time. These programs also increase diversity and inclusion. In fact, through the use of VR technology and immersive learning, students with disability can work in accessible environments that help them overcoming cognitive and physical impediments.