Virtual Global Exchanges with Germany and Kenya During Travel Restrictions and Beyond

Session Fr1: Nov 12, 11:00 AM


Global Engineering and the Social Context” is an introductory global engineering course sequence that has been taught by a cross-disciplinary team of faculty at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) since 2018. The course, developed with first-year students in mind, seeks to equip students with the appropriate skills and competencies required to address global engineering challenges through multidisciplinary and collaborative experiences. The course sequence is administered as two separate two-credit courses: an on-campus component and an international travel component. The travel component is designed to provide a meaningful immersive experience to the students through interaction and project work with students and engineers in the host country. Previous iterations of the travel component have included trips to Kenya and Germany.

During the first week of the 2020 on-campus component of the course, students at RHIT were sent home and all classes were converted to remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequent travel restrictions forced the cancellation of the planned travel component to Kenya. The course instructors scrambled to adjust to the new course format and began to explore options that would promote student engagement and global interactions. In collaboration with EDU Africa, an educational travel company that was to have provided the in-country support for our Kenya travel course, we developed a virtual exchange experience that allowed students to learn about Kenyan culture and interact with Kenyan engineers. The positive student response to the 2020 virtual program led us to continue our partnership with EDU Africa for a short-term virtual exchange during the Spring 2021 iteration of the on-campus component of the course. While the brief virtual exchange provided a rich cultural and engineering introduction to Kenya, the course instructors acknowledged the benefits of students working directly with multiple diverse cultures. This led to an additional partnership with Technische Hochschule Ulm in Germany. Students in the global engineering course at RHIT were teamed with graduate students in a systems engineering course in Ulm to work on a design project. The project lasted 10 weeks and included weekly student team interactions and collaborative virtual presentations.

Presenters will give an introduction to the course and share the process by which an abrupt pivot to virtual engagement within an existing course ultimately strengthened the learning opportunities.  In addition, the presenters will describe the challenges and successes of the virtual engagement that led to a renewed commitment to include virtual international exchange in the future.