Fix It or Feature It?  Building Resilient Partnerships

Session Th1: Nov 11, 10:40 AM


The University of Lorraine and the University of Cincinnati have had a strong collaboration for the past five years. The collaboration includes a collaborative degree program and short-term study abroad in conjunction with a course on global competencies. When the pandemic made travel impossible, the partners quickly pivoted and created a virtual, collaborative student project to provide student engagement and opportunities to build skills in communication and cultural competence. This project was well received by students and while not as enjoyable as travel, did allow students to meet course learning outcomes.

With the 2020-2021 academic year impacted by the pandemic, the partners modified the course to purposefully use technology and different pedagogies appropriate for on-line learning. The course was revised to include teaching from faculty in France and in the US in addition to asynchronous content. Synchronous sessions were created to facilitate student-to-student interaction. Two virtual projects were created and teams of students from both universities were assigned to work on those projects. The first was a shorter, low-stakes project meant to help students learn to deal with cultural, communication and logistical issues. The second project was more involved and helped students develop teamwork as well as communication skills.

The revised course and projects worked better than expected. Students developed skills and experiences that will enable them to make immediate contributions to global, technical firms. The learning was in many ways more authentic and impactful than what students gain from a short-term study abroad. When asked if this format should continue, students answered with a resounding “yes”.

In reflecting on what was learned from the class and virtual projects, certain themes emerged from student feedback:
• Pay attention to meta-communication (communicating about communication) and attend to this early on.
• Establish and reinforce meeting and team protocols.
• Make time for student-to-student interactions beyond what is needed to meet project requirements.

As we move forward post-pandemic, the collaborators will offer both a study abroad opportunity and a virtual project opportunity. We will not resort to "fixing" the lack of travel, rather we will feature the opportunity for the virtual projects. This will enable more students to participate than have in the past and provide a mechanism for developing a more robust partnership based on creating these shared experiences for our students. The faculty involved in this course have shared their experience with university colleagues and this has led to interest from other faculty in providing similar opportunities in other courses.

The pandemic has disrupted lives, schedules and travel.  As we worked creatively to overcome the challenges, the crisis created an opportunity to build a broader, more resilient partnership that will benefit students for years to come.