During the summer of 2020, Jenna Järvenpää ja Paulina Szymaszek explored how to develop processes and services to support mobility of students. The “Virtual Mobility 4 All” project at Aalto was part of the EU-funded UNITE! (University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering) consortium activities.
“European University Alliances were created in order to move towards a harmonized European Higher Education Area. The focus is on empowering students, staff and faculty to create the university of the future. Aalto leads the central themes of this work, namely the creation of an inter-European virtual campus concept and models for sharing good pedagogical practices to support deep learning both in the digital as well as in the physical environment. The aim is also to develop clearer and more cohesive joint teaching, research and administrative services,” says Professor Katrina Nordström from the School of Chemical Engineering, currently the UNITE! Aalto coordinator. “As remote work and study continues, the project on virtual learning environments and mobility has become even more important than one could have imagined at the launch of the UNITE! alliance in 2019. Digital mobility and virtual exchanges are high on the agenda in UNITE! as we pilot and plan for more opportunities for offering courses and joint programs across Europe “.
Mobility programs, such as traditional Erasmus+, are not accessible, inclusive or equal for all students. Especially students with disabilities, learning difficulties and disadvantages may face significant challenges, such as inaccessible campuses and insufficient support, when planning the studies. Accordingly, improving access and inclusiveness is a common goal for all of UNITE! To improve mobility for all students, Jenna Järvenpää, a student from the Master´s Programme in Advanced Energy Solutions, and Paulina Szymaszek, Master’s student from the Data Science double degree programme proposed the following:
- creating a unified online platform for linking UNITE! students together, which should include an easily accessible enrollment portal, virtual student space, virtual study space and career center
- designing a rich pool of virtual courses for students to freely choose regardless of University or country of residence. Students would be able to get virtual mentoring and peer support from other students who have previous experience of a course, programme or a study path.
- launching Virtual Student Network for organising social activities and to offer peer support.
A Virtual Mobility Platform would provide an equal, accessible and inclusive online environment for all students from UNITE! universities. It could be an excellent alternative especially for students unable to join physical mobility to experience international student life and enable everyone to become part of student communities all across Europe.
Student-friendly solutions for increasing mobility
Mobility is one of the key principles in UNITE!. The aim is to have 50% of the students in UNITE! alliance benefiting from mobility during their studies or career. This covers over 84,000 students and 18,000 graduates. Students can join mobility through, e.g., joint summer schools, short mobility programmes, transnational internships and virtual exchange.
“Our work aimed to identify mobility problems and create practical, student-friendly solutions by using Design Thinking Method”, says Jenna Järvenpää, co-author of the study.
Virtual mobility is an alternative to long-term mobility, but not an equivalent. It requires discipline and independence from the student. That said, virtual mobility can offer novel ways to provide mobility experiences for university students and staff. It could improve inclusion, accessibility, equality, cohesion as well as active citizenship among students and staff.
UNITE! is an EU funded University Alliance with partners in seven countries, initiated in 2019. The ultimate goal is to connect students, staff, faculty and administration of UNITE! partners to strive for excellence in learning, teaching and research in accordance with the European core values. UNITE! spans across technology and engineering to business and art.
Johanna Kaila, UNITE! planning officer, [email protected] or
Katrina Nordström, Professor, [email protected]