The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has made it quite complicated for students to get the study abroad experience especially living in a new foreign country and delve deeper into its culture and meeting new people while pursuing higher studies. To provide students with a unique opportunity to get the best experience of studying abroad in the present pandemic scenario, the University of South Florida has come up with an alternative for its students. USF is bringing a virtual study abroad experience for its international students to help them explore the world through VR.
The university, in partnership with the Study Abroad Association (SAA), is bringing a special virtual study abroad experience summer program which makes the use of virtual reality to let international students experience Italy while learning about climate change. USF’s biology program students were supposed to travel to Peru but the pandemic spread foiled their plans.
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Owen Hooper, the director of innovative education at USF commented that “having to cancel our on-the-ground trip, we found out that SAA was trying to launch virtual programs and we saw it as a good opportunity to pilot.” He added that although they had expected a good quality VR experience, the SAA produced an unbelievable and spectacular VR experience in such a short time.
The program, which is part of the Summer Academic and Cultural Engagement course offered by USF and this module includes 3 weeks of learning and one week of travel to places which corresponds to what they learn. Around 75% of travel actually takes place internationally which is quite challenging and difficult to conduct in the present scenario. Thus, USF decided to bring a virtual study abroad experience to facilitate a safer aspect to this program without halting it for the next year.
The virtual program enabled students to attend pre-recorded lectures and tours spread over more than 10 cities in a period of 16 days.
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The co-founder of SAA, Christian Alyea said in a statement that opportunities and innovation present themselves in critical times. “How do we reduce financial risk and liability for institutions and students and make programs more accessible for students, while still providing an in-depth international experience? The answer is to go virtual,” Alyea added.
Hooper is also in favour of providing VR study experiences for its students next summer as well despite the status of Covid-19. “Even if we are travelling, if we have students going to Costa Rica, it will be neat for students to have an opportunity to compare their experiences with a virtual tour through Venice and compare interactions,” he said. He believes that it adds more depth to their learning.
USF is also looking forward to introducing the virtual study abroad experience options for its major study abroad program due to the low cost of the VR programming in comparison to actual travel. “For the VR experience, finance isn’t a factor — we’re not chasing scholarship money, or students aren’t saying ‘No’ because they can’t afford a plane ticket,” Hooper stated, while adding that “it’s wonderful to be able to continue to expand these programs so any student at USF can have this opportunity.”
Virtual reality can be facilitated as an alternative for study abroad programs in the future as universities like USF are eager to introduce it to international students! Stay tuned to Leverage Edu as we keep you updated about the global higher education sphere and bring you the latest updates on education and academia! Until then, check out our amazing blogs on emerging courses, careers & more!