Virtual study abroad provides hands-on learning for students

Virtual study abroad provides hands-on learning for students

D ozens of Georgia College students take advantage of study abroad opportunities each summer. They usually learn, explore, conduct research, provide health care and engage in communities around the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed that for the summer of 2020. All in-country study abroads were cancelled or postponed until next year. The outside-the-box thinking of a Georgia College faculty member has allowed one study broad to continue in a creative form.

“We were originally supposed to be in Europe May 12- June 2,” said Dr. Joy Godin, associate professor of information systems. “I decided to try to rework the experience to have it take place online.”

Twelve GC students were scheduled to go to the Netherlands, Germany and France. They were given the option to complete the course this year in a digital format or try to go on the study abroad next year, if possible.

Student collaborate in virtual meeting.
Student collaborate in virtual meeting.

“Three GC students are in the online class this summer. The others opted to go next year,” said Godin.

The students will get much of the same experience originally planned, just in a virtual setting. They are partnering with students from the University of Muenster in Germany and the University of West Georgia to solve a business case problem for a German business.

Logan Lamb
Logan Lamb

Logan Lamb planned to cap his senior year with a study abroad hoping it would “be a one-of-a-kind experience to remember for years to come.”

Even though his plans changed, the management information systems major decided to make the most of the opportunity at hand.

“I felt confident that our program facilitators would do a fantastic job, given the circumstances, to provide an outstanding experience for all students participating in the program,” he said.

The foundation of the experience began with virtual Design Thinking Training by SAP, which is a company that provides end-to-end enterprise application software, database, analytics, intelligent technologies and experience management. 

“Design Thinking is a five-step approach which centers around a user,” said Lamb. “It is an iterative process, which means the team constantly circles back to the user to ensure they address all concerns that the user has. The iterative nature allows for a more clearer understanding of what the problem actually is, so that a team can develop a tailored solution.”

Initially only American students were scheduled to attend, but since it was moved online instead of in-person at the offices in Atlanta, German students were involved as well. The students worked in their global virtual teams using a cloud-based system called Mural.

“Learning the phases of Design Thinking, the teams worked in breakout sessions and brainstormed with virtual post-it notes and voting tools in Mural to create potential solutions to reimagining the college experience in the new normal,” said Godin.

For students like Lamb, the training coupled with the work they’re doing with the German company gives them real-world experience for their future career.

“Given that organizations are conducting more business internationally, experiences like the ones we are having now inside of our class with virtual team meetings, will better prepare me for the workforce,” said Lamb, who will soon be working as a full-time logistics manager at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.

For other students, this opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without the virtual component.

Graduate student David Mack.
Graduate student David Mack.

“I never thought a study abroad would be a possibility for me as a graduate student maintaining a full-time job,” said David Mack, who is in the Master of Management Information Systems program. “This became available to me because of the pandemic and the requirement for the class to be done remotely.”

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with foreign students,” he said. Mack hopes to use the experience to learn to better “work with a geographically diverse set of students and become better at working in groups.”  

The students from all three universities recently held a video conference meeting with the German company Cronos, an IT consulting company that is a SAP consulting partner. Cronos described four issues related to electronic cars that many of their customers’ face.

The students were then put in international teams and asked to brainstorm and compare how the issues impact both the U.S. and German citizens.

Senior Ally Bass.
Senior Ally Bass.

“My group has already been able to come up with multiple ideas and solutions for the business case that was given to us. Additionally, I have had a lot of fun working with other students from different universities,” said senior Ally Bass, an accounting major and management information systems minor.I have had a lot of fun working with other students from different universities. 

“This project is giving our students an opportunity to collaborate virtually on an actual German company’s business case problem to develop a solution,” Godin said. “The students are learning to work virtually and overcome time zone and language challenges while incorporating Design Thinking creative strategies to solve issues related to electronic vehicles.”

At the end of the course, teams will present their prototypes to Cronos for feedback and attend a virtual SAP sponsored innovation training from the SAP Leonardo Center in Paris.

“Overall, I think this has been a unique and rewarding experience for our students giving them the opportunity to develop virtual collaboration skills as well as creative problem solving techniques,” she said.

I would like to thank Dr. Godin for this amazing learning opportunity. I would not have been able to experience this project without her help.

-Senior Ally Bass