Accessible virtual mobility 1

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1 Accessible virtual mobility 1 Erika Pigliapoco, Alessandro Bogliolo ISTI/CRiSeL - University of Urbino [erika.pigliapoco, Abstract Students mobility is one of the main means for achieving internationalization of higher education, thus enhancing course quality and promoting intercultural understanding. Virtual mobility exploits ICT to enhance the opportunities of international cooperation and exchange, allowing students to take part in the activities of a foreign university without traveling. There are different types of virtual mobility, including virtual courses/seminars co-organized by partner universities, joint virtual programmes, virtual internships, and online support activities to physical exchange. Virtual Erasmus aims at fostering virtual mobility by bringing virtual exchanges within the well established Erasmus framework. Virtualization is typically used in virtual campuses to enhance accessibility of higher education. This paper focuses on the relation between virtual campuses and virtual Erasmus to investigate to what extent virtualization may enhance the accessibility of international mobility programmes by addressing linguistic diversity, policy constraints, information asymmetry, personal and social needs, disabilities, and digital divide. All the above accessibility issues have been addressed by the so called worldwide campus model, which has been adopted by the online BS degree program in Applied Computer Science of the University of Urbino, which will be used as a case study throughout the paper. Keywords: virtual mobility, virtual Erasmus, accessibility, virtual campus Introduction Mobility can be defined as the individual capability of moving from a location to another one in a given space. According to Silvio (2001), mobility may take place in a geographical, social or virtual space, with a further distinction between horizontal and vertical social mobility. Academic mobility has been traditionally intended as a change of location in the geographical space, also known as physical mobility, aimed at enhancing the quality and reinforcing the international dimension of higher education. Virtual mobility has been recently enabled by the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to provide the same benefits as one would have with physical mobility but without the need to travel (Rajagopal et al., 2006). In general, the need for physical academic mobility comes from the distance in space between the university campus a student belongs to and a remote place where he/she needs to go in order to take part in a particular educational activity. The passage from physical mobility to virtual mobility is usually achieved by virtualizing, to some extent, the remote activities. This can be done by means of: i) virtual courses/seminars co-organized by partner universities, ii) joint virtual programmes, iii) virtual internships, or iv) online support activities to physical exchange (Rajagopal et al., 2006). 1 This work was partially supported by Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Pesaro

2 There is, however, another step that can be made towards virtual mobility, which is the delocalization of the university campus the student belongs to. Delocalization is one of the main features of virtual campuses, which have been enabled, in their turn, by the introduction of ICT in education. A virtual campus is the distance-learning community of an academic institution, also called virtual university, providing most of its courses by means of distance teaching (Mason, R. et al., 2002). Virtual campuses have been created, starting in the early 70 s, with the main objective of exploiting some forms of virtuality to relax the constraints of traditional higher education, thus enhancing its accessibility. Bacsich (2004) recognizes six dimensions of virtuality that can be used to this purpose: i) reduction of the physical presence of students in campus, ii) non-conventional use of staff, iii) outsourcing of network support, iv) reduction of infrastructures, v) relaxation of policy constraints, vi) flexibility of programs. Among these dimensions, the first one is a necessary condition for virtual mobility. Focusing on virtual mobility, in this paper the phrase virtual campus (VC) will be used to denote any university campus exploiting the first dimension of virtuality to delocalize its educational activities and increase the accessibility of the degree programs it provides. In contrast, virtual mobility project (VMP) will be used to denote any specific initiative aiming to enable cultural exchanges and cross-border educational experience without traveling, possibly exploiting pre-existent virtual campuses. This paper investigates how VCs can be used to boost the development of VMPs and to what extent virtualization may enhance the accessibility of international mobility programmes. Virtual Erasmus will be taken as a paradigmatic case of virtual mobility, while the worldwide campus model implemented by the University of Urbino will be used as a case study. Virtual campuses and virtual mobility With respect to the need for moving from a place to another one, virtual mobility can be achieved by delocalizing either the starting point, or the destination point, or both of them, thus shifting the mobility need from physical space to virtual space. This shift is the key objective of any VMP, which requires a different organizational effort depending on the target type of mobility and on the context to which it is applied. There are four different situations which may affect the implementation of VMPs. In the first case (hereafter denoted by P-P, staying for physical-physical) the starting point is a traditional university and the target is a face-to-face educational activity provided by a remote university; in the second case (P-V, staying for physical-virtual) the starting point is a traditional university and the target is a remote virtual activity; in the third case (V-P) the starting point is a virtual university and the target is a remote face-to-face activity; in the fourth case (V-V) both the starting point and the target are virtual. Table 1. Virtual mobility types enabled by pre-existent virtualization destination point P V starting point P iv i, iii, iv V (i), (iii), iv i, ii, iii, iv

3 Table 1 shows which types of virtual mobility are inherently enabled in the four situations outlined above, represented as the entries of a matrix built by crossing the physical/virtual (P/V) classification of the starting point and the destination point of a VMP. The types of virtual mobility (Rajagopal et al., 2006) are denoted by the ordinal numbers used to list them in the Introduction. Types i and iii are bracketed in the bottom-left entry since virtual mobility can be also enabled, in a less intuitive way, by the delocalization of the starting point. This will be clarified later on in this section by means of Example 1. The fact that the virtual support required to implement virtual mobility may be already available at the starting and/or destination points, does not reduce the need for VMPs. In fact, virtualization is not the only prerequisite for virtual mobility, but organizational, economic, cultural, linguistic, administrative and regulatory issues need to be addressed as well. Hence, VMPs are needed to promote and implement virtual mobility, as well as physical mobility projects have been required to promote and develop student exchanges among traditional universities. Pre-existent virtualization is neither necessary or sufficient by itself to implement virtual mobility. It is not a necessary condition since VMPs can also include the virtualization effort required to enable virtual mobility starting from a traditional situation, while it is not sufficient since all organizational aspects need to be addressed in any case, regardless of the degree of exploitable virtualization. Example 1. Consider, for instance, a VMP aiming to allow students to take courses from a foreign university, by implementing the first type of virtual mobility. Starting from a P-P situation, a virtualization effort is required to delocalize the remote activity. On the contrary, starting from either P-V or V-V situations, no virtualization efforts are required since the VMP can directly exploit the virtual nature of the target activity. Finally, starting from a V-P situation, the remote course needs to be virtualized in order to be made available without imposing students to travel. According to Table 1, however, some form of virtual mobility is already enabled in the V-P situation by the delocalization of the starting point. In fact, the traveling requirements are not directly determined by the physical distance between the two institutions involved in the project, but they depend on the place where the student lives, which could be even closer to the destination than to the starting point. In any case, all situations impose a similar effort from the organizational and institutional point of view. Virtuality for accessibility Virtual mobility is usually more accessible than physical mobility because it is more compatible with personal needs, national immigration policies, and economic conditions. The student who moves in the virtual space can benefit from remote educational activities without leaving his family/job, without crossing any country border and without incurring traveling costs. Moreover, virtual mobility overcomes some of the barriers due to physical impairments. Virtual campuses have similar beneficial effects on the accessibility of higher education programs (Pigliapoco et al., 2005). In fact, since it is very hard to find a sustainable tradeoff between study, work and personal needs, enrolling in a traditional academic degree program is often considered to be incompatible with individual s conditions. As a matter of fact, the student population of VCs is mainly composed of full-time workers, while face-to-face degree programs are mainly attended by full-time students (Cerejo et al., 2001). The application of VMPs to VCs has not only the advantage of exploiting the existing virtuality to reduce the implementation effort, but also the benefit of offering virtual mobility opportunities to people who could not take part in physical mobility projects, thus realizing a better match between demand and supply.

4 In fact, most of the students attending a virtual campus would not take part in physical mobility projects because of their personal conditions. On the other hand, students enrolled in a traditional course are not familiar with distance learning and they are less motivated to take advantage of virtual mobility. Virtual Erasmus as a form of virtual mobility Erasmus (EC, 2007) is a EU transnational cooperation and mobility programme aimed to improve the quality and the variety of the academic and vocational education, to enhance the attractiveness of EU tertiary education, to promote the cooperation between European countries and third countries, to improve the accessibility of higher education, and to boost the transparency and full academic recognition of studies and qualifications throughout the Union. Students mobility is one of the key actions supported by the EU to reach these goals, accounting for more than 80% of the budget of the entire Erasmus programme within the Lifelong Learning framework In particular, mobility activities include student exchanges, joint development of study programmes (curriculum development), international intensive programmes and language courses, and accreditation (European credit transfer system). Virtual Erasmus (Mázár et al., 2006) denotes the use of ICT to virtualize (some of) the actions of the Erasmus programme in order to improve their efficiency. In practice, virtual Erasmus exploits the four types of virtual mobility introduced by Rajagopal et al. (2006) to implement the mobility actions mentioned above. Case study The case study used for the analysis is an online degree program in Applied computer science (ACS) delivered by the University of Urbino, in Italy, which was specifically designed in 2004 to meet internationalization and accessibility needs by implementing the so-called worldwide campus model (Pigliapoco et al., 2005). The ACS program can be defined as a pure-cross-border accredited BS degree program characterized by the following distinguishing features: 1) it meets strict policy requirements for accreditation; 2) it makes use of a network of 75 examination centers available all over the world in order to allow students to take fully recognized exams from their own countries; 3) it provides online registrars office and support services; 4) it provides remote internship opportunities; 5) it makes use of English as a common vehicular language; 6) it adopts the CLIL (content and language integrated learning) methodology to allow students to learn the vehicular language while studying computer science. As a consequence, students from all over the world take part in the same learning community without the need for crossing country borders, so that they can enroll independently of national immigration quota systems. The above-mentioned features make the ACS program particularly suitable for the application of virtual Erasmus, in that: it is accredited within the ECT system, it is delivered by a European academic institution, it promotes the international dimension of education, it addresses the main accessibility issues of higher education and it provides an ideal support to implement all types of virtual mobility. In particular, the first and the third types of virtual mobility (which include single activities and internships) can be implemented either by making the activities of the ACS program available to students enrolled in other universities (thus taking advantage of a P-V or V-V situation depending on the nature of the campus they come from), or to allow ACS students to take part in activities provided by other institutions (thus taking advantage of a V-P or V-V situation depending on the degree of virtualization of the remote activity). The second type of mobility (which provides for the development of joint

5 curricula) can be implemented by mixing and sharing virtual activities with partner institutions. Finally, the fourth type of mobility (which includes online support activities to physical exchange) is facilitated by the online support service provided by the degree program. In summary, the worldwide campus model supplies the virtualization support for accessibility and internationalization, while the Erasmus programme provides a well-established regulatory framework for implementing VMPs. The combination of the two elements represents a significant step towards the overcoming of the typical bottlenecks of virtual mobility: e-competence development, collaboration models, agreements, accreditation, and cultural differences (Schreurs et al., 2006). Conclusions The application of the first dimension of virtuality (Bacsich, 2004) to universities offers new means to pursue the goals of the Erasmus programme by enabling cultural exchanges and cross-border learning experience in the virtual space. The main benefit of virtual mobility in comparison with physical mobility is the enhanced accessibility of the virtual experiences, that do not impose students to travel, to sustain additional expenses, to leave their own families/jobs, to cross country borders or to meet physical barriers. Existent virtual campuses represent a valuable starting point for implementing virtual mobility initiatives for two main reasons: first, because they do not impose further virtualization effort to make remotely available their learning activities; second, because their student population represents the ideal target for virtual mobility projects. The relationship between virtual campuses and virtual mobility has been investigated in the paper starting from a classification of virtual mobility projects and using a case study to point out the inherent potential of a virtual campus in terms of virtual mobility. It is worth mentioning, however, that the ideal goal of obtaining the same benefits of physical mobility without the need to travel (Rajagopal et al., 2006) is actually unreachable in the virtual space, because of the loss of many practical experiences and feelings. Virtual mobility is a suitable alternative to physical mobility whenever the journey is just a mean to reach the remote target activity. However, virtual mobility is a poor alternative to physical mobility whenever the journey in itself is one of the main added values of the exchange project. In other words, virtuality provides the opportunity to pull down some accessibility barriers, and such an opportunity is worth being taken in order to allow mobility programmes to reach a wider target. However, removing the barriers subtracts something to the experience of those people who would have all the means and capabilities for overcoming such barriers by themselves. References Silvio, J. (2001). Virtual mobility and lifelong learning in the Internet, in Proceedings of the International Networking Conference (INET'2001), Rajagopal, K. et al. (2006). European Cooperation in Education Through Virtual Mobility: A Best-Practice Manual. EUROPACE IVZW, Heverlee (Belgium), Mason, R. and Rennie, F. (2002). UK Models of Virtual Universities, in Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE-02), 2002.

6 Bacsich, P. (2004). The e-university compendium, Higher Education Academy, UK, Pigliapoco, E. and Bogliolo, A. (2005). Global Accessibility of Higher Education: Using ICT to Build a Worldwide Campus, in Proceedings of EISTA (EISTA-05), Cerejo, M.V.P. et al. (2001). Factors Facilitating Student Participation in Asynchronous Web- Based Courses, The Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 18 (1), 32-39, 2001.

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