Developing Global Competence in a Virtual Classroom

In today’s globalized economy, effective leaders must be able to relate to and work with people from diverse cultures. Higher Education has a leading role in creating global citizens through intentional student global competence development opportunities, such as education abroad (American Council on Education, 1998). The importance of developing global competence is reflected in an increasing number of new curricular programs with a global focus offered by universities. As one of the many strategic and systematic efforts to promote global education, the Institute for International Education’s Generation Study Abroad program reports a 300% growth in study abroad programs from 2014-2020 (Institute of International Education, 2022). However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the implementation of intercultural programs, particularly those that require student travel. Given the amount of uncertainty that the future holds, educators must find alternative ways to deliver meaningful learning experiences that focus on the development of global and intercultural competencies. In this paper, we will discuss how two study abroad programs transitioned to a virtual format, enabling students to engage in cross-cultural collaboration and develop global competence in a virtual classroom.

The first program is Croatia Learning Abroad, a faculty-led program for undergraduate business students. Taught abroad over the May-mester term, twenty-four students and two faculty members travel to Zagreb, Croatia for one week and get a first-hand look at international business through company visits and presentations from senior-level executives. In addition to company visits, students join planned and impromptu social events, allowing them to immerse themselves in the local culture. Coursework is completed online once the group returns from the trip. The second program is the International Business Residency (IBR), a week-long, faculty-led learning abroad experience that is an integral part of the lock-step Executive MBA (EMBA) program. All students in the EMBA program participate in the IBR over the May-mester, which involves travel to one or two countries, company visits and presentations from senior-level executives, and cultural immersion. The learning abroad experience is coupled with an International Business course that traditionally features components that are completed prior, during, and following completion of the trip.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both programs had to transition to a virtual format. This paper will outline how the faculty leaders adapted their study abroad programs to create a cross-cultural experiential learning environment online. We will discuss the pedagogical tools that were used to drive home global learning, such as cross-cultural project groups, student reflection journaling, intercultural case studies, and virtual city and company visits. The paper will also include recommendations for future practice, including ways to incorporate global competence learning outcomes and assessments in a virtual program as well as ways to leverage university partnerships in countries abroad in order to deliver successful virtual study abroad programs.