Transforming learning through digital collaboration

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly transformed the landscape of higher education beyond national boundaries and a wide range of learning models are emerging, in particular in online learning at higher education institutions.

During the pandemic, National Taiwan University (NTU) has navigated the challenge of preparing students for the future of learning as well as facilitating online education and virtual exchanges.

As the pandemic has taken hold, institutions of higher education have been required to plan for sustainable initiatives which can enrich students’ transformative learning experience through virtual internationalisation and treating students as active learners.

International collaboration

The Global Learning Initiatives Program is an online learning programme that was launched by NTU in April 2020 among the Association of East Asian Research Universities (AEARU). AEARU is an international network with 19 members from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan.

As the development of information technology has made life easier in many ways and e-learning has become more and more pervasive around the world due to the current global situation, it became essential for members to integrate their resources to build up an inter-campus online course network.

The variety of member universities means that not only can students acquire knowledge from different professors and perspectives, but collaborations between faculty and students at different member universities can be initiated.

The programme aims to incorporate the resources of multiple leading universities to provide unique international learning experiences with different cross-cultural perspectives from students in different locations and regions.

The first pilot round was launched in spring 2021. In this round, there are 90 participating students and 33 faculty members from eight universities.

Twenty-one themed courses were provided in the pilot round, including those related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the Sustainable Development Goals, law, research methodology and the social sciences. The programme allows students to supplement their learning portfolio and take advantage of the ability to interact with students and teachers from other universities and countries.

NTU Plus Academy

The NTU Plus Academy also offers short online programmes to students. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NTU Plus Academy hosted its first online AI Development and Application Program to foster cross-border academic learning and development in 2020. Professors from a variety of departments explain how artificial intelligence (AI) can be integrated with other academic fields.

This programme promotes interdisciplinary teaching and learning by incorporating engineering, agriculture, medicine, geospatial science, human-computer interaction and virtual reality.

This online programme was offered via NTU COOL, an online platform developed by the Digital Learning Center at NTU’s Center for Teaching and Learning Development, where students can access and watch pre-recorded video lectures. The participating professors used NTU COOL’s online quiz to measure students’ learning results.

The programme demonstrates the university’s resilience when it comes to promoting STEM education, allowing 78 students from more than 35 universities and high schools and eight countries and regions to be empowered through online learning.

Keeping pace with next-generation AI technology, NTU hopes to expand the world’s pool of AI talent by sharing Taiwan’s cutting-edge AI knowledge and achievements with students worldwide.

The NTU Office of International Affairs hopes that this online programme will provide a holistic overview of AI, as well as strengthen collaborations among universities beyond national borders.

Given the positive feedback of participants, the programme will be further developed to reach more international students in the future as well as to facilitate global exchanges.

Innovation through partnership

How can distance education help international higher education despite the significant impact of COVID-19? National Taiwan University has been promoting online education by providing numerous online courses in collaboration with university partners worldwide, especially Kyoto University and the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

Over the past few years, more than 300 students from the colleges of engineering and bio-resources and agriculture have participated in online learning.

For instance, D-School at NTU is highly engaged in online curriculum programming, for example, through its Principles and Practices of Global Innovation course.

The interdisciplinary course has been developed in partnership with, for instance, the University of Southern California of the United States, RWTH Aachen University of Germany, Peking University of mainland China, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) of South Korea, Qatar University, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the University of Patras of Greece.

A global classroom is therefore possible in which students in different countries can seize the digital opportunities of international immersion beyond traditional pedagogical approaches.

Through transcending national boundaries, faculty members can build a virtual multicultural learning environment to facilitate collaborative and problem-based learning in addition to introducing innovation to enhance students’ analytic skills. As the higher education sector transforms and embraces a digitally integrated future, partnership building is vital to provide effective online learning.

How can higher education institutions optimise the effectiveness of online programmes and virtual exchanges and overcome the disruption of overseas travel?

In the digital era, the implementation of online international collaborations is an imperative that contributes to the dynamic ecology of knowledge in addition to improving accessibility to higher education and inclusivity.

Innovative online learning could lay the foundations for the future sustainability of higher education and chart a course for greater virtualisation within the campus and beyond.

Professor Hsiao-Wei Yuan is vice-president for international affairs at National Taiwan University. This article is based on his presentation at NAFSA’s recent annual conference.