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Cattolica International

Meet the experts. Richard Russo - University of California, Berkeley

Due to the COVID-19 emergency, many universities had to convert their face-to-face classes to online teaching. As the higher education sector is still adapting to the digital transformation, how can an international student body and its perceived added value to a class translate to a virtual class environment? 
Before COVID-19 colleges and universities were offering many online courses. Yet now what we are experiencing as a result of the shelter-in-place orders, is what I refer to as the “remote revolution”. I am certain that historians will mark the almost overnight shift from office jobs, long commutes, and in-person meetings, classes, and doctor appointments to virtual meetings, classrooms, working from home, and telemedicine. For nearly twenty years, it’s been an uphill battle for me to advance the concept of remote instruction among academics, to shift the delivery of content from in-person to remote formats. Now, in a matter of days, all instruction at my home university has moved to remote formats and our entire summer school will be delivered either through remote means or through already fully developed asynchronous online courses. Because the shift has been so abrupt, the remote revolution has not yet fully considered how the added value of an international student body translates into the virtual class environment. Surely it can be done with thoughtful design - but only to a degree, for nothing can really replicate an immersive, in-person study-abroad experience.

Yes, these new realities have posed many challenges, but we must not ignore the tremendous opportunities that have emerged as a result. To bring home our students from all around the world and to return our international visiting students to their home countries was an emotionally trying experience for everyone involved. I have listened to international education colleagues opine about the future and the possibility of impending doom to international education.  However, I truly believe that the shift toward and acceptance of remote means of education as an effective and quality experience for undergraduates will help fuel the re-launch of study abroad. For decades, my international education colleagues have struggled with enabling STEM majors to study abroad. If we no longer need to worry about interrupting the carousel of courses that engineers or accountants must take in sequence and we can rely on remote delivery of instruction to keep them on track, why could they not do that while they also study French or Mandarin at the world’s best universities thousands of miles away?

While I am excited and embrace the opportunities that online and remote instruction presents to our profession, we must not lose sight of the non-technical education that occurs when a student is physically in another place; talking and eating with people from a far away land, speaking and learning a language in an immersive environment and challenging his or her views of the world through new experiences. Just as it will still be an important developmental step for students to go away to college, live in residence halls, join a club, and become an adult, it will still be just as important for our youth to study abroad. Although we have experienced a terrible setback, I am confident that study abroad will emerge stronger than ever.

When speaking with alumni and students who have participated in study abroad, the most common phrase I hear is “study abroad changed my life.” The connotation of those changes is always as a positive transformation in their attitudes and values around the world and life in general. I, for one, plan to keep changing lives. In the words of Michelle Obama: “The fact is, with every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world. That is so important. So when you study abroad, you’re actually helping make America stronger.” The only change I would make to First Lady Obama’s statement, would be to replace “America” with “the world”.

What could be the advantages to an online international education, and how can these advantages be marketed to international students?

I am absolutely sure that there isn’t a college or university on the planet that isn’t thinking about the expansion of their digital footprint in the online education market. Fully online degrees offered by colleges and universities over the last two decades have provided valuable education to students who could not physically participate in our face-to-face programs. We know these barriers include the inability to move from a home location to the location of the institution, the need to care for children or other family members, the need to work during the hours when live instruction is delivered, and a myriad of financial and affordability barriers. The ability to serve many more students than has traditionally been possible in classrooms has added an efficiency in some disciplines that will help break down time, place and financial barriers. With these realities, we know there are some students that will never study abroad or perhaps even travel abroad. If we can curate virtual educational experiences that approximate the human interaction and transformative experiences of study abroad, we enrich the lives and intellect of those who participate. We have already seen some providers pivot very rapidly to remote internships when all in-person internships ended abruptly. As we now work in this remote world, our future colleagues need experience on how to be successful and make valuable contributions in these new electronic environments.

Working in a university that is part of the very large and robust University of California system, we have already begun to see the advantages of access among our 10 campuses. Students participating in academic courses across the system has significant value and opportunity. In the same vein, many of our institutions are part of multinational university and research partnerships. If those networks of institutions could take advantage of their valuable instructional content that could be leveraged across the world, they could open fields of study and perspectives to our many students who would have been required to relocate previously.

When talking about marketing to international students, I have found that credentialing the educational experience is critical. In a world where nearly every experience comes with some sort of badge or certificate, international education cannot be without. Expanding the ways that students earn certificates, minors, dual degrees, and other credentials will be crucial to a program’s success.

RICHARD RUSSO has served as Dean of Summer Sessions, Study Abroad & Lifelong Learning at the University of California, Berkeley since 2011, while also assuming the role of Associate Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Education since 2015. In addition, he has actively led their continuing expansion through the development of new summer programs and increasing the number of opportunities for Berkeley Study Abroad programs. Russo completed his Bachelor of Science in Accounting at Alfred University in New York, and his Masters of Business Administration at Boston University. He is also a New York State Certified Public Accountant. He has served as the Executive Director of Administration/Chief Financial Officer for the Boston University Division of Extended Education, and as the Director of Finance and Administration for the Boston University Division of International Programs.In 2005, Russo was hired on as the Director of Berkeley Summer Sessions, where he oversaw the development of the first UC Berkeley online courses, enrollment increases of more than 30% in UC students and 80% in visiting students, and the expansion of summer opportunities to include summer minors, internships, and a diverse range of study abroad programs.
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