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A VIS projects with South Africa: interconnecting and empowering new generation of learners

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, innovative projects that transcend borders and disciplines are shaping the way students learn and collaborate. The VIS project is one such initiative that brings together students from different countries to tackle complex challenges. Today we delve into one such project led by Professor David Fernandez Rivas from the University of Twente, exploring its purpose, execution, challenges faced, and valuable insights gained for future attempts.

About the project

Approximately 15 students from the University of Twente in the Netherlands and 10 students from South Africa took part in this project for 3 months. The core idea of the project is to bridge the gap between students studying in diverse programs across continents. Partnering with educational support staff from Twente (Chemical Engineering) and a group from South Africa (Pharmaceutics), David crafted an ambitious project aimed at exploring solutions for medical treatments, particularly focusing on diseases affecting the skin.

The purpose and execution

The primary objective was to foster collaboration among students with different academic backgrounds and geographical locations. Students were encouraged to synthesize their expertise and cultural perspectives to address real-world problems; the team in Twente had several nationalities. They used a multifaceted approach to achieve their objectives. They participated in online meetings and collaborative sessions facilitated by the Professors. These sessions create an environment for students to exchange ideas, discuss challenges, and co-create solutions. Additionally, students worked on group projects, conducting literature research, analyzing data, and merging their findings into a condensed report and a video presentation. Through peer reviews and constructive feedback sessions, students iteratively refined their work, demonstrating a commitment to excellence and continuous improvement.

Valuable insights and challenges

One of the most inspiring aspects of the project was the enthusiasm displayed by students in engaging with peers from across the globe. Despite logistical challenges such as time zone differences and technical hurdles, students demonstrated remarkable adaptability and commitment to the collaborative process. However, coordinating schedules and ensuring equitable access for the South African students to resources available to the Dutch partners posed significant challenges, highlighting the importance of meticulous planning and support mechanisms.

I was happily surprised to see how the students played along because some of the activities we had were role-playing. In one scenario, one student had to pretend to be a patient, and another the doctor proposing a specific treatment. Both participants behaved very professional, relaxed and were very flexible and open to follow this sort of non-traditional assignments.

Professor David Fernandez Rivas

Lessons learned

Reflecting on the project, David emphasizes the importance of providing ample support to both students and faculty involved in such initiative. He notes, It pays back invest time and resources to guarantee that someone from your own team or university can help with the smallest details, e.g., double-checking timelines or agendas. Furthermore, the project underscored the potential of collaboration between different backgrounds in fostering creativity and problem-solving skills among students. All students reported positive experiences and showed up for a wrap-up event (see video link).

Tips for fellow educators

Drawing from his experience, David highlights key tips for fellow educators embarking on similar collaborative projects. He emphasizes the importance of starting with clear objectives and a well-organized plan when initiating similar projects. The objectives and order of activities might slightly change, and being flexible as a team can mitigate stress. To this aim, regular communication with students and clear instructions are essential for keeping everyone on track. Furthermore, he stresses the significance of establishing support systems and backup plans to tackle unforeseen challenges effectively, particularly for teachers or professors with busy agendas.

Future recommendations

Looking ahead, David recommends expanding inexpensive projects like VIS, highlighting their role in preparing students for the complexities of the global labour market. He underscores the need for greater visibility and recognition of teaching initiatives that prioritize experiential learning and cross-cultural exchange.
By breaking down geographical and disciplinary barriers, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and innovation, initiatives like VIS will pave the way for a more interconnected and empowered generation of learners.

It prepares them for real-life work environments that sometimes are very different from what they imagine.

Professor David Fernandez Rivas