Two students working in a library with a laptop and post-its.
Two students working in a library with a laptop and post-its.
UNITE! students participated in Aalto University Summer School virtual exchange course
Two students working in a library with a laptop and post-its.
Aalto University is part of the European university alliance UNITE!, a network of seven universities across Europe. The network was established in 2019 to enhance mobility, services and learn within the network. Students from four universities participated in an Aalto University Summer School virtual mobility course in summer 2020.

As a pilot for developing short-term mobility Aalto University Summer School opened up its curriculum for UNITE! students. Ten UNITE! students participated in the Digital Business Master Class (6 ECTS) summer course. Engineering students across Europe were keen to complement their degree studies with business knowledge, and the course spots filled quickly. Students participated from Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Polytechnic University of Turin, TU Darmstadt and KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

We talked to two of the international students who joined the Master Class through the UNITE! Network: Vittorio Viale from the Polytechnic of Turin and Daniel Torán Mercadé from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. Both students enjoyed the virtual learning experience at Aalto. 

'I liked the Master Class course a lot. I was a bit doubtful about the virtual experience first. However, thanks to the great organisation all the lectures were accessible for people from different time zones without any problems. With the use of online platforms (Zoom, Microsoft Teams) the organisers were able to surpass typical lacks of an online course, being able to assign group tasks during the lectures (using small virtual rooms of 4 people) and creating a breakout cafè virtual room!,' Vittorio Viale commented on his course experience.

Daniel Torán Mercadé agreed: 'The Master Class was well suited for virtual work, with teachers that prepared engaging sessions to make the classes more interesting. The teachers were really engaging and professional and it was really helpful to have them present while brainstorming during the course project. We really used what was taught in class for our project.'

International and multidisciplinary virtual learning environment

Similarly to traditional exchange studies, short-term virtual mobility offers students around Europe the opportunity to experience learning in an international environment. Both Viale and Torán Mercadé have participated in traditional student exchanges before. 

Daniel Torán Mercadé enjoyed the real-life project completed on the course: 'My groupmates were really participative, so I was able to work with them professionally, even with these circumstances.' He found the lectures helpful for brainstorming solutions for their project, done in collaboration with technology consultancy CGI. The project work was one of the highlights of the course also for Vittorio Viale, who described working with a company as a perfect way to connect students from the university to the professional world.

For Viale, the Digital Business Master Class at Aalto University also offered a welcome opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary group of people: 'During my previous exchange studies in Japan, I took courses and developed projects, but always with other engineering students. Here the fact that I worked with students from different backgrounds helped me learn a lot of new things! In the end, the technology will continue developing, so I think that the most valuable skills gained are all the experiences shared with the participants of the course: this enables your personal growth.'

Developing solutions for short-term mobility

The work continues within the UNITE! network to collaboratively develop learning opportunities for students in the seven European universities. Virtual exchange has gained importance, due to the ongoing global pandemic, as well as due to the need for providing more flexible and accessible options for mobility.

The Head of Summer School at Aalto University Laura Sivula highlights the importance of educational innovations and program development: 'The landscape of student mobility changed very quickly in the past year, due to the pandemic. Now we are looking forward to developing both virtual and campus short-term mobility opportunities to benefit the students in UNITE! universities. Educational innovations can provide students completely new ways to have international experiences, both at home and visiting other countries. Now is the right time to start testing new solutions for student mobility and building a framework for virtual exchanges in Europe.'

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