Virtual study tours are providing numerous benefits amidst international travel bans – including the unexpected.
Longstanding tour provider Australian International Student Tours recently completed their first ever virtual program, linking students from Tokyo with a group of South-East Queensland schools.
In one of the sessions, Indigenous students from one of the participating schools, took the lead on the culture-based lesson.
“The students explained their stories and culture, dating back tens of thousands of years,” said Tanya Ferguson, Australian International Student Tours’ CEO.
"When the lesson ended, the students in Japan were holding their smartphones up to the screen, sharing their QR codes with the students from the classroom in Brisbane, so they could connect. So, in the space of 45 minutes, we went from ancient culture and its ways of communicating culture, through to modern day social media. It was quite amazing to take in.”
“We have to remember that an international study trip is an important part of the overall school experience for many cultures, and COVID-19 has taken that away.”
“I think the virtual format can still play an important role in developing exposure to new cultures, ways of thinking about the wider world, and - as we saw – social connections.”
Like other edutourism specialists, Australian International Study Tours has endured an extremely difficult 15 months. Last month’s two-day virtual tour program – organised for 100 students from the private Tokyo high school - was the first engagement the company had facilitated since March 2020.
The Tokyo-based school had travelled to Queensland four times previously. But Ms Ferguson said some groundwork needed to be laid to convince the partner of the benefits of the virtual program.
“Even though we recognise the Japanese culture as being very tech-savvy, the classroom environment is a bit different. Japanese education agents are very traditional in their thinking, so we had to thoroughly outline what the program would achieve through the virtual format.”
Ms Ferguson knew the program needed to be highly interactive.
“We used Teams and Zoom and took the students into the classroom environment for a true experience. The South-East Queensland students had interests and studies in Japanese so, from their end, it was equally beneficial for them as well, which is the goal of all of our programs”.
“We design the programs to suit the clients – we don’t have a template.”
Ms Ferguson said Australian International Student Tours were investigating the crossover development of their in-person marine-based programs to virtual interactions for schools in Italy and China.
She said the virtual format could be a valuable precursor to the in-person student experience, once international borders re-opened.
“This was our first virtual program and we've learned so much from the experience.”
“Out of the virtual format, we found out different aspects of the Japanese curriculum that we can better support, and tailor future experiences from that."
“Even once international borders re-open, I think there’ll continue to be a role for the virtual format.”