1. Background detail about the initiative
- Title of the initiative described by the case study: Multidisciplinary and international virtual collaboration on the “Shared Garden”
- Contributor of the case study: María Fernández-University of León, León, Spain / Raga and Thierry Villard,University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France
- Data sources used for the case study: Documentation, websites and Publications:
- Fernández-Raga, M., & Villard, T. (2020). Multidisciplinary and international virtual collaboration on the “Shared Garden” between the Universities of Bordeaux and León. In F. Helm & A. Beaven (Eds), Designing and implementing virtual exchange – a collection of case studies (pp. 59-68). Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2020.45.1115
- Fernández-Raga, M., Villard, V., Palencia, C., Castañón, A. M., Viejo, J., & Gómez Fernández, F. (2019). Virtual exchange in engineering to realize a learning experience based on projects using ICTs. TEEM’19: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Technological Ecosystems for Enhancing Multiculturality (pp. 689-695). https://doi.org/10.1145/3362789.3362790
- Guth, S., Helm, F., & O’Dowd, R. (2014). Telecollaborative foreign language networks in European universities: a report on current attitudes and practices. Bellaterra Journal of Teaching and Learning Language & Literature, 7(4), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/jtl3.609
- Lewis, T., & O’Dowd, R. (2016). Introduction to online intercultural exchange. In R. O’Dowd & T. Lewis (Eds), Online intercultural exchange: policy, pedagogy, practice (pp. 3-20). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315678931
- URL of initiative
- University behind the initiative: University of León, León, Spain University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France
2. Introduction to the case: brief history and goals of the initiative
Overview and History:
The project, called Shared Garden, is centered on a physical area situated on the campus in Bordeaux, given to students in order to allow them to design a garden under the philosophy of ecological and sustainable parameters. They can plant, design their watering system, measure humidity and production, and use all these ideas to discuss and explore the possibilities and consequences of their decisions. Because French participants are second-year students, they have less experience in technical solutions, so Spanish students help them design elements to allow them to save water in their garden. It is called Shared Garden because of the collaboration of students of different years and countries working together.
There have been two iterations of the project, one in the academic year 2018- 2019 and the second one in 2019-2020.
- The French students taking part in the project are undergraduate students and more precisely second-year students enrolled in the APME department.
- The students in Spain are also undergraduate students but from the fourth year of the Degree in Electrical Engineering of the University of León.
Goals and approach
The Shared Garden project was developed mainly to respond to 2 major needs:
- to help students get a better insight into water shortage issues by imagining a cheap eco-friendly watering system, which could be used for our Shared Garden.
- to enable students to improve their communication skills by working in English and to work with an international team; thus, working on their soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving, would be helpful to navigate their future professional life.
In addition to this, the specificity of this PBL (Problem-Based Learning) is that it includes collaborative work in teams using English, by incorporating VE activities. This means that it enriches the number of skills developed thanks to the combination of PBL with intercultural interaction, like improvement in language skills or work in international environments. These goals had eventually ended up being highly valued by the students from both institutions since it prepared them for their future professional life in many ways.
Students had to:
- be autonomous and come up with new ideas
- share and communicate by using a foreign language
- work in teams
All these activities helped them become aware of others’ working culture and gave them some keys to a successful professional career.
These skills are eventually beneficial for future work careers since the working market now requires students and professionals who are flexible, versatile, and open to others, and this project helps them face these challenges.
As an approach, and due to the different academic calendars at the University of León and the Institute of Technology in Bordeaux, the project ran from October to May and was organised into three different steps for better coordination and maximum knowledge coverage for both institutions.
3. Key aspects
Pedagogical innovations & teaching methods
The French students’ activities were done from October until January and presented to the Spanish students in February, to allow them to think about ideas to improve the work done. Just after that, students were divided into small groups of four students depending on the number of students in each year (three Spanish and one French, or two Spanish and two French), in order to make well-balanced international groups.
After the presentations, a PBL activity was proposed to the students, who had to decide on a challenge or improvement of the project that they would like to develop together. The ensuing discussion allowed students to exchange opinions with peers, decide how to deal with the challenge as a team, think about each other’s abilities, skills, and weaknesses, and manage the time working in a group.
The teams communicated in English, which is highly relevant in terms of developing their ability to work in an international environment where English could be used as an international language. Other abilities were also developed, because time management, resources, efforts, and schedules had to be adjusted to an international context. During the two months of this activity, students had to resolve small conflicts, organize meetings, and plan assignments.
Teachers acted as guides and were able to participate and contribute to the students’ knowledge despite the distance, integrating knowledge from their different fields (language and engineering).
The project was integrated with an activity of co-teaching, where the French science teacher traveled to teach Spanish students in March, and the Spanish engineering teacher went to Bordeaux to teach local students for a week.
Tools/ technology used to implement the initiative
Team Members organized meetings through the Zoom platform, which allows them to hold and record video conferences, chat, share documents, and make presentations to share their results with other teams in a plenary meeting with all the Spanish and French students.
Following the teachers’ instructions about how tasks should be accomplished, each international team of four students needed to elaborate a PowerPoint presentation about an improvement in the Shared Garden.
In addition to Zoom, students used: WhatsApp videos, Google Docs, Skype, Trello, or any other means they found relevant
Assessment of learning outcomes
This project was highly valued by the students from both institutions since it prepared them for their future professional life in many ways. Indeed, students have to be autonomous and come up with new ideas, which they have to share andcommunicate using a foreign language. They also have towork in teams, which might be difficult for some of our students, especially for the French cohort, who are younger. All these activities helped the students become aware of others’ working culture and gave them some keys to a successful professional career. The project showed the students how enriching interdisciplinary projects can be both personally and professionally. The specificity of this PBL is that it includes collaborative work in teams using English, by incorporating VE activities. This means that it enriches the number of skills developed thanks to the combination of PBL with intercultural interaction, like improvement in language skills or work in international environments.
The final PBL presentation that the students had to produce at the end of the project on the application of fluid mechanics concepts accounted for 15% of the global grade, but this mark was the result of the combination of the evaluation given by all students and teachers involved. The mark obtained by each student was made up of the average grade given by the teachers, as well as marks are given by the other groups and by the participants of the same group (accounting for 50%, 30%, and 20% of the final mark respectively) following the instructions and rubrics showed in Fernández-Raga et al. (2019).
This activity allows the project to adapt to different time frames, different specialties, and different numbers of students.
The objectives have been fully achieved since students reported that they felt to have learned to express themselves better when communicating with non-experts, were no longer afraid of expressing themselves in a foreign language, and were better able to evaluate themselves and their peers.
4. Lessons Learnt and Transferability Opportunities
Engagement , Opportunities and advantages
The project has proven to be highly beneficial on various levels such as:
One of the main advantages was the interdisciplinary approach to this activity, which combined English and Science, allowing a more comprehensive, ecological, and valid solution to a complex problem like the global awareness of drought issues.
Pluralism, Motivation and Involvement
This VE project reinforced their teamwork abilities, and their use of new technologies, which are the basis to allow communication between team members who are in two different countries. As mentioned in Fernández-Raga et al. (2019), it also allowed the development of other skills such as better time management, individual responsibility in the assigned tasks, and improved communication with non-experts, since the teachers who collaborated in the project belong to different complementary areas and these aspects were valued in the evaluation rubrics.
The introduction of instructions on how students should be evaluated and evaluate their peers, served as an advantage, since this allowed students to feel empowered in their learning.
Green and sustainable: Each iteration of the VE project was meant to contribute to a more sustainable garden, which will be developed with the ideas of the students year after year, developing and implementing the strategic objectives of Agenda 2030.
All the skills learnt will eventually serve for a better integration into the career market.
A major challenge to this experience was the evaluation process, due to several aspects such as the distance, the different grades of students (During the first iteration, the French students did not take this activity seriously since there was no formal assessment. If students are not highly motivated, their skills will not improve much. So, in the second iteration, the project proposed to have some academic assessment, maintaining the activity voluntary for the Spanish students but compulsory for the French students), and the different criteria of the teachers involved.
Lack of motivation: during the first iteration, the French students did not take the activity seriously since there was no formal assessment. If students are not highly motivated, their skills will not improve much.
This activity should be enriched with a blended mobility of a week for the students in each country. This would be very attractive for students, and would help develop strong bonds with their project peers. It would also contribute to the internationalisation process of both institutions. In any case, this initiative can be easily adapted and launched in any other degree course and subject, by searching for challenges that may be attractive to students, and looking for students and teachers willing to collaborate internationally. There is no requirement for teachers to belong to the same area, since a multidisciplinary focus represents the general environment of a company where there are many more multicultural and multidisciplinary teams that allow them to carry out more complex projects.