Transcending international boundaries online to create a global community

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In this post, Lauren Johnston-Smith, Online Learning Marketing Project Manager in Learning Teaching and Web, shares some insights from online students’ experiences of being part of a global academic community…

Since 2005, the University of Edinburgh has delivered postgraduate degrees online to more than 7,500 students. On a practical level, studying online is convenient; it enables individuals to maintain professional and personal commitments without relocating. Our online students come from more than 140 countries, and the majority are studying part-time while they work, with the aim of progressing their career and increasing their knowledge in their chosen specialist subject. The degrees are 100% online and are taught through a virtual learning environment, which enables students to connect with their classmates and professional colleagues worldwide.

Let us travel on a whistle-stop tour of the globe to hear what some of our students have to say about the value of online communities that transcend international boundaries.

We start our journey in the UK, where 38% of our online students are based. Kelly-Ann Dempsey lives in Scotland, but chose to study the MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health online so she could gain further ecological qualifications while working full time:

One of the most exciting things about the course is being able to learn from people from all over the world. It was quite a unique experience to participate in discussion fuelled by wide ranging experiences and backgrounds.

Across the Atlantic in Canada, Bronte Patterson says the real benefit comes from the international and interdisciplinary aspect that the Master of Public Health degree fosters:

You’re removing yourself from, let’s say, the Canadian context and you’re able to gain more perspective, having different conversations and discussions with people across the world.

Watch the video below to hear more about Bronte’s experience of the Master of Public Health (MPH) online programme:

Without the experience and insight of others, it’s all too easy to believe that your opinion on a topic is the only view. Anthony Adeea Mba, a Ghanaian conservationist studying the MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem, says:

There are times when I read material and form my own opinion, and I kind of feel like that is the only opinion of this subject. And then I go to the discussion board and I discover that people have a different perspective about it and when I read them all, it actually opens my perspective and makes me think in different ways.

Many students are new to online learning when they first start studying with us. Sheng Xiangjun from China, says that her view on the credibility of online learning changed after taking the MSc in Digital Education:

The discussion in the forums and the assignment comments from tutors and peers were very interesting and enlightening. The programme established a bridge for me to communicate with learners throughout the world and changed my previous point of view on online learning.

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For students studying degrees aligned with their career, there is demonstrable value in sharing professional experiences. Mihiri Tantirimudalige in Sri Lanka, studying the Master of Family Medicine, says that the degree enabled her to:

get a wide range of opinions from other students, which I was not exposed to before… Through the discussion forums, I was able to identify the more global issues that are being faced – it’s been a real-eye opener for me.

In 2013, Lughano Kalongolera became the first Malawian to graduate from an online surgical training programme. He found the case studies enlightening:

I learnt a lot about how to manage patients optimally through the discussions. The interaction with students from other countries broadened my knowledge of managing the same cases in a different way.

As we reach the end of our brief world tour, there is no doubt that online learning builds effective and dynamic global communities of students. Just as Edinburgh was at the centre of the 18th century Enlightenment era that sparked the modern age, today’s online learning technology enables our academic colleagues to foster new perspectives among researchers, students and thinkers based far from the physical confines of our Edinburgh campus.

You can watch more interviews with online students and graduates on MediaHopper Create.

Lauren Johnston-Smith

Lauren Johnston-Smith is Online Learning Marketing Project Manager in the Learning Teaching and Web division of Information Services at the University of Edinburgh, where she identifies, delivers and champions development projects to enhance the presence of the University’s online learning portfolio. Lauren has 20 years’ experience in marketing higher education and the arts. She has worked at the University since 2010, formerly holding the position of Marketing and Communications Manager in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Graduate School.

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