Mariet Vriens describes current research into virtual internships and their advantages and pitfalls.
In 2009 the Media and Learning Department of the KU Leuven in Belgium began exploring the possibilities of virtual internships. After a decade of building experience in virtual mobility (or ICT-supported international learning experiences), this seemed a logical next step.
The topic also became increasingly relevant against the background of globalisation and the increasing need for graduates to have international work experience.
Undertaking a “real life” international internship, however, can be quite an endeavour. It is not always feasible for students because of financial or social reasons. Internships abroad are also not easy to combine with other schoolwork.
Would it be possible to “send” these students on a virtual international internship, where all communication and collaboration between student and company takes place with the support of ICT tools? We set out to find out.
Supported by the Life Long Learning programme of the European Commission, KU Leuven co-ordinated two European projects about virtual internships between 2009 and 2014.
The first project, EU-VIP , brought together 16 partners from eight different European countries, mainly student networks and higher education institutions.
In the second project, PROVIP, 14 partners joined forces and a number of business networks were also included to strengthen the
As a network bringing together businesses and business schools, EFMD was a very valuable partner in both projects, which focused on applied research. Theoretical frameworks were tested and improved through small pilot projects.
So, what’s in it for you?
A virtual internship is, of course, very different to a “real” internship but the experience none the less valuable. It is an additional way of providing students with an international work experience with its own merits and problems.
One clear advantage is that a virtual internship helps to equip the student with the necessary skills for teleworking and online collaboration in an international setting, skills that he or she will most likely need more and more in his or her future professional life.
International internships should always support the student in the development of international and/or intercultural competencies. We talk about international competencies when we refer, for example, to knowledge about different international systems or markets. This knowledge can, of course, be perfectly transferred over the digital highway.
Intercultural competencies are more generic and value based. They are about effective and appropriate behaviour and communication.
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