#43: Virtual Bon Voyage (Summer Shorts)



Here’s another Wired Ivy Summer Shorts – Virtual Bon Voyage!

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Hello everyone, Dan here.  The summer is coming to an end in Pennsylvania.  It was a hot one — something to expect these days.  With improving pandemic conditions and reasonable precautions, it’s been a good year to travel again.  

I often think of that Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”  I often think of it, partly because it’s printed on my coffee mug, but mostly because I believe exploring distant cultures and places, and meeting new people is one of the most mind-expanding things you can do — and a great education tool.

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Exploring distant cultures and places, and meeting new people, is one of the most mind-expanding things you can do, and also a great educational tool. #HigherEd #VirtualTravel #OnlineLearning


In Episode 40, “globetrotters.edu,” Sandy Strick and Karen Edwards at the University of South Carolina, described how they created virtual study abroad trips for their Hospitality and Marketing students.   Initially, they needed an alternative when the pandemic stopped international travel, but they discovered they had created a valuable format to use for learners who couldn’t travel for myriad reasons.

They got me thinking about my own work in global education.  The master’s degree I work in is asynchronous and online.   The one exception being that everyone takes a ten-day, real-time global study trip, and I get to lead several of those trips.  Like other study abroad programs, our approach was to have “trip-prep activities” pre-departure.  But in retrospect, these were too passive and really missing an opportunity.

In online learning we’re equipped to do so much more than that.  Wired Ivy’s regular listeners have heard me talk about innovative ways to include field trips into online learning.  And Sandy and Karen, along with our third guest that day, Tori Ellenburger from Deakin University, described how they are creating fully remote global study experiences.  So I challenged myself to rethink my approach and to design a virtual trip as an integral component of the complete global experience.

Since recording Episode 40, I’ve lead three ten-day, graduate-level trips to Finland, Switzerland and Italy, and Argentina, respectively.  In the first two programs we built out a full three-week virtual trip.  For the third one to Argentina, we created a limited set of activities because of calendar and program constraints.   And then, earlier trips I’ve led to China did not have what I would call a robust, intentional, virtual travel component as part of the program.

So here are my notes on the approach I took and what I learned this summer.

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I want to explain how I built out virtual global study to fit the learning objectives that we have.  But first, I want to give a shout out to my colleagues at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability.  While I took the lead on developing the structure of the virtual trips, our global study program is a large team effort.

So, unlike Sandy and Karen, my virtual trip was going to always be paired with an actual in-country experience where we were going to meet experts in the field of sustainability.  I didn’t have their need to set up remote meetings, interviews, or presentations between experts abroad and our learners.  In fact, I couldn’t do that since our program is asynchronous.   

I broke the full global study into four modules.  The first one is called Getting There and Back.  It’s an information space for logistics and planning about the travel itself and holds no points for credit.  The fourth module is all about the in-country experience.  It’s a workspace for the agenda, daily recordings, and final program deliverables.  That left me with Modules Two and Three to design the virtual global study trip.

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So I made Module Two about Context.  The goal of this module is to connect to the culture of the host country.  It’s both multimedia and multi-sensory.  Now, if you know me, you will not be surprised that I start with food whenever possible, and I did so in this case, too.  The first activity is called “Dinner and a Show.”  I ask the learners to investigate both the cuisine and the performing arts of our destination, and curate a sample of each to present to the team.   

Next up is “Go on a Tour.”  360-videos are widely available on the internet and great for getting an immersive visual read of a place.  They are basically path videos where a camera moves along a route, but the viewer can move the aspect around and look in all different directions as the film is going.  The best ones include the soundscapes of the places, or even voice-over information.  If you’ve never played with 360s, definitely type “360 video” and your favorite city or National Geographic location into your search engine. See what comes up.  

If 360-videos aren’t available for a place, likely your learners can find fixed-camera walking tour videos.  Google Street View is also a useful option for looking around, where the learner can create their own path with still images but, alas, there’s no sound with that one.  Again I ask the learner/voyager to curate a selection of videos and present them to the team.  

The third part of context is “Narrate the Story.”  In this activity the students are asked to discover and re-present a story of the place.   It can be historical, geographical, political, social, demographic, or any other angle that is of interest. 

The goal of the context activities in Module Two is for each learner to explore a specific inquiry based on their own interests, while the team cumulatively builds out a multifaceted view of the host country.

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The goal is for each learner to explore a specific inquiry based on their own interests, while the team cumulatively builds out a multifaceted view of the host country. #HigherEd #VirtualTravel #OnlineLearning


Module 3 is about Engagement.  We tie this to the specific program agenda and learning outcomes for each country, which we put a lot of work into.  Often in our programs there are meetings with academics, and we use the virtual field trip to review and analyze research that they have published. These could be about environmental security in Finland, lake pollution in Switzerland, or climate and architectural preservation in Italy.  There is also a wealth of information to study for meetings in the commercial sector, often on the company’s website.  These can be as varied as the Reindeer Herders’ Association in Rovaniemi, or ACBC Shoes in Milano, or the Bodega LaGarde winery in Mendoza.  

The goal of the Engagement module is to begin work on the program-specific learning outcomes, prepare for meetings, and in some cases begin to build relationships with our in- country hosts.

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So you might ask: well, what are the outcomes from this Virtual Bon Voyage?

Well, setting aside the fact that I have small test and control groups, anecdotal data, and investigator’s bias, I still have some clear opinions about the outcomes.  And in my defense, these not only from my observations, but also from polling the learners at the end of the courses.

1. Overall, the virtual trip sped up the orientation in the actual trip.  At the simplest level, the learners arrived with specific foods they wanted to seek out and try or, in the case of La Bomba de Tiempo, drum performances they wanted to hear.  The virtual travel had engendered an active sojourner mode in the learners.

2. When it came time for our in-country program, the learners engaged more quickly and more significantly.  This happened at the macro level and at the micro level.  At the macro level, being engaged with the entire schedule of activities early seemed to promote anticipation excitement.  Perhaps more importantly, at the micro level, they entered meetings well-versed in the background and work of our hosts.   Frankly, I felt like the conversations and questions were just better when the learners were able to engage immediately.

3. The virtual travel reinforced my perennial strategy to create a learning community.  Even though the virtual travel was asynchronous, it was intentionally designed to be done collectively.  Everything was directed towards informing the team as a whole.  I often find it is easy to bond with people I am traveling with – it’s something about the shared experience.  By all indications, even virtual travel experiences facilitate community building and bonding. And…

4. The virtual global study imparted knowledge of the place and the country that the physical trip didn’t.  This is a way of making the overall experience bigger and expanding learning outcomes.

There may well be other outcomes worth reporting as this innovation is refined, but these are my initial conclusions, and my musings from the summer. 

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Even though the virtual travel was asynchronous, it was intentionally designed to be done collectively. Everything was directed towards informing the team as a whole. #HigherEd #VirtualTravel #OnlineLearning


DAN  If you teach using online or virtual travel adventures, we would love to hear from you.   What are your successes?  And what are you trying to do better?  Let’s talk about it.

KIERAN Send us your questions, comments, and suggestions.

DAN You can leave a voice-message at speakpipe.com/wiredivy…

KIERAN Or send us an email to kieran@wiredivy.org – “Kieran” is spelled k-i-e-r-a-n, 

DAN Or dan@wiredivy.org – “Dan” is spelled “d-a-n.”

KIERAN And help Wired Ivy grow by sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing us on your favorite podcast app.


As always, send us your questions, comments, and suggestions. You can leave a voice message at speakpipe.com/wiredivy, or help Wired Ivy grow by subscribing, rating, and reviewing us on your favorite podcast apps, and by sharing this Summer Shorts episode with your friends and colleagues.


Daniel J. Marcucci advocates for sustaining a livable, rich biosphere—because the alternative is scary. He teaches Sustainability Systems, Coastal and Marine Systems, and Urban Water Systems courses and leads Global Study trips. Dr. Marcucci has two decades’ experience in higher education as an environmental educator, the last several years focusing on creating supportive asynchronous online learning communities. He has published in numerous environmental planning journals. He also has extensive experience as a regional and environmental planner. His current research explores individual landscapes and landscape as an integrative and holistic concept. Dan is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners..

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