Kick off Meeting

"This is the future" - International teaching goes digital and opens up new perspectives

Uni Bielefeld - 12 April 2021

University teachers from OWL and Alberta (Canada) now offer joint courses for students from both regions. The kick-off event for the DAAD-funded project "We CAN virtuOWL" has taken place at the end of February. The project is the culmination of a partnership that has existed since 2018 between Bielefeld University and three other universities from OWL with four universities from Edmonton (Western Canada): the University of Alberta, MacEwan University, Concordia University of Edmonton and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Especially in times like these, international collaborative online learning and teaching is becoming increasingly important.

The focus of the Alberta-OWL partnership ( has so far been on the exchange of students and interns as well as on joint research. In OWL, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, Paderborn University and OWL University of Applied Sciences and Arts are members of the project alongside Bielefeld University. As part of the "We CAN virtuOWL" project, new digital, joint teaching and learning formats are now being developed that are intended to have long-term benefits by broadening the spectrum of international teaching and learning and also giving non-mobile students access to international experiences. Students will have the opportunity to gain an international perspective on their subject and build a social and professional network beyond their own university.

So far, "We CAN virtuOWL" has funded 11 international collaborative teaching projects. These will be carried out with the Canadian partners from the German winter term 2020/21 to the winter term 2021/22 and cover various subjects from economics, social work, chemistry, education, English studies and computer science to gender studies.

The kick-off event was held on Zoom and brought together all 57 lecturers and organizers from Edmonton and OWL. Dr. Katja Simons, Executive Director of the Campus OWL liaison office in New York City, chaired the event. Doug Weir, Executive Director of University of Alberta International, emphasised during his speech the future importance of the existing partnership and this project: Digital international teaching formats - "this is the future". He was also pleased about the great benefits for the students who participate in the courses. Prof. Dr. Angelika Epple, Vice-Rector for International Affairs and Diversity at Bielefeld University and project manager for "We CAN virtuOWL", stressed how important it is to stay in close contact with one's international partners and to strengthen the joint teaching and learning relationship, especially in times like these. The partnership with the universities in Edmonton is one of Bielefeld University's most important international connections.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) was also represented at the meeting: guest of honour Benedikt Brisch (Director of the German Center for Research and Innovation New York, Head of the DAAD New York Office) presented the history of the DAAD program that supports the project in OWL and Edmonton. The DAAD had already developed the "International Virtual Academic Collaboration" (IVAC) program to support international virtual exchange before the pandemic. COVID-19 demonstrates once again the need for such formats. Out of 121 applications for funding, 61 were approved, including the "We CAN virtuOWL" project of the universities from OWL and Edmonton.

“The program received more applications than we were able to fund, and we really hope that we can get more joint teaching projects up and running”, said project coordinator Magdalena Mayer. There has been much interest in the "We CAN virtuOWL" project.

After the kick-off meeting in which two lecturers reported on their experiences with their first collaborative online course, a workshop on the topic was held by Jan McCauley from the SUNY COIL Center at the State University of New York.

All collaborative courses of the "We CAN virtuOWL" project can be found at Lecturers interested in collaborative international online teaching formats are welcome to contact the project team.