Study abroad puts sustainability & AI centre stage

Published 28/03/2024

The Forum on Education Abroad celebrated a 20-year milestone of annual conferences this month, with a focus on the impact of new technology and the climate crisis on study abroad.

In a welcome to conference attendees, Forum president & CEO, Melissa Torres reflected that the 2024 conference allows “the opportunity to commemorate and recognise the robust learning and strong connections that have been made over the past two decades”.

“It’s also a chance to collaborate to set the direction for the next 20 years of the field of international education,” she said.

To honour its commitment to access and sustainability, the Forum presented a hybrid conference, with sessions offered both in-person and online. With over 90 sessions combined, the event hosted more than any past Forum meeting.

During both the virtual and in-person components of the event, best practices in AI took centre stage.

Assistant director of study abroad at Salve Regina University, Joe Meringolo, polled attendees to find that 60% of the 90 attendees shared that they had beginner level or no experience with ChatGPT.

While artificial intelligence and many of its popular platforms such as ChatGPT continue to quickly evolve, Meringolo believes it is important that conversations evolve alongside the technology.

“Although I consider myself to be a technology and systems enthusiast in international education, I recognise the spectrum of conversations may involve enthusiasm, hesitancy and scepticism,” Meringolo told The PIE.

“All these feelings are valid and all of us in the field need to do our best to recognise both the upside and the potential challenges related to this technology and its connection to international experiential learning.”

Meringolo said practitioners must acknowledge that the power of this platform is here and we find a way to leverage its power or at least coexist with it.

In another AI session, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore study abroad coordinator Marketa Lepicovsky shared her research on using AI to create education abroad prediction models, assigning the top word categories that best predict faculty-led program success.

Her research also concerns expanding the use of text analysis to evaluate student outcomes.

Lepicovsky told The PIE, “Words are a powerful communication tool but we need to make sure we fill them with the same meaning or they can create big cultural gaps.”

During an innovative and lively closing ceremony, executive director and SVP at AIFS Abroad, Emily Merson led a power panel on collective leadership along with colleagues from AIFS and across the sector Kyle Rausch, Christina Thompson, Kelly Holland and Martha Johnson.

“Post pandemic, it is time for global education to take its place as a powerful force for good in the world and that can only be achieved if we work together as a collective – addressing the challenges that can only be solved together,” Merson told The PIE.

AIFS’s Emily Merson speaking at the event in Boston.

She added that the Forum’s 20th anniversary was “a time to turn the page for our field and to look forward with optimism and courage and to leave the trauma of the pandemic behind us”.

“I wanted to create an experience that empowered and celebrated our achievements and inspired innovation focused on our potential for global good,” she said.

“It is time for global education to take its place as a powerful force for good in the world”

Speaking to The PIE about the hybrid format, The Forum’s executive director of training, programs and services, Marissa Lombardi said it had been designed to “maximise inclusion and our commitment to sustainability”.

Zac Macinnes, associate vice president of campus partnerships at WorldStrides, who presented a virtual session earlier this month on navigating a career path in education abroad, said it allowed for “an extremely rich dialogue”.

“It can feel easier and less intimidating to network with colleagues in a virtual format compared to in person,” Macinnes said.

Likewise, John Lucas president and CEO of ISEP and chair of the Forum’s board of directors told The PIE, “The Forum is one of the few, if not the only, organisations that still maintains a virtual component of the conference”.

“My sense in talking to participants is that this really does facilitate increased access to the content especially for young professionals.”

Next year’s conference will take place at The Sheraton Centre Toronto March 19-25, 2025.

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