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International cooperation matters – now more than ever

Screenshot from the joint webinar of Blanquerna and INN University.

Blanquerna and INN University staff are in agreement that joint web events should be carried out on a regular basis. (Screenshot: INN University)

The staff and students within sport management haven’t let the pandemic slow them down – the ban on international travel has been an opportunity to innovate. 

For over a year now, non-essential travel has been almost non-existent. This has put the academia in a rather tough spot: on the one hand international travel is a vital part of academic life, and on the other – it isn’t essential enough as to overrule infection control guidelines. 

Since the start of the pandemic student and staff exchange, as well as international conferences and other academic events, have come to a standstill. Academics wishing to facilitate international interaction for themselves – as well as for their students – had to have exercised some innovative thinking and adaptability.

Innovation in teaching and international cooperation

The staff involved in sport management have long known how central international cooperation is as the value at the very heart of sport.

People coming together to engage in peaceful competition is one of the key arenas of cross-cultural meetings; sport transcends borders, culture, and language. It has played an important part in maintaining morale during challenging times throughout human history.

It was natural that international cooperation within sport education would be prioritised in these uncertain times.

“During COVID-19 times it's all the more important to reach beyond national borders and share and discuss how we are dealing with the situation,” says Assistant Professor Trine Løvold Syversen, head of the Bachelor in Sport Management Programme at INN university.

In mid-February, amidst a New York snow blizzard, Professor Glenn Gerstner of St. John's University led a seminar for INN University’s Bachelor in Sport Management students on European and North American models of sport.

At the end of the seminar students were encouraged to raise questions, followed by a discussion. Student response was enthusiastic.

In March, a webinar for the students of the above mentioned programme at INN University and students form the bachelor programmes in sport management and sport science at Blanquerna - Universitat Ramon Llull, Barcelona, was jointly led by Associate Professor Svein Erik Nordhagen of INN University and Associate Professor Jordi Barrés Costa of Blanquerna. Vice-dean of Blanquerna, Maria Gonzales, and Jens Uwe Korten, Pro-Rector for Public Relations at INN University opened the virtual event. Staff members from both institutions served as moderators for the group discussions. 51 students from both institutions took part.

The webinar revolved around the pandemic and its consequences for sports and events. It consisted of a lecture portion and subsequent discussions in smaller groups, each comprised of students from both INN University and Blanquerna, and supervised by a staff member from one of the institutions.

At the end of the group discussions all students returned to the joint session to share their insights.

 “I find such seminars – where we get the opportunity to discuss differences and similarities with other students in other countries – very interesting and educational! This means that we gain insight, in particular, of the varying degrees of the pandemic’s effects,” said one INN University student at the end of the webinar.

A Blanquerna student added: “It was very interesting to compare the different situations during the corona pandemic, and their consequences.”

The staff members were equally pleased.

Following the virtual event, Blanquerna staff have reached to INN University staff to reschedule another event soon.

 “This strengthens our internationalisation efforts,” adds Associate Professor Svein Erik Nordhagen. “Such seminars teach us a lot about including digital tools in education in non-pandemic times, and may be an important addition to in-person activities in the future.”

Staff and students from Blanquerna and INN University had visited with each other prior to the start of the pandemic, and staff from INN University had been to New York as well as met with St. John's staff in several international events. A key hope is that in a post-pandemic future the innovative aspects of digital tools could be regularly utilised in international cooperation – alongside renewed international travel.

IT staff – the unsung heroes of the pandemic

For the majority of 2020 and the entirety of the current year so far, official approaches across Norway varied between a clear recommendation to work from home wherever possible, to a kind request to do so. 

At times instructions have been laxer than others, but the unpredictability of the situation has made everyone greatly dependent on digital solutions and remote access to all IT tools necessary for their jobs. 

At the beginning of the ZOOM webinar staff engineer Erik Lysbakken of INN University’s IT department was present in order to ensure the event was going to go forward without a hitch.

“The past year has increased our digital competence significantly and it will be interesting to see how we can take advantage of this technology in our study programmes and in our internationalization projects,” says Nordhagen.

While things are still steeped in uncertainty, the past year has provided everyone with a lesson in adaptability, as well as the importance of cooperation – within national borders and outside them.

“These kinds of events are certainly important from an academic enrichment standpoint. But they are also extremely important from the human aspect,” sums up Løvold Syversen.