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Virtual study abroad provides student learning during COVID-19

Chateau Vaux le Vicomte in France

Many students who were planning to join summer abroad programs this summer have had to scuttle their plans due to COVID-19.

So, Steve Austin, clinical assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction, decided to offer some of his students a virtual alternative — an opportunity for students to learn about distant places even if they’re at home this summer.

Students in the School of Design and Construction are invited to take a 3-session, free virtual tour of Kyoto, Japan, New York City, Paris, and Columbus, Indiana. The sessions will be held June 9, 11, and 16, starting at 10 a.m.

“My goal for the students at the end is to have them feel like they really went, and that the trips will influence their approaches to their professions,” he said.

He also has wanted to offer a “zero carbon” study tour for a long time.

“As much as we don’t want to face it, we have to stop jetting off to Europe every summer for study abroad if we are serious about climate mitigation,” he said. “We are extremely fortunate to have such great virtual alternatives. It’s not the same, but it’s not nothing either.”

Students who sign up for the minicourse will have homework prior to the trip, including reading about the sites and gaining some context for the regions. The class will watch an introductory video about the country or region, and then they will dive into studying each site through pictures and video, looking at design aspects of architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and construction. The sites include the Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan, Chateau Vaux le Vicomte in France, Miller House and Garden in Indiana, and New York’s Central Park.  The class will also do short analytical sketching exercises to help immerse the travelers into the sites as much as possible.

Austin is offering the minicourse for free and for no credit this year but may consider offering it for credit next year.  For information and to register, contact Austin at

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