Make it work!A quick guide to integrate virtual mobility


International work placements or internships, as they are generally known, are gaining more and more importance in the context of internationalization of higher education and globalization of our (professional) world.

Traditional international work placements, where the learner travels to the company abroad, are not

always feasible for all students because of financial, geographical, social or other reasons. For those

physical placements abroad that do happen, there are also a number of difficulties to overcome,

mainly related to a lack of communication between the student, the foreign company and the institution

for higher education.

Virtual mobility

, or ICT-supported interaction to realize international collaboration, offers possibilities

to address these issues. This quick guide gives an introduction on how virtual mobility can support

or even enable international work placements.

This guide addresses

the three stakeholders

that are involved in an international work placement:

the higher education institution , the student and the receiving company or organization .

Virtual mobility activities can be implemented to facilitate interaction between these stakeholders


between the HEI and the company, between the student and the HEI, between the student

and the company.



All these lines of interaction can consist of a combination of face-to-face and ICT-supported communication,

of strictly face-to-face communication or of strictly ICT-supported communication. When the

interaction between student and company is mainly ICT-supported, we talk about a virtual placement.







As a student:

Why would I undertake an international work placement?

cross-border professional experience is becoming more important to future employers

to gain intercultural competencies in a professional environment

Why would I be interested in integrating virtual mobility?

increased possibilities for a flexible set-up of international placements

(combination of study@home and work abroad)

the possibility to undertake an international work placement at-a-distance

the possibility to continuously interact with academic staff and/or peer students

during a stay abroad

the development of technology and virtual communication skills

As a company or organization:

Why would we offer work placements to international students?

they can act as a bridge to foreign markets and networks

because of the need for native speakers

because of the need for very specific knowledge

to experience other business cultures

to bring in new ideas and perspectives



Why would we invest in integrating virtual mobility activities?

continuous feedback from the HEI and/or peers will result in better task performance

the placements can serve as ‘hotbeds’ for testing new collaboration methods as part of

a larger evolution towards a globally integrated enterprise

the placements can serve as recruitment instruments in the ‘war for talent’

As a higher education institution:

Why would we organize international work placements?

to support and enable the internationalization of curriculums

to provide extra opportunities for students

to enlarge international attraction of the study programmes

to stimulate knowledge exchange with the international professional field

Why would we invest in integrating virtual mobility activities?

to offer the student flexible opportunities to undertake an international placement

to make international internships more accessible to all students

to enhance the learning experience abroad through continuous mentoring

and (peer) feedback

to enhance quality control of international work placements


Is an ICT-supported placement something for me or my organization?

Things to consider before you embark on a virtual adventure…

As a student

When you undertake a (mainly) virtual internship, you will sometimes work in an isolated

environment. To deal with this, you need to be able to work independently and plan and

organize your work individually. You need to be confident enough to take initiatives and ask

for help when necessary.

Bringing a virtual internship to a good end presumes a highly motivated intern. Is this something

you are really convinced of being able to do?

Preferably you have some experience with virtual communication. If this is not the case, make

sure you test and get to know the tools you will be using before your placement starts.

As a company or organization

Are there tasks that a student (or a group of students) can perform through virtual mobility and

that are at the same time of real importance to us?

Are there any security issues to consider? Can we give access to our existing online communication


Can we make sure our staff is attributed the necessary time to undertake virtual mentoring?

Things to consider beforehand


Does our staff have the necessary ICT-skills and experience with virtual communication? Do they

understand the specific challenges of a virtual internship? Can we offer the necessary training if

this is not the case?

As a higher education institution

Before offering your students the opportunity to undertake a virtual internship, make sure

you are clear about: which learning outcomes do we expect from the internship and can they

be reached through virtual mobility activities? Are our students ready for such an enterprise?

(Can they plan their work and learning process independently? Are they really motivated? )

Do our students and our staff have the necessary technology at their disposal?

Can we make sure our staff is attributed the necessary time to uptake virtual mentoring?

Do our staff and students have the necessary ICT-skills and experience with virtual communication?

Do they understand the specific challenges of a virtual internship? Can we offer the

necessary training if this is not the case?

In case of a (mainly) virtual internship, placements that are spread over a longer period in time and

that allow a flexible work organization are the most suitable. Virtual interns are also preferably hired

in the framework of a defined company project. To make such an internship is a success, the involvement

and commitment of all actors is absolutely essential.



The phases

of an




Before the work placement

Virtual mobility can come in useful here to:

organize a synchronous discussion between actors that are geographically widely dispersed

select the right student

introduce the student to the company & the culture of the “hosting” country

introduce the company to the culture of the student’s home country

offer preparatory training

Student selection &

discuss mutual expectations

preparative training

If necessary: preparation regarding

cultural, social, linguistic or technical


Set-up a student ‘helpdesk’

Set-up ‘helpdesk’ for company staff

Foresee additional training if necessary

Define an internship agreement including:

• Learning outcomes

• Evaluation procedure and criteria

• Tasks to be performed,

deadlines to be met

• Communication protocol

• Roles and responsibilities of all actors

• Choice of technology that will be used










I During the placement 03 I

After the placement

Virtual mobility can come in useful here to:

execute tasks for a company at a distance

student mentoring by academic or company staff

organize peer feedback

stimulate student reflection

(e.g. through use of a blog or an e-portfolio)

Virtual mobility can come in useful here to:

discuss student assessment or evaluation

of the placement

make a final assessment of the student’s

performance based on an archived use of

collaboration or reflection tools

task mentoring &

collaboration with co-workers

self assessment

peer feedback

academic coaching

and feedback &

stimulation of reflection


of the placement

alignment of

student guidance



evaluation of the placement


Preferred student characteristics

Mature and being able to plan and organize his/her own learning process

Experience with virtual communication

Highly motivated

Qualitative e-coaching

Clear agreements about the goals of coaching and the roles of the different coaches

Following an established communication protocol. Such a protocol states (for example): when the

different actors are available; when reporting is required; when feedback can be expected etc

Qualitative tasks

In line with student’s expectations

Achievable and challenging

Authentic and of importance to the company

Suitable for distance work

Commitment of all actors

Managerial support for tutors, mentors and co-workers

Prior written contract between all actors

Preferably the internship is part of a sustainable internship programme (structural implementation)

Conditions for success


Internship form

Formally structured through careful preparation and clear agreements

Preferably long-term

Avoid a strict one-on-one setting (involve co-workers, allow virtual participation in team meetings)

Integration of the human factor

Arrange a limited amount of face-to-face contact moments if possible

Use technology that supports synchronous communication in a setting that is as close as possible

to a face-to-face setting (e.g. web and video conferencing)

Define space for non-task-related communication

Tools as an aid (and not a barrier)

Choose technology that is accessible for all actors involved

Choose technology that is user-friendly and reliable

Test tools beforehand and provide guidelines and support

Communicate explicitly about the tools that will be used and to which end they will be used


This quick guide is one of the results of the EU-VIP project which ran from October 2009

until September 2011. It is a summary of a more extensive publication with the same title.

The publication provides a lot of inspiring examples of (partially) virtual work placements.

This quick guide is also available in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian and Polish.

The other language versions and the full publication can be downloaded via the website

The EU-VIP project has been funded with support from the European Commission.

This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held

responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.