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When the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began to set in early last year, we quickly realized that we needed to go digital to continue doing the work we are passionate about. We started asking ourselves questions like: How can we follow social distancing protocols and travel restrictions while providing students with unique growth and learning opportunities? How can we address global issues, facilitate authentic service, and harness international-mindedness from home? 

With an eye towards fulfilling the 7 Learning Outcomes foundational to CAS and encouraging collaboration between students and global organizations—our Virtual Conferences were born. 

How Virtual Conferences overcome the challenges of remote learning

The value of engaging in meaningful Service Learning projects as part of the larger IBDP Core framework cannot be overstated. Yet, the pandemic has meant that educators worldwide are finding it challenging to provide their students with the type of dynamic opportunities that would offer the most benefit. 

Supplying a much-needed solution for schools and students, our Virtual CAS Conferences were designed as weekend-long events that address Global Issues and inspire collaboration between students from around the world. Working with international organizations such as Extinction Rebellion and the United Nations, we have carefully formatted the conferences and populated them with the material needed to address some of today’s most pressing Global Issues and contribute to a brighter and more sustainable future for all. 

Our conferences provide a platform to discuss and generate ideas, with workshops led by leading experts in sustainable development and IB teachers. Most importantly, the conferences challenge students to work together in a Hackathon format to develop a long-term solution-focused Service project in response to a charity’s urgent, authentic need. Directly tackling Global Issues, students come away with a well thought out CAS Project action plan and a new network of students and international development leaders. 

Structure of the Virtual Conferences 

Each Virtual CAS Conference kicks off with a thought-provoking introduction from a prominent keynote speaker who sets the tone for the event and serves as a source of inspiration and information for students. 

Groups of 20 students are then transferred to Breakout Sessions, in which trained IB Facilitators lead discussion forums addressing the topics and themes presented in the keynotes. Here, students have the opportunity to debate and explore their own beliefs, cultural assumptions, and perhaps most importantly, to expand their tolerance and global outlook by listening to the opinions of others. 

Once the conference’s critical themes have been established on Day 1, students are virtually transported to the destination of their solution-focused Service Project to learn about the community and charity they will be working with. 

Following a presentation by the charity, small teams of 3-6 students are tasked with highlighting a specific problem area within the organization. Once a focus is established, they work through a process of Design Thinking to develop ideas, outline a definite goal, and create a project proposal and action plan to solve it.

Following evaluation by a judging panel from the charity, the winning team is empowered to realize their action plan, working in concert with the local organization and bolstered by a financial donation from CAS trips. 

Highlights from our 2020 Virtual Conferences 

In 2020, we executed three hugely successful Virtual Conferences corresponding to geographical locations: Africa, Europe, the Middle East, The Americas, and Asia-Pacific

The participation and output from these conferences were nothing short of astounding. From creating an agricultural handbook that provides rural people in Peru with the necessary knowledge to grow their agro-economy to a collective art initiative and international awareness campaign bolstering conservation efforts in Bhutan—participants rose to the occasion to create genuinely impactful projects. 

As the students’ outstanding accomplishments illustrate, the Virtual CAS Conferences provide incredibly fertile ground for young people to think critically about international development and generate real actionable solutions, all while navigating the challenges of learning during a pandemic. 

In collaborating with other students from around the world, participants benefit from one of the most fruitful aspects of CAS—the chance to cooperate, learn from, and be inspired by their peers around the world – intercultural collaboration at its best. 

We look forward to fostering more innovative projects and vibrant partnerships in the months to come. Meanwhile, we will be further highlighting the voices and participants who have helped make our Virtual Conferences such a success so far.