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Technologies for Virtual Exchange

Originally posted: March 5, 2020

Last updated: August 26, 2021 to reflect changes on the platforms.





Selecting the right tools for virtual exchange in the higher education classroom can be a daunting task. With so many technologies and platforms to choose from, it can be difficult to understand the landscape. In this brief, you’ll learn everything you need to know to get your virtual exchange technology strategy off on the right foot.



Overview

The following recommendations are based on a survey of teaching technologies drawing on our experience with teachers in our virtual exchange classroom projects. Our recommendations are divided into two parts: a list of “virtual exchange platforms,” which act as a central hub for the project, and “supplemental tools” that can help with specific tasks and activities related to virtual exchange. Read on for a set of capsule summaries and links.


We have selected virtual exchange platforms that operate as “standalone” services rather than components in institution-level Learning Management Systems (LMS) (such as Moodle or Blackboard). Other criteria include being mobile friendly, GDPR compliant, and able to facilitate student groups.

The “supplemental tools” for targeted learning activities typical within virtual exchange project learning are often linked to larger workforce preparation goals for higher education. They can give students exposure to commonly used tools that reinforce skills not specific to technology but to real-time teamwork and asynchronous collaboration. This is far from an exhaustive list but we hope it will help you find the right tools for your own virtual exchange work. In contrast to the platforms, these tools are meant to enhance and facilitate the learning activities typically needed in virtual exchange projects, such as:


  • “Icebreaker” social tools supporting interpersonal connections and team-building essential to virtual exchange

  • Lightweight chat applications for collaborative work - real time or asynchronous

  • Project management tools for group work

  • Writing, creating, and editing elements of a project


Targeted uses of technology for specific elements of CLICK projects

Apart from any classroom platform you may use to organize your virtual exchange, we have identified a handful of useful “supplementary tools.” This is not an exhaustive list, but could be useful for thinking through what supplementary technologies might be useful for your virtual exchange classroom.




VIRTUAL EXCHANGE PLATFORMS

Linkr Education


Pros:

  • Designed explicitly for virtual exchange and college-level courses

  • Easy to search through and access student work across the platform

  • Built-in tool for finding collaborators among other teachers on the platform; individual teachers have free access

  • Conversation tab designed for social or academic interactions among members of the course; easily share blog-post and writing tasks

  • Ability to join the Gazelle International Network to access valuable resources by invitation

  • GDPR compliant: "Privacy first" approach minimizes security concerns

  • Resources tab that allows teachers to share documents and materials with the class

  • Many of our teachers have used and loved this platform!

Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve than Edmodo or similar (7/6/2021 update: Recent surveys show that students find linkr really easy to use, especially with platform updates and improvements, reducing or eliminating this learning curve)

  • Designed primarily for web browsers

  • Loading time issues, easier for teachers than students to use (7/6/2021 update: Recent platform improvements have accelerated loading times across the site. Some photo uploading remains without a tracker of upload progress, but speed has overall been greatly strengthened)

  • ‘Open’ tag system means redundant or hard to find tags

  • Licensing business model means campus purchase for institutional use

  • Although students can post work in publications and set it to private, there is no specific assignment section to turn in graded work and receive a grade on it within the platform

Read more in this post about how Gazelle Intl uses the linkr platform as a home base for our community of international educators as well as a learning launchpad for virtual exchange.


Google Classroom/Google Suite


Pros:

  • Minimalist, easy to use interface. Quick to setup especially if people already have a Google account

  • Facebook-like ‘posts’ structure (like Edmodo)

  • Easy to prompt and aggregate responses from the class

  • Strong/simple integration of Google docs shared folder feature; easy access to Google suite tools, e.g. Forms, Slides, etc.

  • Can use Google Meet easily

  • Multiple teachers can share in the “teaching” of the CLICK project treating it as a single co-taught class; Facebook-like ‘posts’ structure (like Edmodo)

  • Easy to prompt and aggregate responses from the class

  • Great rubric feature that allows teachers to add categories and scoring criteria; facilitates collaborative grading by allowing teachers to easily grade student work

  • Has a sidebar that shows upcoming coursework due and reminds students of deadlines

  • Many of our teachers have used and loved this platform!


Cons:

  • Seems to be designed for single class use rather than sharing/collaborating across classes. Anyone can be added to the class with a gmail or non-edu address.

  • Integrates with Google Drive/Docs/Calendar but less so with OneDrive

  • Less oriented around social/group work

  • Enterprise version, which allows use of "campus.edu" emails, requires campus purchase and approvals

  • Each student has to submit a team assignment under their own email to receive a grade in Google Classroom - there is no "group turn in" feature


Class2class



Pros:

  • Designed explicitly for virtual exchange and college level courses

  • Built-in tool for finding collaborators among other teachers on the platform

  • Easy to use tools for creating different types of built-in assignment tasks

  • Has an app for android mobile phones

  • Easy integration for video conferencing


Cons:

  • Does not have support for iPhone

  • Not designed to share student writing across classrooms

  • Connections are based more on user profiles than classrooms, so some might find this less amenable to creating virtual exchange networks


Edmodo

Pros:

  • Extremely quick setup and familiar, Facebook-like interface

  • Built in teacher collaboration and hashtag-based ‘global conversation’

  • Quick assignment/quiz/poll creation for managing student work or getting feedback

  • Good document ‘library’ system for uploading files for use within a class or across multiple classes

  • Supports groups within a classroom

  • Supports teacher-only groups, professional development

Cons:

  • Might be more assessment/grading focused than necessary

  • Social/collaborative features seem not to be a priority

  • Designed more for K-12, primary, and secondary schools with more child-like graphics


Facebook Groups


Pros:


  • Familiar to many students and teachers, many will already have accounts

  • Private group pages provide easy-to-use space for icebreaker activities and sharing different formats for submitting assignments

  • Easy access from mobile phones making reminders easy for teachers and teammates

  • Can be used as private group for co-teachers for their own coordination or the projects

  • Students can easily use Facebook messenger to chat or make calls with their international student teams


Cons:


  • Not designed for teaching

  • Does not support built in assignments

  • Students and teachers might be disinclined to use personal accounts for school work but can set up new accounts easily

  • Privacy concerns due to its non-academic nature



Supplementary Tools


Padlet


Padlet allows teachers and students to design highly creative, customizable 'boards' for collaborative assignments. It emphasizes sharing student work and having students respond to prompts. Padlet is a good solution for creating visual representations of course concepts and ideas. Padlet is best for one-time, focused topical or creative work. It is not designed to keep track of updates, edits or changes and additions over time as a group continues to build and develop work from initial to final project. Click teachers have used it for initial project brainstorming to share creative ideas and agree on a focus. They have also used it for an initial “Icebreaker” for students to get acquainted. Some classes have used it for introductory videos for students to introduce themselves. It has a great commenting feature that allows students to easily interact with each other's posts. There is also a feature to "like" a post. It is very easy to use, and students do not need to create an account to use it.



Flipgrid

Flipgrid does video-based prompts and responses. Given that students seem to like the zoom-based interactions this could be a good tool for icebreakers/other social aspects of the courses. It also mimics a lot of social media formats that students would be comfortable with.


Slack


Slack is a useful chat app for managing group work and communicating as a team. Fairly easy to use and supports all kinds of file attachments. Slack and apps like it are ubiquitous in the tech workforce. Good support for separate group, social, ‘fun’ channels beside the main discussion feed. It is helpful for learning to use a tool that companies often use.


Trello

Nice interface to allow students to manage group work, especially in STEM courses where there’s a big group project. Ubiquitous in the tech workforce in order to manage teams with an ‘agile’ project management system, and also seeing uptake outside of tech oriented organizations.


A Final Note


If you have read this far, we are willing to bet that you are serious about virtual exchange!  Please share your experience with any of these platforms or tools in your own collaborations.  We are always looking for new great tools and tips for our own training and advising practice. We also would like to invite you to the LinkrEd network without charge.


If you would like to know more about how Gazelle International can support you and your campus in starting or deepening your virtual exchange work, please contact us.

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