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.
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
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
"Privacy first" approach minimizes security concerns
Steeper learning curve than Edmodo or similar
Designed primarily for web browsers
Loading time issues, easier for teachers than students to use
‘Open’ tag system means redundant or hard to find tags
Licensing business model means campus purchase for institutional use
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.