The Benefits of Virtual Exchange: For Your Institution and Beyond!

Are you curious about Virtual Exchange? Wondering how it can help students achieve a multitude of goals? Contemplating the many ways it could benefit faculty members?

These are important questions, and topics we discuss a lot here at Gazelle International.

...But let’s think even bigger!

PD: A globe wearing a graduation cap siting on top of a white, older version of a keyboard

Research has shown that virtual exchange has incredible institutional benefits. It can:

  • Increase retention

  • Promote degree completion 

  • Increase diversity of educational offerings

  • Expand career options for students post-graduation

  • Foster institutional partnerships that help both parties grow

But what else can virtual exchange do for your institution and beyond?

Reimagining Higher Education with Virtual Exchange

Now is the time for colleges and universities to reimagine higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in stark detail many inefficiencies, inequities, and problems in higher education, but it has also created opportunities. Traditional education abroad programs are either halted or have had to adapt due to travel restrictions and health concerns. In-person classes at many campuses are limited or have moved totally online. In this new learning environment, where virtual is the norm, how does the implementation of international virtual exchange projects fit into the puzzle?

As your institution constructs its vision plan (Dennis, 2020) for moving through and beyond the pandemic, virtual exchange should be included as part of that plan. Here’s why:

  • Virtual exchange projects can make online learning better.

  • A curriculum that incorporates virtual exchange is more interdisciplinary and cultivates better thinking and problem-solving skills in students.

  • Virtual exchange fosters the development of intercultural competencies that can begin to make higher education, and especially education abroad, more inclusive and equitable spaces for all students.

Better Online Learning

Project-based learning, especially when incorporated into an international virtual exchange design, makes online learning better. This is especially enticing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers have moved their classes online with limited preparation or training and are looking for creative and innovative solutions to make these online courses engaging and memorable despite lacking the embodied experience. Our Spring 2020 results as well as those from a recent EVOLVE webinar prove that cross-cultural, international teams in virtual exchange projects can provide students with meaningful relationships during a time of isolation and can make the class content even more exciting.

I am very glad to have met and worked with my teammates who were very kind and funny people. --U.S. student, Spring 2020

In response to the question, “What was the greatest reward from participating in this CLICKs learning module?” for the Spring 2020 semester, 19 students said meeting people and making friendships and connections, 18 mentioned learning about other cultures and broadening perspectives, 9 talked about the benefits of collaboration and working in their groups, and 7 took great pride and joy in the successful completion of the final project. 

“Making new friends and working together is awesome.” --U.S. student

“It was great to meet students from the IUT of Sceaux, France but I am very glad to have met and worked with my teammates who were very kind and funny people.” --U.S. student

“I have been able to communicate with students from other nations, and my view and respect for them has increased dramatically.” --U.S. student

The combination of project- or problem-based learning, in which students collaborate in teams to accomplish a final project and shared goal, and international and intercultural interaction makes CLICK modules and online learning components engaging, challenging, and rewarding.

A More Complete Curriculum

Incorporating virtual exchange into the overall curriculum makes higher education more interdisciplinary and experiential. It also improves traditional ed abroad programs, as virtual exchange engages students experientially at the home campus in the day-to-day curriculum and pedagogies and not just when they are physically abroad. Instead of lasting one semester or year, international education should expand to interact with more students and at multiple levels throughout their education and lives.

Students are better prepared for their future careers if they have had experience in multidisciplinary environments.

As Andrea Custodi et al. note, “Critical global challenges do not fall neatly into disciplinary categories, nor do they fall into existential categories.”

Institutions should strive to provide students with the opportunity to develop better thinking and problem-solving skills to solve these global challenges. 

Review our CLICK samples here to see how subjects as diverse as art and engineering can work and thrive together. 

Creating More Inclusive and Equitable Spaces for Learning

Inclusivity and equity in higher education is a top priority right now, one whose goals cannot be achieved without a reckoning of the systemic racism and exclusion embedded in the structures of higher education in general and especially in ed abroad programs. Virtual exchange aids institutions in becoming more inclusive and equitable by helping students and faculty members improve their intercultural competence. In virtual exchange programs like CLICK, learners move beyond memorizing factual information about other cultures to being able to interact with people from other cultures in an effective and collaborative way. Students learn to adapt and know how to respond before, during, and after these cross-cultural interactions occur. This creates a more open, accepting, and welcoming environment for students with diverse backgrounds, especially international students.

The current pandemic and its many consequences has created an opportunity not only to think outside the box but, as