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The First Virtual Exchange Class Meeting: Blockades and Breakthroughs

Setting up the first virtual exchange meeting between classrooms can be, well, stressful. In this post you’ll find some tips and success stories for creating a great first experience between the students and your partner instructor.

The first thing you’ll need to decide is if the two groups of students are going to meet altogether synchronously or asynchronously. The asynchronous meeting provides flexibility and is a bit easier in many regards. But think goals. The prep and coordination work can be complicated, but a synchronous meeting can be very beneficial, creating a stronger bond between your students in a meaningful way. Once students meet each other virtually, it makes the rest of the virtual exchange/CLICK project more exciting, engaging and real.

Things you’ll need to consider upon setting up your synchronous meeting:

  • Time zones and time constraints

  • Technology use

  • Number of students in the room

  • Ways students and teachers will communicate

  • People involved and observing

  • A backup plan

Often the hardest part of coordinating a synchronous meeting is the scheduling. If your regular class schedule does not coordinate with your partner’s, you will need to find a time outside of the official class schedule that is convenient for students in both countries. You may not be able to have frequent synchronous meetings if the two institutions are in vastly different time zones, but you can get students to be enthusiastic about one initial meeting with the partner class.

For a synchronous meeting, you and your teaching partner will first need to determine what technology you will use for the meeting. Zoom? Microsoft Teams? FaceTime? No matter what choice you make, we always suggest having a backup option. Make sure you have a quick way of contacting each other, such as WhatsApp, in case you need to make changes during the session.

Depending on how many students you have, you may need to reserve a special space outside of your normal classroom, so that each student can see the screen and the classmates at the partner institution. If you have a small group, you may even consider having students meet their individual teammates synchronously during class time by using facilitated conversations or icebreaker activities. If you plan to have all students meet, how will students have the chance to speak? Will they introduce themselves one by one? Will they all wave and say hello collectively? This is something you and your partner can decide in advance based on the number of students and how much time you want to dedicate to this session.

If you are teaching remotely, you will want to think about how these mechanics work on Zoom or another video conferencing program. You may consider using breakout rooms with conversation prompts to get students talking. You can also provide students topics to consider before the meeting to allow them to prepare their answers. This would be particularly beneficial for students whose first language is not English (or the primary language of the virtual exchange project).

Some previous CLICK teachers have hosted a big launch party for their first synchronous meeting. They invited campus leadership, the school newspaper, and other teachers to observe. This is a great way to showcase your hard work, share the experience that your students will have, and promote virtual exchange more broadly. If you are working remotely, you can still do this by inviting outside individuals to the virtual meeting.

For an asynchronous meeting, there are a few unique items to consider:

  • How will students communicate? Through what tools?

  • Will there be a prompt or conversation starter? An icebreaker or activity to complete?

  • How will you know they’ve met with their peers?

  • How many students will they meet with? Just one? Or a group of peers?

For an asynchronous activity, it is important to provide some structure for the interaction. While many sociable students may exceed the planned activities, more reserved students will need something to get them talking. We suggest planning something exciting and engaging that does not necessarily relate to the subject of your CLICK project. The idea is to get students talking and engaged on a personal level to build trust and a working relationship before asking them to complete a project together. In fact, this aspect is so important that one of our previous CLICK teachers - Carianne Garside from Tunxis Community College - says she wished she had spent more time on it at the beginning of the CLICK module:

“[the experience] was so positive and uplifting for them that I want to make that social aspect more of our next project… That’s what made them want to keep doing it, those friendships.”

-Carianne Garside, Tunxis Community College

For asynchronous meetings, it may be easier to assign teammates ahead of time, as it will likely be more difficult for students to meet the whole group and then decide who to work with. For teachers who assign teams ahead of the first meeting, we have a few recommendations:

  • Pair at least two students from each institution in the same group of four (or more). It will be helpful to have these larger groups for a number of reasons. If a student drops out of the class or the CLICK project, it’s important that there is someone else to keep it going. Also, it provides a certain level of comfort and familiarity for peers to work together. It helps students work together to recognize, respect and understand cultural differences.

  • Pair students based on their comfort level with the English language. It’s important that students help each other move through linguistic barriers, and one way of doing this is by pairing someone who is very comfortable with the language with another student who has less experience with it. This is true for both institutions. In the United States there are many students whose first language is not English even if it is the official language.

  • Allow students to have some options or agency in their project topic. Since you are assigning the teams, one way of giving the students options is to allow them to pick some aspect of their assignment. For example, if you are analyzing businesses, perhaps they could choose the company they study.

If students will meet asynchronously, teachers should think about how they can introduce themselves to the students at the partner institution. Consider filming a short video introduction or sending a written note with a photo.

Whether you choose to use a synchronous or asynchronous strategy for your first CLICK session, it’s important to plan it carefully. After all, it may be the first impression your students have of virtual exchange, and it’s essential to get them excited about working with students from other countries!

How have you successfully launched a virtual exchange project? Are there other suggestions you have for new teachers? Contact us today to share!

August 24, 2020

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