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Virtual exchange - More than just pen pals

Virtual exchange is becoming critical to international ed programs in the wake of budget cuts, pandemics, environmental concerns, and travel restrictions. As NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisers)’s International Educator points out in “Virtual Exchange 101” (published 6/4/2020), it requires careful and creative planning to be successful.

Our founder, Nancy Ruther, was interviewed for the article about Gazelle International's role in the field of virtual exchange. The history of international education started with faculty bringing their research and international development service back to campus where they would integrate it into their teaching. Virtual exchange has similar roots - bringing the international ed experience into the curriculum at the home institution. Ruther likes to call it "back to the future." 

The article quotes Gian Mario Besana - associate Provost of global engagement and online learning at DePaul University - emphasizing the need for thoughtful planning:

“if you want to do this well, you can’t improvise, and unfortunately you can’t suddenly create deep learning experiences in two weeks. It’s a complex model to put into place.”

Since 2016, at Gazelle International we have developed, implemented, assessed, and consistently revised our virtual exchange program to ensure that teachers are ready to create significant and deep cross-cultural learning experiences for their students. Our approach is called CLICK: Collaborative Learning for International Capabilities and Knowledge. To prepare teachers to implement a CLICK project in their course, we host an Explorers Workshop and a Design Workshop that takes them through all the necessary steps.

This classroom-based and project-based learning mixes synchronous and asynchronous interactions between students in different countries to achieve three key goals:

  1. Cross-cultural maturity and awareness of the wider world

  2. Confidence in finding future success in the global workforce

  3. Ability to deploy 21st century skills - technology and teamwork

We have to create a virtual exchange project that prepares the students to reach these goals. International Educator interviewed experts in the field, and many emphasized the importance of relationships among both teaching partners and international student teams.

Building rapport, trust, and opportunities to mutually benefit from the interaction are key. That’s why team building is one of the three pillars of our CLICK approach. The second pillar is the intermediate team project, which allows international student teams to work together and succeed on a smaller task. The final pillar is the capstone project, which encapsulates the learning goals set forth at the beginning of the CLICK module design.

In a recent interview with our CLICK teachers, Mathilde Svab from IUT Cachan and Carianne Garside from Tunxis Community College emphasized the importance of building relationships among students. Carianne Garside noted that she was hoping her students would make friends with their French peers and several groups indeed formed real friendships. She stated that this 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.”

The logistics of working internationally can be challenging for teachers and students alike, but International Educator rightfully suggests that we should see logistical hurdles as advantages, rather than disadvantages, of virtual exchange. Learning to navigate timezones, manage a project in international teams, work through language barriers, broaden cultural horizons, and expand technological expertise are all tasks that benefit students, particularly as they search for jobs post-graduation. That is why we include confidence in finding future success in the workforce as one of CLICK’s primary goals.

The article also quotes Nancy Ruther's comment on the importance of advising as faculty develop first-time virtual exchange projects:

“Anybody in any field could do it, but to succeed and avoid frustration, it’s good to have an experienced hand go through it with you."

Are you ready to learn more about virtual exchange and how to get started? Our workshop series takes you through all of the necessary steps, and we guide you through careful planning to ensure you have a successful experience with virtual exchange. Join one of our Explorers Workshops in July or August!

June 16, 2020

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