Types of VE and VE providers
Class-to-class exchanges have a long tradition in language learning, where they are known under different names, such as e-tandem, telecollaboration, and online intercultural exchange. One of the best known early projects in this area is Cultura, which offers a widely adopted model for intercultural learning in foreign language and culture education.
Foreign language education is perhaps an obvious starting point for virtual exchange activity, since VE offers an opportunity for authentic communication in a foreign language, but as described above in the rationale, there are multiple reasons for engaging students and staff in VE activities. Exchanges can also be interdisciplinary, some of the most successful exchanges we have come across involved educators from different disciplines, for example media studies and healthcare students, in the US and Egypt. Their exchange entailed the students collaborating in developing and producing podcasts about health related issues!
In class-to-class exchanges the educators discuss the intended learning outcomes for the exchange and design activities (tasks), which will support their students in achieving these outcomes. Clearly the intercultural learning component is crucial, and the students’ getting to know one another and interacting needs to be built into the exchange. See the basic exchange outline below as an example:
Here is an example of an interdisciplinary exchange between a university in Morocco and one in Ireland:
Facilitated exchanges often have their origins in peace building and social justice initiatives and organisations. A key concept of these online exchanges is ‘online facilitated dialogue’, which brings learners together in safe online environments to discuss issues that matter to them, develop a better understanding of each other, build meaningful relationships across borders and cultures, and practice important employability skills.
An example of a virtual exchange provider, represented in this training, is Sharing Perspectives Foundation:
Sharing Perspectives Foundation
The Sharing Perspectives Foundation is a non-profit non-governmental organisation dedicated to providing students and academics from across the globe with an opportunity to collaboratively learn about current socio-political issues through virtual exchange.
The Sharing Perspectives Foundation designs and implements virtual exchange programmes to increase the number of students who develop transversal skills and open attitudes through an international and intercultural experience as part of their education. Our programmes provide one online curriculum for students to discuss and study current socio-political issues. We directly bridge theory and practice, by making the classroom itself a venue for intercultural dialogue and exchange.
The Sharing Perspectives Foundation has developed a virtual exchange pedagogy for students at higher education institutions that promotes discussion and study of current socio-political issues that go beyond national and/or cultural boundaries, such as the European economic crisis in 2013-14; youth political engagement in 2015-16; or the refugee crisis in 2017-18. Through this virtual exchange format students from different countries follow one course together online. The format includes providing expert academic content; enabling the exchange of ideas and perspectives through dialogue in a video-conference room; and facilitating an interactive assignment that brings the online experience to the students’ offline reality. The development of transversal skills during the virtual exchange is measured through a parallel evaluation processes.
Examples of programmes can be found on the website of the Sharing Perspecties Foundation: https://sharingperspectivesfoundation.com/programmes/
An example programme that ran in the spring of 2018 is the European Refuge/es virtual Exchange programme that can be viewed here. There you can also review the course outline of this Virtual Exchange programme.
Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange
Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange is a pilot project that was established under a contract with the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), financed by the European Union’s budget. It is part of the Erasmus+ programme, providing an accessible, ground-breaking way for young people to engage in intercultural learning. Working with Youth Organisations and Universities, the programme is open to any young person aged 18-30 residing in Europe and the Southern Mediterranean.
Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange aims to expand the reach and scope of the Erasmus+ programme through Virtual Exchanges, which are technology-enabled people-to-people dialogues sustained over a period of time. It will provide an accessible, innovative way for youth in Europe and the Southern Mediterranean to engage in meaningful intercultural experiences online, as part of their formal or non-formal education.
The Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange project aims to achieve the following objectives:
- Encourage intercultural dialogue and increase tolerance through online people-to-people interactions.
- Promote various types of Virtual Exchange as a complement to Erasmus+ physical mobility, allowing more young people to benefit from intercultural and international experience.
- Enhance critical thinking and media literacy, and the use of Internet and social media.
- Foster soft skills development of participants, including the practice of foreign languages and teamwork, notably to enhance employability.
- Support the objectives of the 2015 Paris declaration to promote citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education.
- Strengthen the youth dimension of the EU neighbouring policy with Southern Mediterranean countries.
Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange seeks to meet its objectives through the implementation of different models of virtual exchange. These are promoted on the Virtual Exchange page of the European Youth Portal.
An overarching activity is the the development of a community of trained Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange facilitators who work across all Erasmus+ Virtual Exchanges because online facilitated dialogue is a key component of all Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange activities.
Participants in the training and in the activities receive Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange badges for taking part in and completing all activities. The badges are issues through the Open Badge Factory.
How can Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange enhance universities’ internationalisation at home strategies?
There are several activities available for universities in Europe and Southern Mediterranean countries to involve students and staff in virtual exchange and thus enhance their internationalisation-at-home strategies. At present the pilot project is not available to universities outside of Europe and Southern Mediterranean countries.
Like the EVOLVE project, it offers training to university educators and staff in the development of virtual exchange projects, but the geographic scope is much more limited as it includes only European and South Mediterranean countries.
Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange also offers educators the opportunity to follow training to become a dialogue facilitator.
Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange allows universities in partner countries to offer Online Facilitated Dialogue projects and interactive Open Online Courses (iOOCs) to their students, at no cost. Several universities have already taken up this opportunity and are integrating these activities in their university curricula in different ways.
At the University of Tartu the iOOC European Refuge/es virtual exchange was registered under continuing education and was offered through the PRL scheme (prior recognition of learning). It was therefore available to multiple departments and included a mix of students: MA students, lifelong learning, and also students from refugee backgrounds, including refugees. Students received 6ECTS for participation.
At Trinity College, Dublin, the iOOC European Refuge/es was offered to MA students and visiting students across multiple departments as an optional, accredited course worth 10ECTS in spring 2018. In addition to the workload of the virtual exchange, students also had to complete an extended essay which was marked by Trinity College professors.
The University of Wurzburg offers professors who take part in the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange Training official recognition, with successful participation counting as credit towards the University Teaching Certificate, and offers institutional support through consultation meetings.
At the University of Padova, Online Facilitated Dialogue is an option that students majoring in Language Mediation can take for which they obtain 3 ECTS. As well as taking part in the facilitated online sessions the students take part in fortnightly seminars with a professor, and write weekly reflections and a final reflective paper as well as the assignment they are required to do for the project. Online Facilitated Dialogue is also offered as an option in the Advanced English course for students majoring in Political Science, International Relations and Human Rights MA courses. Students who have participated in these programmes have the opportunity to follow the facilitator training and practicum as an officially recognised internship, since the university has signed agreements with the implementing organisations and the university careers office. In spring 2018 over 40 students participated in Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange activities.
Virtual Exchange within universities is particularly successful when it becomes part of a university’s strategy, with the support of high level decision-makers. The Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange consortium are collaborating with university networks, EC funded projects about virtual exchange, such as EVOLVE, and individual institutions to support the implementation of virtual exchange and the development of strategies to support this activity.
These student testimonials illustrate very well how transformative an experience participation in virtual exchange may be: