Defining the Field: Virtual Exchange 101

An introduction to innovative virtual exchange programs that will help answer: What exactly is virtual exchange and what is its role in 21st-century technology-enabled learning?

About The Speaker(s)

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  • Shamil Idriss - Chief Executive Officer of Soliya, member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders, and member of the ASMA Society’s Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow
  • Grace Lau - Senior Programs Manager at Global Nomads Group in charge of designing, planning, and implementing GNG's unique cross-cultural initiatives
  • Daniel Rosenblum - Executive Director of the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN-USA), as well as a journalist for 16 years, including 13 years as a financial correspondent and television producer
  • Sheldon Himelfarb - Director of Media, Technology, and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Kasia Skuratowicz - Senior Program Officer for Youth Engagement and Evaluation at Qatar Foundation International

Resources

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Key Questions and Comments

  • (05:11) Can you describe, each one of you, what might be meant by "virtual exchange" in a few words?
  • (09:03) When you look at the reality that less than 1 percent of young people currently participate in any kind of physical exchange...in an increasingly globalized economy, that's just not sufficient. If we're going to prepare young people to succeed in that world, we have to radically increase the numbers of young people that have these educational experiences. We now finally have the technology to actually do it.
  • (12:07) I wonder if each of you could speak about the ways in which you've experienced new modes of learning taking place across these physical distances that are made smaller and narrower by virtue of the possibility of these virtual engagements?
  • (17:02) All of us measure for different kinds of educational impact, but two areas that we've really focused on are attitudes and skill sets. The attitudes we've looked at are: cross-cultural empathy, curiosity about 'the other', interest in dealing with difference. Secondarily, those skill sets encompass 21st-century skills.
  • (19:00) If you people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to connect with one another...and really become critical thinkers beyond their own space, then they will become more successful at resolving conflicts (whether it's local, national, or international) or issues that affect their own lives.
  • (21:24) I can put my hand on my heart and say I've watched the young people that go through the programs of these organizations and seen the profound impact that is has on their lives...What I haven't seen is the scale that we would like to see...
  • (24:03) The whole 'virtual exchange' experience is also one that really benefits teachers/adults who get to experience the process, and gain some of the critical skills as well as the empathetic approach to other cultures as well.
  • (24:50) In these cross-cultural exchanges, how does one address challenges and negotiating the complexities around language differences?
  • (28:53) Virtual exchange is a perfect tool for language learning. Because it's so focused on project-based [learning], it's not just "Hi, how are you? How is the weather?" It's not superficial.
  • (30:32) Are there certain pieces of software or online platforms that this group recommends for conducting virtual exchanges?
  • (34:23) Whether we're using video conferencing, and online networking platform, or mobile technology, what's important here is being able to create a framework in which people know how to create these meaningful, cross-cultural interactions.
  • (37:55) In our particular case, it's quite important that we approximate (as close as possible) what it's like to be in a small, face-to-face encounter with a facilitator. Because, otherwise, it can go very badly.
  • (41:18) Are there other kinds of challenges that are particular to virtually-enabled learning that you might or might not get with face-to-face learning?
  • (42:22) That's one of the hurdles that we find in the classroom setting: teachers have so much on their plates and this other layer is seen as tertiary at best. There isn't a priority uniformly put on this global, peer-to-peer virtual exchange as much as we'd like.
  • (45:45) Virtual exchange provides some sort of safe space for people who--maybe for economic reasons, but maybe for comfort reasons--are not ready for this extra step of actually leaving their community or country...They have a window to another world and other perspectives.
  • (49:00) I completely accept the point that you want to be very careful that you are reaching your educational or social change goals, but I also want us to be open to the fact that there may be lots of different ways of doing that and we want this space to be a vibrant, exciting one where lots of innovation is happening. We are only just beginning to see the possibilities.
  • (52:08) We do find an incredible, strong affiliation of being part of a community...Young people not only take great pride in that, but they form these networks that are incredibly strong.
  • (57:05) I'm appalled at the number of elite, private schools that figure out how to do these things...At the end of the day, parents in public schools everywhere should be asking for this kind of experience for their kids.

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