With the VAMOS initiative entering its final stages, we look at how the training in virtual exchange and the ensuing collaborations have left their mark on participating students and tutors.
One of the aims of the project was to begin incorporating innovative practices into international collaboration and learning, with a particular focus on creating learning spaces for Education for Sustainable Development in line with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Belkis Munoz Medina is training to be an English teacher at the National Pedagogical University, Francisco Morazan, in Honduras. She has just experienced her first VE with Brazilian and Swedish students which focused on Eco Tourism and Sustainable Tourism in coastal areas. This 7-week pilot project came about following an intense training programme undertaken by UNICollaboration earlier in the year.
“I was a little nervous”, she explains, “Eco-tourism is not my area and I thought I would struggle a lot with the language as my English isn’t perfect. I thought I’d feel lost and too shy to share my ideas.”
Belkis was ultimately delighted that this wasn’t the case. “We were all very mindful of each other’s expertise,’ she continues, ‘and I found I understood the presentations by the other students and I learned a lot of new vocabulary along the way.”
As an interdisciplinary VE the students were required to share their knowledge and to understand what each team member could bring to the project.
Belkis says, “I felt happy to share my ideas and knowledge during our exchange. We used email and google meet for our synchronous sessions. It was harder to work with the Swedish students because there was such a significant time difference, so this was one of the challenges we had to overcome.”
In fact, the issue of the time difference is certainly echoed by the project co-ordinator, Diego Diaz, together with the challenge of agreeing on a consistent schedule for planning meetings whilst developing the project with his university partners from Brazil and Sweden.
He also highlights the positive impact that the constant contact with his VE partners had on overcoming the challenges.
“We would permanently stay in touch to monitor engagement and address any problems we encountered on the way. The success of our project was also due to the continued support we had from the VAMOS coordination and the UNICollaboration team.”
Belkis says the students were very understanding of each other and made allowances for time differences and any other challenges, and this was a very positive learning takeaway. She is also pleased that the final product – a project-based demo website on eco-tourism – was very well-received by her teachers.
“We had to present a problem related to sustainable tourism and find a solution. We worked together on the website and I answered the questions from my teachers in a good way with only minor changes.”
Belkis says she would highly recommend repeating this pilot project as she appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of the project. She is planning on taking some of the ideas out into the community as a next step.
“As teachers, we are encouraged to take our ideas into the community, and maybe one day the mayor of our town will come and ask us and we will have good ideas to offer after this international experience.”
Coordinator Diego Diaz says that tackling sustainability from an interdisciplinary approach and learning from a variety of practices from universities abroad was his main takeaway.
“This experience has left me seeking more opportunities for collaborative work and international partnerships.”