To internally close off our Virtual Conference on Teaching and Learning in Wicked Times, our VAMOS team met on June 17, 2021. After a summary of our conference, Philipp Baur from Uppsala University presented our Miro board where teachers started to brainstorm possible content for the virtual course and practiced working with this online collaboration tool.
After that, Miriam Hauck from UNICollaboration gave her presentation on “What is virtual exchange?”. She explained that virtual exchange entails people-to-people interaction enabled through technology. Often, different media platforms facilitate social learning. With the aim to allow for meaningful intercultural experiences, an increase in global citizenship, and the development of employability, foreign language, and communication skills, teachers assist students in every step of their learning process. Miriam explained the concept of course-embedded virtual exchange which we will use within VAMOS. Hereby, two or more professors from different countries add international and intercultural dimensions to their already-existing courses. The teachers co-develop the content and facilitate collaboration between students for a period of six to eight weeks.
Next, Sara Guth from UNICollaboration gave an example of virtual exchange between the University of Padova and the University of Grenoble. Ice-breaker activities, comparison and analysis components, and ongoing collaboration were part of this virtual exchange experience. Students used tools such as Zoom, Moodle, Google Drive, Facebook, or WhatsApp to connect with each other and work together.
To give another example on how virtual exchange could look like in practice, Malin Glimäng from Malmö University presented her experience of taking part in “Reading the City”. With the goal to understanding cities in the context of global sustainability, she focused on SDG#11 which is concerned with turning cities into more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable living spaces. Students who participated in her virtual exchange course explored how this goal is addressed in the context of a specific city all while analyzing possibilities and challenges related to sustainability in urban areas. Malin reflected on how collaboration in cross-cultural groups led to creatively designed multimodal campaigns in which students presented their results. As project takeaways, she named reflexive intercultural insights about urban lifestyles, sustainability, and global issues which students shared in their e-diaries. Further, course participants also raised how this virtual exchange helped them to realize their privilege and power, thus opening-up for disorienting dilemmas and transformative learning.
After Malin’s presentation, Miriam summarized the benefits of training teachers to develop virtual exchange courses which range from exploring innovative pedagogical approaches and familiarity with tools of e-learning to support in developing virtual exchange and the creation of new partnerships. After that, all workshop participants worked together in break-out rooms discussing different case studies on past virtual exchange courses. When reporting back from their discussions, participants shared how important ice-breaker activities are to make people feel comfortable working together over a period of several weeks. Further, members of VAMOS felt that it is vital to incorporate different online collaboration tools and bring together different academic fields to ensure multidisciplinary engagement. Workshop participants raised concerns about underlying problems such as language barriers, having one single story and prejudices, and bringing together different knowledges and knowledge systems as well. Being aware of these problems is the first step to develop a virtual exchange course which thrives through inclusivity, diversity, and multidisciplinary engagement. To prepare our VAMOS teachers best, we will host our virtual teaching and course development training in October and November 2021.