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Asynchronous Educator’s Panel

I’m still fired up from this year’s Global Educators Benchmark Group Annual Conference, where I got to convene with our peers from all over the world promoting global education. Of course, bringing together so many passionate instructors and administrators means there’s going to be a lot of shop talk; so I came prepared, recorded my interviews, and then spliced them together in what I imagine should read like an asynchronous panel. So, today, I present to you insights from four educators—Chantalle, Brian, Amy, and Kassandra—who have pioneered virtual exchange programs at their schools. Below, they share their experiences, the challenges they faced, the impact on students, and their vision for the future of global education.

On the Use of Virtual Exchanges

Chantalle: We’ve embraced synchronous virtual exchanges through the Round Square Network, starting with online meetups known as “postcards.” These were highly successful and evolved into an extracurricular club where students present on various topics to schools worldwide.

Brian: Our program leveraged the gamification of virtual exchanges during the pandemic, with students completing fun challenges like recording a family karaoke session. We created a point-based system where students completed culturally enriching challenges, such as cooking a family recipe and sharing it via video. Though not as rich as in-person experiences, it allowed meaningful intercultural connections.

Amy: We use Level Up Village for many of our classes. In addition, there’s an incredible program for our Spanish classes I would recommend, called Project Olas. Project Olas links students with “Guatemalan moms” for seminar-style interactions, and one-on-one sessions, focusing on social justice and cultural exchange, which has been pivotal in building continuous relationships.

Kassandra: We initially had limited virtual exchanges until I spearheaded a project through a global action research fellowship to enhance the development of students’ global competency, which has inspired us to integrate these more deeply into our curriculum.

Challenges and Student Engagement

All educators agree that one of the main challenges is maintaining student engagement and participation across different settings. Chantalle and Brian point out the logistical difficulties in organizing synchronous meetings and the need for careful planning to avoid technical glitches, which Kassandra experienced firsthand during her initial live sessions.

Chantalle: Keeping discussions fresh is crucial; we use student-driven topics often tied to international observance days. The main challenge has been maintaining engagement and managing discussions effectively.

Brian: We faced a decline in student participation over time, as COVID passed and more of our in-person programming returned. Our solution was to use virtual exchanges as pre-departure preparation for in-person exchanges, enhancing their value.

Amy: Students have relative and interesting prompts/themes that prepare them for their live sessions 30 min one-on-one sessions once a month. They also receive credit for meaningful participation in their conversation and their reflections. These homework assignments keep student engagement and accountability quite high and increase their confidence. Keeping it fun, relative to their lives, interactive, and earning points is key for engagement.

Kassandra: Asynchronous exchanges were essential to build rapport and confidence, especially for students learning Spanish. This prepared them for more daunting synchronous exchanges.

The Role of Educators

Amy: Teachers must prepare students to be culturally sensitive and ensure respectful communication, which is crucial for successful exchanges. Preparation is important, but some of the magic certainly is in the organic conversations that happen without teacher involvement.

Kassandra: The role of the teacher turned out to be more pivotal than expected. We must be very intentional in how we deliver lessons and facilitate exchanges, especially live ones where direct interaction can intimidate students. It’s crucial for educators to guide these interactions, especially when language barriers exist.

Brian: The perfect virtual exchange would involve full support from both school communities and families, utilizing the asynchronous format to create polished multimedia presentations that could be used educationally or even in post-secondary applications.

The Future of Virtual Exchanges

Chantalle: I envision using AI to enhance these exchanges, adding depth to the interactions and offering real-time cultural insights.

Amy: Advances like holograms could one day allow students to feel as though they’re physically present in each other’s classrooms, despite being continents apart.

Kassandra: I imagine a future where virtual exchanges are so immersive that students might feel they’re walking around a foreign campus while physically remaining in their classroom. This could significantly reduce the need for travel, lowering carbon footprints.

Brian: I envision integrating AI to enhance the exchanges, providing additional perspectives and fact-checking during discussions on cultural stereotypes.Memorable Incidents and Personal Impact

Brian: In one unique exchange, families cooked together via Zoom. One family was making homemade tomato sauce, and a mishap led to a humorous and slightly embarrassing moment when ingredients ended up on the floor. I think the students learned some pretty colorful new expressions that evening!

Kassandra: The most touching outcome was seeing students voluntarily engage with local food banks after learning about food insecurity through exchanges. It was an unplanned but wonderful consequence of their newfound awareness. They did this all on their own, unprompted by me, saying they just wanted to do something good after learning about the problems that are out there!

Amy: One significant impact was the formation of lasting relationships, such as a teacher from Guatemala who became my dear friend and whose daughter moved to Rhode Island, creating lifelong family bonds with our family. They are now part of our family and this all started because of virtual exchange opportunities. These virtual exchanges can be transformative in ways we might not even be able to imagine for our students.

Conclusions and Introductions

As we wrap up our panel discussion, it’s clear that virtual exchanges offer a unique opportunity to broaden students’ horizons. Whether it’s building global competencies, fostering language skills, or understanding complex social issues, the digital classroom extends far beyond its physical boundaries, preparing students for a more interconnected world. The experiences shared by Chantalle, Brian, Amy, and Kassandra not only highlight the diverse approaches to virtual exchanges but also underscore the profound impact these experiences can have on both students and educators.

Chantalle Bourque is the Director of Global Education and Experiential Learning at Calgary French and International School in Calgary, Canada.

Brian Dittmer is a Global Citizenship and Cooperative Education Teacher at St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Ontario, Canada.

Amy Bonnici is the Coordinator of Global Experiences and a Spanish Teacher at the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island.

Kassandra Brenot is the founding Director of Global Education at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, California.

Some of their testimonies were synthesized or summarized for the sake of brevity.