For those of you still enjoying summer vacation – READ NO FURTHER!
But for the rest of us, you probably read “Back To School! How to Get A Head Start on This Year’s Virtual Exchanges – Part One” and are ready to think some more about the virtual exchanges you’ll be running. If that’s the case, then you know we’ve already explored integrating your virtual exchange with your curriculum, tech, online privacy, cultural sensitivity, successful collaboration, and professional development in Part One. This time around, we’ll be exploring schedules, assessment, support, parents, activities, and establishing lasting partnerships. And remember, Level Up Village won’t leave you out in the rain for any of these topics! So without further ado, onto Part Two!
Scheduling and Time Zones
Coordinating schedules with the partnering class to find suitable times for virtual interactions—considering any time zone differences, variability in seasons, and school year—sum up difficulties that we all share. Level Up Village and its staff all know that flexibility in scheduling is essential to accommodate the diverse time zones, the varying needs of the different participating schools, and the all-around craziness that can develop unexpectedly in a teacher’s scholastic agenda. That’s why one of the most beloved aspects of the LUV courses consistently remains their elasticity. With good communication between its moderators, any course can withstand the pushing and pulling of different needs and myriad commitments.
Well, what are you waiting for? Is your school schedule up on your website yet? Do you know where the major holidays fall on the calendar, or when your administration has fixed special days, assemblies, and field trips? Best have a look so you’re not behind the times—even one glance at the planner now will save “future you” a headache and a half! No one expects you to lesson-plan down to the minute, but that eagle-eye view and clear-headedness (coveted gifts from the Summer Vacation Gods) will help you paint a big picture on how things are going to look on your agenda.
Assessment and Evaluation
One of the principal tasks of an educator remains thoughtfully developing appropriate methods for assessing and evaluating student learning and engagement during a virtual exchange. Because, let’s face it, the students should be doing the real work…. Level Up Village recommends considering both formative and summative assessment strategies that align with your program’s objectives, but this might take a little prep work that’s best communicated before things really pick up in your classroom.
Like all your expectations for your course, you’ll want to set your virtual-exchange evaluation methods up both early and realistically. Looking ahead to how your grades will be distributed, will your virtual exchange be a fun project that could boost a struggling student’s grade? Or a consistent, weekly homework grade based upon completion? Do you or a colleague already have a good rubric, or could you modify an existing one on the criteria of videos and responses? Just a little forethought here can help you work more smart and less hard.
Logistics and Technical Support
Planning for technical support during virtual exchanges for whatever technical issues may arise? Heck no—gross….
…however, if you’re still reading (and admittedly, this may sound paranoid), look—having backup plans in place in case of technology-related challenges is probably worth at least a modicum of your summer thoughts, no? Of course, with the platform and uploading system, the Level Up Village techies will respond expertly and in a timely fashion. But what about the unfortunate events that remain out of everyone’s control? What happens if a kid’s computer is on the fritz, or they get their phone taken away…or worse: what happens if they don’t have access to a device for a week or longer during your virtual exchange? Is there a loaner program available to them? Can they complete the project using a school’s computer?
Looking into these sorts of issues, however briefly, will save you grief in the long run. Just allotting a little class time for those students who have poor connectivity at home could go a long way for their ability to get their videos or their responses in on time. Borrowing the school’s laptop cart, iPads for your classroom, or booking the technology lab—or just learning how any of that works at your school—may be a smart move before things get too busy amongst the staff!
Ideally, you want to communicate with parents about the virtual exchange program, its benefits, and how they can support their child’s participation. Note I said ideally: in reality, a great number of teachers actually loathe communicating with parents. But addressing any concerns parents may have and keeping them informed throughout the process doesn’t have to be a complete pain in the tuchus if you handle a little of the legwork up front!
The staff and collaborators at Level Up Village continue to publish great marketing materials on a regular basis that you can use when you’re telling students and their families about the great goals of telecollaboration. If you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, pedal over to the resources available to you and roll out something tried and tested, and save yourself the time and grief. Whether you want to show a successful case study from another school or share with parents the Level Up Village course curriculum and mission, it’s all out there. Overcommunicating can show that you’ve anticipated a lot of the questions up front, and often can quiet the nervous or uneasy parents who interrogate more out of anxiety than curiosity.
Cultural Exchange Activities
LUV’s culturally focused courses integrate cultural exchange activities into the program, such as asking students to share traditional music, art, cuisine, or holiday celebrations. These activities can enrich students’ understanding of different cultures and create a more immersive experience. But you can always expand upon these prompts with your students. For example, if your course allows, you could spend a little time having the students learn a little more about the cultural norms of your international collaborators. What are the significant works that they revere in that culture? What are classic touchstones of the arts and humanities that they might reference, and what are some modern contributions that younger people might be obsessed with at this moment?
Prepping your students to appreciate the differences in cultures will go a long way in not only assuring that they don’t make an unknowing misstep, as we discussed in the last section, but also in giving them a baseline of expectation. Rather than have them puzzling and scratching their heads over cultural mores and references they don’t get, if there’s a way you can think ahead and prepare an introductory lesson, you might have your pupils at greater ease and more well-versed in the topics they’ll be addressing.
Establishing strong partnerships with reputable organizations or schools that have experience in virtual exchanges is kind of LUV’s thing. That’s just what they do, and they do it well! But don’t forget, further collaborating with experienced partners can provide valuable insights and support for a successful program. There’s a lot that can be done in the preamble to a virtual exchange that can prime you with brilliant insights or leave you with powerful tales of warning to help guide you. Think about the resources available to you now, and don’t be afraid to utilize them to your advantage!
The Level Up Village platform offers regular material created by and for teachers who run virtual exchanges, and all of it is done in the name of teacher collaboration. The blogs, the case studies, the instructional videos, and the webinars are all a first step to creating those connections and starting a discussion on best practices, but in your professional network, are there colleagues and peers that you can hit up for some shop talk on telecollaborative projects? Likely there are, on the listservs where you lurk, at the professional workshops and teachers’ associations meetings you attend, and maybe, just maybe, right beneath your nose, at your very school. Ask around! You may know others who use Level Up Village, or a different platform, to conduct virtual exchanges. Or perhaps, as sometimes happens, they have successfully created and maintained one of their own!
And we’ve often explored the benefits of working closely with your other international partners in the exchange. If you add a personal touch to the professional relationship, it could make things go smoother next time. Or, scheduling some time to perform a debrief and talk about what went well and what did not can save everyone involved a lot of time and agony.
Yes, there is, of course, the small matter of running your virtual exchange. But, once you’ve thought about it some, things ought to go a lot smoother, and you’re far less likely to be caught by surprise by something for which you’ve at least mentally prepared. You’ll remember, hopefully, that we already discussed integrating your virtual exchange with your curriculum, tech, online privacy, cultural sensitivity, successful collaboration, and professional development in Part One. And hopefully, now you’ve given some additional thought to aspects such as schedules, assessment, support, parents, activities, and establishing lasting partnerships. Remember the wisdom of this pithy adage: in life, as in chess, forethought wins!