Language learning strategies, technology, student participation–there’s a lot to pay attention to when running a virtual exchange in your class. Certainly, keeping the various procedural balls in the air can feel like a lot, but maintaining a working relationship with some random educator halfway across the world?
You’ve got to be kidding me! I didn’t get into teaching so I could speak with other adults!
In truth, connecting with your colleague in a virtual exchange can actually result in one of the highlights of the experience—and yield a bountiful amount of benefits. It’s true that you will spend the lion’s share of your time overseeing and managing a virtual exchange in your classes. You will be devoted to serving your students as an aid for language learning; learning the necessary technology and supporting your pupils in its utilization; and keeping your students on task and motivated to respond enthusiastically to the exchange prompts. Nevertheless, communicating and building a relationship with your counterpart on the other side of the exchange remains an important—and often overlooked—part of a successful and rewarding virtual exchange.
Making it Easy
First, developing a good rapport with the other instructor in your virtual exchange can facilitate the whole process. For example, evenly distributing tasks amongst the teachers early on remains an essential part of a good exchange.
What’s more, most platforms allow a confidential chat function where the instructors can communicate about the goings-on of the exchange, though many teachers nowadays will use the means with which they are most comfortable, like email, text, video calls, or messenger apps. Doing this can help divide the necessary tasks—such as choosing topics or translating prompts into different languages—and builds trust in your partner.
Next, already having a decent working relationship with your partner can simplify what could become problems down the road. What are the most common snags that teachers in a virtual exchange might solve together? The mundane ones include scheduling, unresponsive or nonparticipating students on either end, and readjusting program expectations.
However, what about if two of your students start communicating via social media or through private texts? Or, despite your best monitoring efforts, a student says or does something in a video that could be interpreted as offensive or off-color? In these situations, feeling comfortable with the other teacher in a virtual exchange and keeping open lines of communication can help both instructors easily navigate potentially hazardous situations.
Teaching and Learning
Working closely with another educator, even on something as focused in scope as a virtual exchange, can prove an incredibly enriching experience. Primarily, how many of us language teachers limit ourselves to speaking only with novices the target language or languages we instruct? The ability to practice our language skills with another expert can always be useful. In addition, your partner might live in a different country than you, and therefore might intentionally, or inadvertently, teach you more about how language and culture are evolving in that part of the world.
You may even act as resources for one another, fielding questions and helping one another source materials that can aid instruction. Just think: how many of us educators ask our institutions to spend large sums of money to send us to conferences whose most rewarding opportunities often revolve around talking shop with a colleague from another school? Well, it’s this very opportunity for professional development that comes baked into the virtual exchange program!
Finally, if you’re a teacher, you know that everything you do in the classroom remains a work in progress; why should a virtual exchange prove any different? Building and maintaining a working relationship with your exchange partner can allow you to tinker with and improve upon the practices of your virtual exchange, should you choose, or be assigned, to work together again. It can, for example, save you both a lot of time if you have gotten a chance to highlight the strengths and successes of your last exchange; in the same vein, a working partnership with your exchange partner can also spare you the frustration of repeating errors!
It is important to view communicating and working in tandem with your partner in a virtual exchange as an opportunity to grow the exchange as well as ameliorate it over time together. Certainly, it is not often as teachers that we get the chance to collaborate with other educators. If you have been on the job for quite some time, or were intrepid in your first years of teaching, perhaps you have gotten a chance to collaborate, or co-teach with a colleague. If you have not, however, virtual exchanges offer a fantastic, short-term flirt with this possibility, and one where often the burdens of curriculum and pedagogical planning have been lifted for you by the platform or the organizers. Thus, educators can focus on what they have chosen to do: educate!
In sum, there are a great number of benefits to the teacher-teacher relationship in a virtual exchange, and therefore, if possible, should be made a priority for you. Fostering and developing the relationship between you and your exchange partner may prove very simple, with a shared language and an affinity to one another’s cultures, as well as a shared profession. However, most people don’t become teachers to spend time with other adults! If you can see the many benefits to founding and nurturing a bond with your partner, spending time reflecting on the progress of the exchange, both during and after, can really lead to a working relationship.
Therefore, do your best not to see the other adult or adults involved in your virtual exchange as obstacles but as potential resources and helpful aids in the important work you conduct. Just as your students will undoubtedly grow from connecting and interacting with peers from across the world, you will do the same!
About Dan Pieraccini
Dan Pieraccini was born in Northern Italy, but was moved to the United States at the age of 6. Dan’s B.A. in English and M.A. in Italian literature have opened the door to over a decade of teaching high school and college students a second (and in some cases a first) language. It is likely that having traveled through 82 countries, 48 U.S. states, and three disputed territories somehow factored into the decision to make Dan Delbarton School’s first Director of Global Programs. In his spare time, he manages events at his local Elks Lodge, helps feed the hungry at a handful of food pantries, writes and performs rock and roll songs with his band Forget the Whale, plays in a Dungeons and Dragons game, and occasionally goes out to brunch.