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Leveling Up Learners’ Global Communication and Cultural Competence with Topic-Based Virtual Exchanges 

Google Meet, Zoom, Skype … so many options, so little time!  

This was the general sentiment of our department as we grappled with the difficulties of post-pandemic teaching. Our in-person exchange programs were canceled, and we were in dire need of an authentic language immersion experience for our students. After much research and discussion we could not find a safe and reliable platform to begin chatting with friends abroad.  

Lucky for us, Kathleen Archibald, our department chair and a language enthusiast, responded to an online post mentioning the Level Up Village (LUV) Global Connections program. This exchange platform is designed to partner students from around the world using a secure site with curated modules to support both the language learners and the teachers. Kathy and I jumped at the chance to learn about the LUV virtual exchange program and immediately signed up for an introductory webinar.  

Our first impression was, “This is too good to be true!” Had we finally found a platform that was teacher friendly, standards based, AND culturally appropriate? With a rejuvenated sense of excitement we decided to offer two virtual exchanges, one with a high school in Uruguay and one with a language program in Urbino, Italy. We initiated this program in the Spring of 2022 with the hope of inspiring our students to use technology to support their language learning. We began with two Level 3 classes, meeting 2–3 times each week in a block schedule.  

At the start, our students seemed apprehensive yet intrigued. Their comments reminiscent of the first day of school jitters: “What if my language partner thinks I am weird” “What if they don’t like the same things I do?” “What if I don’t know what to say!” Other students were more outgoing, commenting on how “cool” it would be to talk to someone their own age about things that high school kids are interested in TODAY.  

Regardless of the learning styles of our students, we found the LUV platform to be flexible enough to meet the needs of all of our scholars. In the first week of the exchange, we worked out some technical difficulties and learned how to use the platform. We were impressed by the high level of support offered by the LUV staff. They were available to troubleshoot any questions but also offered helpful hints to keep our class on track and engaged in each lesson.  

From a teacher’s perspective, we were thrilled that LUV did much of the heavy-lifting for us. Each module had preloaded questions and themes to guide the students’ video responses. The lesson planning support allowed the teachers more time to focus on work done in the classroom and more time to evaluate each response. Typically, I shy away from programs that have preloaded work as I often feel they restrict the students creativity or seem scripted or unnatural. I felt that the LUV modules offered guidance for the students to stay focused but enough flexibility for them to remain authentic in their responses.  

I enjoyed working with my co-teacher in Italy. This was an opportunity for me to plan lessons and collaborate with a colleague abroad. It felt as if I had an exchange partner as well!   

We loved the program! We did encounter a few technical hiccups that forced us to modify our weekly approach to video creation and response time. In the future (yes, I would use this program again!), I will show my students more examples to give them a stronger foundation for their own answers. I found that my students WANTED to create high-quality videos but often needed some inspiration on how to talk to the camera and connect with their partners. I should have taken advantage of the LUV mainpage that shows student models and a variety of response examples; this is now an important step in my lesson planning for our next virtual exchange.  

I was drawn to the LUV learning motto, “globalize your classroom.” I found that this program was not just asking students to converse but also to focus on developing global competence and cultural awareness.  

Some of my biggest take-aways from this program came from my lower level students, students who often struggle with oral proficiency. It was amazing to watch videos where students admitted that speaking candidly and creating videos were activities that pushed them beyond their comfort zones. I learned so much about student’s interests and their lives outside of the classroom. Although this project was designed for the students to learn about peers from across the globe I found it to be a learning experience for me as well. I have a greater knowledge of my own students and learned much about contemporary life in Italy. If hopping on a plane and traveling with students is not possible, the Level Up Village Global Connection Program certainly is the next best thing!  

About Gina

Gina Gallo believes that language teachers are superhumans who make the world a better, brighter, and more compassionate place. Gina is a proud SCSU alumna and Italian teacher at Bristol Central High School. She is currently enrolled in an amazing Italian Literacy and Cultural studies program at UConn and is excited to learn and grow. Gina is a lifelong learner of Italian, a Latin newbie, and a lover of Spanish. Gina’s goal is to foster a passion for languages to positively impact the world with all of our voices.