Best practices for enhancing internationalization through virtual exchange discussed at the Unite! Staff Week
The Unite! training held in February and March 2021 was designed to help the staff, educators, training leaders, and other stakeholders at the seven Unite! universities to understand how virtual exchange can best be implemented remotely to promote internationalization. Virtual exchange complements physical mobility, as universities are expected to offer more remote-based opportunities for students in the future.
The most significant themes of the Unite! Staff Week on Virtual Exchange were the practical implementation of the virtual exchange and how it supports the development of global competence. Virtual mobility creates opportunities to learn from other universities and brings out different ways of learning. In addition, the discussion took into account variations in the quality of teaching and different practices for managing the exchange program, such as pre-course guidelines and community building.
According to the feedback from the participants, the skills learned will help to implement new projects on virtual exchange, but also to identify new opportunities for cooperation with partner universities. Sasha Spurná, coordinator for incoming exchange students at Aalto University, said she was also learning from the organisers. "I was observing how they organise groups online, facilitate the meetings online, give enough space to everybody, moderate the discussion, make us work together and find new solutions on our own. Exactly in the form by having the element of multiculturalism and different participants’ backgrounds and taking advantage of it during the creation process. We were coordinators, teachers, facilitators and managers there and it was very enriching experience. So I learned a lot not only about the Virtual Exchange by itself but also about the Unite! Network and how to facilitate an online diverse event", Sasha explained.
The most important thing for Sasha was to understand the difference between virtual exchange and virtual learning. "Both sound the same, right? But fortunately we have spent a lot of time bringing up good practises and valuable experiences with the element that is crucial when you want to distinguish your learning/teaching activities on internet. And the element is the interaction among students and other participants. The element that is usually automatically present during the physical exchange stay when you are actually forced to deal with multicultural environment just by being physically at the place. Virtual exchange is trying to bring these learning opportunities into the online world", Spurná sums the experience during the Unite! training.