Five Key Insights into Virtual Exchange

I recently moderated a lively discussion about virtual exchange in the webinar Internationalize Your Business Degree Program Through Virtual Exchange with two professors from our Business & Culture virtual exchange program, John Branch of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Marina Apaydin of American University of Beirut. Many thought-provoking points were raised during the session, so it was hard to pare them down to just five! Here they are:

  1. Virtual exchange can be a competitive advantage for a university, distinguishing it as tech savvy and on the cutting edge. Virtual exchange offers students an opportunity to connect with peers from different countries without needing to travel. As such, it is convenient for students while at the same time adding a ‘spark’ to their educational experience.
  2. Traditional in-person student exchanges enable students to interact with the culture of the destination country. But in a virtual exchange, it is possible to involve multiple cultures simultaneously, which can lead to rich cross-cultural comparisons. (In the case of the Business & Culture virtual exchange, four countries were involved: USA, Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon)
  3. A virtual exchange introduces participants to another culture (or other cultures). But it has the added benefit of raising awareness of one’s home culture. Students gain new insights into their own cultures when they compare notes with students elsewhere and realize the points of difference, thereby leading to a new understanding of what is unique to their culture and what may be most appreciated by those coming from other countries.
  4. A virtual exchange offers instructors a mindful approach to cross-cultural teaching. A virtual exchange can be designed to ensure that culture is not simply a passive backdrop to student development, but instead is foregrounded in various instructional and assessment strategies. It is often assumed that students who study abroad will ‘naturally’ come to understand and appreciate cultural difference. As a simulated study abroad experience, however, a virtual exchange provides instructors with a more ‘controlled’, almost laboratory, environment in which cultural competence can be scaffolded.
  5. If establishing a virtual exchange, start small and scale up. A virtual exchange requires much coordination, and starting small will allow fine-tuning the administrative processes. So, consider a virtual exchange with only two countries in the first instance. Then, additional countries can be introduced… although, experience suggests that four countries is probably the maximum before the coordination/administration becomes unwieldy.

Note: The webinar was organized with my colleagues from the Global Virtual Learning Center at the William Davidson Institute. Business & Culture: A Virtual Practicum is supported by the Stevens Initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and is administered by the Aspen Institute. The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

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Amy Gillett

Amy Gillett

Amy Gillett is vice president of education at the William Davidson Institute and writes about entrepreneurship, management education and online learning.