Restrictions on international travel may have prevented many students from visiting countries overseas over the past year, but in Semester 1, a group of 54 students enrolled on the Skills Centre’s foreign language courses were able to connect with students around the world through a Virtual Exchange Programme. The programme will run again in Semester 2.

What is Virtual Exchange?

Virtual Exchange is a practice, supported by research, which brings together students who are geographically separated and/or from different cultural backgrounds. Its aims are:

  • To increase student confidence in communicating across cultures
  • To enable students to develop their language capabilities and a range of other key employability skills, such as communication, interpersonal, digital, teamwork and organisational skills
  • To enable students to develop a global citizenship mindset.

Student exchanges are technology-enabled, sustained over a period of time and guided by teachers who, whilst promoting autonomy in peer-to-peer interactions, keep a close eye on their purpose.

In some countries Virtual Exchange is called Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) as students collaborate on specific tasks, therefore developing important cross-cultural working skills.

Semester 1 Programme

Depending on the language studied, students from Bath were paired with students at Xi’an International University (XAIU) in China, Univesitat Politècnica de València (UPV) in Spain, Princess Sumaya University for Technology (PSUT) in Jordan, École normale supérieure de Lyon in France and State University of Campinas (Unicamp) in Brazil.

Participants met virtually each week for six weeks, with sessions taking place flexibly on a range of platforms, for example Zoom, MS Teams, WhatsApp and WeChat. Teachers offered a list of topics to use as a starting point for discussions each session.

Benefits of the Virtual Exchange

Feedback from the Semester 1 Programme was very positive, with 94% of survey respondents saying they would recommend a Virtual Exchange to others. They cited the development of valuable intercultural and language skills and the opportunity to form connections with people from different backgrounds as the main reasons why.

This is particularly useful in the current climate as restrictions on overseas travel continue and for those students who might not be able to spend a period of time abroad as part of their degree.

Kathryn Yates, MA in Translation and Professional Language Skills, who took part in the French Virtual Exchange, said the following about the programme:

It has fostered my cultural understanding and improved my navigation of a new culture at a time where this is difficult to achieve. It has involved independent work, time management and respect for the other person and their preferences, all crucial in the modern, interconnected world.

Elliott Garraway, MA in Translation and Professional Language Skills, who took part in the Virtual Exchange with Unicamp, added:

Through the VE Programme, you become a better listener and develop a greater appreciation for another culture. This increased cultural awareness is very important in broadening the mind and working in harmony with people, especially nowadays in our very (and wonderfully) diverse globalised workforce.

The teachers also benefited professionally from the Programme. The Exchanges allowed them to network across borders and develop their project management and people skills.

Internationalisation at Home

Virtual Exchange is an excellent tool to promote ‘Internationalisation at Home’, which is defined as “the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum”.

Even without the language practice element, students of the same discipline can adopt a common lingua franca, communicate online with students at universities outside the UK and work together on a common project, with the support of their teachers. Such a practice, also based on collaborative critical enquiry and cross-cultural learning, would be beneficial to students of all disciplines.

The Foreign Languages Team will run the six-week Virtual Exchanges again in Semester 2 with the same partner universities overseas.

If you are interested in finding out how your students can take part in the Virtual Exchange Programme, or how you could adopt a similar programme in your teaching, please contact the Foreign Languages team.