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Critical Virtual Exchange

Virtual Exchange (VE) illustrates a teaching practice in which students from different cultures and/or locations come together in a digital space over a sustained period of time and jointly engage in educational activities, interaction, and reflection. It widens the access to intercultural learning experiences to a larger number of learners and connects participants from all areas (international, urban, local). The consortium defines VE in accordance with insights derived from former European projects such as Evolve. In addition, ROCKET includes a critical perspective on all Virtual Exchanges, since it will focus on action-orientation, critical digital literacy, and (critical) global citizenship education. Accordingly, ROCKET aims to develop, pilot, and refine an innovative concept of ‘critical Virtual Exchange’ as a blueprint for European Higher Education. 

Action-orientation: ROCKET will implement educational activities which relate to real-life contexts and provide students with the tools to actively engage social challenges linked to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Critical digital literacy: Participants will be supported to establish a digital identity. They learn how to use their voice in an online setting and treat technology in a responsible way.
Critical Global Citizenship Education: Learners are encouraged to critically analyse real-life context and reflect on feasible solutions in a creative manner. Participants check their own bias, critically reflect existing attitudes and emotional responses to topics around DEI. Participants will be introduced to existing stakeholders that allow engagement with DEI topics within and beyond Higher Education.

During the planning, implementation and evaluation of any VE course, we will take into account existing social inequalities and power dynamics and diverse levels of learners’ digital literacies, communicative competence, and semiotic skills. Furthermore, the impact of technology and language (here: English) on the process of teaching and learning will be critically assessed.   

The ROCKET consortium sees a vast potential for VE to actively address and promote DEI within the digital classroom. To fulfil this potential, however, VE needs to overcome a superficial level regarding the reflection of cultural differences, and instead offer opportunities for authentic experiences and allow students the acquisition of knowledge through facilitated dialogue. In addition, we aim to “humanize” digital education and allow for social and emotional aspects to complement cognitive learning. This will be achieved by implementing innovative modes of interaction such as Role-playing games and conflict transformation in all Virtual Exchanges.  

Lecturers and administrative staff are not always familiar with Virtual Exchange and its potential to facilitate a safer space for interactive engagement around DEI. ROCKET aims to fill this gap by offering training modules for teaching and administrative staff that will be spread within the consortium and further opened to the European University Network ENLIGHT. Since Virtual Exchanges are held online, ROCKET will cut down on the impacts of travel on sustainability and improve the accessibility of activities to students and instructors. Ultimately, all project activities will help to support digital transformation at European Higher Education Institutions.  

Hauck, Mirjam: From Virtual Exchange to Critical Virtual Exchange and Critical Internationalization at Home (2023-07-03). The Global Impact Exchange, 2023 (Spring) (pp. 9-12)