In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re highlighting the experiences educators from the U.S. and Middle East and North Africa have had with virtual exchange. Raja Habbal is an Arabic teacher at Arizona State University Prep Digital and Abdelfettah Sabri is a high school teacher at Lycée d’Excellence de Benguerir (LYDEX). Both teachers facilitate Global Leadership Virtual Exchange, implemented by ASU Prep Digital and LYDEX.
We wanted to hear about their perspectives on virtual exchange and its impact. Read their responses below:
Why did you want to bring virtual exchange to your classroom?
Raja Habbal: At Arizona State University Preparatory Academy, we decided to bring the virtual exchange as an elective course for our high school students. This is an excellent opportunity to experience a unique cross-cultural education program. The global leadership exchange course provides our students with a deeper understanding of perspectives around the world on important socio-political issues. It also develops 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, cross-cultural communication, and collaborative problem-solving.
Abdelfettah Sabri: I wanted to bring virtual exchange to my classroom in order to allow my students to interact and communicate with students in another country using technology. Through virtual exchange my students would learn new skills and get a deeper understanding of the American culture.
Can you share about your day-to-day experience implementing virtual exchange in your classroom? In other words, what should teachers expect to do if they were to implement a virtual exchange?
RH: The Global Leadership Virtual Exchange course is offered in a mixed synchronous/ asynchronous format throughout a semester length. Twice a week, communication is facilitated through live lessons; one of them is a joint lesson with our counterpart in Morocco. At all times, students have access to modules on a learning management system, allowing them to work asynchronously. The first live lesson of the week allows the American students to get familiarized with the themes and prepare their inquiries through class or group discussions. During the joint live lesson, the activities allow students from both countries to compare and contrast their points of view on aspects such as geography, environment, climates, economics, government, history, cuisine, holidays, culture, etc. Some of the joint live lesson time is dedicated to working on a cross-collaborative semester-long project.
AS: To implement virtual exchange, I prepare course content with my partner in the U.S. I also grade students’ work on the platform Canvas, and give feedback to student posts. In addition, I alternate with my partner teaching the live lessons via Zoom.
What is one of your favorite moments from your virtual exchange?
RH: Honestly, I enjoy all the joint live lessons, but my favorite is the first one. After a few live lessons dedicated to introducing the American students to the program and building knowledge and expectations about our Moroccan counterparts and their culture, the general feeling is palpable. Students shared that their hearts were beating so fast and the feedback after each breakout room are just captivating. The smiles on everyone’s faces (and mine) were priceless!
AS: One of my favorite moments from my virtual exchange is the live lesson when students work in breakout rooms via Zoom. They collaborate with their American peers to do tasks related to the similarities and differences between the Moroccan and American cultures.
What impact has participating in a virtual exchange had on your students?
RH: Beyond building friendships, working with people from different cultural backgrounds was an eye-opening experience for our students. Not only did it enlarge their horizons, but it required a deep self-reflection. Every theme brought its share of knowledge and opened doors for new critical thinking levels that could be applied in every aspect of their life now and in the future.
AS: My students have benefited a lot from the virtual exchange course. In particular, they have learned some 21st century skills, such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Additionally, they have enhanced their knowledge of the American culture.
What advice would you give to another teacher interested in starting or joining a virtual exchange program?
RH: Whether you choose the program as an elective course or an after-school program, the outcome is the same: great, meaningful, student-centered communication. Like any other course, planning the meetings is vital for success. Always unleash the students’ creativity and productivity with micro-cross-collaborative projects using new instructional technology and trust their potential.
AS: For teachers who would like to start a virtual exchange program, I advise them to look for partners abroad who are interested in virtual exchange. They should take into account students’ age and academic level or grade. Moreover, they should agree with their partners about the course content and the technological tools to be used.