1 Beuth Hochschule für Technik Berlin (GERMANY)
2 Academic College of Tel-Aviv Jaffa (ISRAEL)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2021 Proceedings
Publication year: 2021
Pages: 160-169
ISBN: 978-84-09-34549-6
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2021.0094
Conference name: 14th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 8-9 November, 2021
Location: Online Conference
Virtual exchanges have become a popular way of internationalising higher education in face of an increasing global mobility. Th diverse approaches to designing virtual exchanges have resulted from different application contexts, pedagogical objectives, areas of education and organisational structures. Virtual exchanges have proved valuable in times of pandemic as they allow to bring together faculty and students from different countries without the need for travelling. When properly designed and executed, virtual exchanges bear a high potential for the development of a range of valuable competencies including digital, language, collaborative and intercultural skills.

This paper describes the design of an international virtual exchange of two universities in Germany and Israel with focus on the synchronous exchanges in the web conferencing platform Zoom. The paper describes how the virtual exchange was integrated into the curricula and which learning outcomes were fostered. The aim of the virtual exchange was to bring students together to learn from each other, give and receive peer-feedback and reflect on the content of the curricula and the intercultural aspects of an international online collaboration. The virtual exchange followed a project-based approach in which teams of students work in local project groups on designing a digital learning solution as a new business opportunity. The modules involved in the exchange were the “Learning Design” course in the bachelor program "Digital Business" at Beuth University in Berlin, Germany and the “HCI” course in the bachelor program "Information Systems" at The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo in Israel. Both courses had approx. 200 students. The virtual exchange brought students from both countries together at three points in time during the summer term 2021: at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. The synchronous exchanges were organised in the web conferencing platform Zoom and combined online lectures and discussion sessions in international student groups in breakout rooms in Zoom.

The paper begins with the context of the exchange and describes how the design of the virtual exchange was based on the previous experiences from similar exchanges before the pandemic, and how the current exchange was re-designed and organised to cater to students' needs. The focus of the conceptual part of the paper is on how international synchronous exchange sessions in Zoom were designed and integrated into the curricula to provide best possible alignment of learning objectives, methods and results. Following the conceptual part, the paper present the method (quantitative online survey) applied to gather empirical data and outlines the results from the online survey conducted with 148 students who participated in the virtual exchange. The online survey was designed with the online survey tool SurveyMonkey and included three groups of questions:

(1) individual perceptions about benefits, issues and results from the international communication in smaller student groups in breakout rooms in Zoom,
(2) individual perceptions of cultural aspects involved in synchronous sessions and in group assignments as well as personal value-added from the collaboration,
(3) student perspective and feedback about the overall design and the learning design of the virtual exchange.

The paper ends with the discussion, conclusions and recommendations for designing virtual exchanges in higher education.
Virtual exchange, international collaboration, internationalisation, higher education, project-based learning.