1. Background detail about the initiative

  • Title of the initiative described by the case study: Climate Movements
  • Contributor of the case study: Casper van der Heijden – Sharing Perspectives Foundation
  • Key informant:
  • Data sources used for the case study:
    • Written Q&A with Helen Eve from ESIEE
    • Record of ESIEE participation in SPF VEs
  • URL of initiative
  • University behind the initiative:
    • Lead implementer: Sharing Perspectives Foundation – Netherlands
    • Partner institutions: ESIEE Paris, France | University of Bordeaux, France | University of Padova, Italy | Tishreen University, Syria | Bethlehem University, Palestine | University Mohamed Lamine Debaghine Setif 2, Algeria.

2. Introduction to the case: brief history and goals of the initiative

The Sharing Perspectives Foundation is a not-for-profit offering contemporary online learning experiences for people to interact constructively across divides, whether national, cultural, social, or political. We believe all young people should have equal opportunities to develop 21st-century skills people need to thrive in today’s diverse, connected, and online world. The Sharing Perspectives Foundation uses Virtual Exchange as an inclusive pedagogical approach offering people a meaningful international and cross-cultural experience to support this objective.

The Sharing Perspectives Foundation model of Virtual Exchange has been developed since 2012. Over the years, the model has been well researched and validated with a proven impact on participants’ development of transversal skills such as cross-cultural communication, critical thinking, empathy, and self-esteem. The model offers bite-sized and engaging content on the specific course thematics; informed by our original group process framework, trained facilitators guide the students through meaningful and constructive online dialogues leading to authentic connections and relationships between peers from across the world, and by our interactive and reflective assignments participants learn how to apply the acquired learning and new skills to their daily practices.

The Sharing perspective Foundation was responsible for the implementation of the Interactive Open Online Courses as part of the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange project which was developed based on SPF’s model of virtual exchange. Moreover, the SPF model has recently been classified as “ready-made virtual exchange”, meaning that higher education institutions can offer the virtual exchange to their students without having to dedicate staff time to the development or implementation of the exchange. Teachers at the HEIs validate and ultimately accredit the experience of their students to ensure integration into the HEIs curricula.

The specific case under review of this case study is the Virtual Exchange: Climate Movements, a virtual exchange course developed by the Sharing Perspectives Foundation, informed by earlier designed Interactive Open Online Course Cultural Encounters. Thematically, the course focuses on one of the world’s most pressing issues: climate change. The conversation about climate is a conversation about movement. Scientists point to the slow but steady upward movement of the planet’s temperature. Activists demand movement and change from governments and policymakers. Unprecedented global youth movements have emerged and shifted public discourse. New and more extreme climatic events are forcibly displacing people from their homes or livelihoods, and depleted natural resources threaten stability and peace. Still, beliefs and behaviors about climate are often unmoving.

Participants were informed by bite-sized video lectures and other audio-visual materials which enabled them to exchange their ideas and perspectives constructively in small intercultural, online group sessions. During 9 weeks students from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East have weekly discussions on the themes of the course under the guidance of certified facilitators and engaged in interactive assignments.

104 participants from 6 partner institutions started the virtual exchange, and 72 successfully passed the course (meaning that they scored a minimum of 60 out of 100 points). Participants were scored on the submission of assignments and their attendance in the online group sessions. This case study focuses on the partnership between the Sharing Perspectives Foundation and the HEI ESIEE Paris. 23 students from ESIEE Paris started the course, and 21 successfully finished the course. 

3. Key aspects

Quality assurance mechanisms

In its design, the virtual exchange has an assured quality because the model and developed pedagogical approach exists for 10 years and over time have been critically and externally been evaluated and researched. Moreover, every course iteration is critically evaluated and analyzed internally and content and dialogue models are improved where necessary.
During the implementation, we excessively care for our participants and their engagement in the online sessions and interactive assignments. We use the following mechanisms:
– Only trained and certified facilitators facilitate the online dialogue sessions;
– Facilitators are supported and monitored by experienced coaches;
– Facilitators report on every session, reports are weekly analyzed;
– Participants fill in session surveys – allowing them to flag any issues if necessary;
– Educators from partner HEIs receive weekly updates about students’ progress.

Assessment of learning outcomes

The assessment of learning outcomes is done by the Sharing Perspectives Foundation as well as the partner institution.
The Sharing Perspectives Foundation evaluates participants learning through monitoring of their assignments and participation as well as through pre & post-surveys which use psychometric scales to measure the development of 21st-century skills. Based on prior course iterations we know that the SPF virtual exchange model supports the development of specific skills such as cross-cultural communication, critical thinking, empathy, and self-esteem. SPF measures this in every course iteration.
We measure the participation of participants through their attendance in the online dialogue sessions as well as in their performance of the interactive and reflective assignments. Typically, the assignments are:
– Proof of preparation for the online session by critically assessing audio-visual materials;
– Maintaining a reflection diary of their participation in the course.
– Video-dialogue assignment, engaging peers in their community in the course themes.
In turn, the partner institution reviews the students’ assignments and participation to validate and accredit the experience of the students in the virtual exchange. The coordinating professor at the ESIEE Dr. Helen Eve read all of the written deliverables for each student and gave a grade, which was based on the quality of the writing and evidence of having applied critical thinking to the course materials and to the experience of learning in an international classroom. This grade accounted for 50% of the final grade. The other 50% was the grade attributed by SPF.

Integration and accreditation of the Virtual Exchange Climate Movements into the broader curricula

The course was offered to 24 third-year students who could opt to do this course instead of the regular course on International Communication. 23 students signed up for this. There was no fee coverage by Erasmus+, but the International Relations Manager could cover the costs with some spare Internationalisation budget which had not been used up because of the pandemic. This is not a sustainable solution.
For autumn 2021 – the course will be offered to third-year students who will not be participating in the new group mobility programme in semester 1. These students have personal or health reasons preventing them from going abroad. The course will provide an Internationalisation at Home opportunity for these students in compensation for not going on mobility. This is a sustainable solution.
Due to the pandemic and Brexit, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find English teachers, especially native-level English teachers. This course could provide an alternative for developing students’ speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills. This is also a sustainable solution.
One of the skills required of engineers is the ability to work with people from different professions and countries. This course helps develops intercultural communication skills. It also helps students practice and develop the 4 language skills: speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills in English. Finally, our institution has the objective of increasing the number of subjects taught in English. This course furthers that objective.

Incentivization and investments

The incentive is that it offers a valuable opportunity for students to improve their English skills by practicing it authentically with non-speakers of French.
I have been given the arduous role of developing Internationalisation at Home in our HEI, with very little time attributed to this role. I approached the International Relations Manager about partnering with SPF. Since this is a good opportunity for developing I@H and there was a spare budget, he immediately agreed!
In the last semester, Spring 2021, I held an online meeting with the participants before the course started. I outlined my expectations and answered any questions they had. The students could contact me by email during the course if they had any issues they wished to discuss. At the end of the course, I reminded the students by email of what was expected. Finally, I met, virtually, with the students at the end of the course to find out what they had gotten out of the course.

4. Lessons Learnt and Transferability Opportunities

What have been the main challenges for integrating this virtual exchange? 

I think the main challenge is – out of sight, out of mind. Some students were highly autonomous and needed further guidance from me of what my expectations were. Other students might have done better if we had touched base at least once during the course, perhaps on a non-mandatory basis.

What would you say is the biggest success or achievement? 

The biggest achievement is that a certain number of students expressed clearly that their horizons had been broadened and that they had learned a lot about climate change, migration and the very different experiences and perspectives people have in different countries. All of the students seemed  delighted with the course and did not regret having opted for it. A couple of students failed the course, but I don’t think that was related to the course itself – I think they were failing in other subjects too.

Do you think this experience is transferable to other HEIs in Europe? Why or why not?

Yes, it is completely transferable as it helps students develop 21st century skills, such as active listening, communication skills, critical thinking etc., and everyone needs to develop those!