1. Background detail about the initiative

  • Title of the initiative described by the case study: Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange courses at JMU Würzburg
  • Contributor of the case study: Casper van der Heijden – Sharing Perspectives Foundation
  • Data sources used for the case study:
  • URL of initiative
  • University behind the initiative: Sharing Perspectives Foundation as part of the E+vE consortium & JMU Würzburg

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

The website of the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange pilot project describes the project and its objectives as follows:

“Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange is part of the Erasmus+ programme, providing an accessible, ground-breaking way for young people to engage in intercultural learning. Working with Youth Organisations and Universities, the programme is open to any young person aged 18-30 residing in Europe and the Southern Mediterranean.

Through a range of activities, Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange aims to expand the reach and scope of the Erasmus+ programme through Virtual Exchanges, which are technology-enabled people-to-people dialogues sustained over a period of time.

Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange offers a safe online community to participate in facilitated discussions, increasing intercultural awareness and building 21st Century skills through Virtual Exchange. The programme encourages and promotes intercultural dialogue, employability, and citizenship, strengthening the youth dimension of the EU neighbourhood policy.

The general objective of the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange initiative is to link young people (aged 18-30), youth workers, youth organisations, students, and academics from Europe and the South Mediterranean through online learning activities in order to strengthen people-to-people contacts and intercultural dialogue.

In particular, the initiative aims at:

  • Encouraging intercultural dialogue and increasing tolerance through online people-to-people interactions, building on digital, youth-friendly technologies
  • Promoting various types of Virtual Exchange as a complement to Erasmus+ physical mobility, allowing more young people to benefit from intercultural and international experience
  • Enhancing critical thinking and media literacy, particularly in the use of the Internet and social media, to develop resistance to discrimination and indoctrination
  • Fostering the soft skills development of students, young people and youth workers, including the practice of foreign languages and teamwork, notably to enhance employability
  • Supporting the objectives of the 2015 Paris declaration to promote citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education
  • Strengthening the youth dimension of the EU neighbouring policy with Southern Mediterranean countries.”

Source: https://europa.eu/youth/erasmusvirtual/

The JMU Würzburg has integrated the following E+VE activities at its institution, presented here in chronological order:

  • iOOC – Cultural Encounters | Perspectives on populism (fall 2019)
  • Social Circles (Winter 2019)
  • iOOC – Countering Hate Speech (Spring 2020)
  • iOOC – Sustainable Food Systems (Spring 2020)
  • Social Circles (Summer 2020)
  • iOOC – Cultural Encounters | The Big Climate Movement (fall 2020)

The information about this case study thus focuses on the integration of the above activities at the JMU Würzburg.

3. Key aspects

Students at the Julius Maximilian University in Würzburg can follow courses up to 20 ECTS from the pool of General Key Qualifications subjects. Every faculty or central institution at the university, like the Career Centre, can offer courses within this pool. This means that the courses offered in this pool can be subject-related or have an interdisciplinary focus. All courses can be attended by all students of the university and they are not limited to specific faculties or programmes. In 2019 the Career Centre at the University of Wurzburg decided to use the offerings at the pool of General Key Qualifications to stimulate the development of 21st century skills and cooperate with partners outside of the university. As a consequence, the Career Centre decided to offer some of the Virtual Exchange activities of the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange project as part of the pool of General Key Qualifications.

For students to receive the ECTS credits they had to successfully complete the Virtual Exchange activities offered by the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange project as well as attend two (local) classes at the JMU with the career centre to further strengthen the transversal skill development of the participants. As such, the virtual exchange activities offered at the JMU were offered as part of a broader course at the university.

In support of students’ participation in the virtual exchanges, the Career Centre offered many counselling situations to their students. These were integrated by the core staff/regular staff of the career centre and have proven that the participating students increasingly become aware of the fact that the virtual exchange program enhances not only their foreign communication skills in an intercultural and digital setting but also other transversal skills such as critical thinking and global responsibility on highly discussed topics like sustainability, solidarity and climate change. The learning outcomes of the virtual exchanges were assessed by preparing/receiving a special written portfolio in addition to a presentation in class.

When it comes to the challenges and achievements of this experience, the Career Centre has struggled to find the right timeslots for the participation of students into the programmes. This was not only due to the diversity of schedules of students within the JMU, but also with their partner institutions. On the other hand, the biggest achievement for JMU’s career centre program can be seen in presenting a future oriented (blended) learning format preparing our students for highly responsible positions in international working positions. Students have experienced the two different forms of learning (face-to-face in class and e-learning) and stress that they were enabled to profit from the best of two worlds.

4. Lessons Learnt and Transferability Opportunities

For the JMU, a key factor for long term integration and success of Virtual Exchanges remains the availability of external funding. The university has a longstanding and sophisticated intercultural soft skills programme already developed, including digital components. As such, despite the JMU’s conviction that the presented topics and extraordinarily elaborated curricula presented in their experienced virtual exchanges, the university could not invest in virtual exchanges. Because the number of participating students in the VE was relatively low compared to the 29.000 students that are enrolled in the JMU, there has also not been the possibility to invest in writing additional funding applications for external funding specifically for virtual exchange. 

However, since the JMU and the Career Centre specifically does appreciate the unique value virtual exchange offers they do see possibilities for sustainable integration of Virtual exchange, but for this to happen multi-annual funding or allocation of budget is a requirement.