Virtual Exchange is moving beyond academia

Virtual Exchange enthusiast, Professor Anna Turula is a Polish teacher-trainer based in Krakow at the UKEN University. She is Chair of the Technology Enhanced Language Education Department (TELE).

Anna has extensive experience of TEFL and has been training other teachers for the past few decades. She considers herself as a tele-collaborative teacher

Her latest project sees her interviewing Polish teachers on their virtual exchange experiences. She shares some insights with UNICollaboration.


Some fascinating insights

“I’m absolutely amazed by the diversity of these projects’, she explains. “I haven’t yet had a chance to analyse the data yet, but I can already see certain patterns emerging. I’m seeing how people started, who inspired them and who trained them. It’s quite fascinating to see the scope.”

Although so far, Anna has found about 20 teachers to speak to, which by her own admission, is a smallish group, she is still seeing groups emerging.

“Some are teacher trainers, like myself, and they appear to be using virtual exchange to supplement the syllabi of teacher training courses. Others are language teachers working in the language teaching centres of universities. They are incorporating CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) into their courses, which means some are teaching English to Business students or Pharmacy students for example. Depending on who they teach, they are incorporating the content too.”

The benefits of the CLIL approach

Anna can see a lot of potential in using the CLIL approach in the future. In 2006, Marsh & Coyle defined this approach as ‘when a foreign language is used as a tool in the learning of a non-language subject in which both the language and the subject have a joint role’.

For this reason, virtual exchange collaborations can increase their scope and interest and incorporate content outside of just teacher training.

“Teacher training rarely goes beyond the university walls,’ explains Anna, ‘and now, I am looking at exchanges that are actually opening the doors of the university and making them thin-walled, which I think is pretty amazing.”

“Some teachers are doing exchanges on different content, being content teachers, not English teachers. But their English is good enough for this kind of virtual exchange. I’m seeing this happen at universities specialising in economics or technical universities, for example.”

Basically, Anna is seeing a lot of themes, and values and approaches emerging, and this is very exciting for the future. All the teachers think they are doing something exceptional.

Beyond the university walls

Virtual exchange is going beyond the language theme,’ says Anna, ‘from 2018, a UNICollaboration conference in Krakow already reflected that these trends were emerging. During the conference, we heard about many other interesting initiatives in the world of VE, such as a number of business collaborations.”

On a personal level, Anna tries to find links between teacher training and civic education and several of her telecollaborations have included this element.

“In one that I am particularly proud of, we asked the students to find problems in the world around them, often in the world of teacher training. Some of these issues were resolvable on a local level. Then, in their international teams, they devised solutions. We then encouraged them to try and implement these solutions after the tele-collaboration had ended. Some of them really went for it and this made me very proud as this is exactly what virtual exchange/tele-collaboration is about. It’s about bringing change even on a local level and virtual exchange provides the perfect context for this.

Bridging the divide

Anna hopes this idea of using virtual exchange to bridge the divide between academia and civil society continues to grow.

“If it doesn’t,’ she says, ‘we risk our universities becoming obsolete in the modern world. It would be a worthwhile research effort to understand the impact of VE in the society. The impact could be felt even years after the experience. Hopefully the experience will enable them to model how they view the world and move around in it and show responsibility towards the world.”

Anna admits she’s had her fair share of failures in virtual exchange, but this comes with the territory, and provides for so much learning.

“Even if you fail in your tele-collaboration, you can learn so much from the experience of doing the virtual exchange. You can’t underestimate the learning value when you make mistakes.”