Digital learning experiences are projected to become an essential part of the “learning ecosystem” (Mintz, 2015) of universities of the future. At the same time, global competency is now considered a required outcome of completing a college degree and a means for accessing the full spectrum of career paths upon graduating. It makes sense to look at these two realities of higher education together and to think about them in terms of active learning in and outside of the classroom. The purpose of this website is to cull the latest research, best practices, and innovative developments in Virtual International Exchange at Ohio State and beyond. We are also forming a self-study group, and taking an inventory of what is going on at Ohio State in terms of global online learning. We are also currently conducting a study on Turkish culture courses on how online cross-cultural conversations affect intercultural awareness. Please let us know if you would be interested in collaborating.

The strengths of online global learning hold particular salience for college graduates, who must now be competent in cross-cultural settings, due to the globalized economy and interconnected world.  Obstacles for student access to authentic cross-cultural experience, from economic limitations to social bias, to physical challenges make Virtual Exchange an avenue for authentic cross-cultural learning a necessary option. At the same time, environmental degradation due to travel, the potential for travelers to spread COVID-19, and other viruses, the security concerns due to conflict and war, deserve in-depth consideration in the curricular strategy. Online learning can be a practical way to address the challenges students face with regard to gaining cross-cultural life experience, especially in a directed and responsive learning environment where they can delve into potentially sensitive issues with scholarly rigor.

Virtual Learning creates opportunities for students to partner as co-equals with peers in another country in the processes of learning and discovery. As we develop students’ “perspective consciousness” (Hanvey,1983) faculty also may achieve a deeper commitment to their own life-long learning process and journey of cross-cultural learning. Our intention with this site is to discuss the benefits and challenges of Virtual International Exchange in a way that is meaningful for many university settings, curate a collection of tools for implementation, and make an impact on the field. This will entail Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) practices, High Impact Practices (HIP) such as experiential learning and reflection, and a myriad of other methods our colleagues are developing at Ohio State and other universities. We are also paying attention to the work being done by groups and associations related to higher education.

Defining “Virtual International Exchange”

While interactions online are considered “virtual”, the interactions are real; i.e., the physical interaction between two or more individuals may be virtual, via avatars or the like, but it is the interaction that is nonetheless authentic. These “real” interactions are mediated by technology but are occurrences of actual contact without needing to travel or interact in the same physical space. Similar to education abroad, one of the purposes of virtual international exchange is to maximize the learning potential of cross-cultural interactions with regard to intercultural awareness development. Intercultural awareness, substantive knowledge of other world areas and cultures, and understanding of global interconnectedness are the cornerstones of global competency. Achieving this requires a certain approach to learning, however.

Learning through authentic cross-cultural experiences and opportunities to reflect allows students to integrate global perspectives, regardless of their ability to travel or fit numerous classes into their course schedules. These learning modes are  essential components for increasing intercultural awareness and developing their knowledge of the world with reduced ethnocentrism. As early as 1938, Dewey proposed the idea of learning through experience. Boydell (1976) later suggested that students learn best when they uncover knowledge on their own, as the result of personal experiences. Kolb (1984) expanded this to focus on the necessity of reflection for experiential learning. More current studies have shown that study abroad provides experiential learning and the opportunity to reflect meaningfully on personal experiences (Mouton 2002) and results in the transformation of the learner’s perspectives on the world (Brown 2009; Morgan 2010; Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus, 2011).

Advantages of Online Cross-cultural Learning

Sustained interaction and authentic cross-cultural learning experiences with peers at institutions in other countries have the potential to develop student global competency. Research has found that when abroad, cultural learning gains increase with an increase in interactions with the locals (Berg, Connor-Linton, & Paige, 2009; Berg, 2009).

Online settings are advantageous for in-depth reflection on culture, the inclusion of diverse voices, and the ability to center the learner and individualize teaching for diverse student bodies (Merryfield, 2003). Certain tools and methods used for online learning activities reduce inhibitions that may otherwise prevent sharing of life experiences, equalize participation in discussions, and personalize the learning to better engage students of all cultural backgrounds (Merryfield, 2003; Tu & McIsaac, 2014). These tools and methods can bring a rich (and largely untapped) pedagogical resource to intercultural learning because they can “bring people together to process content, share ideas and experiences, collaborate in projects or create teachable moments” (p. 151).According to Merryfield (2003), online learning is advantageous for cross-cultural learning objectives because it allows students to learn together and go deeper than they can in the traditional classroom. Merryfield (2003) identifies several important ways online learning is unique, that have special relevance for cross-cultural learning:

  • Conversations can extend beyond the time-limit of class, allowing a more in-depth analysis of cultural materials.
  • Online formats promote reflection; mini-reflections have become standard modes for measuring student progress toward badges and other elements of e-Portfolios.
  • Students share more about their cultural experiences due to the sensation of anonymity that online settings provide.

These and other possibilities exist in the online environment, which provide opportunities for perspective-taking. For example, open forums allow students to witness conversations between students of another culture. Merryfield (2003) refers to a case in which students were privy to a heated conversation between three of their Turkish peers: “Another dimension of online discussions is access to insider discourse among people whom most of the majority of the class would never hear talking to each other” (p. 153).




Selected Bibliography on Cross-cultural Learning Online

Appana, Subhashni. 2008. “A Review of Benefits and Limitations of Online Learning in the Context of the Student, the Instructor, and the Tenured Faculty.” International Journal on E-Learning, v7 n1 p5-22.


Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2), 179–196. https://doi.org/10.1016/0147-1767(86)90005-2


Berg, M. V. (2009). Intervening in student learning abroad: a research-based inquiry. Intercultural Education, 20.


Berg, M. V., Connor-Linton, J., & Paige, R. M. (2009). The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for Student Learning Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 18, 1–75.


Boydell, T. 1976. Experiential Learning. Manchester: Department of Adult Education, University of Manchester.


Brown, L. 2009. “The Transformative Power of the International Sojourn: An Ethnographic Study of the International Student Experience.” Annals of Tourism Research, 36 (3): 502-21.


Carley, Susan and Tudor, R. Keith. 2006. “Assessing the Impact of Short-Term Study Abroad.” Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective: Vol. 1: No. 2, Article 5.


Dennis, M. 2004. “Looking ahead: Mega-trends in student enrollment.” Administrator, January, pp. 4, 7.


Dewey, J. 1938. Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan.


Fournier. (2016, July 21). Global Learning VALUE Rubric [Text]. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from https://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics/global-learning


Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College.

Hadis, B. 2005. “Why Are They Better Students When They Come Back? Determinants of Academic Focusing Gains in the Study Abroad Experience.” Frontiers, 11: 57-70.


IJeP :: Current Issue :: Volume 7 – Number 1 – 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.theijep.com/current.cfm


Kang, J. H., Kim, S. Y., Jang, S., & Koh, A.-R. (2017). Can college students’ global competence be enhanced in the classroom? The impact of cross- and inter-cultural online projects. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 0(0), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2017.1294987


Kozma, R. B. 2001. “Counterpoint Theory of ‘Learning with Media.’ In R. E. Clark (ed), Learning from Media: Arguments, Analysis, and Evidence, pp. 137-178. Greenwish, CT: Information Age Publishing Inc.


Kitsantas, A. 2004. “Studying Abroad: The Role of College Students’ Goals on the Development of Cross-Cultural Skills and Global Understanding.” College Student Journal, 38 (3): 441-52.


Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential Learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.


Kozma, R. B. 2001. “Counterpoint Theory of ‘Learning with Media.’ In R. E. Clark (ed), Learning from Media: Arguments, Analysis, and Evidence, pp. 137-178. Greenwish, CT: Information Age Publishing Inc.


Lane, K. 2003. “Report: Educators call for more study-abroad programs.” Community College Week, pp.3,14.


Marklein, M. B. 2003, November 18. “Students’ interest in overseas study still rising.” USA Today, p. 7D.


McCabe, L. T. 1994. “The development of a global perspective during participation in semester at sea: A comparative global education program.” Educational Review, 46, 275-286.


McMurtrie, B. 2005. “Study-abroad numbers rise.” Chronicle of Higher Education 52(13), p. A45.


Morgan, A. D. 2010. “Journeys into Transformation: Travel to an ‘Other’ Place as a Vehicle for Transformative Learning.” Journal of Transformative Education, 8 (4): 246-68.


Mouton, W. 2002. “Experiential Learning in Travel Environments as a Key Factor in Adult Learning.” Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 69 (1): 36-42.


Merryfield, M. M. (2003). Like a Veil. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education. Retrieved from http://editlib.org/p/19907


Mintz, S. (2015, April 27). Digital Learning Experiences | Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-beta/digital-learning-experiences


Novelli, M., and P. Burns. 2010. “Peer-to-Peer Capacity-Building in Tourism: Values and Experiences of Field-Based Education.” Development Southern Africa, 27 (5): 741-56.


O’Rear, I., Sutton, R. L., & Rubin, D. L. (2012). The Effect of Study Abroad on College Completion in a State University System. GLOSSARI. Retrieved from http://glossari.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/01/GLOSSARI-Grad-Rate-Logistic-Regressions-040111.pdf


Paige, R. M., University of Minnesota, & Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. (2009). Maximizing study abroad: a students’ guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use. Minneapolis, Minn.: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota.


Policy Brief: Global Competence is a 21st Century Initiative. (2010). National Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/HE/PB28A_Global_Competence11.pdf


Putting the World into World Class Education: State Innovations and Opportunities. (2008). Asia Society and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from http://asiasociety.org/files/stateinnovations.pdf


Rhodes, G., Biscarra, A., Loberg, L., & Roller, K. (2012). Study abroad as a collaborative endeavor. ABC About Campus, 16(6), 2–10.


Ring, G. and Mathieux, G. 2002. “The Key Components of Quality Learning.” Paper presented at the ASTD Techknowledge 2002 Conference, Las Vegas.


Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., and E. K. Niehaus. 2011. “One Year Later: The Influence of Short-Term Study Abroad Experiences on Students.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48 (2): 207-22.


Stone, Matthew J., and James F. Petrick. 2013. “The Educational Benefits of Travel Experiences: A Literature


Stony Brook University Career Center. (n.d.). Career Skills Digital Badges. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://career.stonybrook.edu/students/career-skills-digital-badges


Stuart, D. K. (2012). Taking Stage Development Theory Seriously: Implications for Study Abroad. In M. V. Berg, R. M. Paige, & K. H. Lou (Eds.), Student Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It (pp. 61–89). Sterling, Va: Stylus Publishing. Retrieved from http://osu.worldcat.org/oclc/908077114


UNEP. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)s | Environment Education and Training (EET). (n.d.). [United Nations]. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from http://www.unep.org/training/resources/massive-open-online-course-moocs


Vande Berg, M., Connor-Linton, J., & Paige, R. M. (2009). The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for Student Learning Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 18, 1–75.


Walton, J. (1992). Making the theoretical case. In C. C. Ragin & H. S. Becker (Eds.), What Is a Case?: Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry. (pp. 121–137). New York: Cambridge University Press.


Ware, P. (2013). Teaching comments: intercultural communication skills in the digital age. Intercultural Education, 24(4).


Workforce Innovation Board, Southwest Missouri. (n.d.). Employers embrace Digital Badges for skill credentials. Retrieved July 27, 2017, from https://www.workforcezone.net/employers-embrace-digital-badges-for-skill-credentials/


Complete bibliography here: https://www.zotero.org/groups/1563092/cross-cultural-conversations/items