It’s clear that the pandemic has accelerated the use of technology and online learning for those of us in (international) education far beyond what most had prepared or planned for. And it seems that most of us expect to run blended learning programs that combine online and in-person learning for the foreseeable future. During a recent webinar on leveraging tech for ongoing intercultural learning during COVID-19, 65% of educators indicated that their institution plans to teach virtually or in a blended (offline & live) format, while only 6% had plans to resume teaching in-person only in the coming term. 

Watch the webinar recording:

So it’s safe to say that we have pivoted to digital. But this doesn’t mean we’re ready for it. 

We have concerns about the challenges of technology use (how to learn to operate in new platforms overnight?). Concerns about student engagement (how to connect when you can’t read body language?). And, most importantly, concerns about helping our students reach the desired learning outcomes (will this be the ‘lost generation’ of learners?). 

On the good news front, many of us already realize that simply replicating face-to-face content in online spaces is not effective. Poorly developed and delivered online content can easily demotivate, lead to disengagement, and result in little to no student learning. 

Experts Professor Sarah Jones from University of Hull, Linda Stuart from AFS Intercultural Programs, and Amanda MacArthur from PYXERA Global shared these top considerations for educators looking to leverage technology to support students’ intercultural learning:

1. Purpose always trumps tech.

Whether online or not, the purpose of learning still underpins everything educators do. It drives how we structure our sessions, what tools we use, as well as what new competencies we want students to gain, pandemic or not. Get clear on your goals and have students clarify their expectations too.

2. Embrace the mashup.

There is no one perfect educational app or tech solution. Based on your goals and audience, you’ll need to combine tools to have truly effective teaching and learning. This might include combining online conferencing with documents and giving your students different types of tasks, such as prompts & dialogue starters, mind maps, and instant quizzes through tools like Menti to take advantage of the interactive nature of online media.

3. Especially across time zones, consider a blended approach.

Tech has the beauty of letting educators and learners alike customize the teaching-learning rhythm, some especially helpful for transformative learning such as global competence development: Upload asynchronous materials for students to engage with at their own pace; couple these with live online sessions for them to also interact in real-time. Studies indicate that including synchronous sessions in online courses improves students’ sense of community and social presence, elements that are essential for learning about and from cultural differences. AFS has incorporated blended learning formats into its own programs including the Global Competence Certificate to help students deepen their self-awareness, awareness of cultural others, emotional intelligence, and effective bridging techniques.  

4. Plan to grow.

Facilitating learning online means you’ll need to discover and exercise new skill sets and develop professionally: online teamwork, redefining relationships, “tool diagnosis” (finding the right tool for the task at hand), time management, and openly experimenting with these tools and methods with the help of your learners.

5. Team-teach if you can.

Online learning and the fluidity around it are changing educator-student communications, sometimes leaving educators feeling as if we need to be available 24/7. To manage this while maximizing learning, and if you have enough resources, a good practice is to teach online in pairs or teams rather than alone when possible. Instructors in teams can complement each other’s strengths and give students the opportunity to view topics and get feedback from multiple perspectives—something at the core of intercultural learning.

What changes when we move learning online, a slide from the presentation of Professor Sarah Jones from University of Hull

The advent of technology opens what experts call third space learning, changing when and where people learn. And while educators embrace this new space, the purpose of learning must remain the key driver for how we use any digital tools or virtual programs  Additional tips and tools for how technology can be maximized as a part of our new borderless online learning reality and how we as educators can prepare ourselves and our students can be found in the AFS Center’s recorded webinar.