Virtual exchanges have a meaningful immediate impact on the development of global competence among high-school aged youth around the world, according to the latest study by AFS Intercultural Programs. The “AFS Global You Virtual Exchange Impact Study” conducted by independent researchers, and funded by a grant from the Stevens Initiative implies that it is crucial for students to have meaningful intercultural exchanges, which can be virtual, to develop global competence

The results of the study demonstrate that short virtual programs, such as the five-week AFS Global You Adventurer, provide immediate growth in aspects of youth global competence, especially in terms of having a more positive view of peers from other cultures, being able to actively withhold judgement of others, and their cross-cultural communication skills. Specifically, young people who participated in the virtual exchange program showed nearly three times greater odds of growth in “positive regard” (the degree to which one withholds judgements about situations or people that are new or unfamiliar, Kozai 2011) compared to the control group. They also had two times greater odds of overall Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (IES) growth compared to the control group (defined as the extent to which one is likely to initiate and maintain positive relationships with people from other cultures, Kozai 2011). 

The results of the study were presented in a recent webinar organized in partnership between The Stevens Initiative and AFS. We invite you to watch the recording below.

The study was conducted thanks to a research grant AFS received to participate in The Stevens Initiative’s “Strengthening the Field: Catalyzing Research in Virtual Exchange.” The study was open from April to October 2021, and it included over 150 high school students from 35 countries, aged 14-17 years old, who participated in the AFS Global You Adventurer (GYA). The GYA is a virtual exchange program that includes an online platform containing video modules, discussion prompts, interactive activities, pair-share and live facilitated dialogue sessions. 

According to the study, some of the key elements for a successful virtual exchange demonstrated by the AFS Global You Adventurer program include its highly diverse and multilateral cohorts, and the combination of activities that participants can do on their own time with opportunities to interact and learn with peers. Such program structure is set up to grow students’ global competence, and was well-received by participants who reported an enriching and transformative experience. 

After completing the program, students reassessed their previous attitudes and communication behaviors and found many areas had been lacking before the AFS Global You Adventure. The students were able to more objectively assess their intercultural skills which is an indication that they acquire cultural humility through participation in the virtual exchange.   

Future research on virtual exchange should compare the multilateral, multilingual programs and against the results of bilateral programs.  It should also consider longevity through a longitudinal study.  With larger numbers of participants, it should also be possible to better assess whether having more synchronous sessions provides added learning value for the participants. 

This study was conducted with sponsorship by the The Stevens Initiative who supported seven independent research projects to investigate different issues in virtual exchange design and practice. This project will create a hub for research and knowledge sharing, as well as promoting promising practices and providing resources. Authors of the study are Bettina Hansel, PhD; Corinna Howland, PhD; and Linda Stuart and Anaïs Chauvet, AFS Intercultural Programs.


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