Demand for virtual exchange programs continues to surge. A new study, to be conducted by AFS Intercultural Programs, will focus on the effectiveness of virtual exchanges in developing global competence among 13-17-year-olds. The study, funded by the Stevens Initiative, will engage 250 students from Australia, India, Indonesia and China.

The new AFS research study will specifically seek to address if and how virtual exchange programs help learners deepen their understanding of topics such as stereotypes & cultural generalizations, active listening and developing empathy, inequalities and microaggressions; and to engage students from multiple countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

The research project will assess the educational development of 250 learners who are enrolled in the AFS Global Up Teen program, a 6-week program with 20 asynchronous modules and 5 live facilitated dialogue sessions led by certified AFS Qualified Facilitators.

AFS will partner with Value Learning, an intercultural learning consultancy in Australia, who will recruit the students and deliver the virtual exchange.

Twin brothers collaborate on their schoolwork at home.

The Stevens Initiative’s research efforts are supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and this 2023 collaboration is a continuation of the successful partnership between AFS and the Stevens Initiative, which began in 2021.The initial study, titled “AFS Global You Virtual Exchange Impact Study,” found that virtual exchanges have a meaningful immediate impact on the development of global competence among high-school aged youth around the world. The study was based on the five-week AFS Global You Adventurer program, demonstrating such programs help young people develop a positive view of peers from other cultures, actively withhold judgment of others, and deepen cross-cultural communication skills.

Earlier this year, the Stevens Initiative – an international effort to enhance global understanding by connecting young people through virtual exchange – revealed plans to expand its role as a global champion and advocate for virtual exchange by investing in more programs to respond to the ever-changing needs of the virtual exchange field. AFS is excited to contribute to this effort by conducting research on how virtual exchange provides meaningful learning opportunities for more young people across the world.

Stevens Initiative’s 2023 Virtual Exchange Impact and Learning Report highlights the success of virtual exchange in preparing young people of diverse backgrounds to be active participants in a global world through skills such as cross-cultural communication and improved understanding and acceptance of those with different cultural backgrounds from our own.

Christine Shiau, the Executive Director of the Stevens Initiative shared, “As the Initiative works to make virtual exchange accessible to as many young people as possible, especially in their high school years, research like this effort led by AFS International strengthens the case for how virtual exchange can be a formative experience. AFS International is a valuable partner to the Initiative, and we are thrilled to continue our support for this project as they investigate how virtual exchanges can develop global competencies, increase vital 21st century skills, and expose young people to diverse perspectives.”

Daniel Obst, President and CEO of AFS International, added, “AFS is excited to continue our partnership with the Stevens Initiative to further explore the impact of virtual exchange programs on developing global competence among young people. We believe that by expanding our virtual exchange programs and investing in research, we are taking significant steps towards our goal of empowering more young people to become active global citizens.”

The study should conclude in November, with preliminary results released by the end of 2023. The research team will include Linda Stuart, Director of Global Education Innovation at AFS International, Betsy Hansel, PhD, and Kirilee Hughes, PhD, along with Project Manager Eloise Dolan, MA. Henry Shepherd and Kyle Kastler lead the research efforts for the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute.

For those interested in collaborating on research, please contact Linda Stuart at [email protected].