Building on previous efforts to globalize pre-service teacher education, faculty and staff from the College of Education recently collaborated with the University of Florida International Center (UFIC) Office of Global Learning (OGL) and the Center for Latin American Studies to enhance teaching methods through virtual exchange. By participating in the OGL’s 5-week virtual exchange training, Tara Mathien, clinical assistant professor of early childhood studies, worked with Claudia Tobar, senior director of innovation and outreach at the University de San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). Though teaching very different courses, the two colleagues found many similarities in their curricula, including stress factors, toxic adversity and mental health issues related to children and educators. The virtual exchange training guided them through the necessary steps to develop a course module providing a mutually beneficial learning environment.
Over the course of the Spring 2022 semester, Mathien’s class held three synchronous Zoom sessions with the students from USFQ. Students from each school were placed into mixed groups of three to four people. They were then tasked with completing assignments in between each virtual class meeting. This encouraged intercultural collaboration outside of class, leading the students to use channels of communication like WhatsApp. Using this tool, students were able to socialize organically. This was arguably the most significant impact of the entire virtual exchange. It pushed students out of their comfort zones and taught them a lot about themselves — and others.
Additionally, the project allowed the college to show our future educators the importance of making global connections and having a more cultured view of students and their families when they would not be able to do so otherwise.
“While travel itself might not be feasible for all of our students,” Mathien said, “we can bring those experiences here to them with the use of technology and collaboration across programs and geographic locations.”
Mathien feels she has an obligation to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible to help them explore their own ideas about culture and creating partnerships with others. The collaboration didn’t end there; the following June, Mathien participated in a face-to-face visit to Ecuador to meet her virtual exchange partners.