Virtual Exchange

Defining virtual exchange

Why virtual exchange?

The University of Siena internationalization strategy has included, over the years, the goal of the development of collaborative and innovative blended teaching, in cooperation with several international institutions. In this perspective, the plan developed by USIena for mitigating the impact of the Covid 19, developed in the course of 2020, can count on an established experience. Therefore, so the International Relations Office is promoting VE in the teaching innovation strategy of every Department.

The learning objectives are to integrate virtual exchange into the curriculum and/or extracurricular activities, assigning to VE activities ECTS ( or CFU) credits.

Virtual Exchange (VE) is a practice that consists of sustained, technology-enabled, people-to-people education programmes or activities in which constructive communication and interaction takes place between individuals or groups who are geographically separated and/or from different cultural backgrounds, with the support of educators or facilitators. This type of activity may be positioned in the context of any curriculum or plan of study in order to increase mutual understanding and global citizenship, as well as in informal education projects.

Virtual Exchange also fosters the development of relevant employability skills such as digital competence, multilingual practices, communication skills, media literacy and the ability to work in a diverse cultural context.


Sustained: unfolding over time with regular, intensive interaction;

Technology-enabled: Using new media, digital, and/or mobile technologies;

Preferably based on regular synchronous or near-synchronous meetings using high social presence media;

People-to-people: involving inclusive, intercultural collaboration and dialogue, that bridges differences and distances and inspires action with a long term positive impact on relationships;

Learner- led approach: following the philosophy of Dialogue which consists in an interaction where participants are the main recipients and the main drivers of knowledge; learning through dialogue means that participants will be the ones seeking mutual understanding and co-creating knowledge, based on their own experiences.

Facilitated: with the support of trained facilitators and/or educators;

Educational: Integrated into formal and/or non-formal educational programmes and activities to develop measurable increases in the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that foster pro-social behaviour ;

Structured to foster mutual understanding: covering topics related to identity, empathy, perspective-taking, critical reflection, intercultural understanding, and helping participants to engage in constructive conversations in the face of ontological and epistemological differences; a key tenet of VE is that intercultural understanding and awareness are not automatic outcomes of contact between different groups/cultures.

VIRTUAL EXCHANGE IS NOT ...The following types of programs do not fall under VE:

- Simple MOOCS with no sustained interactions between small groups of students;

- Distance learning courses;

- Creating social media groups;

- Unmoderated, not-sustained, unstructured programs;

- Virtual mobility which is closer to distance online education: that is ‘studying abroad’ at another institution without having to go there and making claims to intercultural learning purely through being ‘cross-border’;

- Programs that lack a sustained pedagogy for interaction, such as programs with only one  moment for interaction, like a one-off meeting.


Curriculum-based Virtual Exchanges are developed by two or more educators located in different countries. These virtual exchanges are designed by teachers from different institutions in different countries working in partnership. The exchange is therefore 'tailor-made' to suit the specific aims of the exchange partners.

  • Two or more professors from different countries connect to add an international and intercultural dimension to their already-existing courses.
  • The professors work together to develop shared learning outcomes and a syllabus for this new international component, paying particular attention to the development of activities that promote interaction and collaboration between students.
  • The courses are usually blended, so they combine work done in the classroom with online collaboration between transnational groups.
  • They usually last 4-8 weeks
  • They can be implemented in any subject or course
  • They include synchronous video sessions (usually 3, one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end of the project).

The specific objectives of this call are the following:

  • encouraging intercultural dialogue with third countries not associated to the programme and increasing tolerance through online people-to-people interactions, building on digital, youth-friendly technologies;
  • promoting various types of virtual exchanges as a complement to Erasmus+ physical mobility, allowing more young people to benefit from intercultural and international experience;
  • Enhancing critical thinking and media literacy, particularly in the use of internet and social media, such as to counter discrimination indoctrination, polarization and violent radicalisation;
  • fostering the digital and soft skills development of students, young people and youth workers, including the practice of foreign languages and teamwork, notably to enhance employability;
  • promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education;
  • strengthening the youth dimension in the relations of the EU with third countries.


This call is a follow-up of the successful pilot Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange (See the link on top of the page).

An Info Day should be taking place soon, though the date has not yet been announced. You may want to monitor the EACEA website for updates.


For more information go to the portal here:

Virtual Exchanges with other specific regions in the world

Virtual Exchanges with the Western Balkans


Approaching and developing virtual exchange opportunities in your Department

1. participation of  teachers and involved  administrative offices;

2. identification of   the european and  partner Universities;

3. Get in touch with the International Relations Division: [email protected]

4.  share the project design  with your partners; 
5. development of  a MoU, if necessary.