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.

    ..AND A TEP IS..

Transnational ErasmusVirtual Exchange Projects (TEPs) are curriculum-based Virtual Exchanges jointly 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).
What is the project ‘ Erasmus+Virtual Exchange’- EVE?

A new project launched by the European Commission in 2018.

The goal is to expande the reach and scope od Erasmus + programme, by adding Virtual Exchange to the existing physical exchange. The main aim is to link young people aged 18-30, youth workers, youth organizations, students and academics in Europeand the Southern Mediterranean area using online learning activities and technology-enabled solutionsin order to strengthen people to people contacts and foster intercultural dialogue.

For more information go to the portal here:


Organizations involved


  • ‘Ready made’ virtual exchanges
  • TEPs (Transnational Erasmus + Virtual Exchange Projects)
'Ready-made' Virtual Exchange Opportunities

'Ready-made' virtual exchanges are, as the name implies, exchange packages which can be integrated into courses or stand alone as an opportunity for students from many different disciplines. They are easier to work with compared to a teacher designed TEP and aimed at developing intercultural communicative competence and promoting internationalisation without a particular exchange partner in mind.

The complete list of the ready made VEs :

Teacher-designed TEPs

Transnational ErasmusVirtual Exchange Projects (TEPs) can be developed with the training and support of UNICollaboration. TEPs can be around the development of skills (e.g. photography, citizen journalism, foreign languages), contemporary issues (e.g. the environment, activism, migration) or subject-specific curricula (e.g. artificial intelligence, child development, immigration law) to view the course content from different perspectives adding an international and intercultural dimension. TEPs are designed to engage young people skills in addition to enriching their understanding of course sustained interaction with peers across the Mediterranean and to foster the development of participants’ language and communication skills, digital literacies, team-working, and problem-solving.

How to ...?

For training opportunities for teachers and information sessions go to the project home page:



Approaching and developing virtual exchange opportunities in your Department
1. participation of the teacher and involved colleaguespartecipazione to the  Basic and /or Advanced Training ( see the above  link for training opportunities) .
The participation to the course is warmly recommended from the project facilitators ( UNIcollaboration and Unimed);
2. invite the identified european/ south mediterranean  partner Universities to participate at the same  training course you are planning to attend. This is extremely important to create the right commitment. 
3.  a shared project designing  with your partners during the traing course;
4. development of the l MoU. The facilitators of the corse ( UNIcollaboration ) will technically support in drafting and writing  in  the MoU;
5. at the end of the course you are ready for the implementation of  a TEP.
n.b. for ready made virtual exchanges is easier, but the participation to a basic training is however recommended.