International Virtual Exchange

International Virtual Exchange (IVE) is a faculty-led instructional approach linking courses from universities from different global regions. Students in the courses collaborate virtually with their international peers on assignments, activities, or projects. Virtual exchange can be integrated into courses in nearly all disciplines and is already used by faculty in more than 300 universities worldwide. 

The two linked courses typically share some learning outcomes, but each course has its own syllabus and is credited by its home institution. IVE can take many forms and vary in terms of scope, technology tools, and level of involvement, from cultural sharing activities lasting a few class sessions, to collaborative projects lasting five or more weeks. While the focus of the project can be discipline specific, IVE also serves as a very useful platform for interdisciplinary projects and exchanges.


Learn More about International Virtual Exchange

Courses incorporating virtual exchange often provide High Impact experiences and a number of potential benefits for students, including:

  • Deeper engagement with course materials
  • Increased cultural awareness and appreciation
  • Enhanced communication skills
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills and the ability to work collaboratively  
  • Improved digital skills

And unlike traditional off-campus study abroad programs, courses using IVE are highly affordable and accessible to students whose schedules prevent them from extended international travel.   

Faculty enjoy working with their international counterparts and find the student engagement and learning exciting and rewarding. And because it represents an innovative, experiential pedagogy that is consistent with GVSU’s mission and Reach Higher 2025, IVE can lead to professional development opportunities and be a valuable contribution to personnel portfolios.

  • Faculty-led instructional approach that can be used in any discipline
  • Students in GVSU courses virtually connect with international peers to collaborate on assignments, activities, or projects
  • Exchanges typically last from 4-8 weeks, although shorter exchanges are also possible
  • IVE projects are co-created and co-taught: GVSU instructors work with international teaching partners to design and lead the collaborations between courses at their respective institutions.
  • The two linked courses have their own syllabi and are credited by their home institutions
  • The collaborations take many forms. In some exchanges students collaborate on a joint project; for other exchanges, students share information and incorporate what they’ve learned in projects for their respective courses.
  • IVE typically works best in classes with 35 or fewer students 
  • A variety of technology tools and platforms can be used, and the collaborations can include synchronous and asynchronous components
  • The exchanges typically include culture-based and discipline-specific learning outcomes
  • IVE is useful for interdisciplinary collaborations and for focusing on globally-relevant problems
  • Most collaborations in non-language courses are conducted in English; however, it is also possible to use translation tools when finding a common language is a barrier

International virtual exchange can take many forms and vary in terms of scope and level of involvement. Several common approaches are described below. While the list is not exhaustive, the descriptions illustrate the adaptability of virtual exchange and may serve as a springboard for course and project ideas. Note that regardless of the type of exchange, instructors should plan on spending time addressing issues of cultural awareness, cultural humility, and intercultural communication before their students begin working with their international peers.

Short-term cultural exchange (typically 1-4 weeks)

Students work in pairs or groups, engaging in discussions or asynchronously exchanging information related to their cultures, specific course content, and/or an SDG. Given their relatively short time period, these are best suited for cultural exchanges or exchanges between classes that are similar in terms of discipline, learning outcomes and primary language. This type of short-term exchange can also be incorporated into pre-departure sessions for a study abroad course.

Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) with a joint project (4-8+ weeks)

Students from the partnering classes work together in teams, collaborating on joint projects, such as designing a computer program or global marketing campaign. COIL exchanges usually include an opportunity for teams to present their projects to the classes at the end of the collaboration. The collaborations typically include at least four components: 1) Introductions and icebreakers; 2) Group work on the relevant assignment or project; 3) Final meeting, including presentation of work; and 4) Student reflection.

Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), with no joint project (4-8+ weeks)

Students from the partnering classes work in pairs or groups, collaborating on focused discussions and work related to their respective classes. While group members don’t collaborate on a joint project, they often incorporate what they’ve learned into projects or other assignments for their respective courses. The collaborations typically include at least three components: 1) Introductions and icebreakers; 2) Group work on the relevant assignment or project; and 3) Student reflection.

Language exchange/telecollaboration (typically 4 or more weeks)

Students practice conversational language skills in pairs or small groups. The exchange can be done in class, as a required assignment, or as an optional activity.


Participating GVSU Course: CIS 467, CS Capstone 

Length & purpose of project: Semester-long software development project

International partners: Uppsala University, Sweden; Turku University, Finland; Hochschule Hannover, Germany

Overview of exchange: The project was designed to provide students with an introduction to being a member of a global team and to give them a glimpse into what their future jobs might entail. Teams of 2-3 GVSU and 2-3 international students worked on a semester-long software development project. They collaborated on ideas and design, delivered milestones and project updates throughout the semester, and gave a final presentation at the end of the semester. Alumni of the course report that the virtual collaboration helped to smooth the way for what they do in their jobs after graduation. 



Participating Course: ENS 300, Principles of Sustainability (Fall, 2022)

Length & purpose of exchange: One class session; sharing of information about environmental policy in the U.S. & Canada

International partner: The University of Windsor, Canada

Overview of exchange: Prof. Swayamprakash initiated the interdisciplinary exchange between two online, synchronous sections of GVSU’s Principles of Sustainability and a history class at the University of Windsor. GVSU students prepared for the class session by reading about Great Lakes water policies, including those related to the Detroit River. During the session they joined Windsor history students in large group and breakout group discussions, in response to questions prepared by the instructors. Students later noted their appreciation for the opportunity to learn about environmental policies and regulations with their Canadian peers.



Participating GVSU Course #1: WRT 351 Writing for the Web

Length & purpose of exchange: Creating websites for proposed business in Hungary – 8 weeks sustained collaboration during the second part of the15-week semester.

International partner: Budapest Business University, Hungary

Overview of exchange and objectives: The collaboration project in WRT 351 is designed to increase our students’ intercultural competence while also improving their mastering of course learning outcomes and interdisciplinary knowledge. This is a three-way collaboration between GVSU students and students from Budapest Business University and the University of Washington. In this project, GVSU students work with their partner teams from the other two institutions to create a websites for the businesses proposed by their Hungarian partner team while receiving accessibility advice from the University of Washington students to ensure that the final websites will be accessible to users. The project starts with an online group meeting on Zoom and continues asynchronously via email for the rest of the semester by exchanging specifications, answering questions, providing feedback and advice during the website creation process. Students in the project enjoy the experience of working in a close to real-world work environment of globally connected teams. 

Participating GVSU Course #2: WRT 354 Writing in the Global Context

Length & purpose of exchange: Comparing job application process and documents across cultures – 5 weeks sustained collaboration during the second part of the15-week semester.

International partners: Budapest Business University, Hungary; Cracow University of Economics, Poland; Saxion University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

Overview of exchange and objectives: The Virtual Exchange project in this course consists of asynchronous introductions on Padlet and commences to include four synchronous online meetings on Zoom between teams that are made up of a mixture of students from each university. Each meeting is highly structured with an agenda that is used to ensure the focus of discussion on all aspects of the job application process in different countries and the similarities and differences between the resumes that are used for this process. Students also create an international version of their resume suited for a specific country. Since the student population at the European partner universities is highly diverse, GVSU students can speak to representatives of many countries from several continents. This diversity allows students to really understand the complexities of our global world and appreciate the connections between culture and writing conventions.


David Bair, Educational Foundations

Participating GVSU Course: EDF 316, Global Perspectives on Education (S/S 2023)

Length & purpose of exchange: Cultural conversations related to education systems over 8-week course

International partner: Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch-Gmünd, Germany 

Overview of exchange and objectives: GVSU’s EDF 316 course explores the inter-relationship between socio-cultural contexts and education in multiple countries, looking at patterns of success and challenges in several countries around the world. Students in the course were partnered with a college student from Germany. Instructors from the two institutions facilitated three whole-groups meetings, to introduce the experience and provide more context for learning about one another’s experiences. Partners then met via Zoom once each week for a 30-60 minute conversation. Topics were suggested for each weekly meeting, but students also initiated other topics of conversation.  These weekly “Cultural Conversations” helped GVSU students meet the goals of our course, including gathering information and learning about the German education system from their partners. The student from PH Schwäbisch-Gmünd were able to practice their English-speaking skills which helped them meet required oral practice hours for their college program. Many of the GVSU students found the exchange program to be the most effective and enjoyable element of the course. 

Max Counter, School of Interdisciplinary Studies            

Participating Course: LAS 210, Exploring Latin America (Winter, 2023)

Length & purpose of exchange: 4-week intercultural communication project

International partner: Rosario University, Bogota, Colombia

Overview of exchange and objectives: This project gave students the opportunity to engage in an asynchronous intercultural communication project with peers from Rosario University in Bogota, Colombia. Prior to the project, students read scholarship on Colombian history, politics, and art. Each GVSU student was then paired with one or two partners from Rosario University. Over the course of four weeks, student groups recorded one weekly video using FlipGrid software in which they explained a “cultural artifact” (i.e., an object they determined to hold cultural significance), and then asked and answered a series of questions related to the object. Students found the new connections meaningful, with one student in particular stating that it was the first time in his life he had spoken to someone from another country.

Will students register for the course at GVSU or the partnering institution?  
Students from both universities register for the courses through their home campus.  

Will IVE work with my course?
The short answer is almost always yes – it is a highly adaptable pedagogical approach that has been used successfully in nearly all disciplines. The only requirements are an international partner and at least one assignment that is conducive to student collaboration. 

Can IVE be used with English-speaking classes?
Absolutely! Most exchanges in non-language courses are conducted in English. 

When should I begin planning?
Because IVE requires significant planning and preparation, we usually recommend beginning at least 1 semester before you would like to implement IVE, to allow you enough time to find a teaching partner, design the project, identify ways to prepare students for the intercultural experience, and work out logistical issues. 

How can I find an international teaching partner?
There are a number of strategies you can use to find an international teaching partner:

  • Use existing professional contacts: If you have international academic contacts, that’s often a good place to start. 
  • Seek out a partner using a global network: GVSU is an institutional member in two global networks, COILConnect and the SUNY COIL Center.
    • COILConnect : COILConnect features searchable listings of courses seeking partners, from more than 300 institutions worldwide.
    • SUNY COIL : SUNY COIL introduced the COIL (collaborative online international learning) model in the early 2000s and has been a leader in virtual exchange. They offer a variety of virtual meetings and workshops and facilitate partner matching with quarterly virtual partnering fairs. They also have a useful guide for establishing partnerships.
  • Connect with one of GVSU’s international partner institutions: GVSU has formal partnerships with universities in nearly 20 different countries. Staff in the international studies offices can help identify potential teaching partners in relevant disciplines.
  • Rely on “cold calling”: Consider which academic disciplines may offer a good match for your project or course. Identify global regions of interest and search for potential universities in those regions, then send personal emails to individual faculty members, academic departments, or the international education office. 

Note that GVSU is particularly interested in developing exchanges with faculty in the Global South and with our International Partner Institutions. Also note that there are potential funding opportunities through the Stevens Initiative for exchanges with partners from the Middle East and North Africa.

Contact IVE coordinator Ellen Shupe ([email protected]) if you would like help finding a partner. 

What support is available at GVSU?
There are a number of internal and external resources to support you throughout the planning, design, and implementation process, including a designated IVE coordinator ([email protected]), IVE faculty mentors, and a university-wide IVE team consisting representatives from the faculty, the Padnos international Center, Instructional Design and e-Learning (IDeL), and the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center. 

Is there funding available to support IVE course development?
Funding from FTLC-sponsored Teaching Innovation and Sandbox Learning Innovation grants and from the Padnos International Center’s Internationalization  and Faculty/Staff Exchange grants can be used to support faculty activities related to virtual exchange course development.

We are in the process of developing more GVSU-specific resources for faculty interested in developing virtual exchange courses. In the meantime, you may find the following list of curated resources helpful.



Non-GVSU examples

The universities below have comprehensive, searchable databases with descriptions of courses incorporating IVE. 

GVSU faculty experiences with IVE

Ramya Swayamprakash, ENS

Robert Adams, Computer Science

Zsuzsanna Palmer, Writing

Max Counter, Interdisciplinary Studies

Questions? Contact

Ellen Shupe ([email protected])

Virtual programs

Page last modified March 12, 2024