Dr. Figen Es in Istanbul is telling Sister Martha Ann Kirk about the charitable work that their organization, Kimse Yok Mu, is doing in many countries. Seeing the inspiring work of Muslims helping the disadvantaged in Turkey led Sister Martha Ann to seek Muslim students of various countries to engage in international on-line exchanges with her students at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, USA.

This ONLINE ACADEMIC EXCHANGE CENTER is a virtual gathering place for people throughout the world with a focus on learning about and creating online discussions in line with WGC’s goals of building a network of connections spanning cultures and borders. These are virtual places to think, question, explore new ideas, learn and connect with others from throughout the globe: To help us all become catalysts for creating a better world than we know today.

This page also provides practical guidelines for how professors and teachers with students of various ages can conduct online discussions to encourage better participation; suggest technological considerations for such discussions; and perhaps encourage areas for further research.

What are online academic international exchanges?

Using the internet as a learning platform for enhanced authentic exchange vis-à-vis online interfaces such as blogs, social networking sites, chats, discussion boards etc.

Why use online academic international exchanges?

Online International Exchanges provide educators and students with an opportunity to utilize digital age resources for global learning that goes beyond the confines of the traditional classroom’s learning tasks. The objective is not to replace the tried and true assignments that involve customary modes of academic research and study, but rather authentic person-to-person interaction as a point of departure and human association with relevant topics germane to the course of study undertaken. As in classes we often learn as much or more from the human being next to us as from the textbook, so we learn from the experiences and ideas of humans on the other side of the world who are “next to us” on-line. Furthermore, international partnerships enrich the curriculum, improve skills and motivation.

In her presentation entitled “We refuse to be enemies: Using on-line dialogue to engage students in learning spirituality and justice,” delivered at the “Spirituality, Justice, and Pedagogy” Conference sponsored by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College, Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D discusses the nature of online student interaction for “Women and Faith”, a Religious Studies course. In a “teacher-centered classroom,” the one leader dominates, while in a “student-centered class,” the ideas may go in many different directions. The online international exchanges with both Israelis and Palestinians led to a larger world, a “subject-centered classroom.” Kirk states:

The “subject-centered classroom” (Palmer, 1998) does not mean that the teacher relinquishes the responsibility to foster learning. The teacher must make every effort to provide the structures for learning to take place. The teacher sees that different points of view are being respected, and that indifferentism, cynicism, or fear do not trap students. In the University of the Incarnate Word Religious Studies class “Women and Faith,” students participated in an on-line dialogue with women in the Middle East. While the content and context of this class were unique, the method of an on-line dialogue which engages students, supplements news in the popular media, and invites critical thinking could be used in many disciplines. I discovered that I could not “be in control” of what was posted and sometimes disagreed with ideas or approaches. I continued, however, to recognize the value of learning that was coming from a quest for truth beyond both me and the students.

(Kirk, Sister Martha Ann. Th.D. Presentation: “We refuse to be enemies: Using on-line dialogue to engage students in learning spirituality and justice.” Presented at the “Spirituality, Justice, and Pedagogy” Conference sponsored by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College. Reference to Palmer, Parker. The Courage to Teach, Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998.)


Dr. Jessica Kimmel (center) and Sister Martha Ann Kirk (on the left learn) from women in Istanbul who are making food to sell to benefit needy students.


For the purposes of utilizing online academic exchanges related to foreign language learning, Lee (1998) found them advantageous for several reasons:

One, online newspapers and chats provided students with meaningful ways to develop language skills and cultural knowledge. Two, it improved reading skills. Three, it created “higher order” skills development and target language use beyond classroom. Four, it led to overall better oral skills. Five, the online tools were a more dynamic approach that evoked real motivated interest in foreign language and culture.

Lee, L. (1998). Going beyond classroom learning: acquiring cultural knowledge via on-line newspapers and intercultural exchanges via on-line chatrooms. CALICO Journal, 16(2), 101-120.

How to use online academic international exchanges?

One can use online exchanges in an integrated approach with the goals of a number of courses. Educators wishing to use online exchanges must adapt and integrate their same educational objectives with the tasks and projects completed through the online platform.

On a practical level one must decide on the exact type of platform to use. Will this be an email “pen-pal” exchange, a shared blog, or a social networking page? See best practices below for more information and tips on practical considerations.


Online exchanges have been complemented by education on the UIW campus learning through dinners with food shared by the SA Muslim Women’s Association. Rolla Alaydi and Narjis Pierre help welcome Christian, Jewish, and Muslim guests.


Teachers in each country:

-dialogue about the goals of the exchange and clarify if their goals are compatible.

-clarify possibilities and limitations whether these be in language, technology, or culture.

-clarify the time framework considering semester dates, class time, holidays, test dates, and desired length of the dialogue.

-agree on the topics and assignments though these could be approached in different ways

-set professional standards and/or a code of conduct to clarify that this is academic content, not just social networking

-set up whatever technological tools best serve the desired learning (blog, wiki, discussion forum)

-help students learn something of the others’ country, culture, and institution and the mutual benefits of exchanges

-teach the technological tools and clarify the assignments

-monitor the benefits or challenges, assess these with the other teacher, be flexible if timing or assignments need to be altered

-enjoy the wonder of new relationships and encourage curiosity and adventure.                        




Blanca Morales (right to left), Courtney Pryor with Mariel and Mason, and Maria Portillo at the “Creating Art, Creating Friendship” project.  As university students have been writing on-line exchanges to Arab students,  children have been making art to send to Iraqi refugee children in Jordan and also enjoying music and stories from abroad.  Read more of the art exchange: “Seeking Solidarity with Iraqis” and  “Get the Children Home” 


“At the University of the Incarnate Word, we have participated in an educational project helping university students come to understand and respect persons of other cultures and faiths through guided online exchanges,” Sister Martha Ann Kirk explained.  “To promote understanding, we arranged exchanges between five Religious Studies classes of mainly Christian students in the U.S. with classes of Muslim students at a university in Egypt as well as another in the United Arab Emirates.

While the phrase clash of civilizations is popular, students in this project were engaging in a mutually beneficialdialogue of civilizations.  They were overcoming negative stereotypes and finding common interests.”

“I was surprised at the level of compassion shown between the students, from the very beginning of the project,” said Blanca Morales, assistant working with the project. “They were all very understanding of one another and soon began realizing that they actually had a lot more in common with one another than they ever thought possible. As we read and encouraged their thoughts, they became more involved in the dialogue and showed how much they truly believed in what they wrote to one another. ”

5_001Miguel Conchas, a graduate research assistant working with the project said,  “Watching the interesting exchange of ideas and information was incredible. Before participating, students at opposite ends of the Earth had no idea of each others country, tradition, and existence.  Through the dialogue established, authentic learning took place and all developed a real connection through the technology. It was especially encouraging to witness the enthusiasm generated  by the student participation in the project. ”

Students and teachers in Egypt who were in online exchanges with UIW students created the


All are invited to learn from the information and enter into the conversations.

Would you like to try an exchange?

 Click Here and post your interest and desire to have an academic on-line exchange  or see if someone else has posted a desire to have an exchange that might be right for you.

Connect with others wishing to do ONLINE ACADEMIC EXCHANGES

Forum for connecting/sharing ideas with international educators interested in online international exchanges.

If you are a teacher wanting for your students to learn through exchanges with other students, please post your needs and how to contact you.  It can be done through the WGC e-mail system or in other ways.

Please indicate: 

1) university, college, or grade level or age of the students,

2) subject matter of the class, 

3) goals of the exchange,

4) possible months  for starting an exchange,

4) any other relevant information or questions.


Online  exchanges have been complemented by education on the UIW campus learning through  the Holy Land Garden  Rolla Alaydi  was planting an olive tree in memory of her mother and explaining the significance of the olives in the Qur’an.






Resources about online academic exchanges.


Sauro, S.   Exchanges in  Cyberspace : CMC Tasks for the Networked Classroom. 

Retrieved from:  http://ssauro.info/CALL/Tasks/tasklist.html   on April 26, 2010. 

Four collaborative online jigsaw and decision-making tasks designed to illustrate the incorporation of authentic online resources into task-based language learning are presented so educators can become aware of improved methods of implementation.



The following articles on online academic exchanges provide information on past research and can be used to see how they are used and the challenges they present.


Bohlke, O.  (2003).   A Comparison of Student Participation Levels by Group Size and Language Stag­es during Chatroom and Face-to-Face Discussions in German.  .  CALICO Journal, 21(1), 67-87.

Bohlke seeks to contribute to the ongoing exploration of computer-assisted language learning (CALL), in particular synchronous computer-mediated communi­cation (CMC) used in a university environment, and attempts to find answers to the following two research questions: (a) How is the level of participation in commu­nicative interactions distributed among participants? and (b) What kind of language is the language learner engaged in during small chatroom sessions in comparison to small-group face-to-face sessions?


Kirk, Sister Martha Ann. Th.D.  Presentation:  “We refuse to be enemies:  Using on-line dialogue to engage students in learning spirituality and justice.”  Presented at the “Spirituality, Justice, and Pedagogy” Conference sponsored by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College: Click Here


Kirk presents qualitative findings of using online academic exchanges with Religious Studies courses.

Lee, L. (1998).  Going beyond classroom learning:  acquiring cultural knowledge via on-line newspapers and intercultural exchanges via on-line chatrooms. CALICO Journal, 16(2), 101-120.

Using a mixed-methods design, the Lee (1998)  set out to report “observations and conclusions” from a pilot project involving online tool use by advanced Spanish as a foreign language students.  The two tools used were online newspapers and chatrooms.  A qualitative analysis of observations are presented and this is complemented by a statistical analysis of surveyed attitudes.


Rivers, C., & Volkema, R. (2006).  Negotiating on the Internet:  insights from a cross-cultural exercise . Journal of Education for Business,  83(3), 165-172.

Rivers & Volkema (2006) explored issues related tonegotiation as a type of transnational interaction andonline communication vis-à-vis this study.  It is hoped that the findings will better prepare those teaching negotiations online to devise projects that are worthwhile for students enrolled in those courses.

Vrazalic, L., MacGregor, R., Behl, D., & Fitzgerald, J.  (2009).  E-learning barriers in the United Arab Emirates:  preliminary results from an empirical investigation.  Ibima Business Review, 4(1), 1-7. 


Vrazlic, et al ( 2009) contend that higher education today is very much focused on information technology (IT), especially in the UAE where the economy has developed so rapidly over the past 30 years.  E-learning refers to “use of information and communication technologies to support and enhance learning.”  The objective of their study was to focus on the reality of students in order to understand what barriers they may have or face with regards to e-learning.  Findings will produce ideas for improving e-learning effectiveness, especially in the UAE context.Although hesitant to draw conclusions, the authors do say that this initial research seems to indicate some interesting things like the relationship between gender and a lack of interest as a barrier.  The female responses found it less exciting, whereas the male respondents indicated they had less time to use e-learning.


Zhang, Z., & Huang, R. (2006).  Challenges for Chinese learners in Sino-UK intercultural online interactions—case study of an eChina-UK project course. Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning,  83(3), 743-748.


A plethora of technologies exist and online education has become globalized and available to many.  Despite the rapid availability of these platforms, language and culture remain big challenges to the success of international and intercultural online interactions.  Zhang & Huang (2006) studied the exchanges between Britain and China in e-learning. In particular, they looked at one program and explored the reasons for the lower levels of participation by Chinese in an online course involving the two countries.  Four kinds of difficulties were identified:  “difficulty in ‘speaking’ in English, difficulty in understanding British participants’ message, difficulty in putting forward viewpoints, and difficulty in obtaining teacher’s direction.  They concluded that “the need to preserve face, ask-for-answer tendency in learning, and lack of skills in analytical thinking are the three major causes for challenges for Chinese online learners.”



  Neither WGC nor any of its representatives assume responsibility for any damages resulting from activities done by others using the WGC forum and or advice/suggestions for online dialogues.