Reflection on a global e-learning exchange partnership with ESIEE Paris

By Chiara Cillerai, Ph.D.
Professor, Institute for Core Studies/First-Year Writing

Chiara Cillerai of Saint-Jean

June 23, 2022

My first-year writing students worked on a Global Online Learning Exchange (GOLE) project, “Writing and Thinking in the Globally Connected Digital World,” during the spring semester. The class worked with a group of students from ESIEEan engineering school in Paris, France, who were taking an advanced English as a second language course.

My two ESIEE colleagues and I designed an assignment whose learning objectives were to develop research and analytical skills, foster cross-cultural communication and invite students to meet the challenges posed by cultural and geographic differences when working collaboratively.

screenshot of Hélène Eve
Helen Eve from ESIEE

The six-hour difference between New York and Paris, rather than an obstacle, allowed the two groups to meet synchronously for seven consecutive weeks as the two courts met at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. respectively. Each meeting consisted of small groups, student-led discussions, or peer-review sessions of various stages of student research projects. The meeting took place in WebEx breakout rooms or WhatsApp video chats.

Meeting every week and structuring each meeting around the different steps necessary to carry out the project allowed the students to engage in a direct conversation – a main educational objective for French students – and to engage in the development of intercultural communication. , which was originally the basis of the GOLE experience for all students involved. As the students had to discuss their research before each meeting, they also had to find ways to communicate with each other between the prearranged meetings, and thus manage the obstacles that jet lag and individual commitments created.

Portrait of Susan Svoboda
Susan Svoboda from ESIEE

Due to its virtual nature and international features, one of the most important benefits of GOLE is the ability to give students the opportunity to engage in a study abroad experience when the physical experience abroad is impossible. This was evident in the research projects the students completed and how they described their experience in their final reflections.

However, learning to collaborate and communicate with others and bonding were not the only benefits. The virtual exchange provided students with the self-reflection skills that help them understand others and themselves.

One of the French students described the challenges and surprises of communicating with native English-speaking partners: “For the first time in my life, I felt a new form of frustration speaking in English that I had never felt in the university setting to which I am accustomed. I felt like through my speech, I was unable to express my feelings. My team members were really understanding and caring and made things easy for me. So it wasn’t really a difficulty, but a way of discovering yourself more and wanting to change certain things.

In these terms, the struggle to communicate in a non-native language becomes the space where students can learn more about themselves and use this knowledge. I think this is one of the most important results we should expect from virtual exchange programs.