Global Engagement in the Kinesiology Classroom Through Virtual Exchange

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  • 1 Department of Kinesiology, Sport Studies and Physical Education, State University of New York Brockport, Brockport, NY, USA
  • | 2 Department of Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

As the importance of intercultural competence increases for future professionals, kinesiology faculty should consider internationalizing their curriculum. Faculty can promote intercultural competence through a variety of experiences, including studying abroad, attending international conferences, or adding a virtual exchange component to their classes. Global engagement in the classroom allows students to examine problem solving by scholars globally and enhances soft skills and career readiness skills. Because international travel through study abroad programs poses many challenges, this paper will focus upon an alternative, virtual exchange that can be implemented in any kinesiology or related course. Faculty can implement virtual exchanges with either an international class or a nonprofit organization on a large (e.g., complete course) or small scale (e.g., collaborative project). A sample design and tips for developing a collaborative project in a kinesiology course will be discussed to provide kinesiology faculty with a framework to begin a partnership around international course collaboration.

Because global connections are increasing, there is a growing need for students to develop intercultural competence during their undergraduate education (Abrahamse et al., 2015). Intercultural competence includes a broad range of skills, including attitudes such as respect for other cultures and openness to trying new activities and foods; knowledge, including awareness and understanding of other cultures and language fluency; and soft skills such as communication and social skills (Deardorff, 2004, 2006). Study abroad programs have typically been considered the primary source of acquiring intercultural competence in an educational setting (Clarke et al., 2009). As there are many challenges to participation in an international exchange, such as inflexible course schedules, athletic seasons, jobs, fear of living in another culture, and expenses (Parkinson, 2007), only about 10% of American undergraduates study abroad (Open Doors, 2021). Participation is far lower in many smaller state universities across the United States, with percentages as low as 1%. It is critical to reach the other 90%–99% of students who do not participate in a study abroad experience by incorporating intercultural experiences in other formats.

Reaching a majority of students should therefore be central to discourse on global education, and it is why higher education institutions should be intentional about infusing international and cross-cultural dimensions into the pedagogy and curriculum. Such discourse has been going on for decades. The research scholarship on this topic has covered a wide range of issues, including the values, purposes, benefits, challenges, and philosophical underpinnings of global education (Dixon, 2006; Goren et al., 2020; Knight, 2013). Often, the dominant themes have revolved around varying priorities and motives for global engagement, especially the underlying commercial, socioeconomic, and geopolitics of academic mobility (see Altbach & Knight, 2007). Shifts in education policies and funding models, heightened global competition, and pressure on universities to come up with innovative ways to fund their core activities partly account for the commercial/income-generating motives of international education (Altbach & Knight, 2007; Knight, 2020; Zapp & Ramirez, 2019). These commercial motives are illustrated by a proliferation of off-shore campuses, franchise programs, joint or dual degrees, and online degree programs that have characterized international education over the past decades (Knight, 2020).

The discourse also provides insights on how common thematic areas in global education, such as environmental education, sustainable development, intercultural competence, and civic and global citizenship education, have emerged (e.g., Goren et al., 2020; Mannion et al., 2011). Other emergent, but less explored, areas include what underlies the shifts or emphasis in the modes of program delivery and the unintended consequences of global education on such issues as diversity, equity, and inclusion. The most common delivery modes discussed in the literature include students going abroad to earn a degree, short-term education abroad programs, off-shore campuses, franchise programs, joint or dual degree programs, and online degree programs (Altbach & Knight, 2007). The scholarship on types of programs and modes of delivering global education has never been more relevant than today, considering the potential long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, mobility, and human interactions, as well as the ongoing debates on race, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. For instance, a cursory look at program emphasis in global education and education abroad  programs shows that global health is not featured prominently, despite the historical importance of global public health, disease outbreaks, and pandemics. Disciplines in allied health, such as kinesiology, are relatively unknown and less studied outside of high-income countries in the Asia Pacific region, Europe, and North America; yet, they may hold answers to addressing the noncommunicable diseases that are increasingly becoming a global health challenge (World Health Organization, 2021). Therefore, reexamining modes of delivery and program emphasis in global education offers significant opportunities to diversify thematic areas by including disciplines, like kinesiology, which are historically underrepresented. This could also lead to greater interest in and access to programs by traditionally less represented ethnic minority students and faculty.

Less explored modes of delivery, such as the virtual exchange, fall within what Olsen et al. (2006) described as comprehensive internationalization. For global education to be comprehensive, it has to meet the needs of students and faculty who travel abroad or across national borders for their educational experiences and the needs of those who stay home. A virtual exchange has been defined as an intercultural online collaboration of courses guided by a trained instructor (O’Dowd & Lewis, 2016). It can accommodate the global educational needs of students who are not able to take part in cross-border mobility while offering international and cross-cultural exchanges. This mode of global engagement is made even more imperative by the COVID-19 pandemic. A series of articles from the University World News (2020) indicated that the pandemic exacerbated preexisting inequities in higher education access, success, and retention of students across the globe and led to drastic declines in academic mobility and international enrollments. The falling numbers have important implications for allied health disciplines like Kinesiology that have yet to grow their global education footprint. There are also implications for the discipline’s capacity to attract, retain, and increase graduation rates of ethnic minority students in countries where it is well established. For instance, data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (Data USA, 2021) showed that ethnic minority students received <5% of all degrees awarded in Kinesiology in the United States in 2017. The data also showed that a majority of international students studying Kinesiology in U.S. colleges and universities came from India, Mexico, Canada, and China. These numbers suggest that significant potential exists to enlarge the program’s domestic and global footprint if the virtual classroom and e-learning were to become strong alternatives.

The philosophical, socioeconomic, and geopolitical underpinnings of global education and its various forms of delivery are central to any discourse on global higher education and therefore cannot be ignored. However, an in-depth discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of the current article. Nonetheless, these issues offer an important backdrop to our goal of demonstrating opportunities and the potential benefits of global education through a virtual exchange program. Using experiences and lessons from virtual modes of delivery within the field of Kinesiology, we argue that virtual exchange programs are among the most pragmatic modalities for delivering diverse, equitable, and inclusive global education. We argue that a virtual exchange classroom can be mainstream as well as enable continuous teaching and learning during times of heightened volatility, such as pandemics, natural disasters, and civil strife.

Virtual Exchange Programs

Virtual exchange programs center around the interaction and exchange between individuals from two cultures (Baroni et al., 2019). These programs are student centered and can include a broad range of options, from research experiences with a global partner to classroom exchanges, to experiences working with an international nonprofit. In addition, these experiences can range from short-term projects to full-course exchanges. Such programs are not an entirely new idea, but with the sudden “forced” use of video conferencing due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, video conferencing skills are now common skills of individuals of all ages and professions. While video conferencing was a rare activity for many prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now common if not expected across most kindergarten through postsecondary classrooms. This rapid increase in technological skills can be leveraged by instructors interested in improving their students’ intercultural competence. Now instructors have fewer barriers to beginning a virtual exchange. Rather than learning how to use the software and overcoming the fear of the nuts and bolts of videoconferencing, students and faculty can focus more on the intercultural experience. Virtual exchange programs can offer an international experience to all students without the cost or time commitment involved in a study abroad experience. We share example models for virtual exchange experiences tied to classrooms and nonprofits in the following section.

Classroom Virtual Exchange

Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) is an approach in which students collaborate with students in another international class either for an entire course or a portion of a course. The focus of COIL is to cultivate intercultural competence in students without leaving the classroom (Guth & Rubin, 2015). The COIL adds a global dimension to the social–constructivist educational approach of collaborative learning in which students pursue a common goal together (Janssen, 2014). Deardorff’s Process Model of Intercultural Competence (Deardorff, 2006; Deardorff & Jones, 2012) asserts the ongoing process necessary to develop the intercultural competence, leading toward an awareness and understanding of individuals from other cultures. In the following section, we discuss the process for developing a virtual exchange course and how to implement an effective process of developing intercultural competence. Through this process, individuals learn how to communicate and behave toward others in the preferred way of the other person’s culture. As such, students cannot only improve their intercultural awareness but may also improve their ability to work in diverse environments and improve international civic engagement (Zhang & Pearlman, 2018).

Nonprofit Virtual Exchange

Another option for increasing intercultural competence in students through a virtual exchange is through a collaboration with an international nongovernmental organization. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals can be used as a roadmap to a sustainable future by addressing complex challenges facing countries and people around the world. Sustainable development goals can be chosen to best align the course learning objectives with the goals of the nonprofit. For example, Goal Number 3, Health and Wellness, can be applied to many Kinesiology-related courses. These experiences are effective when students work in small groups with a team member from the nonprofit to apply the insights gained in the course to a collaborative project with the nongovernmental organization that fills a need for the organization. Some examples of projects include developing public service announcements, creating podcasts to raise awareness, developing educational or exploration sessions that promote emotional or physical health, or assisting with community development-related activities. The advantage of working with a nongovernmental organization on such projects is that it tends to have a wider reach and members with significant experiences in community engagement. Such collaborations are also ideal for cost-effective community-engaged learning and scholarship.

Developing a Virtual Exchange Course

Developing a virtual exchange course consists of several essential steps. Some of these steps, especially those that occur prior to implementation, can require a significant time investment, so it is important to plan accordingly. Drawing from the COIL framework, the following sections describe the process for developing a classroom virtual exchange course (with the process being similar for a nonprofit virtual exchange course) and focus on three main components: finding a partner, joint planning, and implementation.

Finding a Partner

The first component of the COIL process is to find a partner. The partner can teach in the same discipline; however, this is not a requirement. As long as there is sufficient overlap in content to meet the goals of each course, a COIL partnership can work. There are a few options that can be used to find a COIL partner. An informal approach is to reach out to personal colleagues and contacts at institutions abroad to gauge interest. This is a good option for initiating a partnership because the instructor will already have a personal relationship with the potential partner. Instructors can also network at international conferences when seeking a partner. These could be discipline specific, such as the International Motor Development Research Consortium, or specific to virtual exchange, such as the International Virtual Exchange Conference. There are also more formalized approaches. For example, The State University of New York COIL Center offers several resources, such as partnering bulletins and virtual partnering fairs. In addition, there are online partnering platforms, such as UNICollaboration and ImmerseU, where instructors can post information about themselves and the classes they would like to COIL. Although these online platforms are useful, some sites may require fees to join, and instructor profiles can be out of date or defunct. The process for finding a partner can be challenging and not all partnerships will be successful; thus, it is very important to choose a partner thoughtfully. Some important factors to consider in choosing a COIL partner include equal commitment to the course, shared development of course content and materials, transparency of institutional culture that may impact the success of the course, and open-mindedness (SUNY COIL Center, n.d.).

Joint Planning

After securing a partnership, the next component of the COIL process is to jointly plan the project that students will be collaborating on during the semester. As stated previously, the disciplines for each course do not need to be identical; in fact, courses from disciplines outside of Kinesiology provide a unique opportunity for instructors to offer creative learning experiences. For example, an instructor at an institution in Lebanon and the first author of this paper found a creative solution to combining topics in technology and physical activity and aging into a cohesive COIL project. English language courses at institutions abroad can also be useful as COIL partnerships with Kinesiology courses because they provide opportunities for students abroad to practice English while engaging in an assignment relevant to Kinesiology students. Likewise, COIL partnerships within the Kinesiology discipline do not have to be identical. For example, the second author of this paper and an instructor at an institution in the United Kingdom have successfully collaborated on COIL projects combining topics in motor behavior and sport psychology.

There are several important elements to consider during the joint planning process. The first is logistics. COIL courses work best when conducted synchronously as this provides students from both classes with a common meeting time that can be facilitated by the instructors. However, because there will likely be time zone differences between the two locations, finding a way to coordinate class meetings can be challenging, especially if instructors have little or no control over the scheduling of their classes. Although COIL courses can be conducted asynchronously to allow for greater flexibility, this is often not ideal because students will need to schedule time outside of class to meet and work on the COIL project. Social exchange theory (Thibault & Kelley, 1959) suggests that sustaining social relationships requires reciprocal communication. Thus, students who are unable or unwilling to engage in the COIL project outside of class time may negatively impact the social relationship with their international partners and reduce the potential for developing intercultural competencies. Another logistical element concerns the overlap of the COIL courses’ dates. Some non-U.S. institutions abroad have different time frames for courses than those in the United States. Moreover, the timing of the COIL project within the course is also important to consider. Even if there is sufficient overlap of dates between the two classes, it is important to determine if the timing of the COIL project makes sense within the context of the course content for both courses.

Technology is an additional logistical concern that has many considerations—one is the use of a shared learning management system (LMS). In the rare case that the two institutions use the same LMS, the instructors will need to decide which institution’s system to use and address the challenges in obtaining access for students outside the selected institution. In addition, only one instructor will be able to control the content on the LMS. These same issues apply for institutions with different LMSs, with the additional concern of some students needing to learn a new LMS. Another option is to use a third LMS outside of both institutions, such as Edmodo or Google Sites. This way, all students would be on equal ground with learning a new LMS, and the content can be designed and controlled by both instructors. Another technology consideration is determining how students will interact with one another. There are many platforms for synchronous and asynchronous connection beyond the LMS that can be used both in and outside of the classroom, such as Zoom, MS Teams, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and social media. It is important for the instructors to be thoughtful in how they match the technology to the specific types of interactions the students will have during the COIL project, as well as ensuring that the technology is accessible to all students.

After the logistical elements have been addressed, planning now focuses on the content of the COIL project. The first step in this process is to determine the shared student learning outcomes, which should focus on course content as well as intercultural competencies. Once the student learning outcomes have been established, the two instructors can begin designing the content, structure, and final product of the COIL project. The main content of the project should have a cultural lens to the shared content between the two courses. For example, students collaborating on a motor learning project (content) could be required to learn a motor skill unique to their COIL partner’s institution (cultural lens). In addition, students should have opportunities to engage in direct discussions about intercultural topics (e.g., food, language, hobbies) via cultural prompts during virtual meetings. Due to the collaborative nature of the COIL project, it is important to ensure that deadlines for project tasks are consistent across the two courses; otherwise, this undermines collaborative student engagement. The final product of the COIL project does not have to be shared between students in both classes; however, it is important that students in both classes work together on the same project. For example, a COIL project may require students in both classes to collaborate on learning about cultural differences in female athlete media representation, but the classes may have separate final products.

Another key element of planning the COIL project is determining how it will be assessed across the two courses. Assessments should be consistent for both courses and align with the student learning outcomes of the COIL project. Thus, there should be opportunities and methods to assess both content and intercultural competencies. Content-related assessments can include smaller lead-up assignments, such as project proposals or early drafts, as well as the final product of the COIL project. The final product can take many forms and allow for student autonomy. Examples of final COIL products can include mini-documentaries, public service announcements, instructional videos, research papers, and workshops. Intercultural competencies can be assessed by a number of different survey instruments, such as the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence VALUE Rubric (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2009), as well as through written and oral reflections.

Implementation

Implementation is the final component of the COIL process. Unless there is a system in place at the institution, students are unlikely to know that they are registering for a virtual exchange course. Thus, it is important that instructors introduce the COIL component of the course early in the semester, as early as the first class meeting, to allow students the opportunity to drop the course and expediently add another course, if so desired. This introduction should focus on the purpose of the COIL project, rather than the specifics, in order to create student buy-in. Students should have a clear understanding of how the project fits within the context of the course and why the international component is included. As the start of the COIL project nears, instructors should begin to prime their students for the upcoming collaboration. This includes discussing specifics about the COIL project as well as the cultural background of their international partners. A cultural introduction can be accomplished in several ways (e.g., quizzes, readings, independent research); however, it is vital that students understand what is considered appropriate and respectful behavior toward their international partners prior to their first meeting.

The first meeting of the COIL project should focus on introducing and acclimating the two classes to one another. During this meeting, it is helpful to include ice breaker activities so that students can get to know each other in a fun and interactive manner. One example is to have students in both classes respond to different types of questions to reveal cultural differences. These questions can focus on anything from hobbies to transportation to family life. Instructors should also introduce themselves to their partner’s students. Future meetings between students will likely be in small groups to collaborate on the project. During these meetings, it is important to include an agenda for students that includes the specific tasks they need to work on that day for the project. This agenda should also include opportunities for students to discuss cultural topics beyond the context of the assignment. Topics can range from lighter ones, such as college life and food, to heavier ones, such as politics and religion. It is recommended to begin with the lighter topics when the students are acclimating to one another, as well as the course, and gradually progress to deeper conversations with each meeting (see Table 1 for sample cultural prompts during COIL group meetings). While some of these conversations may extend beyond course content, they are critical in encouraging a sense of global connection, curiosity, and empathy, adding much depth to the overall experience.

Table 1

Cultural Prompt Samples

Meeting 1
 1. What is a typical greeting and farewell? Discuss both gestures and words.
 2. What is a typical breakfast or lunch?
 3. How do many Bangladeshis spend their holidays?
 4. If you could travel to Bangladesh, what is something you MUST do?
 5. What is something Bangladeshis are particularly proud of?
Meeting 2
 1. Compare educational systems.
 2. Discuss driving in each country. What are typical vehicles? What are some driving laws and regulations? What age can an individual start driving?
 3. Are divorce rates similar in Bangladesh vs. the United States?
 4. Are views on sustainability and climate change similar in Bangladesh vs. the United States?
 5. What are the gun laws in the United States vs. Bangladesh? How does this affect culture/society?
Meeting 3
 1. Pop culture in Bangladesh vs. the United States: What is big now in music, style, etc?
 2. What are politics like in the United States vs. Bangladesh?
 3. How prevalent is racism in each country? Is the racism individual or structural racism, or both?
 4. How commonly do women and minorities hold powerful positions, including in government jobs, as CEOs, etc?
Meeting 4
 1. Family dynamics: What does a typical family look like? At what age do people tend to have children? How many children does a family typically have? What is the family structure? How is importance placed upon family vs. jobs?
 2. Is the working mentality more collaborative, team oriented, or individualistic?
 3. Discuss university life as well as the cost of furthering education, length of programs, and job outlooks.
 4. Go back to the stereotypical views you wrote about each other at the beginning of the course—having worked with each other for 7 weeks, do these still apply?

Note. CEO = chief executive officer.

During the COIL project, it is imperative that instructors have frequent and consistent communication with one another. This helps ensure alignment between the courses and that issues are identified and resolved quickly when they arise. Once the COIL course concludes, instructors should reflect individually and collaboratively on the entire COIL experience and determine areas of future improvement. Sometimes COIL partnerships are not a good fit, and the instructors may decide to dissolve the relationship in favor of finding new partners in subsequent semesters. However, COIL partnerships can be quite successful and lead to sustainable relationships that span multiple courses. Regardless of the outcome, both instructors need to be thoughtful and honest when discussing future endeavors.

Conclusions

Students in Kinesiology and related fields can benefit greatly from international experiences, including not only international travel but also through virtual exchange. International experiences improve students’ global competencies as well as sharpen a wide variety of career readiness competencies. Expanding one’s views to a more global scale prepares future professionals to solve a wide variety of Kinesiology- and allied health-related challenges. This paper focused upon classroom virtual exchanges through the COIL approach, addressing effective implementation strategies for partnering with an international class. While the benefits of a fully immersive study abroad experience cannot be understated, very few students are able to participate for a variety of reasons. To reach the majority of students who miss out on these experiences, instructors should strive to advance intercultural competence in these future Kinesiology and allied health professionals by providing virtual exchange programs.

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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Altbach, P.G., & Knight, J. (2007). The internationalization of higher education: Motivations and realities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 11(3-4), 290305. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315307303542

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2009). Intercultural and knowledge VALUE rubric. https://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics/intercultural-knowledge

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baroni, A., Dooly, M., Garcıa, P.G., Guth, S., Hauck, M., Helm, F., Lewis, T., Mueller-Hartmann, A., O’Dowd, R., Rienties, B., & Rogaten, J. (2019). Evaluating the impact of virtual exchange on initial teacher education: A European policy experiment. Research-publishing.net.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clarke, I., Flaherty, T.B., Wright, N.D., & McMillen, R.M. (2009). Student intercultural proficiency from study abroad programs. Journal of Marketing Education, 31(2), 173181. https://doi.org/10.1177/0273475309335583

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Data USA. (2021, May 24). Integrated postsecondary education data system (IPEDS). https://datausa.io/profile/cip/kinesiology-exercise-science#demographics

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Deardorff, D.K. (2004). Internationalization: In search of intercultural competence. International Educator, 13(2), 1315.

  • Deardorff, D.K. (2006). Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(3), 241266. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315306287002

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Deardorff, D.K., & Jones, E. (2012). Intercultural competence: An emerging focus in international higher education. In The SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education (pp. 283304). SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781452218397.n16

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dixon, M. (2006). Globalisation and international higher education: Contested positionings. Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(4), 319333. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315306287789

    • Crossref
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