On its website, APVEA reminds us that “virtual exchanges are technology-enabled, sustained, people-to-people education programs.” But what exactly is exchanged in virtual exchanges? What is deemed of value to participants in these exchanges? Might it be that there are interactions that could enhance this added value better than 'exchanges’? How about if we dropped ‘exchange’ and speak of virtual ‘dialogue’, for example?
In order to answer this last question, we need to understand what it takes to have a dialogue. Its characteristics can be gleaned from insights in the fields of communication, business, and philosophy. Particular emphasis will be paid to dialogue as defined by Bohm (1996), and to principles of holding dialogues as described by facilitators like Isaacs (1999), Pranis (2005), and Weisbord & Janoff (2007). “Encouraging intercultural dialogue” is often named as a vital purpose of virtual exchange, as in the case of the recently established Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange initiative. Consequently, we also need to understand what makes a dialogue ‘intercultural’. This question has been addressed not only by trainers and educators (Hoffman & Verdooren 2018; Van Maele & Mertens 2014) but also at high-level international bodies such as the Council of Europe (2010) and UNESCO (2013; 2018).
Once we have established a conceptually and practically relevant definition, we shall explore what can be done to create an online environment that is conducive to intercultural dialogue. To add to the conversation, I will bring in the voices of colleagues and students I have had the pleasure of working with, and I will illustrate my points with examples from several projects co-funded by the European Commission, including CEFcult (Online CEF-based assessment of oral proficiency for intercultural professional contexts) and RICH-Ed (Resources for Interculturality in Chinese Higher Education). Throughout the talk, I will encourage the participants to consider how these experiences and ideas resonate with realities and possibilities in Asian-Pacific contexts they are familiar with, and I hope to start up some dialogue of our own.
He is a Professor at the Faculty of Engineering Technology of KU Leuven (Belgium), where he teaches and researches intercultural communication and international education. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Central Connecticut State University and a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium). He has collaborated in international projects on intercultural learning in student mobility, internationalization-at-home, and online assessment of intercultural communicative competence, and has been a visiting research scholar in China, Japan, Cuba, and the U.K. Currently he is coordinating the Erasmus+ project RICH-Ed on intercultural learning in Chinese higher education.