FRAMES conference

During the event, we will reflect on the lessons learned and the achievements of this EU-funded project.  The keynote speaker will be Francesca Helm, a leading expert in the field, who will share insights on the impact of Virtual Exchange on student learning and engagement. The event will include panel discussions and working groups on various topics related to strategic coordination, resources, quality, accreditation, recognition and sustainability of Virtual Exchange and blended mobility, as well as opportunities for networking and sharing of experiences among attendees.

The event addresses academic staff interested in VE, officers in charge of mobility and internationalization, IT staff, as well as top management, senior staff with internationalization roles, and anyone interested in exploring the opportunities VE can offer to innovate mobility in Higher Education.

The one-day event will be held at the University of Siena (Italy) on 30 March 2023 

Please visit this website, for all details and registration:

FRAMES is an EU-funded project working on the integration and accreditation of blended mobility and Virtual Exchange in Higher Education. The project is implemented by UNIMED – Mediterranean Universities Union, UNICollaboration, Sharing Perspective, University of Girona, University of Limerick, University of Siena.

Stimulating virtual international collaboration in education, ‘the Dutch way’

The subsidy granted to institutions is intended as a contribution to freeing up the necessary hours for a lecturer and/or educationalist to design or revise and implement a virtual collaborative project. Any institution that has been granted this specific subsidy is also offered a range of activities to build capacity for designing effective and successful virtual projects; from facilitated intervision meetings, to various training courses, online information sessions, an in-person conference, an online helpdesk and a community platform. 

To be honest, we’re not only sharing this information here to show our enthusiasm for such an initiative – as it strengthens the mainstreaming of quality virtual intercultural collaboration and learning in higher education sector. But we can also announce that the Sharing Perspectives Foundation has joined forces with experts from CINOP, University of Groningen, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht and UNICollaboration as the implementing consortium of this pioneering initiative from the Dutch ministry!

Since the conception of this programme, we’ve been dedicating quite some time towards initiating activities, developing the VIS website, building relationships within the consortium and implementing the first rounds of training for educators. Our involvement in this programme is already proving to be a great learning experience on the current needs and challenges of educators and other HEI professionals in developing and facilitating international oriented virtual learning experiences. Working closely with VIS practitioners in our virtual trainings and following our quality assurance methods has already led to great improvements of our training materials and instructional approach.

So even if the activities under this support programme are only offered strictly to Higher Educational Institutions in the Netherlands, we certainly take everything we learn from this initiative on board to refine our methods in our other projects. Whether that is in our consulting activities, Virtual Exchange programme development for third parties, training organizations in virtual teaching or collaboration, or how to support partner organizations in our flagship VE programme. 

And off course, we hope to activate all higher education professionals in the Netherlands to learn more  and apply for the specific subsidy, to make this government funded programme a successful example for other countries to follow.

Learn more about Virtual International Collaboration projects on the website

Toolkit for Integrating Virtual Exchange in Higher Education

To support educational professionals with this mission, we are excited to present the ‘Toolkit for Integrating Virtual Exchange in Higher Education’. This one-stop-shop provides key information, inspiration, tools and case examples of the approaches that Higher Education Institutions can take to integrate and accredit Virtual Exchange. Whether you are an administrative officer curious to explore what Virtual Exchange integration can bring to your institution, or a teacher willing to find ways to accredit and sustain your Virtual Exchange activities in the curriculum; this product will help you with essential tools, activities and best practices. Visit this website to download the digital or the printer-friendly version of the toolkit, and explore additional multimedia assets like the FRAMES podcast .


“The Toolkit … has every chance of serving the purpose it was designed for and to live up to the expectations of both the project authors and prospective users. [T]he toolkit is a good, effective means of devising ways for integration and accreditation of virtual exchange in the institution of the user.”

– External project reviewer Professor Anna Turula,  Head of the Technology Enhanced Language Education Department at the Pedagogical University of Krakow, 

The Toolkit has been created in the framework of the FRAMES project, a Strategic Partnership funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union spanning over 2 years (March 2021 – February 2023). The project is implemented by a consortium composed of UNIMED – Mediterranean Universities Union (coordinator), UNICollaboration, Sharing Perspectives Foundation, Universitat de Girona, University of Limerick, and Università di Siena.

5 Fundamental Tenets Of Virtual Exchange

1. Exchanges should be sustained over an extended period of time, ideally nothing less than four iterations. This is because genuine, lasting shifts in attitudes and building skills take time, and cannot be accomplished from one-off engagements. Sustained interaction also allows for greater reflection and learning over time. 

2. Exchanges should be designed using a process-oriented approach. This means that a group is not thought of as a static cluster of individuals that come into existence once per week for the purpose of checking off programme agenda items. Instead, a group is perceived as a communal and collaborative entity that undergoes a process of continuing development and growth. The programme design strategically engenders ongoing synchronous and asynchronous moments of interaction throughout the entire exchange period, which are formulated to build group relationships, trust, skills and capacity. Synchronous meetings are not purely agenda focused, and are designed to be responsive to the needs and development stage of each group. The process and development oriented approach is made explicit to participants: each of them knows they will be embarking on a journey that moves towards certain goals and milestones, and what these will look like. Each successive meeting prompts the group to take more ownership of the discussions, to recognize and manage the dynamics affecting their interactions, and reflect on their growth.

3. This process does not happen on its own. Virtual exchanges should be guided by trained facilitators whose role is to serve as process leaders, as they are critical to ensure and enable the group to work cooperatively and effectively. This process leader keeps things focused, allows everyone a chance to participate, and helps the group to achieve more from the engagement than they would on their own. They provide expertise in managing online groups and their dynamics, and mitigating any challenges posed by technology or physical distance

The role of a facilitator in the learning process necessitates that they do not also play the role of an educator or instructor. In dialogue-based virtual exchanges, there is a focus on group discussions that connect across differences at the personal level, and treat each participant as experts in their own experience. In contrast, classes and trainings usually involve one-way knowledge transmission in which it is the educator who is the expert, and whose facts and opinions matter most. A facilitator who simultaneously plays the role of an educator makes themselves a figure of authority whose contributions carry more weight, which creates a power dynamic that is inimical to the dialogue process. Those with educator backgrounds who are accustomed to specific learning and engagement modalities may therefore need to spend extra time getting clear on the unique responsibilities of the facilitator role in order to provide the space for dialogue-based interaction. 

Two essential components of the facilitator role are imortant to mention here: neutrality and multipartiality.

  • A neutral facilitator ensures space for participants to express themselves authentically by not expressing their own views. A Neutral Facilitator do not act as participants and contribute to the content of the discussions by expressing their own opinions or emotions. They don’t favour any viewpoints expressed by participants or express their preferences.
  • A multipartial facilitator, supports the participants to understand that there are multiple ways to view a topic, and that those multiple views are important to understand the topic at a deeper level. They are curious about, and encourage the expression of all viewpoints present in the virtual exchange activity, and tries to draw attention also to those that are not represented.

4. A constructive Virtual Exchange programme combines both structured elements (activities, assignments, etc.) and unstructured free-flowing discussion. These are discussions that participants sustain themselves (with the occasional support of facilitators), and provide the opportunity for them to practise and develop competences in communication and collaboration with a cross-cultural group. With each free-flowing discussion, participants advance in confidence, skill, and connections with each other.

5. Opportunities for reflection should be embedded in each stage of the exchange. Reflecting on and therefore becoming explicitly aware of the experience, the process, and what has been learned or achieved should happen with regularity, both within the group and through individual assignments. Reflection also creates awareness of what has benefited the process, and what things the group could improve going forward to ensure more constructive collaboration. In addition, people are best able to engage with difference when they have a sense of their own identity. This approach to exchange encourages participants to explore their identities and practice self-reflection, and see how different aspects of their identities affect their views and communication with others.

Your different virtual personas

People who spend a significant portion of their day web conferencing in professional contexts can often develop a way of being in the online meeting while not being fully present in the online meeting. We create something like an online persona that is drifting in and out of the virtual meeting (or group) space, video turned off, checking some emails, or making to-do lists for other tasks ahead. We turn off the webcam and the screen becomes somewhat of a protective barrier.

This is completely understandable, as people often find that being able to turn off their cameras and be ‘out of the spotlight’ – and therefore being able to stretch, eat, or take a break from keeping their professional attentive listening face on at all times – is vital to their ability to sustain their productivity and sanity during long hours of uninterrupted screen time. 

Participating in, or facilitating online dialogue or seminars, however, requires a different online persona and use of the screen. In these contexts, the screen must not be used as a shield but rather as a bridge between you and the people you are engaging with. 

One of the reasons online interaction is often viewed as not being capable of creating the kind of relationship or trust-building that in-person contact does is that humans (like other social animals) use in-person interactions to take in a lot of data that we use to build and navigate relationships. Being in front of someone ‘in real life’ obviously assists in clear communication, as it allows us to pick up on small social cues, to establish eye contact, and to have a clearer sense of prosody, tone, and body language. The truth is that we can still pick up on most or all of these in online dialogue, but the participants must make an effort (when possible*) to have their cameras on and their faces visible. 

In a virtual setting that can sometimes feel like a void, being present and showing active engagement goes much farther than merely speaking up; it can have the same effect as walking into the room and taking a seat at the table. Showing active listening and non-verbal participation through your camera when others are speaking helps them build confidence, communicates to them that their contribution matters, and helps them understand that they are not at the table alone. 

In a meeting that mainly requires your presence and ability to take in what is said, the first kind of persona can be perfectly suitable, and a valuable means to avoid virtual fatigue. In dialogue and experience-sharing, we must bring out a different part of ourselves, and use the digital tools at our disposal to the fullest. 

*Note: The reality is that not everyone has the bandwidth to support video, and that’s ok! Speaking up regularly, showing active listening by reacting to your colleague’s statements using the chat and making visible contributions to online activities can allow you to make just as much impact as those with their cameras on.

“Take care of yourselves and the planet”

Towards the end of the 9-week virtual exchange journey, participants reflect and express their gratitude towards the group for the experience and the learning that happened. Facilitators invite participants to bring a ‘(virtual) parting gift’ to their last online session as a way of saying goodbye and celebrating their achievements. Over the years our facilitators have seen this exercise lead to wonderful expressions from participants, like digital cards and even musical performances.

This spring iteration, one virtual gift stood out in particular for its relevance to the subject matter of ‘Climate Movements’. Marco, a student from the University of Padua, donated a tree on behalf of his group through the organization ‘Treedom’; 

“I believe in the power of individuals to drive the world’s behaviors, so when I heard about this organization, I thought it’s perfect. The tree is donated to local farmers who make it grow and they can exploit its fruits. All trees are registered on the website and can be seen through a GPS localization and the tree “feed” where its photos and updates are published. (…) I already had bought trees for myself, or as gifts to my girlfriend or for Mother’s Day, so it’s almost natural to think about it as a way to thank the group and a good gesture, both symbolic and actual.”

The cocoa tree is planted in Ecuador as a donation from Marco to his ‘Climate Movements’ group


About his participation in ‘Climate Movements’, Marco says that it has been a “great experience”;

“It was my first exchange and I’m happy to have had the possibility to do it and meet new people and perspectives notwithstanding the pandemic”,Marco continues, sharing his experience participating in ‘Climate Movements’. Though I like to discuss and talk, I’m usually the shy guy who rarely starts a conversation, so finding other people to speak with has helped me a lot in being more confident of myself. Moreover, I made friends from many countries in the Mediterranean and I value this aspect a lot. Plus, doing it in English gave me a huge help in exercising more of my language skills!”

Next to gaining confidence, making connections and improving his language skills, Marco says that the learning materials for this Virtual Exchange course were “very rich” and provided room for challenging conversations in the sessions;

“I was already interested and quite aware of the many aspects of climate change, but this course helped me delve more into each aspect, link them together and try to keep these connections in mind while talking with the rest of the group. I’ve found fascinating insights on indigenous cultures, something we as ‘Western peoples’ have difficulties keeping in mind. This course raised my interest in these stories and made me think about the responsibilities we have in their regards.”

With the help of senior facilitator Rawan, the group bonded over fun activities; “Surely I’ll treasure the experiences I’ve had, we as a group will try to stay connected in the future. And if the tree can also be a way to strengthen our bond, it’ll be another great aspect of it!”

Thank you, Marco, for the great gift to your group and sharing your thoughts on ‘Climate Movements’! 

Innovating European Higher Education with Virtual Exchange

The FRAMES project (Fostering resilience through Accredited Mobility for European Sustainable Higher Education innovation) aims to make the European Higher Education Area more innovative, intercultural, and resilient. Implemented by a consortium composed of UNIMED, UNICollaboration, Sharing Perspectives Foundation, University of Girona, University of Limerick, University of Siena, the project will last two years with the support of the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union.

The first activity of the project is to map existing experiences of Virtual Exchange that are integrated, and possibly accredited in the university curriculum. This will lead to scenarios and best practices for VE implementation to be promoted across European universities. Subsequently, a training series is designed for Higher Education staff focussing on how to to integrate VE as an integral and accredited part of their mobility approaches. The project will end with the publication and dissemination of a toolkit for VE integration, accreditation, and a strategic framework for Virtual Exchange as a mobility approach at an institutional level. 

We are excited to bring our expertise on Virtual Exchange into this project and to support the further integration and accreditation of Virtual Exchange into Higher Education Institutions across the European Higher Education Area. 

Collaboratively confronting challenges in virtual learning

The norms we can take for granted in a classroom setting often get lost in cyberspace, and a virtual setting brings with it the opportunity (and challenge) to rethink them. While it can feel like needing to learn how to swim again, we don’t have to drift in unknowns. We still know a couple of things: 

  1. Collaborative and participatory decision making for adult learners generates more inclusive decisions, ownership of the process, and accountability to outcomes. 
  2. Developing new norms requires being plain and direct, making the implicit explicit when assumptions and interests differ.  

Remembering these two things, we can anticipate and respond to emergent challenges in virtual learning and engage students in the process. We’re including discussion guides for 3 key challenges below. 



By now, no student is a stranger to online learning, and they’ve likely experienced a gambit of different expectations for audio and video participation. Some professors require video on, some don’t. Others require muting until talking, and still others require staying unmuted unless there is a disruptive noise. Open this conversation with the following questions: 

  • What are reasons for having our videos on? (relationships, group work, attention, etc)
  • What are the reasons we would want videos off? (bandwidth, privacy, family members, etc)
  • What do you want this learning environment to look like, or feel like? What are creative solutions that could meet all of these interests? 

💡 If videos are off, how can individual students, and the rest of the group, compensate for lack of visual presence (for example by profile photos, greater activity in the chat stream, turning on in small group activities)?

I ask my students to create an avatar using an avatar maker and set it as their profile picture. They are allowed to change it over the course of the semester as they wish to represent how they developed their skills and knowledge during the programme. It is really interesting to see how they are more comfortable and confident as time passes and they start changing their avatars.”R. Tahboub, Lecturer at Hebron University


Retention or passive participation

We’ve all had the experience of biting off more than we can chew, possibly including the specific experience of signing up for an online class and not being able to follow through with it. Discussing expectations, needs and motivation with your students set the scene for a deliberate and positive learning experience. You can use these prompts as starters:

  • Knowing that there are many other things competing for your time and attention, what is your ‘WHY’ for signing up for this class? 
  • Knowing that online classes can slip through the cracks for anyone, what would be a supportive way to nudge you if we notice this starts to happen? (An email after 2 absences? Required office hours appearance?)
  • As the professor, I believe this course is worth your time for xyz reasons, and I’m doing xyz things to support you staying engaged. How else can you as students support each other to succeed in this course? 


Tech issues

There are fewer more frustrating things than trying to accomplish something and facing a tech-related problem that is preventing you. Set your learners up for success by discussing the tech requirements needed for the course and crowdsourcing solutions for common technical issues:

  • These (xyz) are the times that technology will be used to participate or submit assignments. Can we take a few minutes now to make sure we personally have all the required downloads, updates, etc. that will enable this? Where will you have wifi access? Are there any other issues you foresee that you can inform me of (privately)?
  • XYZ are the tech support resources we have as an institution. What are other ways to get support you know of? How could you support each other as a student group if questions or issues arise? 

💡 Compile the tech tips and support resources the students bring to the table into a ‘tech first-aid kit’. Valuable for present and future cohorts! 


Are you facing additional challenges in virtual teaching? And do you see ways to address them collaboratively? 

Insights from our partner ‘ESIEE Paris’

Why do you think it is important to use Virtual Exchange in your curriculum?

While physical mobility is compulsory for all students at our institution and irreplaceable for its immersive and full sensory experience, it only brings students in contact with one national culture. This is all the more problematic if the experience is not a happy one. Young people today need several international experiences in order to be ready for a globally-connected workplace. High international competence is sought by businesses, and it is vital for reducing political and economic tensions between countries. On a personal level, it is an empowering and stimulating experience.

What does this Virtual Exchange course offer your students?

This Virtual Exchange gives our students the opportunity to discuss important global issues with young people from several different countries. They hear different perspectives on these issues. This broadens their understanding and encourages them to think more critically. Our students connect empathically with people from different cultural backgrounds, which helps to reduce ‘othering’. Strong bonds are created during the course, and many of the students continue their friendship on social media, after the course.

What can interested professors expect when partnering to implement Virtual Exchange at their institutions?

At first, one feels rather on the outside. The course materials are available for professors to watch and read when you look for them. It is your job to ask the students to share their deliverables with you if you want to evaluate the quality of their deliverables.

Helen’s advice for future partners is to [m]aintain a balance between giving the students some autonomy and your expectations from the students”.

Thank you Helen Eve, Coordinator Internationalisation at Home and English modules at ESIEE PARIS, for your cooperation.


Get involved

Partnership conversations for the autumn iteration of ‘Climate Movements’ are currently taking place. Learn more on how to offer this online course at your education institution or organization here >
Or contact us

3 tips for effective online teaching

“When taking stock of the key principles behind our online course designs we realised we were exploring a shift of focus from content to people,” says curriculum expert Dr Sophie Millner;

“There is a tradition of placing learning materials at the centre of teaching. This results in quite a burden on the shoulders of the educator to produce lots of content. Shifting this focus to learning outcomes allows for greater creativity in the classroom and for more student engagement.” 

Not to say that content isn’t a crucial component, but it is one element in a set of other equally important elements. In fact, in the virtual classroom or learning space, these other elements actually grow in importance.

Here are three tips for successful and effective online learning experiences: 

1. ‘Less is more’

As for many other things in life, ‘less is more’ goes a long way. Curate your materials so that what you deliver is short but really valuable and stimulating. 

2. Activate your learners 

It’s not all about content, so why not give more time for learners to interact and engage with the material by designing interactive assignments. These will help learners feel engaged and increase their sense of ownership.

3. Invest in relationship building

Especially, but not solely, in these detached times. Establishing relationships between instructor-students as well as amongst students is not only good for wellbeing but also enhances student learning and skill development.


Learn more about these and more elements like how to set students up for success, creating engaging content in the training ‘Going Virtual’  (9, 16, 23 February)