UCEDD Virtual Exchange Promotes International Learning & Collaboration

October 20, 2020

The Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University (GSU) is wrapping up a semester-long Virtual Exchange (VE) project with students and faculty at the Federal University of Alagoas in Brazil, and North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Undergraduate students enrolled in "Introduction to Disability & Public Health," taught by Dr. Erin Vinoski Thomas, have engaged in several virtual face-to-face discussions with students in health-related disciplines at these universities. The overarching goal of the VE project, which was supported by GSU's Office of International Initiatives, was to increase students' understanding and awareness about issues pertaining to disability and health across the world. With online remote learning becoming standard in the COVID era, the VE project has shown another way in which geographical boundaries are no longer an issue in education and dissemination.

Discussions were facilitated primarily through the use of FlipGrid, a free, education-focused web platform through which users can create and share short videos. The tool is effective for use in inter-cultural classroom settings because it allows students to engage in asynchronous discussions (i.e., they do not have to be logged in at the same time), eliminating challenges that arise when collaborating across time zones. The tool offers captioning and other accessibility features to support its use by all students.

In one VE activity, students created videos to introduce themselves to each other and discuss how the culture(s) which with they identify perceive people with disabilities. They responded to each other's videos to highlight cross-cultural similarities and differences in these perceptions, and ways they might work to counter dominant cultural stereotypes in the future. In another activity, students from the Federal University of Alagoas uploaded video presentations describing their work promoting physical activity for children with autism in Alagoas, and the students responded with questions and suggestions based on what they learned throughout the semester. In a mid-course survey, GSU students indicated they enjoyed the VE activities and that the activities enhanced their learning about disability and health issues across the globe.

In the future, CLD faculty hope to sustain existing international partnerships and expand the VE program to include additional international partners. CLD faculty also hope to conduct formal research exploring effects of VE participation on students' perceptions of people with disabilities and understanding of disability and health issues in a global context.

Questions about CLD's VE project can be directed to Erin Vinoski Thomas ([email protected]).