Virtual Exchanges Deepen Learning, Expand “International Interconnectedness”

Virtual Exchanges Deepen Learning, Expand “International Interconnectedness”
  • One World
Karen Lewis Taylor

Reflecting an intentional alignment with Lead From Here, today’s Global Education classes inspire students to build cross-cultural empathy and greater global awareness.

In the summer of 2020, Jessica Yonzen and Melanie Spransy — then director and assistant director, respectively, of Ravenscroft’s Global Education program — began developing new mission and vision statements for global competencies using Lead From Here as a guide. The goal was to place the school’s groundbreaking citizen leader framework at the center of all global education work on campus.

Since then, Spransy, who is now serving as interim director, and her colleagues in a range of disciplines have been working to integrate these global competencies even more thoroughly into their curricula. Their efforts bring the world to Ravenscroft students in a variety of ways — something Spransy describes as a “pivot” that positions global travel as an extension of sustained, in-depth classroom learning.

Guided by our legacy of excellence and the Lead from Here Framework, Global Education at Ravenscroft is an integrated and substantive presence throughout school life, programs and planning. Ravenscroft will help develop global citizens who possess the knowledge, skills and disposition required to understand multiple perspectives and thrive and lead in a complex and interdependent world. Ravenscroft will offer curricula embedded with global themes and an array of opportunities through travel and hosting, cultural and language immersion, and service learning in order to foster an awareness, appreciation and understanding of the world.

— Ravenscroft Global Education Mission and Vision 2020

One game-changing tool making this shift possible are the “virtual exchanges” taking place between Ravens on campus and their counterparts all over the world. “There are so many different models of virtual exchange, from a one-time [online] classroom speaker to a yearlong integrated project,” Spransy said. “And they can involve so many more participants than trips. These opportunities will make a huge difference for our students.”

This year, a number of teachers and their classes have leaned into the opportunities created by virtual exchanges, including these Upper School examples:

      In ninth-grade World History, students participated in an introductory virtual exchange with classes from multiple countries, including Moldova, Taiwan and Romania.

      Tomeiko Carter’s students in Honors Digital Media for Global Learning participated in virtual exchanges with students in India, Tanzania and Taiwan.

      Yi-Wen Liu’s Mandarin students are building their language skills and cultural knowledge through an ongoing virtual exchange with students at New Taipei Municipal Panchiao Senior High School in Taipei, Taiwan.

“It’s my second year working with them, and their teacher and I have become a good team, brainstorming more ideas to make connections,” Liu said. “Both of our freshmen classes did the Marshmallow Challenge [a group design-thinking exercise that emphasizes creativity and innovation] at the beginning of the year and exchanged photos of our class results. When the students started to exchange video messages, they were able to be more open-minded and share their learning experiences with each other. As a teacher, theres nothing more fulfilling than seeing how this virtual exchange ignites curiosity in students.”

Above, Mandarin students Frank Hassell ’25, Jin Jeong ’25, Sundesh Donthi ’25 and Ania Zhang ’25 complete the Marshmallow Challenge, a design-thinking exercise shared with fellow students in Taipei, Taiwan, via their virtual exchange.

In addition to these exciting Upper School opportunities, Lower School Spanish teacher Margaret Edwards piloted a pen pal program with children in Chile this year, and her Middle School colleague Catherine Hanes is working to set up something similar. “Global Education hopes to support other departments in all divisions in making these kinds of connections,” Spransy said. 

Director of Global Education Melanie Spransy (top row, second from left) moderates a breakout room discussing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as part of a virtual Global Exchange Benchmark Group global dialogue in the fall of 2021; in attendance are students from India, Turkey and the U.S.

As part of the virtual exchange with a class in Monterrey, Mexico, Global Issues students researched and presented their findings about cities in America; view Sofia Herbert ’24’s presentation on Branford, Connecticut, here.

Global Issues student Bryce Tascher ’23 presents his first-semester research project on a U.N. Sustainable Development Goal; students’ work was informed in part by the class’s virtual exchanges with students from around the world.

Exploring Global Challenges at Home

Global Issues student Connor Kowalczyk ’23 explores challenges and solutions to the immigration crisis at America’s southern border in this infographic, designed as an appeal to New Mexico senator Martin Heinrich.

Davis Anderson ’22, a passionate student of Global Education who is earning Ravenscroft’s International Diploma, has enthusiastically embraced the myriad opportunities presented by virtual exchanges.

“It’s hard to imagine having an international program during our times of COVID-related contact restriction, but the virtual programs I have engaged with as a part of my diploma experience have been so much more than merely substitutes for travel,” she wrote in a reflection (below) on the impact of her studies in Global Education. “By holding conversations and building cross-cultural empathy with students from India, California, Belarus and beyond, I’ve fundamentally changed the way I see our shared world.”

Get more details on today’s Global Education programming in this recording of Melanie Spransy’s presentation to Ravenscroft’s Global Parent Ambassadors on Jan. 12, 2022.