story by Claire Miller
Associate Professor Yali Zhao is one of two inaugural recipients of Georgia State University’s Virtual Exchange Faculty Fellowship.
This fellowship, given by the Office of International Initiatives, supports faculty members as they conduct retrospective and current analyses of virtual exchange (VE) programs’ impact on student success.
Zhao has led in-person study abroad trips, exchange programs and virtual exchange programs for most of her academic career. She began implementing virtual exchanges 11 years ago with Professor Emerita Nannette Commander, and has been leading university faculty in the Teaching and Learning Community on International Virtual Exchange since 2019. These exchanges allowed their students to share and discuss educational research, theory and practice with students at several universities, including the Education University of Hong Kong, Beijing Normal University, Capital Normal University and Sichuan Normal University in China.
She continued leading in-person study abroad programs in China before the COVID-19 pandemic and has successfully incorporated VE programs in her classes every semester since 2018.
Virtual exchanges not only give all students – regardless of income or cultural background – the opportunity to connect with people from other countries, but they also give students a more global perspective.
“My students enjoy the experience of interacting with students in other countries. They recognize the differences and commonalities between them, and students learn how we can understand and respect each other,” Zhao said. “These programs also help future educators teach culturally diverse students and become more open-minded and globally-minded in their classrooms.”
In 2019, the Office of International Initiatives asked Zhao to mentor other university faculty in incorporating VE programs into their coursework. She created an iCollege class on these international exchanges and has been coordinating and meeting virtually with faculty across campus monthly to share tips and best practices for creating and improving such programs. She has contributed largely to the dramatic growth of virtual exchange programs at Georgia State.
Zhao will focus her new fellowship on studying outreach, training and sustainability for virtual exchange programs. She will have the opportunity to work with university-level units, such as Institutional Research and Faculty Affairs, to introduce VE programs to faculty and develop standardized teaching methods for VE courses.
“Faculty who are interested can start with something small. It doesn’t have to be a full course – it can be a three- to four-week project, and we can build on it from there,” Zhao said. “It is beneficial for our faculty and students to take the lead in globalizing our curriculum and develop cross-cultural and global competency.”
To learn more about virtual exchanges at Georgia State, visit https://international.gsu.edu/virtualexchange.