In this reflection, I will talk about my own experience in running virtual exchange programs at the higher institute of Technological Studies of Beja, Tunisia with partner universities and how the ONL experience affected my ability to facilitate virtual exchange programs.

But first, I want to highlight the importance of learning in communities. In my opinion, these skills must be taught to students at the university level and even before if it is possible, as graduates might work at companies that have subsidiaries across many regions in the world. One can be located for example in Tunisia and collaborate with colleagues in the UK. Learning in communities fosters teamwork, the effective exchange of information, and offers a wide range of leadership roles and skill building opportunities.

So back to my experience. The virtual exchange program consists in connecting   students from Tunisia, Palestine, and USA to work in multicultural groups on problems related to social entrepreneurship with the purpose of addressing the sustainable development goals. The idea in initiating this kind of collaborations with partner universities is to prepare students to act as global citizens apart from widening the network of our university and increasing its visibility at the international level. We announced the project on social media and via emails. Students who were interested in the program, expressed heir interest. Subsequently, an interview was run with the students in which we tried to create a feeling of comfort and trust between the different members. Then, series of workshop related to entrepreneurship was given to assist the students in their projects.

What I can conclude about the performance of the students is that most of them were not aware of the importance and the benefit of the exchanges which can strengthen their cv as some of them dropped from the program. One could ask these questions: Why students are behaving in this way? Is it a matter of age? Was it the fault of their teacher who couldn’t convince them that employers look for soft skills and not only technical skills? Or maybe probably is it the fault of the educational system that focuses mainly on technical subjects and keep students busy, so they don’t find time to widen their networks or do volunteer work, or participate in this kind of projects?

However, by comparing the attitude of our PBL group 10 in the sense how we respect the group rules, the difference is huge compared to the behaviour of my students. In my opinion, when getting older, our experiences build up.  We all know that we must have a wide network to increase our opportunities. Then, the big question that I want to ask is how can I increase the awareness of the students to participate actively in these VE programs?

The ONL experience helped me to gain skills on how to facilitate programs involving many members with different backgrounds, different schedules, etc. I believe for future iterations students must get more support and guidance. It is not wise to leave them on their own and just ask them for outcomes at the end. It is very likely that they pull out if they struggle with some tasks or if they lack confidence especially if we take the language barrier into consideration.

Reflections on Learning in communities, Network collaborative learning