Virtual Exchanges – The value of international student exchanges during Covid

Emma Robinson, Dr Paula Waterhouse & Luisa Wakelin

Dental Sciences

Faculty of Medical Sciences

Profiie photo of Emma Robinson

What did you do?

Created a four-week online virtual exchange between Newcastle University, Universitas Indonesia, and Fiji National University.  The exchange was open to both BDS and ODHS students. Very limited information was sent to students regarding what the exchange would involve, they were told that they would be linked up with students in other countries and that they would work on a collaborative project over 4 weeks. With this limited information 11 Newcastle students, 13 Indonesian and 13 Fijian students registered interest in the exchange.

Who is involved?

Emma Robinson – Clinical Fellow Dental Sciences

Dr Paula Waterhouse – Clinical Senior Lecturer/Consultant Dental Sciences

Dr Luisa Wakeling – Senior Lecturer Dental Sciences

Dr Nieka Andhara Wahono – Universitas Indonesia

Dr Leenu Maimanuku – Fiji National University

How did you do it?

The students were sent an exchange handbook and placed into smaller exchange groups loosely matched by their expressed areas of interest within dentistry. At least one student from each country was placed in each group resulting in 11 groups of 3-4 students.

The electives were split into two main parts.  The first part was about getting to know one another and learning about life and dentistry in different parts of the world. The second part entailed working together on a joint project and presenting this work.  Each exchange group had a breakout channel on Teams set up within a whole exchange group. We recommended that students initially use Microsoft Teams. It would allow them to communicate in a delayed fashion to accommodate the time difference. We also recommended setting up video chats. There was an awareness that there are many different platforms students may prefer and students were told if they wanted to move away from Teams they were welcome to so long as all of their group agreed.  Students were provided with a suggested timetable to help organise their time and advised they should have a minimum of 4 ‘live videocalls’.

An opening meeting was held. Here the leads from each university were introduced and exchange outlined, explained how it would work, and discussed the reflective journal we wanted the students to complete as they went along.

After the initial opening meeting, there was a deliberate ‘hands off’ approach, as it was more in the spirit of the elective to allow the students freedom to decide what they wanted to do and how, and that this would make a more meaningful and enriching endeavour. Further guidance and details of how the presentations would be marked was distributed. Students were asked to prerecord their 10-minute presentations and submit them 3 days before the final presentation meeting.

At the meeting, there were 11 amazing and varied presentations. It was clear the students had invested much time and enjoyed working with their international colleagues.  Along with the core exchange team, further faulty members from Indonesia and Fiji and a representative from Dundee Dental school who was keen to be part of the exchange in 2022.

All of the presentations were marked by staff and peers. A cash prize was available for the winning presentation from the North of England Odonatological Society. There was originally only going to be a single winning elective. The standard was so high there was a need for a first runner up and a joint 2nd runner up.

In this video we hear from Dr Paula Waterhouse and Dr Luisa Wakeling as they discuss their role in this project:

Why did you do it?

This option of virtual exchange was considered for our students last year (2020) when it became clear that they felt they were missing out because of Covid, as the travel restrictions and travel regulations meant their elective exchange programme wasn’t possible.

There was a need to find a way to connect our dental students with other dental students across the world. I remembered from my own elective in India how much I had gained from this experience.  Not just in terms of being in another country. But also in terms of self-growth and responsibility.  I didn’t want our students to miss out on this experience altogether. So, when developing the programme, we ensured the study was student-led and encouraged them to develop together.

Does it work?

The results were better than anticipated and highlighted the value of this type of exchange.

All the presentations were brilliant, with the students choosing an impressive range of subjects to focus on, from the impact of Covid on dentistry to comparative course structures and oral health initiatives. Many of them had been proactive, going out and speaking to experts in their chosen study areas to gain further insights.

The cultural exchange was very positive. Our students highlighted their shared experiences and interests with students from other places. They also reference learning about more cultures. It was a real positive that students from all locations felt they got the same benefits from the experience – making it an inclusive and equal experience for all involved.

In terms of my learning, it was remarkably similar to that of the students, as exchange organisers we all grew together. On a practical level, we shared experiences of working and teaching during a global pandemic. This sharing developed into practical support when Fiji went into a strict lockdown in March 2021. We shared information and our learning about dental aerosols and working online.

Student Voice

In this video we hear from students and their reflections from this project.

In this video we hear from Dr Paula Waterhouse and Dr Luisa Wakeling as they discuss their reflections from this project.

Graduate Framework

This approach develops the following attributes:

  • Engaged
  • Resilient
  • Creative, innovative, and enterprising
  • Future focused
  • Confident

Find out more about the Graduate Framework

See also

  • Expanding Horizons through virtual elective (internal only – News on Sharepoint) – five of the final year students who took part in the exchange talk about their participation, and how collaboration and conversation with dental students from other countries helped to enhance their learning.
  • Virtual Exchanges page on Learning and Teaching website

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