Virtual foreign exchange program will give students global skills

A Michigan district’s virtual exchange program allows Chinese students to take American classes online, and vice versa.

Today’s students need to prepare for a globalized world, business leaders often say—but sending students abroad is usually too expensive for cash-strapped schools or parents. One Michigan school district is taking a unique approach to this challenge by establishing a virtual foreign exchange program so that students can take classes from teachers in other countries.

This fall, Oxford Community Schools will launch a virtual exchange program that allows American and Chinese students to take online classes taught by teachers on the other side of the globe.

The classes will be hosted by Oxford Virtual Academy, a school without walls within the district that already supports more than 500 full-time students and more than 250 part-time students.

Oxford’s launch of the program will begin with three virtual English classes for the students in China: TOEFL preparation, ACT preparation, and English composition.

Official enrollment for the China virtual exchange class will not begin until August, but the district expects class sizes of about 20 students during the pilot year for each of the three courses to be offered.

Many of the students will come from the Northeast Yucai Oxford International High School in Fushan, China. Students at the boarding school, established by Oxford Community Schools in April 2011, fulfill both national Chinese and American curriculum standards and graduate with a dual diploma. Two of Oxford’s sister schools in Beijing will participate in the virtual exchange as well.

Oxford students in Michigan, in turn, will be able to take virtual Mandarin language and Chinese culture classes taught by Chinese teachers, most likely beginning in the spring semester.

As the program grows, the district anticipates establishing similar virtual partnerships with other sister schools in countries such as Mexico and Spain, said William Skilling, superintendent of Oxford Community Schools and a winner of the 2012 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards from eSchool Media.

Students will have 24-7 access to course content. The classes will be synchronous despite the 12-hour time difference: American students most likely will attend their classes early in the morning, and Chinese students will log on late at night.

“Prepare our students to write at the college level—that was [the Chinese schools’] request to us,” said Andrew Hulbert, director of the Oxford Virtual Academy.

These initial courses for the Chinese students will focus on composition, because historically, Chinese students learning English have struggled most with expressing themselves in writing.

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