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Virtual Exchange Program Encourages Cross-Border Collaborations Between Teachers in the United States and the Middle East

The Duke-University of North Carolina (UNC) Consortium for Middle East Studies and the University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies (UA CMES) have collaborated to establish the Teachers Collaborating Across Borders Program (TCAB) which provides a unique opportunity for teachers in the United States and teachers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to engage in international dialogue and virtual exchange.

 

The program was developed by Emma Harver, director of outreach for the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, and the late Lisa Adeli, former director of educational outreach for UA CMES. It consists of two components, a virtual exchange between the first participants of U.S.-MENA teachers in fall 2020, followed by a virtual exchange between their students in spring 2021. Planning the exchange program began before the COVID-19 pandemic, and implementation has become even more relevant as demand for virtual partnerships between teachers and students at the K–12 level has increased.

 

This program is developing connections between U.S. and MENA educators and students, fostering empathy among the participants, and increasing their cultural competencies. Fifteen teachers from 11 U.S. states, and 14 teachers from 10 countries across the MENA region, met throughout the fall for structured discussions of educational topics. Through both synchronous sessions on Zoom and an active asynchronous forum, the educators explored different school structures, student demographics, and immigration and migration, among other subjects. “It is my great honor to be accepted to take part in this TCAB program. It is an important opportunity to get in contact with other people from other countries and share professional experience and interact socially,” reflected Dorgam Zahalka, an English teacher in a Bedouin village in Israel.

 

Currently, the teachers are planning collaborative projects between their students for spring 2021. U.S. teachers and MENA teachers will implement a classroom project for their students to work on together in pairs or groups. An estimated 800 students will participate in shared activities that focus on topics ranging from recycling to immigration to food traditions.

 

“As a teacher in a small, rural school in Indiana, the Teachers Collaborating Across Borders is invaluable. Many of my students and their families seldom travel outside the county and have little opportunity to meet someone who may experience life differently,” shared Jane Phillips, a middle school teacher in Nashville, Indiana. “The TCAB program has allowed my students to meet, albeit virtually, peers from around the world, and I see their eyes, minds, and hearts opening right before me.”

 

Through virtual interactions among peers around the world, the TCAB program is helping participants understand different cultures, engage in shared conversations about topics of mutual interest, and globalize their classrooms to support their students in becoming more knowledgeable about the world. A call for fall 2021 participants is currently open, with an application deadline of April 30, 2021.

 

Teachers Collaborating Across Borders is a collaboration between the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies and the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arizona, with support from a Title VI National Resource Centers grant from the U.S. Department of Education. 

 

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