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Virtual exchange program encourages teachers in the United States and the Middle East to collaborate

The program is designed to develop connections between U.S. and Middle East and North Africa educators and students, fostering empathy among participants and increasing cultural competencies.

A graphic of people on a video call on a laptop.

The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies and the University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies have collaborated to establish the Teachers Collaborating Across Borders Program, a unique opportunity for educators from the United States and teachers from the Middle East and North Africa region to engage in international dialogue and virtual exchange.

The program has two components; a virtual exchange between teachers in fall 2020, followed by a virtual exchange between their students in spring 2021. Developed by Lisa Adeli, director of educational outreach for University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and Emma Harver, director of outreach for the Duke-UNC Consortium of Middle East Studies, planning for the program began before the COVID-19 pandemic but 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 Middle East and North Africa educators and students, fostering empathy among participants and increasing cultural competencies.

Fifteen teachers from 11 U.S. states and 14 teachers from 10 countries across the Middle East and North Africa 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 participants are planning collaborative projects between their students for spring 2021; in pairs or groups, U.S. teachers and Middle East and North Africa teachers will implement a classroom project for their students to work on together. An estimated 800 students will participate in shared activities this semester 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 Teachers Collaborating Across Borders 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 will open in the coming months.