TIEC’s Commitment to Equity Through Virtual Exchange: Growing Capacity Across Texas

by Robin J. Lerner

Thirteen months ago, TIEC bid farewell to our last in-person exchange participants. A group of 11 K-12 English language teachers from Jordan, Tunisia, and Lebanon arrived in Austin only five days earlier. With jet lag just dissipating, they were in the groove for their 21-day program. As we watched the number of airport and border closures rapidly grow, we made the heartbreaking decision to send them home. I will never forget the looks of anguish and deep disappointment on their faces when they learned the news.

The painful closing of our in-person exchanges led to the opening of a new chapter for TIEC. As with most crises, opportunity lies somewhere within. Since its founding, TIEC has been committed to helping higher education institutions around the world increase their capacity to provide the highest quality, student-centered educational programs possible. For us, that always included a place for virtual and technology-enabled programs, but many educational institutions around the world were leery of too much online programming. When travel shut down, however, the demand for help to pivot to remote instruction grew, and with it, a sky-rocketing desire to develop virtual exchange (globally-connected classrooms) programs.

Bolstered by my long-held passion for virtual exchange (VE) with its affordability, scalability, and potential to bring equity to internationalization, the whole TIEC team jumped in to build new programs and launch them immediately. A year later, virtual exchange and connected classrooms capacity-building programs for faculty are central to our model, and there is no turning back now.

 We were grateful to find a partner in the Aspen Institute’s Stevens Initiative for our first large faculty capacity-building program between Texas, Egypt, and Jordan.  As we closed that successful program, it was clear the TIEC consortium model was perfectly suited for larger-scale VE training and scaling. With testimonial evidence in hand about the positive impact of our training on faculty, the next step was to better understand VE’s positive outcomes for students. We dug into the research and created a useful bibliography of studies showing connections between VE and student success and retention.

With these tools in our toolbox and the support of our consortium partners, we have now launched the TIEC Virtual Exchange Academy to continue robust faculty training and pairing. TIEC’s approach to virtual exchange training begins with co-design between faculty pairs, with a focus on the student experience. Ensuring collaboration between faculty pairs from the start is essential, along with built-in time to reflect, design, discuss, and peer-review. This experiential learning opportunity provides faculty the chance to design a virtual exchange experience for their students while immersed in a virtual exchange program themselves. Learning through doing, that’s the TIEC way.

Our first two-week course begins on June 14, 2021, with our second scheduled for November. Applications for the June course will be accepted through May.

 For more information, visit www.tiec.org/tiec-virtual-exchange-academy.


Robin J. Lerner, Esq., assumed the role of President and CEO of the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC) on September 5, 2017. Prior to this position, Ms. Lerner held leadership roles at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and the Bureau of Legislative Affairs. Ms. Lerner also served at U.S embassies Cairo and Baghdad. Ms. Lerner was a senior counsel on the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and spent some years posted in post-conflict operations throughout the Balkans for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. When not working, Ms. Lerner enjoys spending as much time as possible with her husband – a middle and high school STEM educator – and their two daughters.


TIEC’s Virtual Exchange Annotated Bibliography

Inside TIEC’s Virtual Exchange Program for Nursing in Egypt, Jordan, and Texas

News Alert: The Texas International Education Consortium Receives Grant From The Stevens Initiative to Connect Youth in The United States and The Middle East Through Virtual Exchange