Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto, Japan [Wikimedia User:Basile Morin]

American Council on Education and Kansai University Launches Rapid Response Virtual Exchange Program in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic


To sustain global higher education connections in the face of COVID-19, the American Council on Education and Kansai University launched a rapid response virtual exchange program in July 2020. The exchange is a three-month long program which features 15 higher education partnerships between US and Japanese universities.

The program provides professional training of faculty, senior leadership, and administration by Virtual Exchange/ Collaborative Online International Learning (VE/COIL) experts through a three-week online development course. The VE/COIL method, referred colloquially as virtual exchange, is a cost effective and accessible method for a great number of US Higher Education students who do not have the opportunity to participate in study abroad. Developed and promoted by the State University of New York (SUNY) COIL Center, COIL is an innovative pedagogy involving collaborative teaching and shared learning between two countries through online communication. This format combines experiential cross-cultural learning with traditional face-to-face sessions at respective institutions: an adaptable and suitable format for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through dialogue and collaboration with COIL experts, University of Montana and Sophia University are among the 15 partner teams which have benefited from the rapid response virtual exchange program. According to the Global Engagement Office at University of Montana, the faculty from Montana and Sophia Universities collaborated to develop a joint syllabus, allowing the students to work together and complete assignments that will meet shared learning objectives. The virtual exchange courses developed as a result of the rapid response program are expected to go into effect either in the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 academic semesters.

While the rapid response virtual exchange program is a novel program, it is part of an effort resulting from the larger US-Japan COIL Initiative, a two-year pilot program (2018-19) which promotes multicultural education and connections between the two countries. It is supported through a grant from the US Embassy in Tokyo and coordinated with Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

According to the Institute for Innovative Global Education (IIGE) at Kansai University, 64 US Universities, 10 Japanese Universities and 14 non-US Universities have participated in COIL Initiatives.

Htet Thadar Aung is a Research Intern in the Young Professionals Program at East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate of Smith College with majors in Government and Religion.