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A blip on the landscape: Current issues in the design, sustainability and impact of telecollaboration

The practice of telecollaboration, also known as Online Intercultural Exchange (OIE), has been a part of foreign language education and CALL research since technology first offered us the means of interacting across geographic distance. As research has shown, OIE offers students the possibility to develop foreign language competence, intercultural awareness and digital literacies as well as to share and collaboratively construct knowledge in transnational networks on virtually any possible theme. It thus meets many of the areas targeted by educational policy makers in the European Commission. Yet despite this remarkable relevance, it has failed to achieve the impact, in terms of both breadth and also depth, that one would expect. As has been boldly claimed, “Virtual Exchanges make it possible for every young person to access high-quality international and cross-cultural education” ( So why is telecollaboration but a blip on the landscape in higher education?
A recent survey mapping OIE in the EU has revealed that telecollaboration remains the domain of highly motivated practitioners, many of whom have a research interest in this practice (Guth, Helm & O’Dowd 2012). The survey has confirmed many of the findings of small scale research studies as regards the barriers to telecollaboration, which include above all the time investment required, organizational issues, institutional recognition and also, particularly for novice telecollaborators, the need for pedagogic and technical support.
There is a clear need for Online Intercultural Exchange to become a more sustainable practice, and also for the field of OIE to have a great impact on higher education so that institutional barriers are gradually removed. This presentation will seek to identify some of the limitations in the design of telecollaboration projects and explore what some of the larger scale and more durable telecollaboration practices and models share. The paper will conclude with suggestions as to how the field of telecollaboration might move forward in order to increase its impact and sustainability.


Francesca Helm    
Dept of Political Science, Law and International Studies
University of Padova

Francesca Helm is a researcher at the Department of Politics, Law and International Studies at the University of Padova. She teaches English to students on second-level degree courses in International Politics and Diplomacy, European Studies and European Project Management. Her research is in the areas of intercultural communication and dialogue, online education, telecollaboration, the sociocultural context of Web 2.0 for language and intercultural learning, new online literacies, critical discourse analysis, and the use of English as a lingua franca. She has published book chapters and papers in international journals on telecollaboration in foreign language education.


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