The BRIDGE Program is part of the Stevens Initiative, a public-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchanges between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens. The Initiative aims to increase mutual understanding between youth in middle school through post-secondary education, and equip a generation of globally-minded youth with the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world.

In the BRIDGE Program, iEARN provides professional online training and curriculum-based virtual exchange activities for educators in 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and their U.S. counterparts. Following an online course, educators will connect their students through asynchronous activities that will culminate in videoconference connections and community exhibitions in five thematic areas: environment, civic education, heritage, identity and tradition, food security, and arts and media production.

Through the BRIDGE Program, educators around the world participate in workshops and online courses to build their skills and knowledge for technology, cross-cultural collaboration, and project-based learning. Educators then connect their students to collaborate on global projects, connecting classes across diverse subject areas including math, social studies, language arts, sciences, technology, music and more. Educators connect their students through iEARN’s secure online platform to meet their peers, share ideas and work together on projects through asynchronous forum discussions and media exchanges. Since the projects align with one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals, students are also working collaboratively toward the enhancement of the quality of life on the planet.

The Need

In order to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world, young people need to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to engage in lifelong, cross-cultural learning and collaboration. Yet, while opportunities for international exchange are expanding rapidly in many countries around the world, only a small fraction of students currently have access to some kind of international experience. Using the Internet and web 2.0 tools to provide connectivity, virtual exchange programs increase the number and diversity of students worldwide who have a profound cross-cultural experience as a part of their education.

For educators interested in providing these online global education experiences for their students, a quick internet search yields many opportunities and resources. It can be difficult for an educator new to virtual exchange to find the right project and build the necessary skills to engage their class in collaborative projects with their global peers. Proven cross-cultural exchange learning models and curricula are needed for educators to guide their students in understanding how to use new media and technologies to explore global issues, connect with global peers, and take action on issues of mutual concern.

The professional development pathways and structured project exchanges in the BRIDGE Program play a key role in supporting and guide these educators in integrating virtual exchange projects into their curriculum. Without this community of support and professional development opportunities, few educators and students participate in virtual exchange projects.