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Consortium blog: Casper van der Heijden

In this series, we interview the people behind VIS in higher education: Casper van der Heijden tells why he joined the consortium and what he thinks the added value of VIS is.

Casper van der Heijden is director at the Sharing Perspectives Foundation. Casper has 15 years of experience in virtual exchanges. For the past 10 years, he has focused entirely on promoting virtual exchanges within higher education in Europe and beyond.

The value of virtual exchanges

In education, methods and approaches are constantly evolving, especially at a time when globalisation and digital connection is the norm.Casper emphasises the intrinsic value of virtual exchange programmes in education. He is convinced that every student benefits from an international and intercultural experience as an integral part of their learning pathway. However, physical exchanges are not always feasible for all students due to financial constraints, interest differences or other commitments. Virtual exchanges are then a sustainable and accessible solution.

VIS encourages universities and colleges to embrace virtual exchange programmes. Casper points out that it is not enough to simply bring students from different backgrounds together in a virtual environment. It is about designing a structured process in which cross-cultural learning is facilitated and valuable interaction is established.

Virtual exchange requires a different approach than the traditional teaching approach. Therefore, it is good that there is a support component to help teachers shape that in the right way.

Casper van der Heijden

VIS consortium’s challenges and goals

The VIS consortium, of which Sharing Perspectives Foundation is an integral part, aims to support teachers in integrating virtual exchanges into their education. Casper indicates that it is important for teachers to be aware of the added value of this approach. He acknowledges that teachers are experts in their field, but that providing a virtual and intercultural learning experience requires a new approach.

Casper sees the growing participation of teachers in the support programme as a positive development, but he believes there is room for further growth. He encourages teachers to ((keep) thinking about how to integrate the intercultural dimension into their projects and how to guide students in developing intercultural skills.

Developments and future challenges and opportunities

An interesting development in the project is that more and more teachers are getting involved in VIS. There is a shift from teachers with experience in international and intercultural education to teachers who have no experience with it but see this method as valuable within their own teaching methods and are taking the opportunity to experiment with it and develop it further.This gives them the chance to discover how to effectively integrate this approach into their teaching and put their own stamp on it. The VIS support programme plays an important role in this development process. With a wide range of support options, ranging from personal walk-in sessions to helpful help desk and in-depth training sessions, the programme provides the guidance they need. The versatility of the activities offered, which appeal to both managers and teachers in the field, reinforces the inclusive approach.

The sustained growth in number of participants in the VIS project is encouraging and reflects a positive trend in the education sector. Although Casper stresses that the support programme needs to be constantly innovating to (continue to) highlight the added value for teachers.

Passion for intercultural learning

The conversation with Casper van der Heijden shows the value and challenges of virtual exchange programmes in education. As the VIS consortium continues to grow and innovate, it is clear that the efforts of Casper and his team are opening doors for a more inclusive and internationally focused educational experience for all students.

Think carefully about how you shape the intercultural component in your project. In what ways you allow students to work together, but also think about how you allow students to get to know each other better on a personal level. After all, a VIS project lacks the physical space and implicit way of getting to know each other in regular or physical education. So you will have to shape this.

Casper van der Heijden