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Research and Development through Virtual Teacher Mobility during COVID-19

To develop online teaching and learning during the pandemic, we decided to join forces between two Erasmus+ projects, Learn to Change (Erasmus+ KA2) and VALIANT (Erasmus+ KA3).

Published : 05.12.2022

We engaged in digital collaboration to observe and analyze successes and challenges of virtual teamwork and online interaction. As a result, we came up with best practices for virtual team building and digital co-learning.

During COVID-19, many Erasmus+ project events were moved online and many types of virtual mobility experiments were arranged between university teachers and students around Europe. In our digital innovation project Learn to Change, we arranged several virtual mobility experiments between the project partners, visiting each other’s classrooms and projects online. In one of these experiments, we collaborated with a European policy experimentation project in teacher education, VALIANT – Virtual Innovation and Support Networks for Teachers.

Applied research through critical friend observations and interviews

The purpose of the virtual mobility activities between the two projects was to critically observe the online interaction of virtual project teams during their 7-week virtual exchange (VE) arranged by the VALIANT project. The VE participants were European in-service primary teachers, and their project challenge was to innovate solutions for classroom inclusion and diversity through collaborating across cultures.

In our virtual mobility experiment, one Portuguese teacher worked as part of the team of VE facilitators and one Finnish teacher participated in the VE as a critical friend. The critical friend method is an applied research method that introduces an external perspective to teaching and learning. The critical friend acts as a trusted person who engages in observation throughout the teaching and learning process and provides “structured feedback and constructive criticism” (Özek et al., 2012). In our case, the critical friend method helped the VE facilitators gain better insight into coaching virtual project teams. The aim was to encourage the facilitators to reflect on their coaching practices and to try out new ways to support virtual project teams in co-learning.

To complement the critical friend observations and feedback, we also interviewed selected VE participants after the completion of their project. The interview themes were the same as those used in the critical friend observations and discussions: virtual team building, virtual team leadership, co-learning, and the use of digital tools. Finally, key insights from critical friend discussions and interviews were analyzed with an aim to develop practical ways to support virtual project teams in their online interaction.

Key takeaways from the virtual mobility collaboration

The advantages of the research collaboration between the two Erasmus+ projects were many. By joining forces, we managed to increase our knowledge and understanding of virtual teams and their online interaction. As a result, both projects grew better equipped to design pedagogical support for their respective challenges of digital collaboration and co-creation.

Our research results highlighted the importance of building a positive and trusting team atmosphere through both formal and informal discussions between team members. Another key finding was that virtual project teams need support and scaffolding related to team leadership and shared leadership. We also found that the process of virtual co-learning benefits from systematic time-management across cultures. VE participants appreciated scheduled synchronic sessions where team members were able to discuss face to face online. Such synchronous sessions via a video-conferencing program were found useful even when they lasted for only a short time (15–30 minutes). Hands-on peer coaching was regarded as the most effective method to learn to use, and gain courage to apply, new digital tools.


Özek, Y. H., Edgren, G., & Jandér,K. (2012). Implementing the critical friend method for peer feedback among teaching librarians in an academic setting. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 7:4, 68–81.