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The first online International Virtual Exchange Conference 2020

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The largest event on virtual exchange, hosted by Newcastle University, took place on 14-16 September as an online conference for the first time, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Background of event:

Virtual Exchange (VE) is a research-informed practice that delivers structured participatory education programmes to individuals from different cultures and communities around the world. All VE programmes are delivered in a structured way with the support of educators or facilitators. This was the second conference of its kind following the inaugural IVEC event which was held in Tacoma, Washington, USA in 2019.

IVEC attracts delegates from world-leading universities representing lecturers, researchers, deans, directors, and internationalisation officers who have the capability to transform learnings from VE development into practice, benefiting students across the globe.

The conference theme of IVEC 2020 was Towards Digital Equity in Internationalisation, and welcomed 495 delegates from 47 countries in different corners of the world, to discuss the current state and the future of online intercultural communication and collaborative learning. Although the organising committee was disappointed not to be able to host the delegates on site, they were pleased to enable about 90 pre-recorded presentations, 27 live workshops/symposia, 15 live networking/social sessions and a variety of communication opportunities.

Interview with Dr Muge Satar of the organising committee:

Before the decision to move online, why was NewcastleGateshead originally chosen as the location for your event?

NewcastleGateshead was originally chosen to host the conference thanks to Newcastle University’s wealth of academic expertise in the field of VE learning. Newcastle University’s commitment to UN Sustainable Development Goals was also a factor. I am an executive board member of UNICollaboration, which is one of the supporting institutions of IVEC, which also played a key role in the decision. The city’s strong international travel links and accessibility by both plane and train, multiple accommodation options suitable for a variety of attendee needs, and the vibrant environment with restaurants, museums, iconic landmarks and attractions were also considered during the selection process.

How did NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau support you along the way?

We are grateful to the support we received from the NewcastleGateshead Convention Bureau. As we prepared for the onsite conference, they built an accommodation website very quickly and helped us choose appropriate options suited to the needs of our delegates. They were also a brilliant point of contact for us when we explored venues for our conference dinner. They helped us identify regional contacts who could run social events when the decision to move the conference online was made. They also wrote and issued a press release which helped ensure a high level of publicity for the event.

What were some of the challenges you faced by hosting an online event, and how did you overcome them?

Newcastle University is now at the forefront of running online conferences worldwide, with excellent content and networking sessions offering an engaging, inclusive, and interactive online experience. The main challenge of IVEC2020 was to enable engagement among delegates from various time zones (including participants from Brazil, Mexico, the USA, Japan, China, and Australia) and with various levels of access to technologies. The conference catered for this by including both synchronous (live) but also asynchronous (recorded) content, interaction opportunities and social activities.

How did you manage to retain a sense of the destination throughout the event, despite it being virtual?

Some of our social events included facilitated networking sessions by leaders in VE, a live rapid mingle, a virtual city tour offered by Newcastle City Guides, and a live virtual music session. We had a dedicated page to Newcastle for our delegates to explore our region:

Attendees were able to ask questions, leave comments, and interact with each other on the conference platform through its messaging and commenting features as well as the community pages. The asynchronous content, interaction opportunities and social activities were available to attendees for three months after the conference.

Conference date
14 - 16 September 2020

Total delegates


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