Collaborative Online International Learning

What is COIL and why haven’t I heard of it before?




Student Mobility

Over the past 50 or more years internationalization has been one of the top priorities of higher education institutions. Universities incorporated into their mission statements preparing their graduates for the global workplace and the focus to achieve this was centered on mobility projects to send students abroad and to have more and more foreign students on campus. In 1987 Erasmus, the European Union mobility program, was born in Europe and it gave a huge push to accrediting walking the internationalization walk. Internationalization soared; its numbers were its success indicator. Fast forward 33 years later and, unimaginably, mobility has suffered a serious setback. COVID has halted it in its tracks. It’s uncertain when students will be able to travel as before and since universities can’t back down from their internationalization pledge, COIL, or Collaborative Online International Learning, is starting to become a part of the limelight. 

What is COIL?

In the simplest of terms COIL means connecting as little as two classrooms from two different institutions in two different countries to carry out a learning project together. Most of these programs run for approximately 8 weeks and use English as the language of instruction. The most complex of COIL programs are in the making, limited only by imagination and resources. 

But when did COIL programs as we know them, get their start? 

In looking over the literature the official start was 2006 when The State University of New York (SUNY) launched the COIL Center. Jon Rubin was its director and if you are interested in understanding the history and reading about case-studies of institutions that initiated integrated COIL programs, his 2017 article published in the journal Internationalization of Higher EducationEmbedding Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) at Higher Education Institutions” is an excellent starting point.

Besides, consider also the COIL Playlist of Dr. Barbara Covarrubias Venegas on YouTube here, with several interviews of the #GCSC Management Team.

COILing is an excellent response to our current mobility crisis, and it’s bound to become a permanent feature. It weaves together academics, technology and international programs. What makes it so “cutting edge” is that it’s accessible. It fits well within one discipline or across them. It can use sophisticated tech but can be adapted to low bandwidth by combining synchronous as well as asynchronous activities. It provides a space to connect students, teachers and educators across the world.

How is the #GCSC Global Case Study Challenge an example of COIL?

The Global Case Study Challenge incorporates some of the better known COIL features into its program. It has icebreakers to help the students know and trust each other. By collaborating across the case-study tasks professors and students from varied international backgrounds come together and share diverse contributions to the common project. Underlying the whole design is reflection to transform what the students and professors know into new ways of thinking not only about themselves, but about others and the world around them. It has brought together over 20 institutions and over 600 students – the largest COIL program based in Europe thus far.

The GCSC takes up different forms of online (synchronous and asynchronous) and offline learning and thus creates a learning environment for the students that is very close to reality in practice. The heterogeneity of the student groups themselves also supports learning from each other and within the groups and makes the topic of intercultural and global cooperation, but also work in (partly) remote teams tangible for the students. The concept of this COIL project is based on two main learning areas: digital working environments, virtual intercultural cooperation.

What are the benefits of COIL and why should you seriously consider it?

There are many benefits beyond addressing non-mobility and internationalization goals. COIL gives students and faculty intercultural awareness and understanding, and better prepares them for international partnerships and for future travel and work abroad. It serves as a place to learn from a multiple variety of perspectives, giving students the skills to be better prepared for working in multicultural virtual teams. The success of a good COIL program is in its design and in the ability to address the learning objectives it sets out to accomplish. We know that online learning and working are here to stay either as stand-alone programs and workspaces or as part of hybrid models. So, time to look into it more seriously and join our Global Case Study Challenge COIL program!


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