Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL)
COIL is a pedagogical approach to virtual global learning in which faculty members at institutions in different countries work together to co-develop a shared component for their respective classes. Students enroll in the course, and earn credit, through their home institution and use technology to work across cultures on joint projects.
Virtually connected classrooms, including those using COIL, support SDSU’s strategic plan in multiple ways. They expand and deepen SDSU’s global impact by engaging in collaborative projects with existing and new partners abroad. They strengthen SDSU’s shared identity by unifying our campuses and microsites by making international experiences available to students in all locations. Since the traditional barriers to study abroad do not exist for virtually connected classrooms, they increase access to global learning thereby advancing critical diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They are student centered enabling affordable international experiences that build compassion and cultural humility without leaving the country. They advance SDSU’s global and environmental sustainability efforts by eliminating the need for air travel and associated greenhouse gas emissions. And finally, they facilitate rich collaborations between SDSU faculty and faculty abroad, which may lead to or develop from, joint research projects.
Many COIL structures exist and only the collaborating faculty members can decide how best to design their COIL module. Below are some examples of how COIL modules may be structured.
|Overview & Expectations||Research on Target Culture||Topical Readings||COIL Module (5-12 weeks)||Critical Self-Reflection|
|Introduction||Assignment A||Team Building and Developing Trust||Group Projects||Presentations||Reflection||Assignment B|
|Partner University Course|
|Team Building and Developing Trust||Group Projects||Presentations||Reflection|
|Partner University Course|
|Assignment A||Assignment B||COIL Module (5-12 weeks)||Assignment C|
|Team Building and Developing Trust||Group Projects||Presentations||Reflection||Assignment A||Assignment B|
|Partner University Course|
As noted by de Wit (2013), “The term ‘collaborative online international learning’ combines the four essential dimensions of real virtual mobility: it is a collaborative exercise of teachers and students; it makes use of online technology and interaction; it has potential international dimensions; and it is integrated into the learning process.”
Email Dr. Adrienne Fusek at [email protected] to join SDSU's COIL community of practice email group.
If you are 1) an SDSU faculty member seeking a COIL teaching partner or 2) a faculty member at an institution located outside the USA who is interested in developing a COIL project with an SDSU faculty member, please complete the COIL partnering survey.
Creating a COIL module requires close collaboration between the faculty members as well as by their respective students. The faculty members co-create the shared content, which generally includes a rapport building exercise (i.e. icebreakers), organizing students into work groups, project-based learning assignments, project presentations, followed by reflection. The faculty members also jointly develop shared learning outcomes for the COIL module (which may differ from course learning outcomes) and evaluation and grading criteria. Holding students at both institutions to the same standards (e.g. participation, group work, etc.) optimizes the experience for all involved. COIL modules are structured so that the success of students in each class depends upon the others’.
Students work with their peers at the partner university to collaboratively complete the COIL module assignments. Regular communication between faculty members and students is key to a successful COIL module. The first joint assignment together should guide students as they explore their cultural differences and build a foundational knowledge of the benefits and potential challenges of working across cultures. Discomfort should be expected and paired with guided critical self-reflection.
COIL is not a technology platform. Instead, it is team-teaching across cultures using whichever online communication technologies are best suited for the task. In fact, several platforms may be used throughout the module. For example, videoconferencing may be best for introductory conversations among students, online discussion boards may be utilized for student teams to share their project progress, faculty at both institutions may provide asynchronous video lectures, students could communicate outside the formal class structure using social media, or Google docs could be used to co-create written assignments. Ultimately, the technologies utilized should be readily available to students in both countries. Fortunately, there are many free options.
COIL is not a replacement for study abroad. However, it is not uncommon for COIL courses to include an international component. Unlike some traditional study abroad programs, COIL provides an intentional, structured way for students and faculty to engage across cultures. According to one student, “I would love to have at least one COIL class every semester. It really changed my whole academic experience and my personal life. I’ve been so eager to have that experience again… It really broadened my horizons” (SUNY COIL Center, Perspectives on COIL).
Unlike study abroad, COIL does not have the added expense of international travel. Additionally, it does not require students to leave their personal or work obligations that they manage at home. Because of these factors, COIL is a powerful tool to engage all SDSU students in global learning regardless of income, time constraints, family or work commitments, or interest in international travel. All students deserve the opportunity to engage in a meaningful global learning experience. COIL democratizes global learning by removing many barriers that have traditionally stood between underserved students and international experiences.
COIL is integrated into the learning process. Faculty members at SDSU and at the partner institution should customize it to fit the mission, culture, and learning outcomes of their department and broader institutional goals. COIL is applicable to any discipline and has been successful across disciplines. Although the majority of COIL modules have been offered in English or in a target language as a language course, tools such as Google translate can be used to narrow language gaps.
If I develop a COIL module, will I be compensated?
Developing a new COIL module requires a significant time commitment. International Affairs is exploring ways to compensate faculty members for COIL development with course release time or a stipend.
Is language a barrier for the projects? If so, how should it be overcome?
Overcoming the challenges presented by language differences is key to ensuring student success on both sides of the COIL module. You may choose to integrate a language component so students receive introductory language training then use apps such as Google Translate to help bridge the gap. Depending on the time and resources available, it may be possible to have lectures subtitled.
You mention that COIL can be offered with study abroad. Can you explain further?
COIL modules have been successfully combined with a travel component. For example, you may decide to virtually connect with a partner institution prior to an in-country element. This could involve you taking your students to the partner institution and/or the partner institution students and faculty member coming to San Diego.
Is COIL appropriate for my discipline?
COIL has been successful across all disciplines and often connects courses in different disciplines. It is an effective way to engage students in an intercultural context while delving deep into their major area of study or exploring its intersections with other disciplines. For example, an HTM class could be paired with a Hospitality course in Japan to facilitate the exploration the differences and similarities of the U.S. American and Asian perspectives on hospitality and service. Conversely, a public health course at SDSU could be paired with an architecture course at a university abroad. Projects for this group could include students co-designing various buildings (e.g. offices, hospitals, DMVs, etc.) that promote wellbeing.
Does COIL have to be offered with a university abroad? Can I create COIL with a business
or NGO instead?
COIL facilitates project-based learning across cultures and could certainly be offered with organizations other than colleges or universities. However, it is important that students work with peers from different cultures. Recruiting students in the target culture may be arranged by your industry colleagues abroad but would likely add a layer of coordination on their part.
Can International Affairs connect me with a co-instructor abroad?
We are exploring ways to connect SDSU faculty members with faculty members at our existing partner institutions. Please contact us to indicate your interest in future efforts. However, if you have existing relationships with colleagues abroad, you certainly may develop a COIL module together.
What technology can I use?
There is not one specific platform that we recommend. Instead, you will work with your co-instructor abroad to determine the best technologies to meet your needs. We highly recommend testing each platform prior to starting your course.
How does grading work?
It is important that you and your co-instructor reach agreement on your shared expectations regarding COIL participation and student accountability. To the degree possible, students at both institutions should be held to the same standards. Maintaining consistency across institutions regarding participation expectations and grading helps ensure a positive student experience. Grading for your COIL module will be integrated into the overall course grade.
Do my students need to enroll in the course offered abroad?
No, SDSU students enroll in the SDSU course and the students at the partner institution enroll in the course at their institution.
Will COIL fulfill my students’ international experience requirement?
This will be determined by their college. Please consult with your college International Affairs Liaison and encourage them to contact International Affairs with questions.
What components should I include in my COIL module?
The goals of COIL are to engage students in an intercultural experience that challenges them to:
- Critically reflect on their own identity in relation to their peers abroad
- Assess ways in which their personal choices and actions may affect those in other parts of the world
- Integrate diverse perspectives on global issues through engagement with and learning from their peers abroad
- Develop tools to stay informed and engaged with global challenges through ongoing learning
To achieve these goals, we recommend integrating assignments that require students to research the target culture, discuss expected challenges to working together, critically self-reflect on what made them uncomfortable about the experience and why, consider the role culture plays in their own and their peers’ behavior, explicitly ask them to identify the tools they will use to stay informed of global issues. Of course, your specific requirements and assessments will be unique to your course.
Please note these outcomes may evolve as we engage more faculty feedback. Updated Global Learning Outcomes will be provided on the International Affairs website.
Is IT support available?
SDSU’s Instructional Technology Services (ITS) is available to support you in the effective uses of academic technologies for your COIL module. The best way for faculty to access ITS's support is via its.sdsu.edu/support. When considering appropriate technologies for your course goals, it is critical that your co-instructor and students at the partner institution have access to the same technology.
Can COIL be developed with more than one partner abroad?
Absolutely! While it may be more challenging to work with co-instructors in different countries across different time zones, it certainly is possible.
Where can I find more resources?
Although peer-reviewed articles on the COIL pedagogical approach are still limited, many institutions around the world are successfully using COIL and a good deal of information is available online. The SUNY COIL Center is the most comprehensive resource for COIL in the U.S. You may visit them at http://coil.suny.edu/
Do students have to pay an additional fee to participate?
Students do not pay an extra fee for a COIL course compared to a non-COIL course.
How long is the normal timeline for the establishment of a COIL module from idea to
Because COIL courses are bi-lateral and require the active participation of at least two instructors based at different institutions, the complete process of engagement and course development usually takes at least three months and more often six months. If you already have a commitment from a partner institution and have identified interested and motivated instructors at both institutions, you could certainly develop COIL for this upcoming spring semester (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2020).
In a typical COIL module what percentage of the format is asynchronous? Synchronous?
There is a spectrum of possible course formats that determines the answer to that question, so it is hard to generalize. This decision is also shaped by the time difference between the partners, the level of common language fluency and the network bandwidth available to students, especially if they do not have access to university technology during the pandemic. We suggest 75% asynchronous and 25% synchronous might be typical, but there are certainly cases where these percentages would be reversed or where a course might be either 100% synchronous or asynchronous (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2020).
The most difficult part in this program is finding students to participate. How can
I persuade my students to join?
In most cases, students enroll in courses that have a COIL component without knowing they will have this experience. That is, COIL is usually added to pre-existing courses as an overlay or as a new unit, possibly replacing part of the course content. Students may only find out they will work with international students when they attend their first class. The advantage of this model is that the students least likely to select an international experience will be brought into one, possibly having a transformative experience. However, it is also possible to promote the international COIL module prior to registration. In most cases this attracts students, who usually do not require much persuasion and are often curious and enthusiastic (Canadian Bureau for International Education, 2020).
In general, how many students do you recommend for COIL programs?
It varies but we recommend that students work in small, intercultural teams so there are ways to manage large groups and to balance unequal class sizes. Small groups are usually 4-6 students per team (with at least 2 on each side of the partnership) (100,000K Strong in the Americas, 2020).
How do you manage the time when you work with people in different zones?
COIL modules do not have to be synchronous, in fact, it can be difficult to create synchronous opportunities even if the time zones are similar because the classes for both professors and their students are usually at different times. But you can create opportunities for students to have synchronous meetings with a small group of students they are partnering with outside of class if that is appropriate for your goals, and students could record their interactions for you (Zoom or similar) (100,000K Strong in the Americas, 2020).
Are there any drawbacks or limitations of using COIL? or things that we might consider
when doing this collaborative work?
It is very rewarding, but is time consuming. Certainly, well worth the effort! (100,000K Strong in the Americas, 2020).
100,000K Strong in the Americas. (2020, June 25). Tools & tips for virtual education
An introduction to collaborative online international education (COIL) and 100K
partnerships [Webinar]. http://www.100kstrongamericas.org/webinars/
Canadian Bureau for International Education. (2020, May 28). Introduction to COIL
de Wit, H. (2013, June 1). COIL—virtual mobility without commercialisation. University
SUNY COIL Center. (2020, June 20). SUNY COIL Homepage.
SUNY COIL Center. (2020, June 20). Perspectives on COIL.
Ward, H. H. (2016). Internationalization in Action: Special Edition, Connecting Classrooms:
Using online technology to deliver global learning. American Council on Education.