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COIL: Globalizing the Classroom

COIL, an acronym for Collaborative Online International Learning, is an approach that facilitates the connection of students and educators from different cultures, enabling them to learn, discuss, and collaborate. This methodology is a growing global virtual work tool that promotes interculturality and internationalization within the classroom.

International students chat while sitting in the patio of the San Joaquin Campus.

photo_camera According to Lilian Ferrer, Vice President of International Affairs, methodologies like COIL—grounded in active, collaborative, and intercultural learning—are integral to cultivating the global skills the university aims to instill in its students. (Photo by: César Cortés)

The pandemic has ushered in a profound transformation by integrating virtual elements into our daily lives, fundamentally reshaping how we connect with others and navigate life. In this evolving landscape, various institutions have seized the opportunity to establish an international collaborative working methodology that operates virtually: Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL).

Lilian Ferrer, Vice President for International Affairs, emphasizes that this methodology is integral to our university's commitment to impart global competency training. "Learning to work with people from different cultures, whether in person or remotely, to appreciate the ideas and experiences of others, and to build bridges and dialogues, is now essential for success in the globalized job market and addressing the significant challenges facing our planet." 

What is COIL? This innovative approach hinges on active, collaborative, and intercultural learning. In this approach, two or more professors from different institutions collaborate to plan and implement projects involving students from diverse universities jointly. These sessions last 4 to 6 weeks in synchronous and asynchronous formats. During this time, students engage in various activities, including "icebreaker" exercises collaborative tasks, and conclude with a final reflection.

COIL collaborations typically progress through five distinct phases in the classroom:

  1. Team Formation: Ideally comprised of students from both universities.
  2. Comparative Discussions and Project Organization: Students coordinate for effective teamwork.
  3. Collaborative Project Development.
  4. Reflection and Project Completion: The final result is presented to the teaching group.
  5. Evaluation: Satisfaction surveys are administered, enabling students to provide feedback on their collaborative experience.

Today, there are 13 COILs registered and developed at UC Chile. Regarding the benefits of this methodology for students, Felipe Herrera, coordinator of the Internationalization at Home program of the Office of the Vice President of International Affairs (VRAI, as its Spanish acronym), said: "COIL fosters global competencies, language learning, and intercultural interaction. Students are confronted with peers from another institution with whom they must learn to collaborate and share talents, skills, and culture. This exercise encourages problem-solving, innovation, and critical thinking." Moreover, COIL serves as a teaching tool in diverse cultural contexts. It is presented as a means of internationalization without necessitating physical mobility.

Collaboration Experiences

According to Alejandra Espinosa, the COIL methodology challenges teachers and students by pushing them out of their comfort zones. One noteworthy instance was the registration of one of the first COILs during the second semester of 2019 in her Public Health course within the Nutrition and Dietetics degree. In a bold move, the professor initiated a COIL collaboration with the Universidad Cayetano Heredia in Perú and the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, institutions she regards as "very good partners." Effective teacher communication played a critical role in successfully implementing the COIL methodology. It facilitated coordinated adjustments to schedules and course content, aligning efforts to provide a shared learning experience for students.

While she admits that this collaboration is time-consuming and labor-intensive, the rewards and benefits for her students are far greater: "Trying to communicate and understand each other, whether it's across regions or borders, online is the most immediate way. It prompts us to view local issues globally and reconsider solutions where we all share some level of responsibility in being part of those solutions," said Alejandra Espinosa.

In September of this year, Professor Espinosa's COIL won the 2023 Good Teaching Practices Contest of the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Universidad Cayetano Heredia. Her proposal was titled: "Global Shared Learning - Classroom (COIL): An International Experience of Mexico, Chile, and Peru on Food Transition and Climate Change."

In light of this recognition, the faculty expressed pride in representing the UC Chile in these positive initiatives. For her, they emphasize the importance of promoting and publicizing COIL and other existing international collaboration methodologies. "Winning this competition reinforces how rewarding it is, as a teacher, to introduce these innovative methodologies into course syllabi. It inspires me to enhance and refine this approach, to ensure that students' learning experiences become progressively enriching, shaping individuals capable of thriving in intercultural environments with their unique perspectives and worldview."

"It challenges us to view local issues globally and reconsider solutions where we all share some level of responsibility for being part of those solutions," said Alejandra Espinosa, Nutrition and Dietetics professor.

Another teacher who has worked with COIL is Lili Almási-Szabó from the School of Anthropology. In 2021, she received an invitation from Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, to start a COIL focused on migration issues, which fit with the course she was teaching. In a personal reflection, she noted that initially, students had different expectations about the migration course because her counterpart was from the United States. However, as the course unfolded and they realized the significant presence of international students, their expectations evolved positively. "It was an unexpected gem. The perspective on migration was truly fascinating for UC Chile students. We didn't expect that level of connection, considering the cultural differences," she added.

While the methodology yielded positive outcomes, it had its complications. Professor Lili Almási-Szabó underscored the crucial role of institutional support, emphasizing the need for assistance in terms of technology and logistics to ensure the smooth implementation of these methodologies. "It's wonderful to have this cross-cultural and interdisciplinary experience, but, on the other hand, it demands a significant time investment. External support is essential; otherwise, it's not feasible," she emphasized.

As a novel technique, potential complications may impact collaboration, emphasizing the importance of evaluating commitment and effort before execution.

"It was an unexpected gem. It was fascinating for the UC students to understand migration from that perspective. Considering the cultural differences, we didn't expect that level of connection." - Lili Almási-Szabó, Professor from the School of Anthropology.

UC Chile's Dedication to International Collaboration and Global Integration

Teacher and students actively chatting during a class.
According to VRAI's (as its Spanish acronym) Director of Global Training, Maribel Florez: "We aim to support and inspire our teachers to explore these internationalization methods locally because both teachers and students stand to gain from it." (Photo by: Karina Fuenzalida)

As outlined in UC Chile's 2020-2025 Development Plan, a key focus is fostering networks with global partners for university collaboration to offer global solutions. These programs align with our goal of developing leaders who champion environmental stewardship and promote a culture of internationalization.

In this context, the Office of Global Learning is strengthening its commitment to faculty who wish to implement COIL and other internationalization methodologies. "Along with the training spaces we offer with the Center for Teaching Development in these methodologies, our contribution is focused on managing institutional networks such as Hemispheric Universities Consortium (HUC) and Universitas 21, with UC Chile professors who seek to initiate a collaboration. We aim to support and inspire our teachers to explore these internationalization methods locally because both teachers and students stand to gain from it," said Maribel Florez, Director of Global Learning at the Office of the Vice President of International Affairs.

Along the same lines, the Office of Global Learning and the Center of Faculty Development have joined forces to launch the Global Virtual Teaching Manual to inform and raise awareness of today's different collaboration methodologies. The manual seeks to answer the question: How can I Incorporate Global Virtual Teaching in my courses? This is an easy-to-read guide that, in addition to explaining the COIL methodology, presents concepts such as "masterclasses" and other tools for internationalization and the development of global competencies in the classroom, both face-to-face and online.

To learn more about these methodologies, the Office of the Vice President of International Affairs, and Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs invite UC Chile faculty to participate in webinars and teaching meetings where professors will share their experiences with these methodologies, and workshops/trainings are offered to all interested, regardless of their field. These efforts focus on raising awareness of COIL and the different methods that allow international collaboration and encourage teachers and students to have a beneficial and necessary intercultural experience.

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