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After Workshop, Instructors Reflect on the Power of Collaborative Online International Learning

By David Simpson and Annette Finley-Croswhite

Studying abroad can be an unforgettable experience, but also a pricey one. However, students can enjoy a stimulating, weeks-long cultural exchange without emptying their pocketbooks - and without leaving home or classroom.

This kind of global education is possible when teachers embed Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) in their courses. The COIL approach connects students and faculty across geographical borders for collaborative projects and discussions as part of their experiential learning coursework. Instructors in different countries team up to design the lessons or projects, and students work together on the activities while engaging in global conversations.

In March, a dozen ODU faculty members took part in a three-week COIL Foundations workshop offered by the SUNY COIL Center, which serves the State University of New York system. Thanks to funding from ODU's Center for Global Engagement (CGE) and Center for Faculty Development (CFD), the enrollees took this workshop at no cost.

Participants included Professor Sherif Ishak (Engineering), Master Lecturer Agnieszka Whelan (Arts and Letters), Master Lecturer Carla Harrell (Arts and Letters), Lecturer Sara Russell Riggs (Business), Associate Professor Kevin DePew (Arts and Letters), Clinical Assistant Professor Angela Wilson (Health Sciences), Clinical Assistant Professor Amber Pope (Education), Senior Lecturer Janet Rinehart-Kim (Sciences), Associate Professor Staci Defibaugh, (Arts and Letters), Associate Professor Nicole Willock (Arts and Letters), Lecturer Minori Marken (Arts and Letters), and Assistant Professor Xihe Zhu (Education).

To shine a light on the COIL model, the CFD reached out to faculty participants about their experiences in the workshop. Here are a few responses:

Angela M. Wilson, clinical assistant professor, Medical Diagnostic and Translational Sciences: "The best thing about my experience with the COIL workshop was meeting other professionals in academia from around the world who are also passionate about fostering international collaborations between students. In the COIL workshop, you interact with different colleagues from other disciplines, and you get a taste of different cultures. I met economics professors from Ukraine and an English professor from Mexico. It makes it much more exciting and enlightening. After three weeks, you learn a lot about yourself, how much you have in common with fellow collaborators, and techniques to effectively collaborate and enable students to do the same."

Agnieszka Whelan, master lecturer in art history: "The COIL workshop was an interesting experience where we were invited to examine a variety of scenarios of intercultural collaboration. I enjoyed meeting with my international colleagues, especially with the Ukrainian scholars. If possible, I would like to connect with them and see how I may help them and their students. I am sure our students will benefit enormously from international contacts."

Sherif Ishak, professor and department chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering: "Most impressive was the level of enthusiasm and excitement brought by collaborators from all over the world. There is a genuine interest in participating and breaking down barriers between cultures in the classroom. This is commendable and reflects the importance of this effort.

"I currently teach one of the senior civil engineering courses, which covers topics on professional practice of engineers. This course could be a good fit for COIL, given the global perspective of the civil engineering practice. Students need to understand the importance of cultures when working with others, especially in large teams that include engineers from other countries and in projects that take place outside the U.S."

On April 6, the Office of Academic Affairs, the Center for Global Engagement, and the Center for Faculty Development hosted a collaboration luncheon in which the 12 faculty members and guest host Kate Hawkins, vice provost for faculty affairs and strategic initiatives, met to discuss the COIL experience. Also in attendance were Paul Currant, senior international officer, Annette Finley-Croswhite, director of the CFD, and Michael Dean, deputy director of the CGE. All expressed enthusiasm for creating COIL connections at Old Dominion University. Dr. Currant stressed the democratization of global learning with initiatives like COIL. The group brainstormed ways of developing a stronger global mindset in our students and expanding the COIL idea at ODU.

COIL is an affordable way to engage your students in global education and support learning goals. Want to know more about the COIL approach? Watch the short video What Is COIL? from Florida International University and a panel discussion from ODU's Day of Teaching on Sept. 17, 2021.

For more information about ODU and COIL, contact Dr. Currant or Dr. Finley-Croswhite at pcurrant@odu.edu or acroswhi@odu.edu.