Getting Started

The COIL Center's primary focus is on the creation of collaborative, international learning courses and particularly those of a hybrid and innovative nature. These are often courses where two or more classes meet separately and regularly in different countries, but where all the participating students and faculty also meet online. Here they can share ideas, collaboratively produce work that is relevant to their course of study and reflect upon their own and their partners' cultural points of view. The development and implementation of such courses takes some time, as the cross-cultural dynamics of planning can be fairly complex, but there is a typical pattern to this process that can be summarized here. For a more detailed overview, please request a copy of the COIL Faculty Guide for Course Development. The guide begins with background information about globally networked learning, followed by discussions on how to locate a faculty partner, how to gather institutional support and how to negotiate course content with your partner. Please email coilinfo@suny.edu to receive a free copy of the guide.

Developing COIL Courses

Usually one faculty member will define a subject area, typically based on a course that is already existent, that seems ripe for internationalization. Through one of many possible search processes - a suitable colleague at a partner country and institution is identified. In some cases this collegial connection is longstanding and precedes the development of the course, but by working through a university office of international programs or through a listserve based at the relevant disciplinary association partners can readily be found and prior personal knowledge of one's collaborating partner is not a pre-requisite.

Once the team has been tentatively established, it is important to set some clear goals for the course. Critical areas to focus on at this stage include:

  • The scope of content and material to be covered in the course.
  • The likely class size at each school and any potential recruitment issues that could lie ahead.
  • The appropriate division of online versus classroom instruction (if the course will be hybrid in form).
  • An approach to examining and analyzing the cross-cultural aspects of the course interactions.
  • Support from key administrators at each institution.

Typically the discussion of these issues will begin via email, but it is important to also establish telephone contact, and once some initial level of agreement has been reached it is desirable to arrange a two to three day face-to-face visit to take place at one of the participating schools. In addition to accelerating the development of the course syllabus, this visit will also facilitate a better understanding of one faculty member's working environment by the other, which is an important aspect of the cultural context in which all the course work will take place.

As the content and cross-cultural foci are being developed, other aspects of the course infrastructure need to be worked through. These include but are not limited to:

  • What educational software platform will be used to deliver and manage the course?
  • What training may be necessary for faculty and students to navigate this software?
  • What language problems are likely to be encountered and will only English be used?
  • Will both classrooms share identical syllabi or will complementary syllabi be developed?
  • Are the academic calendars of the two schools similar and are there major school holidays that must be accounted for? If the calendars are significantly different, how will these disparities be dealt with?
  • Will a teaching assistant or other staff support be needed to implement the course - especially if either faculty member is not very experienced in the use of educational software?
  • A schedule for online partner faculty meetings needs to be established. Although it is possible to use email for this purpose, we do not recommend it as the sole mode of discussion. A bi-weekly chat by phone or Skype will prove more satisfactory for this purpose.
  • Might it be possible for some students and faculty to visit each other's campuses at the end of the course for a final presentation? This can give some level of closure to the course and it can act as a carrot to motivate quality work along the way, even if only a select group will make the trip.
  • What broader socio-political context may inform or limit each student group's ability to collaborate with the other? How can such potentially divergent perspectives be drawn out through careful implementation of the course structure?

Once the time comes for the course to get underway, do not underestimate the time it may take to solve problems. Take special care with email, as cross-cultural misunderstandings can sometimes develop in this virtual space. Consider making a phone call if you sense that such a problem is developing.