Getting Started

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David Syring during a radio interview

If you’re just getting started with a COIL project, most advise setting modest goals and relying on models from past collaborations.  Several pieces of support and motivation need to come together for a typical COIL project to be successful.  Typical COIL courses match faculty and students in similar courses from similar areas of study.  Doing so offers a more straightforward arena for comparison and the exploration of difference.  The pairing of a Gender Studies course in Russia and a Gender Studies course in the US, for instance, could help students unpack the ways in which understandings of gender are informed by the specific political and economic history of a region or country. 

Andrew Snustad in Cuernavaca

COIL also offers faculty an enormous field for innovation.  Many have chosen to collaborate across disciplines, relying instead on student expertise in one field to complement student work from another.  Others have gone further and included three or more partner institutions in a single collaboration.

For a brief discussion of some ways to locate and develop international partners for COIL courses and modules, click the Find a Partner link above.

Collaborative International Learning derives its benefit from the direct interaction of learners with different perspectives.  For that reason, it is almost always good advice to focus on active learning and group projects, whether synchronous or asynchronous.  The design of those projects often works out best when faculty balance the responsibility for and input into project frameworks.  Collaborative learning works best when instructors co-develop courses and modules, and students co-create their own innovations for understanding the differences between regional perspectives.

Regardless of the path you choose, the following are, arguably, ...

Factors worth considering:

  • Why do you want to add a COIL component to your course?
  • What are the strengths of your relationship with your partner and their institution?
  • How well do you know your partner’s students, their academic and career goals, and the academic culture they inhabit?
  • What kind of support is available for you and your partner (especially IT and ID)?
  • Consider beginning with an ice breaker, both when you meet with your partner initially and when your students meet with their partners and workgroups.
  • Consider several factors that could impede the collaboration portion of your module or course.  Consider developing tasks that could help students surmount challenges that are likely to occur.
  • What can your students offer to their counterparts at your partner’s institution?  How can you augment and amplify the value that your students will add to the collaboration?
  • If some of your collaboration will take place during synchronous meetings, be sure to plan for every possible technical failure.  Often, this means planning an asynchronous backup.  When planning a collaboration, try to also think of the second iteration.  In some cases recorded session can also serve as a backup plan for a future missed connection.

Once you've established a general idea of your intended project, it is important to share those thoughts with your partner, and engage in a balanced dialogue early in the process.
The Collaborative Online International Learning Workbook offers a step-by-step guide to working your way through several initial phases of planning and implementing a COIL module.  Keep in mind, the workbook provides a framework for you and your partner to combine efforts in the initial phases of project co-development.  That workbook is one of several tools linked under the "resources" page in the menu above.

The PDF iconCOIL Workbook was developed at the College of Education and Human Development.  There they offer the following additional set of suggestions for getting started with a co-development project:
 NB: “Share these tips with your partner. [...]
1. Be organized.
 - Determine which tools you will use to collaborate (e.g., Google Drive and Calendar).
 - Develop timeline.
 - Schedule of meetings with agendas.
 - Share meeting notes and assign action items and deadlines.
2. Establish ground rules.
 - For example, what happens when a scheduled meeting is missed?
3. Clarify roles and explicitly state responsibilities.
4. Focus on equitable rather than equal participation.
 - Assign tasks based upon who is best suited rather than making sure that both partners accomplish an equal share of the work.
5. Exchange and discuss individual expectations.
6. Discuss how, when, and by whom decisions will be made.
7. When assigning tasks, give detailed and specific instructions.
8. Draft simple and concrete goals that focus on results.
9. Acknowledge that it is OK to make mistakes and that you are willing to be open and honest
with each other when mistakes happen.
10. Revisit your accomplishments and goals often.
 - Evaluate your work throughout the process.
 - Revise goals, outcomes, and outputs as necessary.”