Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | May 4, 2021

First COIL Experience: “To learn and build communities with others who are both similar and different from themselves”

By Fátima Serra 

Students from Salem and Oviedo learning together

The past year has brought a myriad of challenges to SSU and the world that have resulted in the impossibility of travelling abroad. As a strong advocate for study abroad who has mentored and accompanied students on multiple language immersion programs, I joined the COIL Project as an alternative to in-person educational exchanges with students from other countries. COIL stands for Collaborative Online International Learning Experience and provides students with the opportunity “to learn and build communities with others who are both similar and different from themselves” (Marcillo-Gomez).  

Students in my Honors course WLC 190H Seminar in World Cultures worked on a project with students from the English Department at La Universidad de Oviedo in Oviedo, Spain. Since our course and the Oviedo course covered similar topics–migration, marginalized identities, women, and globalization–we chose to work on one unit together under the umbrella of Globalization and Postcolonialism.

Over the course of five weeks students from both institutions shared readings, analyzed films and discussed systemic oppression with the following goals in mind:

Academic:

-For students to discern how understandings of globalization and postcolonialism may be similar or different among students from different countries     

-For students to deconstruct cultural stereotypes

Personal:

-For students to develop interpersonal relationships within an international context : American and Spanish

-For students to consider study abroad and the study of a foreign language

We faced multiple challenges including different time zones, technological tools, curriculum differences and language differences. As the COIL project presented an opportunity to learn from people rather than from media, books or professors, we built a creative, intercultural curriculum and format that would engage all participants and that would facilitate social interaction and reflection. After all, the interpersonal benefits of the collaborative project were as valuable as the academic learning objectives.

Prior to tackling the unit content students exchanged expressions of each others’ culture and learned specific customs, such as ways of greeting each other, traditional celebrations,          leisure activities, attitudes towards elders, etc. They also exchanged information about their university life, study plans and tuition rates. They got to know each other and even utilized     different times and modes of interaction outside of the COIL programmed sessions.

With the help of Abigail Machson-Carter, Instructional Designer at SSU, I created a series of shared powerpoints, google slides and google forms that served as a platform for large group and small group synchronous and asynchronous interactions. They were the tools used to guide the students from their initial personal exchange through the discussion and analysis of films and texts to the final project:  the creation of a unit on a film not discussed in class that would reflect on the topics of our COIL project.  Each new unit was realized  in small groups with a combination of Oviedo and Salem participants.

As the weeks went by and we held our weekly large group zoom synchronous session, the closeness among the members of the group was palpable along with the increased depth and level of the discussions. The  thoroughly researched, high quality final presentations were a testament to the effective and bonded collaboration that took place among the participants.

It was very  rewarding as a professor to observe  such a high level of cultural, personal and academic learning from the students.     

There were many positive testimonies submitted by students after concluding the COIL project. Here are some examples to reflect what the international interaction meant to them on both an academic and personal level:

What was the most important thing you learned from this collaborative unit? 

– I realized that, both in Spain and in the USA, the new generations are fully aware of the importance of issues such as diversity, gender equality, human rights, environmentalism, sustainable development, climate change, postcolonialism, the effects of globalization, etc. All of which gives me hope for the future.

-One of the most important takeaways from the collaborative units was the concept of how globalization has shaped the way we live and interact as humans on the planet. It has shaped our cultures, environment, communication, and most importantly how we view others who are different from us. The different and deep-rooted preconceived notions we carry about others and how detrimental it is on our union as humans in general.

-I learned that this was a great use of our time to get to know people from another country. We learned each others’ customs, likes, and time zones. We found new friends and peers through this program.

What was different from your initial expectations? 

-I honestly didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of this. I guess I was just expecting to just get to know the other students and just have brief conversations with them, but to have such in depth and thought provoking conversations not only in a large group, but in our individual groups was not expected! I didn’t think things would get that deep!

-I thought we would not be able to communicate at all due to the language barrier. I expected that we would be nothing alike. I didn’t expect to get along and miss the people from Oviedo as much as I do now.

– Initially, I did not expect that I would like so much to develop my opinions through debating. I have always had very strong opinions on certain topics, and I have found it very interesting to see how my opinions change as we talked about them in our groups.

I enjoyed learning about COIL projects and working with faculty colleagues, Julie Kiernan and Julie Whitlow in  the Center for International Education at SSU. I also cherished all the interactions with the professor from Oviedo, Alejandra Moreno Alvarez, as well as her students from the Spanish University. Most of all, I am very proud of the WLC 190H students, their commitment and enthusiasm to the project and their thoughtful reflections. I hope that soon they can embark on a study abroad program and on  learning a foreign language. As for me, I look forward to participating in another COIL project the next academic year.

Works Cited

Marcillo-Gomez, Marilú  y  DESILUS, Bendreff. Collaborative Online International Learning Experience in Practice Opportunities and Challenges. Journal of Technology Management & Innovation [online]. 2016, vol.11, n.1 pp.30-35.


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