Category Archives: Online Learning

Cowboys and Cats: Herding Instructors (to show presence) Without Getting All Scratched Up

I’m attending the IFWE 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX and live blogging sessions. The bagels and croissants are yummy!

Presented by: Samantha Penney (Indiana State University)

Cats and Cowboys are our roles as faculty and instructional designers. We are the cowboys herding the cats, faculty, to add instructor presence in their courses. We will discuss the cat’s characteristics and how we can use design to help herd them in the direction our trail boss wants.

Samantha is being super creative – as we come in – pull a cat or a cowboy out of a bag. What will we do?? I sense something creative coming!

Of course, she starts off with the Herding Cats video – love that video!

Definition of Instructor Presence

Community of Inquiry is the theory – teaching presence. (Anderson et al 2001; Davis & Roblyer 2005, Sheridan and Kelly 2016) – a sense of social and cognitive presence – how you tie that into the classroom – do students know you are there and are guiding their learning? being responsible to establish

What are Cats Like?

  • independent
  • they don’t care
  • they are opinionated
  • self-centered
  • social
  • hunting
  • balance
  • good at jumping
  • stretchy

What are Faculty Like?

  • Independent
  • Authority
  • Solitary
  • Sense of Ownership
  • Great Balance

Faculty may not always understand why faculty presence is so important.

Another great video for cat herding is the mythbusters video on the cat corral.

Kitty Treats

Interesting discussion around what “treats” can persuade faculty to be present in their online courses…

  • An empty box is so fun for a cat. How can we start instead of pushing a tool or strategy, but ask questions to find out what faculty want to do and what dreams they have.
  • Hearing from colleagues – faculty like to hear from each other
  • Food for workshops
  • Feedback sandwich: positive, negative, positive
  • Online teaching certificate course – with a stipend – requires meeting with an instructional designer
  • Tools like Softchalk etc.
  • Research that supports the best practices – nice overview and collection in this lit review by Chakraborty and Nafukho (2015)
  • An interesting set of roles of being present: facilitator, mentor, devil’s advocate, moderator, repository, etc. Question posed – how can we help take some of these roles off the shoulders of our faculty – ideas included co-teaching, adding resources to help reduce questions from students
  • Faculty want to play with tools at their own pace  – open workshops to play with a tool at their own time with someone on hand in case of challenges


Remember you are a cat also! We all need herding at one time or another. Remember how that feels. No one likes being herded!

The thing that’s clear is that instructional design and online course support is hugely about support and persuasion. And it takes relationship building to be a team between the online design expert and the subject matter expert.

Nice hands-on creative playing, Samantha!

Leave No Student Behind in Cyberspace! Innovative Strategies for Online Teachers

I’m attending the IFWE 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX and live blogging sessions. It’s Thursday morning, and sunny and cool in San Antonio!

Presented by: Kenyatta Phelps (Lone Star College – University Park)

Description: Are you stuck trying to find ways to improve your online classes? This session is designed to provide educators ideas on how to build an inviting learning space for their online classes using discussion forums tool. The presenter will show attendees how to incorporate OER and apps into discussion forums.

Social presence

  • You aren’t just overseeing – you are engaging with the students.
  • Social presence in discussion forums can build community, encourage deep reflection and learning, develop analytical skills, encourage the student to be the teacher/expert, and to have them apply concepts directly.
  • Give the adult learner opportunities to share their professional experience with the course.

Overview of Strategies

  1. Online learning activities need to be aligned to the outcomes.
  2. The discussion forums are assessed as formative assessments.
  3. Ways to get students to develop critical thinking skills – podcasts, questions, debates
  4. Collaborative learning – promote student interaction and interdependency… case studies, brainstorming, study rooms online, clarification of information
  5. Icebreakers – introduction activities – using video & audio
  6. Interactive lectures – micro lectures – short bits – we start online with PowerPoint “I won’t judge, that’s where we start, but it’s time to expand”
  7. Student feedback – ask students for feedback about the assignments, the assessments, the course, ask for feedback in a fun and engaging way
  8. Game-based learning – simulations, adventures

Specific Strategies

When students email you a lot, it’s because you’re not clear. Need more specifics added to the course if you are getting too many emails with questions about the course.

Include video clips within the discussion forum – and then set up very specifically what the students are supposed to do and when to post etc.

Transcripts for video clips – accessibility.

All Readable – A tool she uses for resources – like transcripts of videos etc – that allows for annotation etc. – this is a cool site for discussing right on top of the text…

Set up a scenario – embedded in real world – and have students work on that concept… i.e. scenarios from a work situation where they have to decide if these scenarios are ethical or not; using the group feature in the LMS discussion forum

Give students tools like MindMeister to do brainstorming activities

Use a whiteboard tool to have students share short answers to different things (embedding Padlet will work for this too)

Keep the tools within the LMS – but you can do that by embedding things

Use Animoto to create a video to introduce yourself (Soundcloud for audio) – hearing a voice makes you feel real to the students

There are poems and books and speeches in Spotify as well as music… can embed in the LMS for your students… (students will have to get an account though – but you can have them do that at the beginning of class); presidential speeches are in there too!

iTunes U is another great source of free lectures and content (but you can’t embed it; she tries to keep everything inside the LMS)

NPR recordings and podcasts (she teaches sociology)

Screencast-o-matic to record SPSS tutorials

She uses Google Forms for an “exit ticket” – asking students what they learned in class today – if they have any questions. Very quick feedback ending that day/session/module. Nice idea! With a catchy thumbs up/down graphic.

Padlet for thoughts on the course – they can put their name or not – and they can see what everyone else says. This takes an open and courageous teacher!

Polleverywhere for polling. Can be embedded in your LMS (but it’s too small – so she uses Padlet more)

Easy way to bring in social presence – ask them who their favorite musician is and why – put it in Padlet

Audience member has a final project where students create a digital quilt to synthesize their learning in the course…

Game: Playspent – for students learning about poverty

Rice University’s CSI Forensics adventures

Create a discussion forum for “study room” or “student cafe” – create a place for students to talk to each other. She has a photo with the discussion forum to make it more inviting and friendly.

HaikuDeck – another presentation tool


Her specific Padlet strategies were a big hit!

The idea of embedding each tool / resource so that students are all in one place in the LMS.

Promising Partnerships: Connecting Student & Academic Affairs Support Services

I’m attending the IFWE 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX and live blogging sessions. This one is the last one I attended yesterday.

Presented by: Jessica Burchfield and Stephany Compton (Texas Woman’s University)

Description: As online and hybrid course offerings continue to rise, innovative solutions are needed to support college student persistence. This session will discuss how Texas Woman’s University is developing programs and increasing access for students through academic & student affairs collaborative programs and initiatives.

The Challenge

  • Students lack a feeling of connection to the university.
  • Students lack a feeling of value – how does this service or live connection impact me?
  • Students struggle with multiple roles and too much to do.


  • eLounge: a live webinar time (using Blackboard Collaborate) for students to come and learn about different things – like graduation – the most popular topic for student to attend. Other topics include:
    • Financial aid
    • Budgeting / financial wellness
    • Volunteering
    • Student organizations
    • Non-traditional student resources
    • Commuter and parking tips
    • Scholarships for non-traditional students
    • Connecting through Facebook (connected faculty and staff through FB)
    • CARE office provides resources
    • Recorded elounges are on YouTube here
  • Honor Society – providing an online student society
    • recognition for academy rigor
    • Epsilon Omega Epsilon Online Student Honor Society (they are working on making this a national organization)
    • They have an online induction service via Blackboard Collaborate (family members are cheering on in the chat during the ceremony)
    • They did an overhaul of their online programs this fall to ensure that every program is very interactive and allows students to feel connected 
  • TWU Library Lib Guides
  • Services and staff available online
    • Guides, email, chat, texting, ask a librarian – people available
    • A wellness challenge for online students
  • Graduate Recruitment
    • One topic per email – targeted emails
  • “Pioneer Camp” online
    • It’s kind of the new student orientation – they offer it online as well – even for commuter students in on campus courses
    • Getting acclimated with the university; talking about TWU traditions; breakout sessions to talk to people in the same college/school; school spirit
    • Modules in a Blackboard course; but some live sessions too
    • Training on the LMS as well, but embedded into the activities learning about TWU and getting to know each other, talking about their fears of online learning, etc.
    • Co-curricular experiences
    • I’m thinking of how the concepts of the Jazz workshop could be applied to designing a really rich experience.
    • Adults at every level – doctoral, masters, undergrad, all participating in the same orientation.
    • Berkeley’s theme for their orientation is called Road to Success.
    • The orientation has sample courses as well so they can learn how this might works.
    • Another attendee includes “early access week” where the students have access to the courses a week ahead of time.
  • Smarter Measure – this tool helps students assess their skill level and readiness for online learning (they have volume discounts for students)

Research Literature on COIL

I’ve just finished attending the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference for the first time. It made me very curious about the literature.

Several COIL leaders suggested that COIL needs a journal. Ethnographic research is needed for this type of activity, and right now the publications on this topic are in a variety of locations. The language exchanges are published in language journals; administrators publish in the international education journals. The educational technology / online learning journals / schools of education aren’t so interested in this type of work, and less likely to publish COIL related articles.

So, I decided to do a little hunting – a quick search. Here’s what I’ve found so far.


Ok, I know YouTube isn’t literature, but there’s a nice collection of videos that could be shown to faculty to raise awareness of COIL. The student voices ones in particular would be great for inspiring faculty.



It was clear from the conference that there are some key players in this field:

Your Turn

Faculty at the conference expressed concern on the lack of a consistent term to connect the research together. What and who did I miss? What would you add?

Supports Needed for COIL

This week I attended the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference for the first time. One theme that intrigued me was the comments that faculty who are doing Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) are like pirates, but, that administrative support is necessary for COIL to be institutionalized. Both the bottom up grass roots and the top down administrative support are needed.

Throughout the conference, I took notes on what I heard people saying was necessary for support, and I’ve collected those here.

For example, one session was called Getting COIL to Stick. The Google Slide Deck is available. The session was presented by Hope Windle, SUNY Ulster (United States) • Jayne Peaslee, SUNY Corning (United States) • Catherine Roche, Rockland Community College (United States) • Kathleen McKenna, SUNY Broome Community College (United States).

Administrative Support

Initially when faculty participate in COIL, they usually have a a deep meaningful learning experience. However, to sustain these activities over time, support is essential.

Faculty Load, Scheduling, Funding
At the higher ed level, faculty load is a huge issue. Teaching innovation isn’t incentivized. The almighty publish or perish reigns supreme. If faculty engage in COIL, they need the support of their department chair and dean, specifically for time to work with their partner, for potentially rescheduling the class to better match the schedule of the partner.

Some insitutions have incentives for participating and suggest that incentives are needed not just the first time but every time the COIL class happens.

Some suggest funding is needed for faculty travel related to COIL, as well as release time for faculty to work on COIL projects.

Institutional Buy-In

Is COIL integrated into the strategic plan at the university? How is the institution moving beyond ad-hoc experiences into institutionalizing the value and experience of COIL? As an example, the Hague University is strategically working on COIL to ensure every bachelor’s degree has at least one COIL course.

In the Mon morning keynote session, it was argued that what is needed is more administrators who recognize the need for innovation – and are able to translate bottom up innovation to institutional support.

Some suggestions for getting administrative buy-in included:

  • An example of an early start was little teleconferences with Mexico integrated with a student club, and inviting the administrators to come see it.
  • Bring together different mixes of people who might be interested in getting something started
  • Convince administration early
  • Using existing international relationships
  • Market COIL to prospective and current students
  • Include a video of the president of both universities welcoming the students into the shared space where your classes are collaborating.
  • Administrators are very sensitive to student feedback – if students are impacted positively. It’s important to show to administrators that it costs very little and has a big impact to student learning.

Departments on Campus
A flexible and sustainable infrastructure is needed to support COIL. Departments that need to support COIL include:

  • Library
  • Instructional design / faculty development office for pedagogical and collaborative tool training and support
  • IT / AV – for technical support necessary for high quality videoconference experiences
  • International office

Interestingly, many called for integrating COIL experiences into the promotion and tenure process. One institution said they were working on it. Again, the tension between research and teaching, and how to prioritize and value different types of faculty activities.

Curriculum and Teaching Support

In the networking time, there was a fairly loud call for resources to support faculty: models, best practices, templates, etc.

Cultural/International Support

Faculty Skills Needed
Faculty need development, resources and support in building skills in cultural competence, technology skills, teaching skills; even being able to understand heavily accented English.

Matching Making
Faculty need support in finding partners. Even when using existing institution international partners, someone needs to assist faculty in making it work. Faculty may meet someone at a conference or work with a research partner, but someone needs to help navigate the administrative institutional support at each institution.

Technology Support
Faculty need technology support to help select a tool that is supported and easy to use by both partners, and that supports the learning outcomes.

COIL Fellows
Some institutions have COIL Fellows programs to provide support, development, and incentives to faculty COILing.

Instructional Design Support
In the K12 collaborative project world, it’s usually the instructional technology specialist or the media specialist who assists teachers with projects. In the higher ed world, it’s usually the instructional designer. At the COIL conference, there were several sessions by instructional designers sharing resources and support strategies:

Supports for K12 Videoconferencing

Below is a collection of my writing and thinking on the support needed for videoconferencing at the K12 level – using it to enhance the curriculum, mostly collaborative projects but also connecting to content providers. This may prove interesting and useful to COILers as well.

A Focus on “International” in COIL

I’ve been attending the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference and am reflecting and synthesizing my learning. In this post, I am exploring the international aspect of COIL. When I worked in K12 videoconferencing, our collaborations were only rarely international. But the international piece is KEY to COIL. I only saw two sessions that didn’t have an international aspect: one was on a U.S. state to state project; and another was on virtual team teaching within Quebec.

Benefits of International Collaboration

So, let’s explore the international aspect. What are the benefits of connecting internationally?

Institutionalizing International Education
Sally Crimmins-Villela, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs, State University of New York said that COIL can institutionalize international education as a whole; to make it available to all types of students, not just those who can fund international trips. A major thread at the conference was the concern that international experiences are only available to a small subset of students. COIL has the potential of breaking that barrier.

Beyond International Students on Campus
I thought it was very interesting that even though SUNY and CUNY are so international with a wide variety of students on campus, COIL is still valued and pursued. Having diverse perspectives within the classroom isn’t enough; we want to connect internationally as well. It made me think of the work we are doing at Andrews University, the 2nd most diverse university in the United States. We have been focusing on global engagement, in faculty development and our overarching work.

Benefits and Results
In the closing keynote,  Susan Buck Sutton, Senior Advisor for International Initiatives, Bryn Mawr College, shared the following list of benefits and results for COIL activities (a direct quote from her slide):

“Establish the importance of global conversation

Enable such conversations for all, even at home

Connect institutions as well as students and faculty

Engage in the co-construction of knowledge

Build understanding of others on their own terms

Can be pursued by institutions with few resources

Create connections transcending national and other boundaries

Generate ideas and activities not anticipated when they began” – Sutton, 2016.

And, in the words of a fellow attendee on Twitter:

Interestingly, the closing keynote panel discussion wrestled with whether the motivation should be economic (workplace skills) or peace-making (greater understanding of others). Some concluded that it is ok to come with different motivations as faculty and administrators; our students will come with different motivations too. Either way, they will gain an invaluable international experience that will affect them profoundly for the rest of their lives.

Challenges of International Collaboration

A World in Peril
One of the benefits of COIL is the ability to engage with the world, but as Doreen Starke-Meyerring, Associate Professor, McGill University shared with us on Monday’s keynote, when you engage with the world, you find that the world is a planet in peril. She shared an example of the movie Where Do We Go Now? as how challenging and difficult the issues are.

U.S. to World vs. World to World
One thing I’ve always wondered about is: – there are so many U.S. institutions who want to connect internationally, but do all the international sites want to connect to the U.S? Maybe not! For example, one session described a collaboration between Germany, Mexico & the UK. Are there enough partners to go around?! Can we all share?

Cultural Competence
How do faculty and students learn the intercultural sensitivity necessary for a successful experience? What supports are available to make that happen? We want to go deeper than a superficial sharing or exchange; what does it take to get there?

Your Turn

What benefits and challenges would you add? Do you agree with those I’ve listed here, culled from conference conversations? Please comment.


Comparing Collaborative Projects at the K12 and Higher Ed Levels

I’ve just finished attending the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference for the first time, and I had such an interesting experience – a bit like a twisted de ja vu, It’s so similar to the work I did in K12 from ’98 to ’11 supporting K12 videoconferencing, mostly projects. Yet it has it’s own higher ed spin of course!

So I thought I’d make myself a little chart, as I’m processing my learning and this new world/field I’ve learned about.


K12 Videoconferencing Higher Ed International Collaborations
Getting Started Usually teachers participate in a managed project to get their feet wet (i.e. RAP as the gateway drug to videoconferencing) Faculty meet at a conference, or fly to meet in person to plan the project
Institutions support collaborations with existing partner institutions
Organizations providing support and assistance finding a partner
Global SchoolNet Project Registry
Institution collaborations such as
SUNY COIL Global Partner Network
Virtual Team Teaching Exchange
Length of projects Usually one videoconference, with 1 to 2 weeks of preparation Two weeks to a full course
Curriculum All subject areas More popular in the humanities
Project Support Teachers create projects and find partners
OR teachers participate in managed projects like Read Around the Planet
Mostly individually created collaborative experiences
Soliya is an organization managing the collaborative experience for higher ed
Faculty support Media specialist or instructional technology support staff
Sometimes also educational service agency support
Instructional designer
International office
IT / AV support
Dean, chair, other administrative support
Value A simple exchange or meet & greet often sufficient and valued Need the experience tied to a framework or model and research supporting it
Evaluation Were the students engaged / inspired? Did the experience produce “satisfactory scholarly work”?
Was there rigor in the quality of the academic experience?


What do you think? Have I over-generalized? Am I missing any major concepts? What would you add?

Ideas for Collaborative Online International Learning

I’ve been attending the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference and reflecting on and processing what I’m learning on my blog. I’m comparing and contrasting COIL to the work that I did supporting collaborative videoconference projects at the K12 level from 1998-2011, as documented on this blog.

In this post, I want to share some of the ideas that I gained at the conference, as well as how those ideas connect to some of the ideas we use in K12 collaborative projects.

Full Courses

Depending on who you talk to here, the full COIL experience is a course that is team-taught and shared as a whole course. SUNY COIL Center provides an overview of course models that can be used.

The Virtual Team Teaching Network in Quebec is also supporting this concept of collaborating on courses.

This is different than what has been called a “shared class” where one institution/school “sends” a class to another institution. Instead, the faculty at both institutions are seen as equals in sharing and developing the full course learning experience.


More commonly, many of the examples shared in sessions here are what some call COIL enhancements to courses. These are shorter interactions – like 2 to 6 weeks.

  • Students work in groups to create a product:
    • Students could work in groups locally and be competitive with the partner class
    • OR, they could work in groups that cross the sites, like we did with the Jazz workshop
    • Working in multi-site groups reduces the “us vs them” mentality (for example the collaborative work of San Jose State University and Allama Iqbal Open University in Pakistan)
    • Students could also introduce themselves individually via video, and pick their partners for groups of two
  • Could have a one hour seminar format where it’s too short and not enough time to fully engage, or switch to a week long asynchronous discussion (as Michael Bromby presented)
  • Can even do a very small collaboration of two weeks to meet & greet and get to know each other

Managed Collaborations

Yesterday I thought I wasn’t hearing any examples of collaborations that are “managed” on the higher ed side – managed as in someone is organizing and facilitating and the teacher’s role is to cooperate, follow the outline, and facilitate in their classroom. But, there are some groups providing this level of support for faculty at the higher ed side:

Topic Ideas

One comment I heard at the conference is that the people doing COIL projects tend to be in the humanities. These are some examples of topics discussed:

  • In the collaborations that San Jose State University had with Pakistan, the COIL courses worked on topics such as gender and emotional intelligence; English; Culture and Pedagogy; education; water (the prompt to the students was – tell the story of water), comparative education, women in academia.
    • On the K12 side, here are reports of the high school and elementary connections we did with Pakistan almost 10 years ago.
  • Connecting language learners to each other; don’t always have to connect to native speakers
  • Global social & environmental issues as shared by the University of Washington COIL Fellows
  • Disability rights and cross-national human education as shared by presenters from University at Buffalo and Universidad LaSalle, Mexico

Interdisciplinary Connections

I sensed much work and interest among the attendees of the conference in the area of figuring out how to COIL with disparate course topics. For example:

  • students of engineering connecting to language learners
  • the archeology class and new media art class – “interdisciplinary teaching is all about being conscious of a dialectic process” – presented by Alfonso Guevara, Universidad de Monterrey (Mexico) and Lynda Carroll, SUNY Broome Community College (United States)
  • in K12 in Read Around the Planet, we often connected high school Spanish language learners with bilingual classrooms with native speakers (usually in Texas)


A wide variety of tools were shared at the conference, including:

  • Skype, Zoom, BlueJeans, Google Hangouts
  • online collaboration using the LMS of one or both institutions
  • Facebook private groups
  • WhatsApp

K12 Connections

Someone asked me about the resources we created to support collaborative projects in K12. Here are a few of them:

What about you? What resources, ideas, links do you use to support COIL and COIL-like activities? Please share!

What is Collaborative Online International Learning?

I’m at the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference and I’m processing what I’m learning on my blog. I’m comparing and contrasting COIL to the work that I did supporting collaborative videoconference projects at the K12 level from 1998-2011, as documented on this blog.

In this post, I’m exploring the concept and definitions. Others are discussing and wrestling with this too.


In the plenary session, several terms were shared in a reflection by Jon Rubin on the 10 year history of COIL. Jon expressed his amazement how the term COIL is being widely used, almost a brand.

  • COIL: collaborative online international learning
  • COIL courses: full COILed courses
  • COIL enhancements: courses with COIL activities in them, but not the whole course
  • GNL: globally networked learning
  • GNLE: globally networked learning environment
  • tele-collaboration (even a European conference on this: UNICollaboration)

Mulling this over word choice & sequence: is there a difference between online international learning (focus on international?) and international online learning (focus on online?). Was there any deliberate thought on this when COIL was created? Just curious!

SUNY COIL Center Definition

From the SUNY COIL website –

In the COIL model, students from different cultures enroll in shared courses with faculty members from each country co-teaching and managing coursework. The COIL model does not merely promote courses where students from different nations co-habit an online classroom. Rather, we advocate creation of co-equal learning environments where instructors work together to generate a shared syllabus based on solid academic coursework emphasizing experiential and collaborative student learning. The classes may be fully online, or offered in blended formats with traditional face-to-face sessions taking place at both schools, while collaborative student work takes place online. – COIL About Page

Adaptation: I went to a session called A Good Kind of Global Warming: Melting Pakistan-U.S. Stereotypes, where they changed the term “international” to “intercultural” as the intercultural sensitivity was critical to their collaboration.

Globally Networked Learning Environments

A book by two key people at the COIL conference – Doreen Starke-Meyerring and Melanie Wilson included this definition:

Globally Networked Learning Environments (GNLEs) are partnerships that encourage students to collaborate with (and learn about) students in classrooms elsewhere on the planet. – Book Review


This term is used more in the language learner community – see this wiki on telecollaboration.

“internationally-dispersed learners in parallel language classes use Internet communication tools such as e-mail, synchronous chat, threaded discussion, and MOOs (as well as other forms of electronically mediated communication), in order to support social interaction, dialogue, debate, and intercultural exchange.” – Belz, J. A. (2003). Special issue of Language Learning & Technology on Telecollaboration, 7(2), 1-172.

Virtual Exchange

Virtual Exchange is the term used by the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute, which is, among other activities, funding an award competition aimed at using virtual exchange to improve understanding, respect, and dialogue across cultures and equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy.

Virtual exchanges are technology-enabled, sustained, people-to-people education programs. – Virtual Exchange Coalition website


What do you think? Are these all the same concept? Are there nuances in the definitions that are important to keep? Does the length or depth of the exchange matter? Are there components that are critical to reach “COIL” level? Considering…. what about you?

COIL Needs CAPspace

I’m attending the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference and listening to how higher education is doing collaborative online projects – specifically connecting internationally. In the kick-off plenary, there was discussion of how to find partners, and a general concern about how difficult it is to get started.

It seemed like an aha moment to me! COIL needs a higher ed version of CAPspace!

What is CAPspace?

CAPspace headerI spent much of my early career (1998-2011) supporting videoconferencing for 22 school districts in southwest Michigan. Much of what we did was collaborations, which you can see by the volume of blog posts I have that are tagged Collaborations.

In 2002, the newly minted TWICE, Michigan’s K12 videoconferencing organization, started an event called Read Around the Planet, In it’s hey-day, almost 2000 classes read to each other to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday. CAPspace was born initially out of a need for a tool to match the classes that signed up to participate. A directory feature to meet other people was soon added.

Now, it has several features that are key to supporting collaborations:

  • the ability to search for people
  • the ability to post a collaborative project idea and find a partner
  • the “exploding projects feature” – for when you post a great idea, and you only need one partner, but so many other people want to do it. Exploding projects allow the “extras” to match up with each other to do the same type of project
  • the ability for “coordinators” to run managed projects using the tools created for Read Around the Planet

Side note: I was heavily involved in the development of this site.

Managed Projects vs. Individual Projects

One thing I’ve noticed attending COIL, is that it seems mostly higher education collaborative projects are done by individual teachers. There may be institutional support, even COIL coordinators, but not so much projects that are run by an organization and many faculty participate in it. CAPspace has the ability to support managed projects, but I’m not sure that this is a need or interest at the higher ed level.

If you want to read more of my work on supporting projects, including descriptions of managed projects vs. individual projects, see my 2010 Challenge: 20 Days to Better VC Projects.

Higher Education Adaptations of CAPspace

So, I’m very new to COIL, first time attending the conference. So take my views with a grain (or chunk?) of salt! But after a day of listening to faculty describe their experiences and challenges with COILing, here are my first thoughts about how CAPspace could work for higher ed:

  • Qualifications. One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems like higher ed is a little more concerned about the quality of their partner institution and faculty member. Maybe it’s because there’s so many fraudulent institutions in higher ed globally, particularly online. Maybe it’s the increased focus on rigor and scholarly work. Maybe you’ll have some ideas of why as well. But, I think one feature that would be essential is some way to vet the potential partner. This could be including links to publication profiles on sites such as, researchgate, etc. Maybe a field for research interests. And, what would be some ways to indicate some background information on the potential partner institutions? I’m not quite sure, but I think that would be essential as well.
  • Email ads. CAPspace right now sends emails out with the collaborations that have been posted. The user can choose which emails they receive. I’m not sure higher ed would be interested in getting all the emails – but maybe the instructional designers and COIL coordinators would want to see what opportunities were out there.
  • Exploding collaborations. I ran this idea by another attendee yesterday, and we talked a lot about the trust needed. Because the higher ed collaborations tend to be so much longer than the K12 collaborative projects we are doing, the faculty really need to trust each other. It seems unlikely that they would want to just match up with other people who were interested in an idea.
  • Others: Having heard how CAPspace works, what do you think? Is an online tool needed to help match? Are the supports and resources for creating COIL and COIL-like collaborations more important?

Mulling Over Challenges

  • In a session this morning, Sarah Guth talked about the difficulties of the a platform created in Europe for matching language learners. One challenge is that everyone thinks they need to talk to native speakers, when there are other models such as connecting two classes that are learning the language, or connecting language learners to other disciplines such as engineering. Ideas are needed to help imagine the possibilities.
  • Higher ed needs to see and support and participate in research – in this case, on COIL activities.
  • As I was leaving K12 in 2011, the pressure to focus on standards and test preparation was increasing. This had, and continues to have, a negative impact on collaborative projects and creativity. I see this issue in higher education as well. There is huge instructional pressure and the need for accountability to accreditors & funders. On the higher ed side, there isn’t any time at all to waste! A quality experience is greatly desired. A “fun” little experience doesn’t cut it.
  • It’s not that simple to just make a place to find each other. Best practices, research support, models, frameworks… these things are all essential.
  • So much institutional support is needed. In the K12 world, support from the media specialist was often sufficient. Principal support was helpful too. But in the higher ed world, chair, dean, IT, instructional design, assessment, provost, president… all these supports are needed.

So, what do you think? In the Tuesday morning session, there was clamor for a “” site. What should that site look like?