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.


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