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?

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