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Global integration

A Q&A with founder of Collaborative Online International Learning

Teaching and Learning

By Courtenay Alcock

CITL and the Internationalization Office are hosting Jon Rubin, founder of COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning), on the St. John’s campus on Oct. 23.

Originating from the State University of New York (SUNY), COIL gives students, faculty and partners a way to make learning globally integrated by adding international online components to courses that already exist.

An international component can be as simple as global peer reflections on shared readings, peer-to-peer interviews, collaborative problem solving, debates and/or discussions or collaborative project work. While the type and duration of the collaborations may vary, they are required to be at least five weeks long.

Students from different countries, while enrolled in their own institution’s courses, work on shared projects with faculty members from each country co-teaching and evaluating their collaborations.

During his visit, Mr. Rubin will provide a general presentation about the initiative and share pathways through which Memorial can actively engage this emerging format of international education. Following the presentation, a workshop is scheduled for anyone interested in taking the next step.

CA: Tell me a little about yourself, and how COIL was initially founded?

JR: My background is that of a film and media artist. I am especially interested in how context and framing affected the viewing of film and media. To explore that I developed a project through the ’80s and ’90s called the Floating Cinema, which appeared on the waterfront at night, usually without prior notice, like a UFO, eliciting a wide range of responses from surprised viewers.

Painting of floating movie screens in the water, with people watching from a beach.
A rendering of Jon Rubins media art project, Floating Cinema, by artist, Jane Dixon.
Photo: Submitted

Years later, after returning from a Fulbright Fellowship in Eastern Europe, I created a cross-cultural video course in which students in New York collaborated with peers in Eastern Europe to make videos on agreed upon themes. This led me to explore the concept of online student collaboration across the curriculum and in 2006 SUNY supported the creation of the SUNY COIL Center to develop such a model. I left SUNY last spring to become an independent consultant, in order to support other universities launching COIL programs.

CA: Can you describe what COIL is?

JR: COIL, or Collaborative Online International Learning, is not a technology or a platform, but is rather a new teaching and learning paradigm that develops cross-cultural awareness across shared multi-cultural learning environments. Unlike traditional online distance courses provided by one higher education institution to students nearby or around the world, COIL is based upon developing team-taught learning environments where teachers from two cultures work together to develop a shared syllabus, emphasizing experiential and collaborative student learning.

CA: How could COIL benefit Memorial University’s educators and students?

JR: We live in a world where globalization is affecting us in many ways, but where too many people are forming their opinions of the world and others without authentic knowledge. So much of the information we receive is filtered and distorted, to the point that “fake news” has become one of the cliché phrases of the day.

Students and instructors need to transcend that noise to see the world for what it is, by having authentic interactions with people living in other cultures and environments. Until recently the only way to do this was to travel — and probably that modality is still the best way to learn about the world.

However, very few university students, and fewer instructors than we would like, will ever have the chance to blend study and research with travel. In Canada only about three per cent of all students will participate in study abroad or student exchange programs during their undergraduate college years. COIL provides an alternative pathway to international and intercultural engagement.

A group of educators gather around tables and are immersed in discussion.
A COIL workshop in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Photo: Submitted

CA: Can you provide an example of a particularly successful COIL collaboration?

JR: There have been so many successful COIL courses. But building upon my own cross-cultural video example mentioned earlier, the most dynamic COIL courses focus on student-generated content and require the negotiation of meaning inter-culturally.

So, in my course small teams from each country partnered and agreed upon a theme. Then, the first scene would be shot and edited in one country and posted online. The other team would have 10 days to shoot and edit the following scene, after reflecting and commenting on the scene they had received. This would go on for about 10 weeks until the video was four scenes long — about 15 minutes.

Very often students were surprised about the video response to their scene, and this led to their rethinking their own intentions as they prepared their next scene. However, most COIL courses have been more academic in nature, and I will share a few case examples when I am on Memorial’s St. John’s campus next week.

CA: If an educator is interested in conducting a COIL course, what do they need to know? And where do they begin?

JR: Well, it is largely to answer that question that I am soon coming to Memorial! But to begin, an educator needs a peer at another institution, usually based in a different country or culture, who is similarly interested in developing a course collaboration. They do not need to teach in the same discipline, but they need to be flexible and innovative in their approach to teaching.

CA: Why is COIL important to a university or institution?

JR: In addition to providing an alternative pathway to international and intercultural engagement, there are other reasons why the COIL model is important to many institutions, but especially those located on islands or those that are distant from major urban centers. One such reason is that more and more professional work takes place at a distance. Through experiencing a COIL course, students at Memorial should gain digital literacy skills and be better prepared to work in virtual teams.

Read more about Mr. Rubin’s presentation and workshop, or RSVP now. For anyone who cannot attend the presentation in person, a webcast link will be available at citl.mun.ca.


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