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Virtual Connections

By Center for International Programs

A candidate is interviewing for a job with a multinational company. The interviewer looks over her resume again, and, looking up at the candidate, says, “So you’ve had experience collaborating internationally on a project?”

The candidate smiles. “I have. Let me tell you a little about it.” She proceeds to describe the way she and a team of her fellow students at UD worked online together with a university class in Ghana, developing new ways to filter water to meet the needs of a refugee camp. “From developing a needs analysis remotely, to identifying geographic constraints, all the way to developing a prototype, the project allowed me to work with people from a different languacultural background to solve some real world problems, all during the course,” she says, “It’s not something you get a chance to do every day.”

Collaborative Online International Learning, otherwise known as COIL, has gained attention during the past year.  It is an emerging teaching and learning model that promotes intercultural competence through an online environment.  COIL is embedded within courses, and typically spans a timeframe of 2-8 weeks.  Students have the opportunity to work on a collaborative project with students from a course in another country, and receive the benefit of being instructed by two faculty members that co-design and co-teach the COIL experience.  

Expanding students’ global perspectives was the chief motivation for Dr. Philip Appiah-Kubi to get involved with COIL.  He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Management, Systems, and Technology and the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Engineering.  He was a participant of the Global Education Seminar (GES) to Ghana and Togo, and one of the first participants of a pilot COIL Fellows program that was being offered through UD School of Engineering. Appiah-Kubi was able to make contacts in Ghana and has since designed multiple COIL experiences with different institutions in Ghana.

 “I was fascinated about the opportunity to add to the cultural diversity in my classroom,” he says, “Giving my students the environment to potentially enhance their intercultural competency skills was enticing.”  Through COIL, Appiah-Kubi’s students in his Project Management course were able to work with other students in Ghana to design a water filtration system for a refugee camp, connect with the Dayton International Peace museum, and develop vertical aquaponics systems. All of the projects focused on creating solutions that would function in both the U.S. as well as Ghana. “I put a lot of emphasis on the process,” Appiah-Kubi notes, “the students understood that the process was as important as the solutions they found.” This emphasis led to the additional result of spending more time with students, he shares. “That helped me build relationships with them, which was a benefit to this project.” 

At UD, the School of Engineering,  Center for International Programs, and Center for Online Learning have been working together to support cohorts of faculty that want to learn more about COIL and receive support and resources to design a COIL course.  This past year the UD COIL Fellows cohort has expanded to include faculty and staff with teaching responsibilities from across the university and is currently accepting proposals for its spring 2022 cohort.  Kent Darr, Instructional Design Specialist in UD’s Center for Online Learning, notes that benefits for students and faculty are a key outcome of COIL projects. “For students, a COILed course is beneficial because those project-based learning experiences are more indicative of the real-world business environments that they will be seeing post-graduation,” Kent shares.  

COIL also gives students the opportunity to enhance their digital literacy and comfort with working on virtual teams - all important skills in today’s environment. With the impact of the pandemic, a number of institutions have turned their attention and resources to COIL and other forms of virtual exchange.  Sangita Gosalia, Director of Campus Engagement in the Center for International Programs, says, “This past year has highlighted how connected we are as individuals and communities across the globe.  And, it is becoming increasingly essential that as educators and students we have the skills to collaborate and tackle real world challenges.  COIL is one of many accessible ways in which students can enhance these skills.”

To learn more about the UD COIL Fellows Program please visit here. The proposal deadline is October 4, 2021.