Internationalization in Action Special Edition


by Heather H. Ward, Senior Program Specialist, ACE

This installment of Internationalization in Action discusses the rationale, prac­tical considerations, benefits, and challenges of initiating a new Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program, drawing on the experience of institutions that participated in the ACE-COIL Center Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program, and identifies a number of other approaches in the emerging field of virtual exchange in higher education. 

I. Internationalization Through Technology

Since 2003, ACE has promoted the use of technology to help students acquire global competencies: the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to live and work in a multicultural and interconnected world. The experience of traveling and studying abroad can be transformative, but less than 10 percent of four-year undergraduates in the United States have that opportunity (Institute of Inter­national Education 2015). Educators, governments, and employers increasingly recognize global competencies as key to lifelong success. Therefore, U.S. higher education needs options other than study abroad for delivering global learning to the majority of students. Using online communication to connect faculty and students across borders is proving to be an accessible, affordable, and flexible option at a growing number of institutions in the United States and around the world. Like many education abroad programs, virtually connected classrooms can provide meaningful global learning and cross-cultural experience.

According to ACE’s Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2012 Edi­tion, 59 percent of institutions surveyed said the use of technology for purposes of internationalization has increased since 2006. Among institutions that offer international joint or dual degree programs, half responded that they use tech­nology in program delivery. The table below indicates some of the other ways institutions are using technology to advance internationalization.

While ACE and others have championed the potential for technology to enhance global learning in the classroom and the numbers have increased, the Mapping data indicate that, as of 2011, it was an aspect of internationalization that only one in five institutions pursued (at least in the technology applications they were asked about). Integrating technology in the curriculum in order to enhance students’ global learning and intercultural experience can be challeng­ing. It requires additional time and creativity of faculty and staff, and depends upon adequate Internet connectivity and equipment, among other things.

The State University of New York (SUNY) Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Center has pioneered a pedagogical approach for using technology to advance internationalization of teaching and learning. The COIL method has been adopted by scores of U.S. and international institutions to advance internationalization of the curriculum. The center’s director, Jon Rubin, first piloted the COIL approach in the film courses he taught as a faculty member at State University College at Purchase (NY), in partnership with faculty at the European Humanities University in Belarus. In 2006, the SUNY system estab­lished the COIL Center to encourage faculty throughout the state to incorporate a COIL dimension in their courses. The COIL Center has provided guidance to dozens of SUNY campuses, as well as other U.S. and international institutions, in their efforts to develop new COIL programs.

Central to the COIL pedagogy is the fact that faculty members in two or more countries collaborate to design a syllabus and co-teach a course (or module), and students in each class must work together online to complete assign­ments. Both the faculty and students involved in a COIL course are mutually dependent; one’s success is closely bound to the other’s. The COIL method can be applied to courses in any academic discipline, and in fact connected classrooms are often completely different courses—even though faculty jointly develop a syllabus for the COIL portion of the course. For example, a Spanish professor in the United States and an education professor in Spain could offer a COIL course or module in which pairs of students from each classroom interview each other in Spanish via Skype or email about their K–12 education experience, then submit a written summary of the interview to their respective faculty for assessment.

 Many institutions have experimented with using videoconferencing technology to connect students in two classrooms or deliver international guest lectures, and it’s important to understand how the COIL approach is different. While it relies on technology to connect faculty and students, COIL is not a technological system, platform, or software, nor does it require institutions to use a particular type of technology. Rather, it is “a new teaching and learning paradigm that devel­ops intercultural awareness and competence across shared multi-cultural online learning environments” (State University of New York Center for Collaborative Online International Learning 2015).


The ACE-SUNY COIL Center Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program

ACE and the SUNY COIL Center joined forces in 2013 to launch the Internation­alization Through Technology Awards Program, with financial support from Asahi Net International, in order to recognize, support, and promote the use of technology to enhance global learning. Following a national call for submis­sions, a review panel of international education specialists selected six recipi­ents—three institutions in each of two award categories—based on a set of award criteria.

Category 1: Leaders in Internationalization Through Technology

This award recognized three institutions with established structures, policies, and practices for incorporating the use of online technology to link classrooms that could demonstrate its effect on students’ global competencies. Institutions selected for the Leaders in Internationalization Through Technology Award, presented at the 2014 ACE Annual Meeting in San Diego, California, were:

Category 2: Advancing Internationalization Through Collaborative Online International Learning

This award recognized three institutions for their vision and commitment to developing new COIL courses as part of a broader internationalization strategy. Institutions selected for the Advancing Internationalization through Collabo­rative Online International Learning Award, presented at the 2014 COIL Con­ference in New York, New York, were:


“We recognize that Glenville’s rural location makes it especially challenging to achieve our internationalization goals and this may suggest that a special approach to internationalization, such as using technology, is needed. We intend to use the COIL model as a primary strategy of our internationalization plan to integrate an international experience and perspective into our teaching and learning community.” — John Peek, former provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Glenville State College


Over a period of 15 months, faculty and staff from the three institutions selected for the Advancing Internationalization award developed two or more new COIL courses with their respective partners in China, Peru, or Spain. ACE and the COIL Center delivered on-campus workshops and monitored the process. Each institution designated a faculty or staff member to serve as COIL coordinator, a leadership role that involved setting up the on-campus workshop, leading the development of new COIL courses, and serving as the primary contact for administrators and faculty on campus. Selected institutions also pledged strong involvement from their international programs units and offices of instructional design.

The COIL coordinators from these institutions presented the initial results of their work at the 7th COIL Conference in New York City on March 20, 2015. The presentation can be viewed online.



II. Why Connect Classrooms?

Institutions that applied for the Advancing Internationalization Awards cited several reasons for their interest in initiating a COIL program.


“Ha sido una experiencia muy enriquecedora para mí y mis compañeros; nunca imaginé que podíamos parecernos tanto y a la vez ser tan distintos.” (Translation: “It has been a very enriching expe­rience for me and my classmates; I never imag­ined that we could be so similar and at the same time so different.”)

—Peruvian student who com­pleted the COIL course taught by Juan Dejo at Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, in partnership with Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco at Xavier University, spring 2015

Internationalize The Curriculum

Many institutions intended to internationalize existing courses by adapting the COIL model. They cited the educational benefits inherent to the COIL learning experience as reasons for modifying the courses: global exposure; cross-cultural interaction and familiarity; intercultural communicative compe­tence (see box below); peer-to-peer learning; awareness of one’s own culture, identity, and assumptions; critical thinking; and perspective-taking.

What is intercultural communicative competence?Intercultural communicative competence “involves an understanding not only of the culture and language being studied but also the readiness to suspend disbelief and judgment about the other culture and the willingness to reflect on one’s own culture and question the values and presuppositions in one’s own cultural practices. Through comparing and contrasting, learners can become more deeply aware of their own, often unconscious, belief system and ideological perspectives. They understand how aspects of their own culture are perceived from the other’s cultural perspective and how this link between the two cultures is fundamental to interaction.” (Chun 2011


Increase Access to Global Learning

Award program applicants acknowledged the barriers to study abroad—partic­ularly cost—that prevent most students from participating. While study abroad remains a valuable experience for many students, the COIL model offers a lower-cost option for delivering global learning to greater numbers of students. Interest in delivering global learning through the on-campus curriculum was par­ticularly strong among applicants from institutions with lower than average study abroad participation rates.

While some of the technologies available to support teaching and learn­ing across international borders are expensive, there are comparatively low-tech, low-cost options that can provide opportunities for profound cross-cultural learning. For example, students can use social networking to collaborate across borders. This ubiquitous technology is inexpensive, widely familiar to students around the world, and easily supports asyn­chronous collaboration for students in different time zones who share common competing demands from work and family. (American Council on Education 2011) PDF

How much does a COIL course cost? 

A COIL course may be less costly than international travel for a classroom of students, but it is certainly not free. Committing to a COIL program on campus requires a substantial invest-ment, mainly in terms of faculty and staff time. The exact costs will vary at each institution, but may include any of the following:

  • Support for course development (e.g., stipend, release time)

  • Administrative staff time (e.g., instructional designer, international programs office, deans, information technology unit)

  • Faculty development (e.g., technical training, conferences, or on-campus workshops)

  • New equipment and software, if needed, as well as reliable Internet connection

  • Physical space for a designated COIL program coordinator

  • Graduate students or teaching assistants to support COIL faculty

  • International travel, if faculty, administrators, or students visit one another’s institutions

  • Classrooms equipped for teleconferencing, if synchronous communication is part of the course




Create or Strengthen Global Parnerships

For institutions looking to establish new global partnerships, embarking on a COIL course can be a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to begin. For Glenville State College and Xavier University, the COIL courses initiated with universities in Spain and Peru were the first collaborations with those institutions. Where an international partnership is already in place, which was the case for Fayetteville State University and Inner Mongolia Normal University, a joint COIL course can enhance and deepen the relationship.


Faculty Development

By co-developing and co-teaching a COIL course, faculty have the opportu­nity to gain cross-cultural experience, learn technical skills, and reinvigorate their teaching. Many of the U.S. and international faculty who created new COIL courses through the awards program say that, through this process, they discovered the value of teaching collaboratively (not just with colleagues abroad). Several plan to publish journal articles in their respective disciplinary journals about the experience of adopting the COIL method. As a result of her COIL leadership at Glenville State College and in the West Virginia state sys­tem, Megan Gibbons, assistant professor of Spanish, received a Fulbright award to advance her COIL collaboration with the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain. 

Others have also found the collaboration valuable. “This has been a very inter­esting experience that helps us, as teachers, to think more globally and to be challenged to use other techniques and tools to have a bigger scope of the things we investigate,” said Juan Dejo, associate professor, Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya.

Alicia Laspra, a professor at Universidad de Oviedo, concurred: “I have improved my collaboration skills,” she said. “My problem-solving techniques have also benefited, and my English has improved (I hope).”



COIL offers the opportunity and makes it necessary for students and teachers to work closely together—an opportunity that in many cases is missed in physical mobility, where students and teachers do not collabo­rate inside and outside the classroom. (de Wit 2013)


Generate Interest in Study Abroad

Institutions involved in the Internationalization Through Technology Awards anticipated that some students participating in the new COIL courses would become more comfortable interacting with peers in another country and, as a result, overcome their reluctance to study abroad. It is difficult to prove a causal effect, or to follow students over time to measure such an effect, but there is anecdotal evidence of the link between COIL course participation and interna­tional study.

From Appalachia to Asturias: One Student’s COIL Journey
by Hollie Chessman, ACE research associate

When Danielle (Dannie) Cardwell left Indianapolis in her early 20s to pursue a nursing degree, she did not anticipate how much she would enjoy her Spanish classes at Glenville State College—much less that she would end up majoring in Spanish education.

In spring 2015, Megan Gibbons, assistant professor of Spanish, encouraged Dannie to sign up for one of the college’s first COIL courses, Spanish Culture and Conversation. Not knowing what to expect, Dannie went into it with an open mind, excited for the chance to interact with students at the University of Oviedo in Asturias, Spain.

 “I thought it was really interesting to learn from the students in Spain. It reminded me to think outside our country’s boundaries. For example, the way they structure their time is so different from the United States. Their dinner time could be at 11:00 p.m. or midnight.”

Dannie says the course improved her Spanish, and she especially enjoyed “side con-versations”—the chance to use Spanish in everyday situations, instead of focusing on classroom grammar and vocabulary. When Dannie became more comfortable with reading Spanish, Dr. Gibbons recommended that she study abroad to improve her speaking ability. Dannie brought home some information to show her grandmother. “I was thinking I would look at a three- or six-week program, but my grandmother encouraged me to go for six months. She told me to go for the whole experience!”

Now, as full-time student who is also working full-time as a bartender, Dannie is deter-mined to figure out the logistics of spending half the year in Spain. “There are various costs, insurance, and other proofs of coverage. I have to go to DC to get my visa paper-work in order. And I have to figure out how to get to Asturias from Madrid on my own.” Dannie’s financial aid package will cover the majority of her expenses, and she hopes to receive additional scholarship funding.

 In Asturias, Dannie will live with a family, fully immersed in Spanish culture. The credits she earns at the University of Oviedo will go toward her major at Glenville. While Dannie feels sure her language skills will improve—and that she may even start to dream in Spanish—she also hopes the experience will broaden her horizons in other unexpected and positive ways.


Faculty members at Xavier University embedded an optional, short-term study abroad experience in Peru for students in both of the new COIL courses introduced as part of the Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program. During spring break of 2015, Xavier students met their online student partners at the Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya in Lima, and two of the Peruvian students joined the group for travel and service learning projects during the week. The spring break study abroad option in Peru is offered eveyr year for students in these courses.


Attract  International Students

Some administrators expected to gain visibility for their institutions by organiz­ing COIL courses with partner universities in geographic regions where their institutions had little presence, or where it would be difficult for staff and faculty to visit in person because of travel advisories or distance.


Advance Internationalizatoin and Instutitonal Strategic Goals

An important criterion of the award selection process was for institutions to demonstrate evidence of a broader strategy for internationalizing their cam­puses, which could both support and benefit from the creation of new COIL courses. Applicants articulated several other elements of their international­ization strategies, such as expanding education abroad offerings, recruiting international students, attracting international faculty members and faculty development, generating international research, enhancing language study, engaging the local community, and collaborating with multicultural education offices.

ACE’s Model for Comprehensive Internationalization, below, identifies six dimensions involved in a comprehensive approach:


More information about ACE’s Model for Comprehensive Internationalization


Operating a COIL program—because it typically involves multiple functions and stakeholders, including those responsible for administration, curriculum, faculty policies, student mobility, or partnerships—can strengthen several dimensions of comprehensive internationalization.


III: Laying the Foundation for COIL

Developing a COIL course is a complex undertaking. For institutions testing out their first COIL courses, such as those ACE and the COIL Center worked with through the Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program, it can take months to establish the support needed and work with various offices on campus to get started. Apart from the fine details of drafting the syllabus and verifying Internet bandwidth, putting the following cornerstones in place can create a foundation on which to build a COIL course or program.

“COIL is not about the technology; it’s about col­laborative teaching and learning across cultures. The relationship between the faculty partners has to be worked out first. Then technology can be used to bridge the distance.” —Jon Rubin


Institutional Commitment

Support from the executive suite, both moral and material, makes a difference in the success and sustainability of COIL courses. Symbolically, a provost’s endorsement gives faculty and staff across the institution a green light to collaborate, and to spend valuable time and resources developing the COIL program. In more practical ways, senior administrators may have discretionary funds to create faculty stipends for initiating COIL courses. In order to gain the support of upper administration, the COIL program should help senior leaders advance strategic institutional goals, which may include student outcomes related to global and intercultural learning.  

Multiple Stakeholders

It is often said that COIL is both a top-down and bottom-up endeavor. Insti­tutional commitment at a high level is necessary, but not nearly sufficient. Depending on the size and organizational structure of a campus, a COIL pro­gram may also depend on the involvement of the following:

  • Faculty champions who are willing to experiment with their own courses, share their experience with COIL among faculty colleagues, and act as a resource for other faculty interested in adapting COIL. More than one faculty champion helps to ensure that COIL becomes an institutional endeavor, rather than the pet project of a single instructor.
  • Department chairs or deans to approve changes to course schedules or content. In some cases, a faculty curriculum committee reviews changes to course offerings. Deans may also be able to issue faculty development awards to those who develop new COIL courses, or offer travel awards for U.S. and international faculty to meet in person.
  • Centers for teaching innovation to share emerging practices and provide direct assistance to individual faculty members.
  • Instructional designers to assist with online collaboration between the partner institutions to help faculty and students use the learning manage­ment system, and, in some cases, to advise faculty in creating online collab­orative assignments.
  • International education or programs offices to identify partner institu­tions and manage the partnerships, and in some cases to assist with the creation of an education abroad component for some or all students.
  • Information technology specialists to help faculty determine which technologies best suit their instructional needs, ensure the equipment and Internet connection are adequate prior to starting the course, and then work out technical bugs along the way. Both the U.S. and international faculty who initiated new COIL courses through the awards program relied on the assistance of IT units on each of their campuses.

 Each stakeholder may prove critical at any point in the planning, development, implementation, or continuation of a COIL program on campus. They are likely to be more invested in the program’s success if they are involved from the out­set, rather than brought in to fix a problem.  

A significant challenge for institutions is to help faculty understand how to use the new technologies, appreciate the opportunities they offer to enhance student learning, and navigate the subtle and complex issues that can arise when students and faculty begin to work across cultures, often without the benefit of face-to-face interaction. Because using tech­nology to support international learning typically requires close collab­oration among faculty, information technology staff, and international program officials, it often necessitates a shift in institutional culture and norms about how faculty view their work. In these cases, implement­ing the technology is often the easiest part of the process. Faculty must become comfortable with a team approach to course design and delivery that runs counter to the traditional model. (American Council on Education 2011) (PDF)


International Partner

By definition, a COIL course cannot exist on one campus alone; it is “pro­foundly networked” (Jon Rubin, pers. comm.). It is not necessary to already have an international partner, and the COIL course can be an opportunity to form new partnerships. Above all, the partnerships must be mutually benefi­cial and operate within a shared, neutral space. Both partners must communi­cate well and consistently throughout the planning and delivery of the course. Together, they have to negotiate many details, such as dates of the course or module, class schedules and meeting times, expectations for communication and response time, which technology platforms are available and support learn­ing goals for the course, student learning outcomes, and much more.

Global Course Connections: Great Lakes Colleges Association

The Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA), a consortium of 13 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. Great Lakes region, helps member institutions identify international partner institutions and develop virtually networked courses with them through the Global Course Connections Program. Launched in 2012, the program has supported some 23 paired courses that use technology to enrich global learning in the classroom. Each summer, the program brings together faculty from the GLCA and international members of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance to work together face-to-face in a course development workshop. The program offers a level of support and funding—and a set of global connections for matching partners—that would be difficult for a single member institution to achieve.


CIGE’s Insights report, International Higher Education Partnerships: A Global Review of Standards and Practices, analyzes standards for international higher education partnerships and offers practical advice to institutions for forming, managing, and sustaining them.


IV: Getting Started 

In this section, we discuss some of the common, though often complicated, points of consideration for institutions as they develop a new COIL program. These topics were either discussed in the campus workshops organized by ACE and the COIL Center as part of their work with “Advancing International­ization” award recipients or they arose over the course of the awards program. Implicit in each consideration, to be negotiated by each set of faculty partners, is the COIL model’s flexibility and customization.

Classroom Culture

Language isn’t the only cause of possible misunderstandings or imbalance. Even among English-dominant countries, classroom expectations can vary greatly across cultural context, influencing student and faculty behavior. For example, U.S. students are usually encouraged to speak in class and to chal­lenge the professor, but in other countries that could be considered disrespect­ful. Classroom expectations should be sorted out between the collaborating faculty during the course planning phase. Otherwise, student performance in class (e.g., not speaking) may be falsely attributed by the partner faculty and stu­dents to other factors, such as apathy or avoidance. In addition to speaking in class, other differences in classroom culture and expectations might include:

  • Pedagogical style—lecture, group work, discussion boards
  • Formality—how students and faculty interact
  • Attendance—required or not required
  • Grading and assessment—for credit, extra credit, optional

When cultural differences arise in the COIL classroom, faculty should be pre­pared to help students navigate them. One that occurred with some frequency in the COIL courses introduced through the Internationalization Through Technol­ogy Awards was around different conceptions of time and deadlines (e.g., “She took a whole day to reply to my email,” and, “It’s nearly the end of the semester, and the other students haven’t done anything yet.”). While such differences can be frustrating to students working together on a project, they can also be an opportunity to pause for conversations about different conceptions of time, and the assumptions each may make about the other.

“My students enjoy [the COIL course],” said Yvette Essounga-Njan, an assis­tant professor of management at Fayetteville State University. “We distributed a set of questions to both sets of students, and they had to respond by making PowerPoint presentations to the class. . . . Beyond the fun part of it, you can see they are really putting time into answering questions from the other students. It showed that our students are not taking the class lightly; they’re putting deep thought into it. I was almost in tears. ‘You make me so proud!’ I told them. To me, it was as if the attitude of the Chinese students was rubbing off on them. Our students are better than we think.”


Student Learning Styles and Assignments

In any classroom, there will be students with different learning styles, but that difference is magnified when classrooms in two different countries collaborate. Some students will learn better when material is presented orally, others when it’s presented visually, and others when it’s written. The COIL Institute for Globally Networked Learning in the Humanities report (PDF) suggests faculty can address some of these differences by using multiple communication methods.

Students from different countries will have varying degrees of experience working individually, in pairs, or in groups. Because collaboration is at the heart of any COIL course, it is imperative that students know, or learn with guidance from their instructor, how to be good collaborators. The added complexity of different time zones and languages only makes collaboration more challenging. In addition, group work may include peer review, but depending on the cultural context, students may only be comfortable accepting feedback from the faculty member. Some COIL faculty have found it helpful to create guidelines for stu­dent interaction.

Collaboration does not just happen. It takes planning and coordination on the part of the instructor to carry out collaborative activity success­fully in an online class. Once the activity has begun, the instructor needs to stay present and involved in order to assure that students will engage with one another in a meaningful way. Collaborative activity requires instructors to empower students to take charge of the learning process. (State University of New York Center for Collaborative Online Interna­tional Learning 2015)


Shared Syllabus

The C for “collaborative” in COIL does not apply only to students; faculty, too, work together closely to develop the shared syllabus for their COIL course or module. As a general guideline, a COIL module should run from four to seven weeks. In the process of developing the shared syllabus, faculty must together decide many important elements, such as learning outcomes, collaborative student activities and assignments, and the language of instruction. “By collab­orating virtually with their teaching partners, faculty model the experience of students in a COIL course” (Jon Rubin, pers. comm.).

According to the U.S. and international faculty who participated in the Interna­tionalization Through Technology Awards Program, the value of advance plan­ning to work out a detailed syllabus and lesson plans cannot be underestimated. A professor from Spain, Alicia Laspra, said that if she were to repeat the course she would “make sure that we organize it carefully and plan the activities in detail, even if the plans are to be altered later. I would try to avoid improvisation.”

Most faculty members involved in the awards program found that embedding student collaboration as a requirement in the syllabus yielded far better par­ticipation and progress toward learning outcomes than participation that was voluntary or for extra credit. Students who were required to participate felt disappointed when their international counterparts did not.  

Timing and Course Length

As stated above, a COIL course or module can last between four and seven weeks. Less time is not sufficient for trust to develop between students; a longer period can be more difficult for faculty to manage, in part because of differ­ent semester start and end dates. Even though faculty who participated in the awards program felt overall that their COIL students achieved better learning results, most also said they abbreviated readings or shortened other assign­ments to fit the COIL module into their existing syllabi.

Even if classrooms overlap by just two or three weeks, a lot of learning and preparation for the COIL part of the course can take place before and after. For example, prior to the COIL module, students can learn about the partner coun­try’s history, culture, and language; read class assignments; or prepare videos introducing themselves to their international peers. After the COIL module concludes, students can write reflection papers or finish long-term assignments; often, they continue to communicate with their foreign classmates informally.  


The language (or languages) of instruction for a COIL course is a critical point for faculty to discuss prior to starting the course. Most COIL courses to date have been taught in English, largely because most have involved at least one U.S. institution. An exciting outcome of the ACE-SUNY COIL Center awards program is one of the first COIL courses delivered with a U.S. institution fully in another language: “The Living Heritage of the Andes: Language, Culture and Society in Peru,” taught by Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco at Xavier University (OH) and Juan Dejo at Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya in Peru.

Language of instruction can be both a practical and political issue. When one group of students is operating in a second language, it can put them at a dis­advantage for learning and participating in the course. Even when non-native speakers have strong English ability, they may feel intimidated to speak in front of native-speaking peers.

Faculty involved in the Internationalization Through Technology Awards adopted several strategies for helping students negotiate language differences, such as:

  • Working with U.S. students on their communication skills to encourage them to speak slowly and avoid slang, idioms, and acronyms
  • Using the non-U.S. institution’s learning management system for both groups of students in the COIL course
  • Assigning work groups to include at least one strong English speaker from the non-U.S. class
  • Being flexible, and allowing students to find their own best methods to communicate

Although all six of the new courses created through the Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program involved two groups of students from different language backgrounds, few reported difficulty with communication attributable to language difference. Alicia Laspra noted that although one group of students spoke English and the others Spanish, “They managed to col­laborate effectively and the learning objectives were not negatively affected.” In part, that is not surprising because of the prevalence of English today, especially in the online environment—for example, 80 percent of students in the Peruvian literature course spoke English, although it was not a requirement—but it does attest to the students’ interest and creativity in using online communication to connect with one another.

“I think that the students realized the importance and significance of the experi­ence because they were, from the very start, very interested to share their learn­ing with students from overseas,” said Mario Granda, a professor at Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. “Although there were some moments of difficulty, they really were engaged with the situation and made the effort to finish their activities with their partners.”

Online Technology

A COIL course can employ any type of online communication technology, however simple or elaborate, between two or more groups of faculty and stu­dents. The SUNY COIL Center does not recommend any particular technology or tool, nor is there consensus among practitioners regarding which are most effective. Rather, the technology should be considered a means to an end, with the end being student learning. In choosing which online technology to use for a COIL course, the following factors are important to consider:

  • Fit: First and foremost, the technology should help students achieve the learning objectives. If it’s important for students to observe the same lec­ture, then synchronous videoconferencing would be an appropriate choice. If students are expected to offer their responses to a reading assignment, an online discussion board may be the best option. Or if students are asked to collaborate on a report, the best tool may be a wiki or story board. Language classes often rely on audio-recording tools, such as VoiceThread. Mirjam Hauck of the SUNY COIL Center cautions, “Don’t use anything just because it exists.”
    Faculty should consider how much of students’ interaction they want to monitor. Discussion boards are a common feature of most learning man­agement systems (LMSs), where the instructor can read and evaluate stu­dents’ posts. Students may develop more personal connections, however, by communicating through the social media channels they already use, such as Twitter or Instagram, but these interactions would typically take place outside the instructors’ purview.
    Another consideration in terms of fit with the learning objectives is stu­dents’ learning styles. As noted earlier, a multimodal approach involving more than one type of input and output (e.g., audio, video, or writing) and giving choice to students may be more effective than any single tool.
  • Access: Students and the instructors in both classrooms should have access to the same technology tools, which can significantly limit options, depending on the availability of hardware, software licenses, and band­width. Even among the 27 SUNY campuses actively involved in the COIL Center’s network, each has access to a different set of tools. “Open access” technologies, such as Skype or a closed Facebook group, are available worldwide and can be accessed for free.
  • Cost: Many forms of online communication are free or low-cost and suffi­cient for collaborative learning between students in connected classrooms. Pairs and small groups of students can use a laptop and webcam (or even a smartphone) to communicate synchronously via Skype, FaceTime, or similar tools. However, for synchronous class meetings involving large numbers of students, free tools have limited capability.

    A number of proprietary systems can support fluid synchronous inter­action, but at a cost. It is important to consider that both classrooms will need access and licenses. Such a system may also require additional staff­ing and hardware, as students in the two classrooms will be able to see and hear each other better with a dedicated camera operator (ideally someone other than the instructor) and individual headsets. Moreover, depending on the nature of the material, student learning objectives may be achieved just as effectively with asynchronous tools, such as email, discussion boards, or VoiceThread.

  • Reliability: Determining which technologies work best for each pair of classrooms may require some trial and error. While open-access resources are improving in terms of reliability, even some commercial systems may not prove easy to use and dependable. Delays and interruptions can impede student learning and cause frustration.
  • Familiarity: Students are more likely to be involved in the COIL course if they can use technologies they are already familiar with, such as their home institution’s LMS or their own social media accounts. Teaching stu­dents to use new tools can take up valuable class time. On the other hand, some institutions frown upon the use of informal communication plat­forms such as Facebook for academic purposes.
  • Flexibility: Online communication technology is highly innovative, and new methods are constantly emerging, which also means they can quickly become outdated. Students worldwide increasingly access the Internet via handheld devices, rather than desktop or laptop computers, so it will likely become more important for tools to be accessible through a smartphone interface or app. Rather than investing in one system and expecting stu­dents and faculty to adopt it, COIL courses may generate greater student participation by offering a variety of technologies and taking into account what students are most comfortable with.

“The learning goals for the course should drive the technology; technol­ogy should not drive the course.”  —Jon Rubin, pers. comm.


Instructional technology specialists and information technology units on campus can be excellent resources for helping COIL faculty determine the best communication methods (and can be essential for helping to resolve technical issues if they arise). It is important for both the faculty and technology special­ists to recognize, however, that a COIL course is significantly different from an online course; just because a course has previously been taught online does not mean it is ready to be taught as a COIL course. When adopting the COIL methodology, every facet of the course must be considered in light of the collab­oration with the international partner.


Online communication tools used among the Internationalization Through Technology Awards recipients:

  • Adobe Connect
  • BlueJeans
  • Dropbox
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • FaceTime
  • Google hangouts
  • Instagram
  • Learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Desire­2Learn, Moodle, Sakai)
  • PowerPoint
  • Prezi
  • Skype
  • Sony Virtuoso
  • Text messaging
  • Vine
  • VoiceThread
  • WebEx
  • Wechat
  • Yahoo groups
  • YouTube
  • Zoom


Class Size

Enrollment in the six new COIL courses initiated through the Internationaliza­tion Through Technology Awards Program ranged from six to 35. Because of the significant faculty role of facilitating and monitoring students’ interaction, COIL courses of more than 25 can be difficult to manage. Personal relation­ships with classmates abroad form more easily in smaller classes, and having more or less equivalent numbers of students in each classroom makes for more balanced teams. Another factor affecting class size may be the availability of computers, headsets, cameras, or suitable classrooms, if the instructors intend to hold synchronous class meetings.


Course Content


COIL courses can be taught in any discipline, and the connected classrooms may be different courses, or even from different disciplines. Previous COIL courses include Engineering Ethics, Gender Roles Across Cultures, Dairy Pro­duction and Management, Visual Culture and Media Literacy, Psychology of Terrorism, and many others. A list is posted at the COIL Center’s website.

 Perhaps the most common application of the COIL method is in foreign lan­guage learning. “Online Intercultural Exchange (OIE),” as this approach is known in Europe, “offers teachers the opportunity to implement authentic com­municative language teaching,” says Sarah Guth, who teaches English as a for­eign language at the Università degli studi di Padova, and who formerly served as program coordinator at the SUNY COIL Center. “By allowing students in different geographical locations to communicate directly with one another, OIE creates opportunities for authentic language use and practice. This authenticity is further strengthened by the fact that effective international online communi­cation has become one of the many skills expected of students graduating from higher education institutions today” (Guth, 2016).


Assessing Student Learning

Each COIL faculty member assesses his or her own students’ learning, in accor­dance with the guidelines of the home institution, though consultation with the partner faculty about students’ performance may be helpful in making an accurate assessment of how well they collaborated with peers.

Depending on the nature of the course, there may be different learning out­comes for overall course content and for the COIL module. Learning outcomes that faculty partners create together for a COIL module are likely to include the development of intercultural and global awareness. These can be difficult to measure: Pre/post instruments typically rely on student self-reporting, and stu­dents’ attitudinal and behavioral changes may take several months or years to manifest. Faculty who initiated courses through the ACE-COIL Center awards program relied primarily on student journals, discussion boards, in-class discus­sion, and reflection papers to measure how well students were able to integrate international perspectives. For example, a faculty member from Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya observed Peruvian and U.S. students discussing online the prevalence of the others’ language in each country and the difference in public attitudes toward it.

Several faculty involved in the Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program developed their own pre/post surveys to measure changes in students’ global knowledge and perspective.

Other suggestions for assessing global or intercultural learning in a COIL module:

  • Compare learning outcomes between students in a COIL section and those in a regular section of the same course
  • Analyze course assignments (essays, journal entries, discussion board) for evidence of students’ shifting global and intercultural awareness
  • Structure a group discussion and observe students’ integration of global and intercultural learning in their commentary
  • Inquire about changes to future intentions, such as plans to travel, study abroad, or learn another language

“[The students] were fascinated with the Skype sessions where they could realize that, on the other end, the students were real.”  —Alicia Laspra, professor, Universidad de Oviedo, Spain



V: Sustaining a COIL Program

 So far we have discussed considerations for initiating a new COIL course. It should be evident by this point that starting a COIL course takes considerable time, effort, and coordination on the part of multiple faculty, staff, and adminis­trators. Like any new endeavor, the start-up costs (especially time) are signifi­cant. Institutions cannot assume that, once started, a COIL program will live on in perpetuity. Sustaining a COIL course beyond one or two semesters can be complicated by a variety of factors. For example, a faculty member (U.S. or international) may retire or take a sabbatical, faculty development awards to cre­ate the course may not be available to continue it, or institutional leaders may decide to prioritize other initiatives over the COIL program. This section of the report discusses strategies for sustaining COIL beyond the one-off experiment. 


“Students know more about differences and similarities between the two countries in terms of culture, business, edu­cation, health care, etc. Moreover, through this course, students from both countries corrected some misconceptions they used to have.”  —Paula Qu, Bautou Teachers College


Alignment with Institutional Goals 

In order to sustain the interest and support of leadership, the COIL program should advance goals for the institution beyond the learning goals established for a single course. For example, if the institution aims to generate interest in study abroad, the study abroad office may be willing to set aside travel stipends for students who complete a COIL course and are motivated to go abroad. Another example: If the institution is seeking to form partnerships to deliver joint degrees with an institution in China, faculty could seek partners from that institution for their COIL courses.

Administrative Structure: Where Does COIL Belong?

The question of where to locate the “home” for COIL on campus vexes some institutions. As noted earlier, a COIL program may depend upon international programs staff, instructional designers, and faculty—and the successful collabo­ration among these and other stakeholders. The answer will vary from one insti­tution to another, depending largely on where there is capacity and expertise. In some cases, establishing the COIL home, may involve simply designating one faculty or staff member to be the “COIL coordinator” and then posting a sign on that person’s door. At a minimum, that signals to others on campus there is something going on called COIL and lets them know whom to contact if they are interested in experimenting with the COIL method.

At each of the three institutions selected for the Advancing Internationalization Through Technology Award, an involved faculty member was asked to serve as the primary COIL coordinator, but this role could also be served by staff of the instructional technology office, the information technology unit, or the teaching and learning center.


Faculty Engagement

While we have discussed at length the expectations and workload of faculty who develop COIL courses, the benefits can be significant. Several faculty members who participated in the award program said they learned new skills, enjoyed collaborating with their international partners, saw their students do new and unexpected things, and felt energized to teach in a new way.

Institutions can support faculty and encourage them to experiment with the COIL method in several ways: by organizing faculty workshops for technology or intercultural competency, allowing faculty development funds to be used for faculty to visit their COIL partner institution, or encouraging them to present about their COIL experience at national and international conferences (includ­ing the annual COIL Conference).

Often, the incentives offered for developing a COIL course—such as faculty development awards, course release, or recognition for promotion—are available only once, and not renewed after the first phase. Nevertheless, many faculty partners—such as those involved in the Internationalization Through Technol­ogy Awards Program­—are motivated to continue their COIL collaboration for its own merits.

Assessing the COIL Program

Institutional leaders with the authority to support and sustain a COIL program need evidence on which to base the allocation of institutional resources. The designated COIL coordinator can help campus leadership by gathering infor­mation about the COIL program’s outcomes, such as enrollment numbers, student learning outcomes, or student activities after participating in COIL courses. (Assessment of student learning in COIL courses is discussed in part IV of this report.)

Although faculty have published numerous articles about their COIL experi­ences, the articles have appeared in a wide range of disciplinary journals, mak­ing it difficult to compare course and programmatic outcomes. Further research documenting COIL program outcomes, with comparison across institutions, would be a valuable contribution to the field.

Scaling Up

For many institutions, COIL courses support the goal of delivering global learning to a large number of students. Keeping one or two COIL courses on the books each year may be beneficial to the few faculty and students involved, but unless the COIL method is replicated in various academic programs across the campus, it will not deliver on the promise of reaching a critical mass. From the outset, institutions should define what “full scale” would mean on their campuses (e.g., number of courses, students, academic programs, or schools involved) and consider what it would take for a COIL program to achieve full scale.

Each of the three institutions selected for the Advancing Internationalization Through Technology Award articulated a clear goal for the program’s expan­sion and continuation after three years:

  • 25 percent of existing courses with a global designation will become COIL courses.
  • 90 students per year will participate in COIL courses.
  • COIL will expand to other campuses in the state system.

Two are now planning COIL courses with new partners in other countries: Glen­ville State College with institutions in Puebla, Mexico, and Fayetteville State University with a university in India. The new courses will involve additional faculty, other than those involved in this project, from other disciplines.


“I am highly motivated to continue the devel­opment of the COIL program, which I have explicitly mentioned in the teaching program of the main subject I will be teaching in the next aca­demic year. I believe the program has great pos­sibilities, though I would like to be better informed, and to have support from my university in terms of recognized working time.”  —J. Rubén Valdés Miyares, Universidad de Oviedo

Institutionalizing COIL at SUNY Cortland

While many institutions are just beginning to experiment with the COIL method, State University College at Cortland (NY) was an early adopter. Driven by strong faculty interest and sustained by institutional support, the use of technology to enhance global learning has expanded over 10 years to include multiple degree programs and disciplines. Cortland was a charter member of the COIL Center’s SUNY Nodal Network, a group of some 27 SUNY institutions, supported by the COIL Center, that exchange lessons and ideas. A founding partner of the SUNY Global Workforce Development Project, the college has developed course globalization modules focused on sustainability, nationalism, and trade that could be incorporated into a range of existing courses. A course on social control has been taught by Cortland professor Craig Little with Belarussian faculty partner Larissa Titarenko for more than 10 years. Other COIL courses at Cortland have included Interna-tional Development and International Migration, Strategic Management in Sports Organizations, and Theoretical Foundations of Teaching English as a Second Language, offered with partner institutions in Belarus, China, the Netherlands, and Turkey. A list of SUNY’s COIL-supported courses is available online.


VI: Other Approaches to Virtual Mobility

The SUNY COIL Center has been a pioneer in developing a specific pedagog­ical method and a resource for higher education institutions in New York, the United States, and throughout the world. There are other approaches to virtual mobility that bear mentioning in this report.

Learning Across Borders at Mount Holyoke College

The ACE-SUNY COIL Center awards program honored Mount Holyoke Col­lege as one of three Leaders in Internationalization Through Technology because of the college-wide Learning Across Borders (LaB) Initiative. Recogniz­ing that technology could present a cost-effective approach to internation­alizing the curriculum, the dean of the faculty, with support from the college president, piloted the LaB program in 2011–12 with 12 classes selected from 11 disciplines. Faculty first participated in a LaB seminar, then adjusted their syllabi to incorporate video conferencing with international guest speakers. The program, now referred to as VP-50, is coordinated by the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, with technical support from the information technology staff. After experimenting with Skype and Adobe Connect, the college decided to purchase a more robust videoconferencing system from Cisco that was installed in three classrooms and two administrative offices. Four years later, 50 faculty members from a variety of disciplines have now completed VP-50 courses. According to the McCulloch Center’s director, Eva Paus, Mount Holy­oke intends to continue scaling up, with the goal of linking even more students with the world.

Global Understanding at East Carolina University

Facing low rates of participation in study abroad, East Carolina University developed a special curriculum that incorporates teleconferencing with global classrooms. The Global Understanding curriculum, designed primarily for first-year students, is a three- to four-week module that can be attached to existing courses. The university helps match course sections with two interna­tional partner institutions, creating a three-way collaboration. Class sessions are conducted synchronously, using Internet-based video and chat technology. The curriculum provides a set of guided questions, and students in Global Under­standing courses typically discuss topics such as college life, cultural traditions, family, and stereotypes and prejudices. The University of North Carolina system (of which East Carolina University is a member institution) recognizes the potential for Global Understanding courses to expand global learning and has offered grants to other colleges and universities in the state to adopt the Global Understanding curriculum.

Soliya Connect

Soliya is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization founded in 2003 to facilitate dialogue among students in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Europe, and North America. The Soliya Connect program is a videoconferencing platform through which students in these regions engage in live dialogue online, with trained multilingual facilitators, over an eight-week period, which could stand alone or be incorporated into a semester-length course. Colleges and universities contract with Soliya to provide an academic curriculum, readings, activities, and online session, which can complement their existing curriculum or co-curriculum.

Stevens Initiative

The J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative is a multilateral pub­lic-private partnership designed to increase people-to-people exchange through online technology between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa, in memory of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The initiative is housed at the Aspen Institute and provides support and funding for online engagement between youth in secondary and postsecondary education.

UNICollaboration (Europe)

The telecollaboration movement in Europe grew out of foreign language teach­ing. A group of instructors (including Sarah Guth, formerly of the SUNY COIL Center) from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the UK initially came together in 2011 to form INTENT (Integrating TElecollabo­rative Networks into Foreign Language Higher Education). The initial goals of INTENT were to survey existing telecollaboration activity in Europe and create a website, UNICollaboration, to provide training resources and help teaching partners find one another. In 2016, the INTENT partners decided it was import­ant to broaden the scope of telecollaboration to include all disciplines and subject areas in higher education as well as to provide a venue for academic research on the practice. UNICollaboration: The International Organisation of Telecollaboration and Virtual Exchange, established in April 2016, operates as a global independent professional association, with open membership, and is not based at a particular higher education institution.

Individual Campus Initiatives

In addition to COIL and other established programs such as those mentioned here, there is significant innovation in virtually networked learning, or vir­tual exchange, among faculty members at institutions worldwide. Some have acquired substantial expertise over several semesters or years of teaching virtu­ally networked courses; others are just beginning to experiment. Some institu­tions have formed their own COIL-like programs to support these efforts, such as the Global Collaborative Classroom at George Mason University (VA), launched in fall 2015.

In addition to the SUNY system, other state higher education systems, such as those in North Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia, are promoting use of online technology to globally connect classrooms. A number of international universities have developed expertise in this pedagogy—such as Kansai Univer­sity in Japan, and a growing cadre of COIL partner institutions in Mexico, the Netherlands, and Turkey—that can serve as a national or regional resource.

At many institutions, however, faculty members’ solitary efforts may go unrec­ognized or unsupported. Nevertheless, innovative faculty worldwide are finding benefit in linking to a broader community of virtual exchange practitioners. Over time, that growing community will lend greater cohesion and coordina­tion to otherwise disparate efforts to achieve the same important goal: expand access to cost-effective, meaningful global learning and exposure through online technology.

Additional Resources


American Council on Education. 2011. Strength through Global Leadership and Engagement: U.S. Higher Education in the 21st Century. PDF Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

American Council on Education. 2012. Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2012 Edition. Washington, DC: American Council on Educa­tion.

Chun, Dorothy M. 2011. “Developing Intercultural Communicative Compe­tence through Online Exchanges.” PDF
CALICO Journal 28 (2): 392–419.

de Wit, Hans. 2013. “COIL—Virtual Mobility Without Commercialisation.” University World News, June 1. 

Guth, Sarah. 2013. The COIL Institute for Globally Networked Learning in the Humanities Final Report. New York: State University of New York Center for Collaborative Online International Learning.

Institute of International Education. 2015. 2015 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Institute of International Education. 

State University of New York Center for Collaborative Online International Learning. 2015. COIL Faculty Handbook. New York: State University of New York Center for Collaborative Online International Learning.