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Intercultural competence and COIL in spotlight

Researchers are testing the efficacy of Collaborative Online International Learning as a means to internationalise curricula following a “surge of interest” over recent years.

Collaborative Online International Learning is a form of virtual exchange that allows students across borders to collaborate. Photo: pexels

Institutional strategic plans should include internationalisation at home strategies, Hackett suggested

While institutions have looked to COIL due to the rapid transition to online during the pandemic, along with its environmental and inclusivity benefits, researchers have looked to its impact on the development of students’ intercultural competence.

The method of learning and teaching, involving two or more lecturers at institutions in different countries, sees students assigned online group work and projects.

“It is assumed that students develop intercultural competencies through this experience,” researcher Simone Hackett said.

“But there is very little empirical evidence showing that COIL is effective and helps students develop intercultural competencies.”

The findings, offering practical implications for educators and how best to implement COIL, identified that the teaching method may benefit different types of learners more than others.

“COIL might be more effective for certain types of students, for example those who do not have any other international elements within their study programs, as we saw for the US students [in our study],” she said.

Students with no access to English-taught internationally orientated courses or to international students in their class, or where programs do not focus on internationalisation, “might get more out of COIL compared to students who do have these international opportunities”.

Hackett stated that while it can help students develop intercultural competencies, other efforts such as having students work with international students at their home university or having students follow an internationally orientated course, could have the same effect as COIL.

However, more research is needed to determine this, she continued.

The study, featuring a sample of students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands and State University New York Brockport in the US, saw students split up into four groups: a US and NL experimental group and a US and NL control group.

The experimental groups consisted of students from both the US and NL institutions working together, while control group students did not work together with international partners, but with students from their own class.

Results showed the US experimental group increased in intercultural competence while the US control group did not, which researchers said supports the hypothesis that COIL helps students develop intercultural competence. However, the same was not observed for NL students.

“Both the NL experimental group and NL control group increased in intercultural competence. This could have been due to the NL control group being exposed to other international input during the course, as they worked together with international students at their home institutions and followed an internationally orientated minor.

“This was not the case for the US students who had no other international elements within their study program,” she told The PIE.

“The Covid-19 pandemic also explicitly showed the vulnerability of over reliance on student mobility”

“In order to determine whether COIL works or not, or how we might be able to make it more effective, we need more mixed-method studies that make use of control groups to test any positive or negative findings. Our study sets the groundwork for this, but it would be ideal to repeat this study using a much larger sample,” Hackett added.

The instructional design of COIL courses should also be further investigated in order to find which is most effective in supporting students intercultural competence development, she continued.

With rising concerns over the carbon footprint of mobility, universities have “no choice” than to look for alternative, ethical ways to help their students develop intercultural competencies rather than flying abroad, Hackett concluded.

Institutional strategic plans should include internationalisation at home strategies and ensure educators and support staff are equipped with the time and resources to design and execute such activities.

“In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic also explicitly showed the vulnerability of over reliance on student mobility.

“Internationalisation at home practices such as COIL, or collaborative learning within the international classroom, are more inclusive and more sustainable and should be seen as a basic element within educational programs.”

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