Global Collaboration in Higher Education

Out of the Box October / October 13, 2018
-Nuria Hernandez Nanclares-  

One of the magic words for people in the Flipped Learning Global Initiative (FLGI), especially for International Faculty, is global collaboration. We promote collaboration in all aspects, elements and interactions related to FL 3.0. How could this global collaboration be introduced in the classroom, for students and teachers in their daily practice? Could it be possible to go beyond the classroom walls and collaborate with other students, from other places, with other cultures and perspectives?

Organizing and developing a Virtual Exchange (VE), also known as Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), is the perfect way to make real global collaboration possible in schools and universities. Using an FL approach is the perfect framework to promote and enhance these type of experiences.

For the COIL center of New York University (SUNY COIL Center), Collaborative Online International Learning is a new teaching and learning paradigm that promotes the development of intercultural competence across shared multicultural learning environments. Through the use of Internet-based tools and innovative online pedagogies, COIL fosters meaningful exchanges between university-level teachers and students with peers in geographically distant locations and from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds (SUNY COIL Center, n.d., Ver. 1.4 ).

As its name states, the experience has some characteristic elements. It is Collaborative; courses are focused on teamwork and collaboration and team-taught by educators who collaborate to develop a shared syllabus that emphasizes experiential and collaborative student-centered learning. The performance has to be Online, as the use of virtual tools allows working with a partner at a distance, especially Internationally. This cross-cultural and cross borders element is crucial as one of the aims of this proposal is to encourage and support the development and implementation of intercultural skills. Finally, the experience has to promote Learning. All the design and module development has to be integrated in the curriculum students’ are following in their home institutions. Beyond improving intercultural skills and cross-cultural learning, the experience has to be based on shared learning objectives, specifically related to the content and aims both modules have. Probably, this is the most compromising element of this proposal as the shared collaboration between Professors is crucial and states the success or failure of the experience.

In most cases, the international component of the course takes place solely online, and the individual courses are, more often, offered with traditional face-to-face sessions taking place at both Universities. So, we can include this method between the blended formats of education. In any case, we can distinguish a COIL module from a typical online or distance learning course. A COIL course is specifically designed to link students who have different cultural and geophysical perspectives and experiences. A typical online course may include students from different parts of the world; however, a COIL course engages students in learning course content both through their unique cultural lens and also by exchanging their cultural and experiential lenses as they move through the learning material together. By helping students to work together on the same course activities, sharing content and learning objectives, instructors are facilitating a cross-cultural dialogue that brings a global dimension to the course content (SUNY COIL Center, n.d., Ver. 1.4 ).

Also, these types of experiences could be related with International mobility as, to a certain extent, this experience could resemble a real studying-abroad period. In this aspect, it is similar to other virtual mobility proposals that try to make it easier for students to get in contact with foreign higher education traditions without the cost of a real mobility Erasmus-style. In this sense, a Transnational Erasmus Virtual Exchange Project (TEP), as it is known under the EU jargon, is a people-to-people educational program in which constructive communication and interaction takes place between individuals or groups who are geographically separated and/or from different cultural backgrounds, with the support of educators or facilitators and technology-enabled.”(Evolve-Erasmus)

Similarly as for SUNY, for the Evolve Erasmus project, a Virtual Exchange aims to allow an increasing number of people to have a meaningful intercultural experience as part of their education. This type of activity may be situated in educational programmes across the curriculum in order to increase mutual understanding and global citizenship. Virtual Exchange also fosters the development of what has been recognized as employability skills such as digital competence (the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively online), foreign language competence, communication skills, media literacy and the ability to work in a diverse cultural context.

In any case, this capacity of technology and online communication to substitute the real experience is, at least, arguably. What is impossible to avoid is the technological component this educational proposal has. There is a minimum of technological abilities that both professors and students need to have to manage with communication tools, and both partners have to be ready to teach both modules in a technologically enhanced way. In this aspect, this proposal has a lot of connections with Technology-Supported-(Collaborative)-Learning.

During last year 2017-18 and in order to enhance the multicultural experience of Spanish students in a bilingual grade in a Spanish public University (Universidad de Oviedo, UNIOVI), we have carried out a project on COIL with an American higher-education institution (West Liberty University, WLU). The COIL experience consists in working together, in mixed UNIOVI-WLU small groups on a common economic topic since the experience is developed in Economic Faculties from both Universities.

The project aims to promote students’ intercultural skills and improve their capacity to work in multicultural teams using English as a second language. In the experience, all students are in contact with a variety of international students since in both Universities local students are mixed with others coming from very different parts of the world. Therefore, the acculturation process of change as a result of the interaction of two or more cultures (Berry, 2005) is richer in this occasion than in the common case, allowing multi-dimensional transitions for local and international students (Jindal-Snape and Rienties, 2016).

Project objectives can be summarised in three questions. The first one tries to find out the extent to which this online international experience resembles a real experience abroad for students. Secondly, the project aims at learning to what extent local students are forced to experience similar transitions to those experienced by foreign exchange students, even if the former does not physically move. Thirdly, the project considers exploring how students adapt to communicate in an L2 in collaboration with other native and non-native speakers, and the level of multicultural learning generated by this experience.

Finally, the project has a technological component to support the online collaboration. Using Moxtra as the application through which the group work was developed, allowed an effective monitoring of the experience. Having a detailed record of what groups were doing enabled researchers to assess different aspects of the experience, from group effectiveness to improvements in student’s acculturation process and transitional dimensions.


Berry, J.W. (2005) Acculturation Living Successfully in Two Cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 697-712.

Jindal-Snape, Divya and Rienties, Bart (eds.) (2016). Multi-dimensional transitions of international students to higher education. New Perspectives on Learning and Instruction. London: Routledge

SUNY COIL Center (n.d.). Faculty Guide for Collaborative Online International Learning Course Development, Version 1.4.

Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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