SUNY's COIL initiative is a powerful program leveraging technology in the pursuit of learning on a global level.
This year, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Professors Janet Thompson (The College of Westchester) and Patrice Torcivia (SUNY Empire State College), The College of Westchester participated in a “Collaborative Online International Learning” course. COIL (coil.suny.edu) is a program developed at SUNY, “to develop and implement online collaborative international courses at SUNY as a format for experientialÂ cross-cultural learning, thereby sensitizing participating students to the larger world by deepening their understanding of themselves, their culture, how they are perceived and how they perceive others.”
COIL encourages instructors from higher education institutions across the world to partner and develop collaborative courses. Any course can be turned into a COIL collaboration. Their website provides plenty of information about how to get started. The courses can provide a rich and rewarding experience for students and teachers alike. A Faculty Guide that COIL produces includes many “Story from the Field” excerpts. The following selections from those excerpts help to illustrate to power of these types of courses.
“Though our GNLE (Globally Networked Learning Environment) course focuses in social control, some of the most interesting on-line discussion exchanges have happened outside the strict parameters of this subject matter. Several years ago a male Belarusian student posted a message similar to this: “I would like to wish all of the women in the class a happy International Women's Day.” Very shortly thereafter one of the American students in the class acknowledged never having heard of International Women's Day before. The on-line threaded discussion that ensured was marvelously inspiring with students branching into “conversations” about the rights of women in their societies and the role of designated days to acknowledge progress and problems. Spontaneous, learner-centered “teachable moments” like this one make all the work worthwhile.”
– Prof. C. Little, SUNY at Cortland.
“Previous to the course, many students at my small, rural community college could not locate Poland on a map of Europe without country names – my “pre-test” in preparation for the project. After 6 weeks of interaction with Polish partners, students were dialoguing about Polish students' experiences in a country with a national religion rather than the U.S. system with separation of church and state! Our students learned that they had many things in common with so far away. Photo essays became a great use of technology to convey cultural concepts, in that pictures informed American students of Polish cultural practices, the city of Warsaw, nearby Belarus, recycling practices, and the political climate.”
– Prof. Susan St. John, SUNY @ Corning Community College.
“In terms of being in class I believe that I heard a lot of important viewpoints that really, I feel, made me more aware of things, giving m,e outside perspective on matters, something which in America you often don't hear to the fullest extent. Especially when it came to discussing EU policies and US policies in class, the Irish students' opinions I found very interesting.”
– Student, in collaborative course taught by Anthony F. Lemieux, Ph.D., SUNY at Purchase College and a colleague in Dublin City University.
This was quite a learning effort for all involved, as working out the technology requirements and getting them up and running required far more effort than originally anticipated. I must take a moment to publicly thank Sean Capossela, CW's Director of Information Technology Operations, who was the driving force who made the technology work through his devotion and diligence. A combination of webcam, conference systems, and open and proprietary software tools were used to connect participants in various ways as we worked through approaches to creating audio-visual connections between classroom and students. We're still working on defining the optimum configuration of hardware and software as we prepare to facilitate another collaborative course that will start in April (I'll be writing another article on this upcoming COIL course, sharing more of our experience).
SUNY has been hosting a COIL conference for 5 years now. If you happen to be anywhere in the vicinity of New York City this coming week (April 4 & 5), and the idea of participating in a collaborative global learning effort appeals to you, you might want to make it a point to checking out this conference! Here's a link to the conference's web page: coil.suny.edu/conference.