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COIL: Connecting Classrooms Around the World

COIL stands for Collaborative Online International Learning, and it is an initiative, supported by the office of Vice Provost for Global Affairs, to offer a different kind of teaching and learning experience to professors and their students by connecting their course with a global partner University. In the Department of Romance Studies, there have been three professors who applied for COIL and successfully reaped the benefits of a cultural exchange with their students. In ROMS Podcast, we communicated with two professors, Professor Lorna Avilés and Professor Dorothea Heitsch, so that they can share their experiences with our listeners and invite other professors to participate in this wonderful opportunity


N: Narrator

L: Lorna

H: Dr. Heitsch

N: (Zoom entering for seconds, and background music starts low and slowly) Have you ever heard of COIL? COIL, which stands for Collaborative Online International Learning, is an initiative, supported by the office of Vice Provost for Global Affairs to offer a different kind of teaching and learning experience to professors and their students by connecting their course with a global partner University. In the Department of Romance Studies, there have been three professors who applied for COIL and successfully reaped the benefits of cultural exchange with their students. In ROMS Podcast, a space where we give a more intimate look to our community, our professors and students, and to all the experiences and stories that happened here at ROMS, we communicated with two professors, Professor Lorna Avilés and Professor Dorothea Heitsch, so that they can share their experiences with our listeners and to invite other professors to participate in this wonderful opportunity. Professor Avilés taught Spanish for Professional and Community Engagement with COIL in Spring 2021, one semester after COIL started in UNC and now she is a COIL Faculty Fellow. Professor Heitsch taught Globalization and the French-Speaking World in Fall 2022. My name is Caro, welcome to another ROMS podcast episode, and now, let’s get an inside look into these professors’ COIL experiences.

N: Professor Avilés mentioned that COIL starts by

L: [00:02:24-00:02:25] thinking about what you want to do

N: in the class and with a basic idea you can apply for the program in UNC Global Website. Professor Heitsch explained the process step by step.

H: [00:01:59-00:02:53] It has a form that’s available to everyone. It’s a straightforward form and you can apply both in fall and spring for the coming semester or for in a year. So you have several options there and you just need to know your project. You have to have a brief project description. You need to have a coil partner. You need to have an idea of the activities you’re going to do with the students. And then you have the option of asking for a graduate fellow who can help, given that some of the coil classes may be very large or that the numbers are pretty divergent.

N: Now, after you submit the application with a basic idea, the office of Vice Provost for Global Affairs

L: [00:02:27-00:02:28] will help you develop your thoughts more

N: According to Professor Avilés,

L: [00:02:47-00:02:49] the office can help you find partners if you don’t have one.

N: Also, before you apply for COIL, you can contact one of the COIL Faculty Fellows, such as Professor Avilés. Professor Heitsch shared her experience regarding the help she received from Professor Avilés and also from the office of Vice Provost for Global Affairs.

H: [00:04:25-00:04:50] one of the helpers was my colleague Lorena Aviles, who was very kind and sharing her experience and some of the activities she had done with one of her classes. Another point person was Emmy Grace in the Office of Global Affairs, who helped with vetting some of the activities.0

H: [00:24:31-00:25:45] It was very helpful to talk to someone who had already done this because it’s really new. If you have never engaged in Coil, it’s there’s a lot of hurdles to overcome. And so it was very, very helpful to have, um, Lorna here and to have her be encouraging and knowledgeable about what could be done. And Coil is like a lot of things. It’s, it’s pretty much like just do it, you know, do it and then figure it out as you go along. It’s while you’re figuring it out, it’s difficult because you are sort of you’re basically swimming. There’s nothing you can refer to and you just got to go. You you’ve got to go and run with it. But once you do and if you accept this for six or eight weeks, then it’s actually quite interesting and it’s quite, quite fun. So yeah, so the collaboration really consisted in her sharing her experience and that was a very valuable.

H: [00:06:43-00:06:56] There are a lot of sample projects. There are sample summaries. All of that’s collected on the Coil website that is sponsored by the Office of Global Affairs

N: According to Professor Avilés, those materials have been prepared by COIL Faculty Fellow and also gathered for almost 20 years by several Universities involved in COIL. In addition, the office of vice provost for Global Affairs offers

L: [00:08:35-00:08:50] an extensive list of universities and partners that are that are wanting to do oil and have specific professors. There’s a huge list. If there’s a topic area that you want to do, there’s you know, we can easily help you find somebody to work with

N: Professor Avilés and Professor Heitsch found their partner University without much problem, since San Francisco University in Ecuador and the University of Montpellier in France already had an intimate relationship with our department. However, there could be some xhallenges in finding the partner institution and/or the colleague who is willing to start the journey with you.

H: [00:27:01-00:27:35] I had to approach five different colleagues in Mumbai before someone finally said yes. And so it took a while. And while you are searching for the colleague, you always have to start out anew because very few people have done coils so far. And so you come with the project and you come with the activities and then you discuss, well, what’s involved and how long is that going to last in a given semester and how are we going to connect the courses.

N: (Sound of zoom entering in the background for seconds) Both Professor Heitsch and Professor Avilés emphasized important aspects that professors interested in creating COIL course should have in mind from their planification process, namely, the hybrid nature, the possible difference in time zone, and internet accessibility in other countries. Professor Heitsch was faced with the time difference between Chapel Hill and Montpellier in the south of France, an issue that she needed to account for when to schedule the COIL modules so that both student groups are able to communicate in a synchronous way.

In case of Professor Avilés, the internet connection was the most concern to be resolved, and she encouraged the students to use any kind of communication methods that work for them, including but not limited to Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger and also programmed asynchronous activities.

L: [00:10:55-00:11:45] one of our biggest considerations really is access to reliable Internet, because we assume that everybody has that, but not everybody has that across the world. And in Ecuador, that was definitely an issue. So what I did is I did not specify to my students what they had to use to chat. So they had the flexibility. If Zoom worked, then great. But a lot of them actually use WhatsApp, the video feature on WhatsApp, some of them actually use Facebook Messenger. I kind of left it up to them to see what would work better for the situation for each person. And that was it worked out really well because again, my groups used everything and it just depended on what? What was available for them. I know the thing that was interesting about my course that’s a little bit different than some is that I did an asynchronous. [00:11:47-00:12:34] Instead of asynchronous asynchronous coil. Because the class that I was coiling with was that a completely different time than ours. And also a lot of the students in that class were nontraditional students, so adults with jobs and things like that. So it became apparent very early during the planning process. For us, being synchronous was not going to work. So what I would do is instead of assigning specific dates and times, I give the students a little bit more time. So I would say you have a week to meet, and then I would give them explicit activities for the week, whatever it was, and then by the end of the week they had to complete a reflection journal and obviously whatever other assignment that they had showing that they had met with their partners abroad and that worked out really well for me as well.

N: After their first experience, Professor Avilés and Professor Heitsch agreed that their efforts were well worth the outcome, and they are planning another course with COIL project. (Sound of people talking in Spanish, French and English in the background, repetitively throughout this part) According to them, the connectivity, which was at first a challenge to overcome, became one of the most beneficial parts of COIL, since students can get an international experience without actually studying abroad and without paying quite amount of money,

L: (second audio) [00:00:42-00:01:05] Coyle has been one of the tools that we were using to bridge that gap between the students that can do things and the ones that cannot. Obviously, for financial reasons or work or whatever situation, many of our students just can’t. Go abroad for a month or a semester, and Coyle still enables them to have that cultural exchange that a cultural experience from here.

N: Professor Avilés also added that our students who learn Spanish and try to practice in different volunteer opportunities could have invaluable exchanges in courses with COIL.

L: [00:17:37-00:17:52] actually having to use that in a very explicit way and therefore for not only a social exchange, but also to to create a project and work on something together, that’s just an experience that they’ll usually don’t get but that they’ll treasure for the rest of your lives.

[00:19:57-00:20:12] just actual practice beyond the constraints of a classroom, as much as we have conversations on different topics, it’s not the same as talking about your house or like what you cooked yesterday or things like that. So it’s a very practical. Practice for the students more than anything.

N: Professor Heitsch believes that this cultural exchange stimulates or invites

H: [00:18:04-00:18:08] the American students to engage with a foreign language

N: and she pointed out that COIL opens up an opportunity that she had never imagined before.

H: [00:17:22-00:17:52] to realize that this is possible to link to classes that at first glance have nothing to do with each other that are in two different places of the world that whose students communicate in two different languages. And then to just see that with some thought and creativity, you can actually connect these groups. And even if the numbers don’t match. So even if the number over there is twice or three times as large as over here, so that all works. It all can be done.

N: In a similar sense, Professor Avilés mentioned,

L: [00:24:43-00:25:42] it is strictly communicative. I mean, you do have obviously a result with a paper or whatever your project ends up being. But really, I would tell you a coil component can work anywhere from elementary Spanish to advanced Spanish, depending on how it’s assigned, because, again, it is about communication, it is about engagement. So depending on what and what type of activities do you decide to have your students do, it really can work for anybody. And again, that flexibility, it’s what makes it so great. You know, a lot of people think that the alignment or the coordination between the two classes has to be a one for one. Like you have to have a lit course coil with it liquids. And as you’ve seen, that’s not the case. We have many instances where we have really seemingly non related areas working on the same topic from different viewpoints together. So again, it’s pretty much like options are endless, which is the exciting thing about it.

N: Professor Heitsch and Professor Lorna also shared one anecdote that she found interesting. It shows exactly the kind of experience that students can acquire in COIL courses

H: [00:19:16-00:20:51] so we did some engage in some cultural comparison. That was also a huge gain, I think. And then then just the fun of the sheer fun of communicating. And and then we had a little research project at the end that had to do with defining what’s called Francophonie. So is the term denoting French speaking areas or regions in the world. But it’s a very large term and a very loaded term. And so we asked the French students who are all training to become instructors, they’re all going to teach French as a second language in their region of origin. And many of them actually came from all over the French speaking world. So not most of them didn’t come, are not from Montpellier, but many of them grew up in other areas of the French speaking world. And so we asked them to help us define Francophonie in in their terms and from from their perspective. And then we sort of added that the results of this, these these definitions to our own readings. And so we connected our own readings that are all from the Francophone world with what the French students had given us as their vision and their definition of what the Francophone world in the term of Francophonie means to them and how they’re going to teach that to their own students in the future. [00:20:59-00:21:00] Was a lot of fun.

L: [00:06:39-00:07:32] the project for my class, like cultural projects in the sense so and all the groups had different topics. So for example, one group was about indigenous population, so they got to see and actually talk to Ecuadorians about their perceptions of indigenous populations, how they’re treated in the country, how language is perceived and used and not used. So it was interesting to see those type of comparisons that you never get by just researching something. They actually got to study the subject and then ask questions about it and see what their findings were. And the Ecuadorian students in their class, they were working on different. Types of papers which were very cultural as well. So that that worked out really well because the topics were overlapping enough that they were able to put a project together. It was great.

N: After listening to Professor Heitsch and Professor Avilés’ wonderful experiences with COIL, we asked them for some advice for our listeners who now would want to use this great tool the university has to offer.

L: [00:23:41-00:24:19] First of all, to consider it, because it really is a great tool. The second thing I would say is just think of what you’re doing in class and how think of how a Coyle component could augment one of your objectives in the course. I think just that alignment is really the first step. And then after that, finding a partner. The biggest thing is just, yeah, it’s not hard to engage the students. It’s harder to find a way for Coyle to to engage the course. But if you think about it, we all do different things in class. We all talk about different topics. It’s like, I’m sure you can take one of those topics and modify it and make it into a Coyle project of some sort.

N: She also invited the instructors

L: [00:25:47-00:26:02] to reach out to the office, reach out to one of the fellows and just have a meeting. And if you’re thinking about it, just throw out some ideas. We all have experience. We’ve seen a lot of different types of programs so we can, you know, guide you in the path to to figuring this out.

H: [00:30:59-00:32:58] So one piece of advice is do it. It’s a worthwhile experience. Second piece of advice is it works really well with larger courses. And it’s a it’s an investment. It’s a financial investment, and it’s an intellectual and an energy investment. And so it’s really worthwhile for larger courses that are that I would say can sort of our first semester or first year or second year courses. So foundational courses where students sort of get exposed to the possibilities that the university has to offer them. That’s from my perspective. I could also imagine that research classes would benefit from this, but my experience here in ROMs has shown me that it’s really valuable for sort of beginning level first, second year classes and cohorts as they get to know each other really well through Coyle and then they learn how to make connection ins abroad. And I think the earlier they get exposed to that, the better it is for them. And so I think it’s a wonderful, a wonderful opportunity. I had a number of first semester students who had just from come from college and they were gushing over it. They said, Oh, this is the best thing I’ve ever done. This is the most unusual thing I ever done. Or my mother went to you and see and studied in Montpelier. And so now I’m doing the coil with Montpelier and my mother is so excited about it, so I have to tell her about it. And so yeah, the students really, really took to it.

N: She also added the importance of the instructor’s familiarity with the course materials to be engaged in COIL.

H: [00:28:51-00:29:09] it does require a class that runs smoothly. Smoothly. You need to know your own class really well. And so it had helped that I had taught my own class several times and that she has taught her class on intercultural communication many times over.


N: With this helpful guidance we finish our COIL episode of the ROMS Podcast. A unique opportunity for professors and their students. The Office of Vice Provost for Global Affairs and COIL Faculty Fellows are always open to your interest and inquiries. Now is your time to get into this wonderful adventure. This episode was written and produced by Jeonghwan Kim, a.k.a. Javier Ludovico, one of our Ph.D. students in Spanish and intern for the ROMS podcast. The sound design by Javier; editing by Caro Register and Paola Cadena, hosting also done by Caro, and Music by Mike Forristell …. Don’t forget to follow us on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcast, or your preferred app, that way you will know when our next episode is released. Adiós, Chao, Au revior, adeus and we Will see you next time (Zoom out sound for seconds and background music dims out).