Is Collaborative Online International Learning effective?

Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) is becoming increasingly popular in higher education. COIL enables students at higher education institutions in different countries to collaborate on assignments. It’s thought that this online international collaboration also helps students to develop intercultural competences. Simone Hackett, researcher at Utrecht University, researched the effectiveness of COIL. On 24 January, her findings were published in the prestigious Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education.

According to Hackett, there are several reasons for the rapidly growing interest in COIL. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated the adoption of online learning options, and the fact that COIL is an inclusive education strategy and reduces students’ ecological footprint, as they no longer need to travel abroad to study at a foreign institution.

Online samen studeren

Little empirical evidence

With COIL, two or more lecturers at different higher education institutions in different countries jointly develop online group assignments for their students, who then collaborate on various tasks. Hackett: “It’s thought that they develop intercultural competences through this experience. But there is very little empirical evidence that COIL is effective and helps students to develop intercultural competences.” By developing such competences, students are better able to approach and understand situations, questions and problems from multiple cultural perspectives.

The Hague and New York

Hackett conducted her study with students from The Hague University of Applied Sciences and the State University of New York (United States). The students were split up into four groups: a US and Dutch experimental group and a US and Dutch control group. In the experimental groups, small groups made up of students from both institutions were formed that had to collaborate using COIL. Students in the control groups did not collaborate with students from the other institution. Hackett: “All students had to do the same course assignments. But with the two experimental groups, the COIL component had been implemented in their course, whereas the control group did not have the COIL component.”

The students in the US experimental group showed an increase in intercultural competence.

Increase in US

The students in the US experimental group showed an increase in intercultural competence, but those in the US control group didn’t. This difference was not observed for the Dutch students: their intercultural competence increased in both the control group and the experimental group. Hackett: “This may be because the Dutch students were already collaborating with international students at their home institution, as part of an internationally oriented minor.” The US students did not have any other international elements in their curriculum.

Physical classroom environment

Hackett calls for additional research to gain more insight into the potential and effectiveness of COIL in the development of intercultural competence: “Further research is needed into the impact of COIL in interaction with other internationalisation practices, such as collaboration with international students in a physical classroom environment.”