It was terrific to travel to New York recently to attend the Centre for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Conference. It provided great insights to both the international COIL Network and American public universities, especially the State University of New York (SUNY) who established and run COIL, and the City University of New York (CUNY) who physically hosted the event at their Graduate Centre on Fifth Avenue, formerly an enormous department store opposite the Empire State Building.
The COIL Conference brings together academics, managers and instructional designers from SUNY and other universities around the world, to network and facilitate online cross cultural online collaboration between lecturers and students. It’s a bit like an international university match-making event. The conference has been running for 10 years supporting a network of universities around the world.
Cross cultural experience is valued highly by these American universities, however both SUNY and CUNY have a similar problem. Each is enormous, 468,000 and 516,000 students respectively, of which only a small proportion of students can afford to travel during their time at university (with the above example being a notable exception). Online collaboration is seen to play a substantial solution to these demographic challenges.
This I found a contrast to Australia where we are great travellers. Many of our students can afford to travel and many expect that international travel will be part of their university experience.
There are however a number of similarities and potential advantages for RMIT to be part of the COIL program. RMIT is also large and covers, as with SUNY, both vocational and higher education. I would also argue that despite (or because of) our size and international reach, we are not nearly as good at collaboration as we could be. COIL may enable better collaboration between Melbourne and other RMIT overseas campuses through three-way collaborations with other universities. And not all our students can afford to travel either. For those that can afford to go on one of RMIT’s numerous study tours, there is potential for online collaboration via COIL before the travel, as a way to enormously enrich the experience on the ground, as the above example shows.
Collaborations through COIL can be simple or complex. It may be as simple as one or two Google Hangouts between classes, however collaborations can also be asynchronous. Typically collaborations are around similar topics however it is fine for this to vary. For example dental hygiene students from one university collaborated with law students from another university around ethics and privacy in dentistry. Trust between lecturers is an important factor. Also there are changing contexts to consider as courses and personnel change positions over time. For students it is important that there is motivation on both sides. There is no point if collaborating students in only one of the countries is being assessed for the activity.
Lisa Dethridge, Emma Yench and I will be doing what we can to help COIL become more established at RMIT. We will set up a web presence where we can facilitate our lecturers to explore COIL and help find overseas collaborations. It will also make available searchable profiles of our potential course collaborations for potential overseas partners looking to collaborate with RMIT. We hope to get around to program and course staff meeting where we can explain more about COIL and seek involvement in these enriching collaborations. RMIT staff interested in joining a COIL network can express their interest here.