Stephanie Doscher, Florida International University, US

Published 13/04/2022

During the 40th AIEA Annual Conference in Louisiana in February, The PIE News sat down with Stephanie Doscher, Director of Florida International University’s Office of Collaborative Online International Learning to speak about virtual exchange and COIL pedagogy, which Doscher discusses frequently in her scholarly work, and as the host of the “Making Global Learning Universal Podcast”.

The PIE: What was the inspiration behind internationalisation efforts at FIU related to global learning, and specifically, virtual exchange?

Stephanie Doscher: In 2008,Florida International University decided to really make the “I” in FIU what it was envisioned to be at the founding of the university. It has to do with developing greater international understanding and linking that to our role in the community as an anchor institution, and our role in the world as an exchanger and producer of knowledge.

“We define global learning, not as what you learn or where you learn, but how you learn”

The way we decided to do it was by engaging all undergraduate FIU students and the faculty who teach them in our Global Learning for Global Citizenship initiative. We define global learning, not as what you learn or where you learn, but how you learn. It’s a process that involves diverse people with diverse perspectives in collaborative efforts to understand and address complex problems that transcend borders.

It’s an inherent acknowledgement in our institution that the problems that we face, locally or around the world, have local and global connections and they’re too complex for any single person, discipline, institution, country, or culture, to understand, much less solve. So, we developed this initiative that engages every student in at least two global learning designated courses.

The PIE: And how does COIL play a role in the GLGC initiative?

SD: In 2016, our provost initiated an effort to increase the number of courses taught in a hybrid modality for a number of reasons: to increase accessibility for our students who work, who are older students; to deal with space challenges; and to engage faculty and students in the process of global learning, using online tools, online pedagogy, and teaching and learning strategies specific to that modality.

In my search, I found the work John Rubin was doing at the State University of New York COIL Centre. And when I explored it, I realised this is not a model. This is a pedagogy. This is an approach to designing the teaching and learning experience that adheres to our definition of what global learning is. It’s about engaging faculty in peer-to-peer global learning efforts to design the experience that students will have in a peer-to-peer global learning space. So, we brought John to the institution as a consultant to help us learn how to do this work.

The PIE: Once you decided on COIL for FIU, what was the trajectory?

SD: We grew very fast by virtue of the existing global learning framework we had across the undergraduate curriculum in all colleges. But we knew we needed to elevate this to a standalone office with at least one staff person doing this work full time to continue to recruit or engage faculty at FIU, to match faculty to develop those institutional partnerships, to train and then sustain the COIL, and to expand the ripple effects of those COILs.

We started to work with a network of 24 institutions to do trainings for their institutions to partner with Latin American COILs, and our office was truly born. From that, we realised there was a need for not only the leadership of our own COILs at FIU, but also to provide professional development and training in multiple languages for institutions and their partners around the world. And that’s the two-sided mission of FIU COIL, which was founded officially in January 2021.

The PIE: Can you speak to some of the misconceptions about COIL, how you combat those, and how you help educate others about what COIL is, and what it is not?

SD: The first thing folks usually think of is that it demands technology… giving classes online. Online learning is one thing. COIL is a peer-to-peer focus in terms of the faculty partners designing the experience and also the students’ peer-to-peer engagement as the central aspect of the COIL.

“COIL is also not virtual study abroad, which is its own special and important modality”

And it’s also not virtual study abroad, which is its own special and important modality, which is engaging students with culture and place, but not necessarily in that peer-to-peer collaboration. COIL is a pedagogy. It’s about the design. The technology follows the task. First, we’re thinking what we want our students to know and be able to do as a result of engaging in this learning experience. And then, what technological tools will best enable them to engage in those activities and reach those learning outcomes.

Sometimes we don’t even dictate to the students what tools that they will use, we let them decide which ones that they want to use to exchange information and communicate. Another misconception is that if you’re COILing a class you’re COILing the whole class, or that you have to start from scratch designing. Most of the courses that are COILs are existing courses. The COILs take place for five to eight weeks. It’s faculty deciding where there is space in the curriculum where students can learn well with COILs. If you don’t really need partners, you don’t really need COIL, so it’s not for every class.

“The final misconception is that it’s a stopgap or a replacement for mobility”

And the final misconception is that it’s a stopgap or a replacement for mobility. We call it virtual exchange, but they are real experiences. And they’re real experiences that are on par in terms of their potential impact on students and faculty. But they’re different modalities. And they coexist and can complement. Taken together, they give us more tools to reach more students, to reach more parts of the world, to expand the impact of each other and to give our students more experiences.

The PIE: Please tell us more about your upcoming book collaboration. What tips and strategies are addressed for newcomers to COIL as well as for those who are already involved but want to take implementation to the next level?

SD: The book is called The Guide to COIL Virtual Exchange and will be published by Stylus Publishing [in the fall] of 2022. The text is divided into four sections, and each takes a different perspective on COIL.

First, there’s thinking about it at a global scale: What does it look like across the world and how has the field grown? And then, from a leadership point of view: How do we, in our institution, integrate COIL with our strategic plan for internationalisation? But even more importantly, with our fundamental mission of exchanging and producing knowledge, we also take an insider’s view: What is it? Why are faculty drawn to this? What kind of value does it bring? How do we think about the professional development and training faculty partners need to do this work? What do technologists need to know to support the work? And then: What do we need to know about the students and how we match them and who we engage them with? It’s a ‘soup-to-nuts’ type of book.

The PIE: Speaking of the next chapter, what is the next chapter for COIL at FIU and worldwide?

SD: When I think about the future and [COIL’s] contribution to the future, my prediction is, in five years, any institution that has [an SIO] or international office will have someone doing this work as part of their portfolio. The newest role in our field that will be professionalised will be that of the coordinator or director of COIL or virtual exchange. It involves a unique skill set: educational development, international relations, and educational technology.

“It’s an open modality that’s all about connecting. That’s the mindset we’re building”

But it’s also a role that connects all the other roles because COIL connects the curriculum and curricular design to our international partnerships. Its impact can emerge from mobility exchanges. It has research enveloped within it in terms of the scholarship of teaching and learning. And our students doing research together, faculty bringing their research into the COIL space, grants, and the international service work we do. It’s really a connection point. It’s an open modality that’s all about connecting. That’s the mindset we’re building. I think the COIL coordinator will be the newest, and maybe most valuable, role on campus and I’m excited about watching that grow way beyond anything I could predict.

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