The starting points for the project idea on the part of the Potsdam project partners were their own research interests as well as already existing COIL contacts at the Chair of "Didactics of English and American Studies". Financial support from the KoUP program made it possible to visit the partners within the COIL SUNY Network, where initial ideas were exchanged.
Separate courses with different subject/topic orientations took place at the cooperating universities. In the period between February and May 2020, these courses were combined with joint project work.
The basic idea was to give students from several countries the opportunity to deal with the global topic of forced displacement and migration from different disciplinary perspectives.
For the University of Potsdam partners, the cooperation project was aimed at student teachers in the subject of English (Master). From the point of view of the lecturers, international and intercultural experiences are of particular importance here. In addition to teaching a language, future foreign language teachers also take on the role of "cultural mediators" in a globalized, culturally diverse world. If students are to develop communicative-intercultural competencies and become globally minded and responsible people, this requires corresponding competencies on the part of future teachers.
Embedded in an international cooperation, the topic and scenario offer future teachers the opportunity
The way in which the COIL project is integrated into the respective course was decided by the participating lecturers.
Parallel class at the UP
The class "Global Education in the EFL Classroom: Narratives of Forced Migration" at the University of Potsdam focused on the project work with the partners rather than on the content worked on separately. The lecturers did provide input blocks for the Potsdam students on topics such as teaching culture, aspects of cultural didactics, teaching materials in the classroom, and special literature. However, the focus was on experiential learning in the project as well as the parallel reflection and discussion of the project experiences within the Potsdam group.
Design of the cooperation project
The basic design of the cooperation followed the main components of a COIL scenario.
1. getting to know each other and building trust
In two so-called ice-breaker activities, students introduced themselves to each other, responded to questions collected together in advance, and discussed their answers.
2. discussions and team building
5 internationally mixed groups with 10 to 15 participants were formed (see figure). Within the groups, the topic to be worked on was first discussed. Guidelines were established for the project work, but there was still a wide scope for the students to work in a self-organized way.
3. collaboration in project groups
The project work took place along several consecutive activities, from the definition of the topic/problem to be worked on, to the information research, the discussion of relevant aspects (e.g. role of the media), suggestions for problem solving and the final presentation of the project work results in the form of a website on the main topic worked on. For the individual activities, the students received content-related information and thematically supplementary materials.
4. Presentation of the project work
In a final meeting the results were presented and the common work and the exchange in the project were reflected.
The following figure illustrates the course of the cooperation project, the different phases and activities.
Several tools were used for the organization and implementation of the project.
Padlet as learning platform
Padlet acted as a central place where all important organizational course information, all sessions and work phases as well as activities, tasks and additional explanations and materials were stored. Due to the various design options regarding the interface, the possibility to integrate materials in the form of links, files, or images/audio/video as well as existing interaction possibilities (via likes and posts), Padlet was suitable as a low-threshold course platform freely accessible to all participants.
Zoom for synchronous meetings
The web conferencing tool was used both by the cooperating teachers for arrangements and organization of the project and by all participants for the joint opening and closing sessions. Likewise, the mixed project groups used Zoom for their working meetings. Due to the pandemic and associated restrictions, Zoom was also used (with the exception of SUNY Cortland) for the separate course meetings within each university.
WordPress for website design
The freely available open-source system WordPress was chosen for the design of the outcomes website. With relatively little effort and no programming knowledge, it is possible to create appealing websites while ensuring the protection of contributors by limiting access to a specific group of people. Technical support was provided by student employees of the University of Potsdam.
WhatsApp for communication
The messenger service WhatsApp was used for short-term agreements both in the group of cooperating teachers and in the project working groups.
The organization and cooperation of four project partners is very extensive, but four cooperating sides offer a greater variety of perspectives, especially for this topic.
Despite this high effort, the project was a worthwhile "extraordinary experience" from the perspective of the Potsdam partners. The participation of the students was "fascinating" just measured by the work results., A deeper insight into the internal working group processes would have been desirable. The disciplinary discourse with colleagues from the participating universities and getting to know different academic cultures has also been enriching.
The planned activities have been well received. Especially the Icebreaker and the creation of videos worked well. Likewise, tool decisions were appropriate, especially the choice of Padlet as the central information and material platform.
Challenges during preparation and implementation
Possible changes to the concept in case of a renewed implementation