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Digital learning environment for COIL courses

Online tools play a major role in communication and collaboration in COIL courses. The range of available applications is wider and access to them easier than ever. The challenge is to make a balanced decision between planned teaching-learning activities, the range of functions of available learning management systems, and the possible addition of external tools. The digital learning environment should be designed in such a way that the essential activities of teachers and students are supported, but at the same time not many different platforms are used and there is also sufficient freedom to choose the means, especially in self-organized learning and work phases.

Didactic use of digital tools

COIL scenarios are unique and highly individual depending on the goal, topic, teaching-learning activities, and of course in terms of the participants. However, the following areas should be considered in most COIL scenarios and are part of the didactic design.  

  • Provision and exchange of teaching-learning materials  
  • synchronous and asynchronous communication  
  • video conferencing  
  • Collaboration of working groups  
  • Self-learning offers  
  • Reflection of experiences and learning processes

Considering and balancing differences

As a rule, there will be differences at the institutions of the cooperating partners with regard to the digital applications used for teaching. Not all universities use learning platforms such as Moodle or Blackboard, the guidelines for the use of own and external tools can differ as well as the respective IT support. Before choosing proprietary LMSs or freely available external tools, you should consider the necessity of these tools and their usability and accessibility for all participants with regard to needed experience and material. While there will surely never be an ideal solution, certain differences could also be reconciled. For example, in courses with a mixed group of native and foreign speakers respectively, platforms and tools could be preferred that the foreign speakers are already familiar with. The advantages and disadvanteges that would arise here would serve as a means of balancing out difficultiesconcerning language and technology. The primary goal is to create an environment that enables collaborative international online communication.  

Experience-based recommendations  

  • Comparable access and technical equipment for all partners is advantageous.  
  • Learning environment without tool overload - "less is more".  
  • Strike a balance between technical requirements and choice 
  • Platforms such as Moodle & Co. should be known to all.  
  • Introduction to purpose and functionality of applications 

Course rooms - Learning Management Systems (LMS) and other platforms

Joint platform for joint courses?

 LMS offer the great advantage that learning and working materials in various formats (text, image, audio, video, interactive content) as well as a variety of activities (wiki, etherpad, glossary, journal ...) and means of communication (forum, chat, feedback) can be presented and integrated in one platform. Especially for Full-Coil scenarios that take place over the course a complete semester, that provides a larger number of different materials and that hosts a variety of joing teaching-learning activities, a common course room in an LMS can be considered. It is advantageous if both the teachers and the students are already familiar with this learning platform. Otherwise, a clear and comprehensible design of the course room as well as an introduction to working with it is required.

Open.UP (Moodle) for COIL.UP

The University of Potsdam has a Moodle platform designed specifically for cooperative events called Open.UP. Appearance and functionality of Open.UP and Moodle.UP are almost identical. You can use Open.UP with your usual UP account, as well as with an external (private) account, which is created with a normal registration procedure, as it is known from other platforms and websites. Employees of the UP can apply for courses for their projects on Open.UP. The following link leads you directly to Open.UP:

The most important information about working with Moodle can be found here:


External platforms

If, for various reasons, it is not possible to use an LMS of a partner institution, or if a platform that is equally accessible to all participants is explicitly to be used, there are several options: Padlet is a web application for creating digital pinboards on which - in a wide variety of layouts - texts, images, links, video, and audio recordings can be collected collaboratively. The tool is suitable for individual activities, but also as a virtual course room in which processes, materials, tasks, and work results can be integrated in different formats and presented in a rather appealing way. Students can use the tool via a link and without having to create an account. In addition, there are various privacy settings for you as a teacher that restrict student access to the pad.

Videoconferencing / Virtual Classroom

Zoom has become the most widely used system for synchronous online scenarios during the pandemic. The web meeting application has important features such as screensharing, breakout rooms for group discussions, polls to activate participants or chat communication (1:all; 1:1). In combination with external collaboration tools, synchronous meetings can be conducted very effectively and creatively. All UP faculty and students can use Zoom fully with their UP account until at least XXXX and invite external people to their own meetings via link and passcode. This makes it possible for students to organize their own meetings, e.g., for joint project work with students from the partner institution, outside of course dates organized by the teacher.

Adobe Connect is provided free of charge to all members of the University of Potsdam via the German Research Network (DFN), is also accessible via the UP account, and can also be used by UP externals via an invitation link. The functions mentioned for Zoom are also available in Adobe Connect. In addition, several layouts for the user interface can be individually designed for a meeting, depending on the purpose (e.g., presentation, discussion, collaboration) and can be changed during the meeting. However, it takes some time to familiarize oneself with the many functions, and handling is somewhat less intuitive than with Zoom.  

More information can be found here:

Video conferencing rooms at the UP The University of Potsdam offers special rooms on the Am Neuen Palais and Griebnitzsee campuses that can be used for interactive group discussions with up to 20 participants on site. In these rooms there is a permanently installed video conferencing system, which consists of a camera, a control unit and two monitors. Other equipment such as additional microphones, a DVD player, or a visualizer (document camera) can also be connected. 

To register for a seminar in the video conference room, send an e-mail to the Center for Information Technology and Media Management (ZIM) at 

Collaborative working

The forms and methods of collaborative work between students and the intended formats of the work results can be varied. Often, however, discussion and research results need to be recorded or prepared, texts need to be written together, posters or web pages need to be designed.  

Etherpads are collaborative text editors, which are particularly suitable for synchronous, but also for asynchronous work on texts, have basic formatting options and display the individual contributions in different colors.  

On the other hand, wikis and weblogs are more suitable for structured texts, (portfolio-like) collections on a topic or project documentation including the integration of images, graphics or tables are to be compiled. In the case of wikis, the functional focus is on collaborative writing of a text or collections of texts organized by internal links, as well as tracking the creation process (version control). Weblogs (web + logbook) focus more on the chronology of learning and working processes and on mutual commenting. Both tools are ideally suited for the presentation of work results and project work.  

Shared documents, as they can be created with Microsoft SharePoint/Office 365 or Google Drive, connect synchronous work on texts, tables, or presentations, but are only partially suitable for a presentation of results.  

Collaborative whiteboards have made a big splash in pandemic online teaching and are a functionally versatile tool, especially for synchronous scenarios. Whiteboards have suitable individual functions for brainstorming, information preparation and structuring as well as for documentation, presentation, and mediation activities. Popular online whiteboards include Miro, Mural and Conceptboard.

Sharing materials

In COIL courses, it is particularly imporant that students collect materials together and exchange them among each other in a central location, in addition to the teaching and learning materials provided by the course instructers. This could happen as part of project work in learning groups, for example. T Deciding how and where this should take place can of course be part of the collaboration and be made by the students themselves. However, an offer by the course instructor can be helpful and necessary regarding data protection. Teachers and students of the UP can suggest the use of Box.UP to their partners. The cloud storage is operated on the institution's own servers and offers the possibility to share folders and directory structures with external partners.  

Information about Box.UP can be found here: