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Course Design

Progression of a COIL Module
Photo: based on SUNY COIL
Progression of a COIL Module

Components of a COIL Project

Effective COIL collaborations follow a standardized sequence of specific phases. All four phases, or core activities, should be part of the collaboration, no matter if we are talking of short-term pre-COIL scenarios or longer-term collaborations in a full-COIL format. However, these phases will vary in individual intensity.  

(I) The team-building phase includes introductions and ice-breaker activities, as well as discussions and activities designed to help students get to know each other and feel comfortable collaborating across the Internet and across cultures.   

(II)The next phase includes comparative discussions and organizing the project that the student teams will work on. This phase prepares students for effective collaborative project work.   

(III) The project phase focuses on the main activity of collaboration. In this phase, students apply their knowledge, create something together, or have formal discussions about the collaboration topic.   

(IV) The final phase includes the presentation of the completed work (in a format agreed upon by the collaborating teachers), reflection on both the content of the module and the intercultural aspects of the collaboration, and a final discussion.  

(SUNY COIL Homepage “What is COIL?”)

Progression of a COIL Module
Photo: based on SUNY COIL
Progression of a COIL Module

Defining shared topics and learning objectives

Many collaborations are designed in such a way that the participating universities offer separate courses with interwoven COIL phases, each with different focus points. For the thematic design of the COIL phase, the following questions may be helpful:  

Are there topics, themes, or units in your course that could be enriched or further developed with the help of joint discussions and learning activities with students in other locations?  

Would the incorporation of diverse cultural and professional perspectives into your course enhance students' understanding of the course content?  

If your course offers the development of unique, subject-specific competencies, would international and cross-cultural exchanges serve as a valuable tool? To that effect, can the COIL scenario focus on these beneficial interactions?  

Together with your partner, describe, share, and discuss ideas about the professional and/or intercultural competencies that you would like to promote with your COIL scenario.  

It follows that defining the learning objectives that you wish to enable through collaborative working phases and related activities should be the first step in concrete course planning. You should discuss which goals are realistic and achievable. Using familiar learning goal taxonomies (e.g., Bloom, Anderson/Krathwohl) can be very helpful.  

Learning objectives are concise and action-oriented (using concrete verbs). They can be implemented and their achievement can be checked or measured.  

Concretely defined learning objectives help teachers and students: With the help pf transparent and well-defined learning objectives, teachers can develop and coordinate learning activities, methods and forms of examination, while students understand what is expected of them and what they can learn in the course. 

Steckbrief: Learning-Outcomes ‚lupenrein‘ formulieren (Wunderlich, A., Szczyrba, B. 2016)

Types of performance assessment

Student assessment should be made dependent on the scope and integration of the COIL cooperation into the respective courses and on the defined learning objectives. Oftentimes, the formats, standards, and institutional requirements differ between the different courses. Therefore, student assessment should remain a component of the individual courses and falls under the responsibility of the particular instructors alone, outside of the COIL scenario.    

However, the partners should clarify questions regarding assessment in advance: to which extent are joint activities to be reviewed and assessed? Should  intercultural components be evaluated jointly or separately? The following further questions (cf. SUNY COIL Guide 2016:15) should clarify you and your partner’s previous experiences and expectations: 

How is student assessment normally carried out in your course? Do you want to use the same methods/tools for the collaborative elements?  

Do you typically use categories (i.e., set criteria) when assessing students? Do you want to establish common categories with your partner?  

If applicable, will there be a common grading scale or will each instructor grade their own students separately?  

How will you handle student attendance in the module or course? How will online participation be assessed?  

Do you plan to use pre- and/or post-course assessments? Have you considered what kinds of questions you might ask?  

How do you mean to assess the intercultural learning that may be taking place? Which tools or methods might you use?  

Once you have determined together which activities and assignments are subject to feedback or assessment processes, communicate your decision, as well as the underlying assessment measures, transparently not only to the students of your own course. Together with your partner, you should make any new approach known to the group as a whole.

Designing learning activities - supporting learning processes

The heart of all COIL courses is the student activities, which not only aim at collaboratively working on projects - a central focus in this format - but also play a supporting role in the course from the start. Important foundations for future student collaboration are created in the introductory phase alone. Openness, a trusting group climate or mutual knowledge of cultural understandings and backgrounds are important for successful cooperation. These prerequisites can be promoted through joint activities.  

Getting to know your partners should not be reduced to a personal level. Rather, in a further step, you can introduce subject-related themes when becoming acquainted. In first comparative activities (e.g., discussions), you can lay content-related foundations for later project work and also make the diversity of perspectives and approaches visible. Hence, the core of any COIL course is the collaborative work in mixed student groups, the exchange between learners and the creation of learning products. Here, the focus lies on meaningful and - depending on the COIL format - more or less complex tasks that support the development of professional, intercultural and/or social competencies. 

Some questions that should be clarified (CEHD COIL Workbook, 2016:15) concerning creating activities, as well as framing your course, can be found here:

How will students introduce themselves and get to know each other?  

As an icebreaker, what might students have in common? (e.g., name, age, favorite foods, music, sports, hobbies)?  

When and in which manner should activities and communication take place? Synchronous, asynchronous, or mixed?  

When, where, and how will students collaborate?  

Which topics are appropriate for facilitating culturally and professionally comparative discussions and activities among the participating student groups?

What kind of photos, videos, or other course-related artifacts can students share and discuss cross-culturally?    

What (sub)projects related to the course could the mixed student groups work on together?  

How do you want students to share experiences and reflect on their collaboration, be it in their project groups or in the COIL collaboration as a whole? (e.g., in separate groups, in the whole group; orally, in writing, in the final meeting, after the COIL phase is over, etc.) 

Which strategies do you mean to use in order to help your students with completing activities and achieving the learning objectives, despite existing constraints? (e.g., time zones, language, technology, etc.)

The last question addresses an especially important point: supporting and guiding learning processes that often take place in an initially unfamiliar setting. Lack of experience and any uncertainties regarding international and intercultural learning contexts should be counteracted in the preparatory phase before the start of the COIL cooperation. Information on goals, topics, content, and expectations, as well as more detailed accounts of the international scenarios that are to follow, can reduce any barriers that might hinder the collaboration.  

In addition, plan your activities to fulfill two purposes: firstly, they should offer you a low-threshold introduction to exchanges (i.e., getting to know each other, icebreakers, simple discussion topics) before the students tackle demanding and challenging work assignments in mixed groups. Secondly, if possible, design the various activities in such a way that you, as the teacher, can gradually withdraw from accompaniment and support.  Good preparation and an elaborate  introductory phase, moderation of the first comparative discussions, and, in particular, the provision of supporting materials will enable your students to cooperate with each other in a self-organized and autonomous manner. 

Selection of technical tools for collaboration

Deciding on tools and applications for information, communication, material distribution, and collaborative activities is another core task for you and your partner to work on together. The fit with learning objectives and associated learning activities influences the effectiveness and success of learning and work processes.  


One challenge is to find a compromise between - both sides know - or at least easily accessible online tools, ease of use and functional benefits. All partners should present the tools they use in teaching and their experiences to each other in order to be able to assess advantages and benefits in the joint discussion. Keep in mind that tools selected according to one's own preferences always have an impact on the work of all participants. Sometimes a compromise and the decision for a tool that is not perfect but easy to use by all is the best solution.  


For the decision-making process, the following questions (CEHD COIL Workbook, 2016:20 ff.) provide an initial framework:

What tools and resources do you use every day in your teaching and beyond? Why, when, and how do you use them?  

Which features do you need in any case for your COIL scenario, which would be nice but dispensable? Can all teachers and students participate to the same extent?  

Do the tools support different languages or at least English as a lingua franca? Are they accessible free of charge or do you have funding for licenses?  

Are the applications easily accessible, understandable, and user-friendly in their application? What about the protection of personal data when using tools external to the university?  

What are the specific advantages and disadvantages of the tools in terms of activities and learning objectives?  

Do all partners have support from a media didactic or technical institution at their university? If in doubt, can this support be provided by one of the participating universities?

If you and your partners have shortlisted certain tools or if the choice has been made, further concrete questions regarding the use and implementation have to be clarified:

How familiar are you with these tools?  

What level of technological training/support will be available to students? Which:partner:in will provide training and support for students?  

How will students access the online portion of the course? What device(s) will they use?  

What type of Internet access will students have (e.g., broadband, dial-up, WiFi)? Is their internet access reliable?  

Will students have to pay for data use on the Internet?  

If you plan to use audio and video files, what can you do to ensure students can access and play both file types?  

How will you test whether students are able to successfully use the technology and attend the course?  

What type of support materials will students need at both sites (e.g., technical assistance, orientation, etc.)?

For more information on tool groups and their areas of use, see the page: Methods and Tools