Best Practice for international collaborations

Internationalization of teaching is made possible with the format OIL.UP by the use of e-learning tools. However, there is a lot to be considered in order to ensure that everything is running smoothly when implementing an international teaching scenario.

A first step towards the internationalization of teaching is the development of suitable collaborations. Scenarios have to be developed in which students and teachers can learn from each other effectively through their cooperation. Ideally, blended learning scenarios are created in which international students work together on long-term projects and maintain a regular and intensive exchange.

Additional benefits and goals of a successful collaboration

Such an intensive and regular exchange can be made possible through a well-structured collabora-tion. An online collaboration with a partner university, in contrast to an ordinary seminar planning, means an increased planning effort and the need for more structured preparation. The teaching content and technical requirements of the collaboration partners must be discussed and coordinated with each other in advance. However, a well-structured collaboration always offers a growth in knowledge that no conventional seminar can provide in this way. The aim of such a collaboration is enriching the content of one’s own lectures, developing and extend networks, and not least the overall internationalization of teaching.

A Swabian proverb says: "Spilled oil is not good to pick up." – It is therefore recommended to create the right conditions for a successful international collaboration prior to the start. In a successful col-laboration the students are guided by the teachers to work intensively with their international part-ners. They should be encouraged to scientific discussions, which ultimately leads to a productive exchange. The path to a well-structured collaboration can be divided into sections, all of which con-tribute decisively to the success of the collaboration, when carefully planned and executed.

Structured communication leads to better organization

At the beginning of each collaboration is the organization and planning. In addition to classical sem-inar planning, tasks and deadlines should be coordinated with the collaboration partners. Likewise, the type of communication desired and the collaboration tools required for this should be defined at an early stage. The basic requirement is always a low-threshold basis for the introduction into the collaboration. This applies to the technical as well as the interpersonal level. Teachers should be able to deal with the respective technical resources needed to implement their learning scenario. The students should also be provided with an uncomplicated entry. For this reason, media should be used which are popular among students or whose handling can be explained in an introduction. Once the joint seminar planning has been completed, the actual collaboration begins.

At the beginning of a collaborative seminar, a phase of “warming up” and getting to know one an-other should always be planned. In order to reduce the fear of contact between the students, so-called ice-breaking activities should be integrated. These are short, creative tasks, which lead the stu-dents to get to know each other better. At the same time, these tasks also serve as a preparation for the subsequent collaboration of the students in international learning groups. By working together on topics relevant to the seminar, the scientific discussion among the students should be encour-aged. Only through this exchange the knowledge of the individual students can be used as a learning resource. Therefore, a thematic focus is particularly important to an international collaboration. It is only when the collaboration fits into the topic of the seminar, or supplements it, that an effective perspective shift is possible. In the ideal case, a double reflection results from such a shift in perspec-tive, as it was the case, for example, in Alexander Knoth's seminar "Welfare State and Gender". Here, students from three different countries virtually discussed on a blog platform from the per-spective relevant to their respective seminar on the same topics. This resulted in a double reflection for the participants in the seminar, on their own cultural background, as well as on foreign cultural contexts and their peculiarities and specific features.

Examination can be integrated into the collaboration

Another important point which should be considered during seminar planning is the design of the examination performances. In a collaborative seminar, it is useful to combine the examination per-formance with the group work of the international students so that the exchange in this connection is also required. By working together on an identical task, differences and similarities can be worked out and reflected very well. A good example of this was Doreen Bannasch-Grigoleit's seminar "All inclusive!", in which teacher training students from Germany and America wrote essays about the topic of inclusion and thus were able to discuss their different perceptions of the same subject. When designing such tasks, it is useful to focus on the cooperation between the international stu-dents. This calls for the students to communicate with each other and the internationalization within the seminar becomes a relevant topic. In the context of each collaborative planning, it should be considered whether several small tasks are distributed over the semester or a large final project is of greater benefit. The goal should always be the highest possible interaction and communication be-tween the students.

Take special requirements for students into account

Already at the planning stage, attention should be paid to ensure a fair distribution of work for all parties involved. Students should not get the feeling that they have to cope with disproportionately more or less work than their international group members. In line with the consideration of the work required, a realistic time effort should also be calculated. If there is a great time difference between the collaborating universities, this should be considered in the planning. In such a collaboration, the students must not only organize their own time management, but also adapt it to work in a group that operates in different time zones. Teachers should therefore bear in mind enough time for (online) meetings in the seminar planning. The processing time and deadlines for the examination performance should also take account of the difficult time conditions.
So that all participants are satisfied with the content and outcome of the collaboration in the end, it is recommended to define and adjust expectations and requirements already at the beginning of planning. It should also be clarified how the teachers want to deal with problems within the collabo-ration. For this purpose, for example, a feedback phase can be planned in the middle of the semes-ter in order to be able to react quickly to unresolved questions or conflicts. However, the most im-portant thing is that the teachers remain flexible and do not require too much at once. A collabora-tion takes time to develop. In spite of this, the communication between the collaboration partners should never fall asleep. Teachers should not rely on the fact that the communication between the students goes on by itself. There should always be "compelling" occasions for communication, such as a joint feedback, smaller tasks or bonus points for Skype meetings.

A well-planned collaboration goes down like oil – and exactly this good feeling everyone involved should have after each collaboration. Events of all disciplines are suitable for international collabora-tions. With the right e-learning tools and in-depth planning, successful collaborations are created, which can benefit both students and lecturers. A successful collaboration contributes to the im-provement of professional and cultural reflection, enhances the foreign language competence of the participants, and enables cultural mobility, even with limited physical mobility.

Successful international collaborations - In short:

•    create low-threshold technical & interpersonal basis for all participants
•    encourage the international students to & demand from them continued cooperation
•    set & communicate Deadlines
•    set & maintain the thematic focus
•    equal examination performances for joint grading
•    use the technical resource of the university
•    use support offers!