Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL): Intercultural Prototypical Attributes for Effective Leadership

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Conestoga College has embarked on its pilot launch Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) as an international virtual exchange program for students. In this kind of virtual exchange, students and faculty participate in joint coursework and knowledge sharing with students at institutions in other countries. In the first year of its pilot program the college had nine professors and over 300 students across four Conestoga schools participate in 11 virtual exchange initiatives. In year two, the college will see 17 professors partner with 23 global professors at 20 institutions in 10 countries on 19 COIL initiatives which will involve over 600 Conestoga students. Each professor is partnered with one or more professors and institutions to accomplish a joint learning initiative tied to one of their courses. Students work together on interdisciplinary and disciplinary projects over span of at least 4 weeks.

Here is the story of one such partnership.

Osaro Igbinomwanhia, Ph.D.
Professor & Coordinator, International Business Management (BBA-IBM)

My COIL project was on the Intercultural Prototypical Attributes for Effective Leadership, where Level 1 students in the BBA – International Business Management Program collaborated with students in the BA – International Relations program from the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara (UAG), and students in the BA – English Language Teaching Program from the Universidad Autonoma de Chiapas (UNACH) both in Mexico. The students collaborated to identify and compare prototypical leadership attributes in the Canadian and Mexican cultural contexts, identify intercultural prototypical attributes, and then identify leaders who represented the prototypes in the Canadian, Mexican, and international contexts. Leadership being within the organizational behaviour subject area, I came up with the idea of the project and together with my faculty collaborators from Mexico, we developed and implemented a 5-week COIL module.

It was a great experience working with faculty and students from other countries. My students were particularly excited to meet students from other countries and share perspectives beyond the project. They gained intercultural understanding and awareness, learned about leadership from a different perspective, and improved intercultural communication skills. As one of my students put it, “This was a fun and fascinating project. Learning about leaders from different countries gave me a chance to learn about new cultures. Also, the opportunity to work with people from another country was great.” Professionally, there were tremendous opportunities to expand my intercultural awareness and understanding starting with the workshop on “Assessing and Developing Intercultural Competence: The Intercultural Development Inventory for COIL Participantsdelivered by Teaching and Learning Centre, the 4-week COIL workshop that included faculty from other countries, working with my COIL partners all through the ‘COILing’ cycle, to attending a COIL conference in Mexico! On top of all these great experiences, my students received two certificates of participation (from Mexico and Conestoga), and I got two too! 

Were there challenges? Of course! But they were not insurmountable. Some of the challenges were the different time zones between Canada and Mexico which required some creativity around synchronous class scheduling. In addition, the different country laws on data protection, differences in learning management systems, misunderstanding of instructions around deliverables, and of course, unequal level of commitment by students were also present.

What were the lessons learned? First, flexibility is key. To succeed, faculty should be flexible and adapt to changes because unplanned things will happen. Secondly, they should be aware that it might take longer for students to connect, so continuous support is essential. Thirdly, faculty partners should meet regularly during the module implementation to check for any possible misunderstandings on the part of the students and intervene as early as possible. And lastly, it might be useful to use a team rubric to encourage participation.

COILing requires considerable commitment from faculty through planning and implementation but the benefits to students and faculty make the commitment worthwhile. If you start, you never want to stop!


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