By: Levi Lindsey, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Office of Internationalization
In fall 2021, Teaching Assistant Professor and Director of Entrepreneurship@DU, Joshua Ross, partnered with Universidad del Desarrollo to teach a 10-week Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) class: Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, FinTech, and Beyond. For more information on COIL, please see last month’s blog. We took some time to speak with Professor Ross about his experience running a COIL.
Levi Lindsey: To start off, can you tell us about the COIL project and why you were interested in integrating this teaching methodology into your course?
Joshua Ross: The idea came during COVID. We are known for study abroad at the University of Denver, and our students were not allowed to go abroad. I wanted to give them an opportunity to connect with another culture during this time– that was really the main goal. The second point is the topic of blockchain, cryptocurrency and financial technology is one that crosses borders in terms of how it works. When you look at the financial aspects of some countries there’s very different perspective and processes based on a country’s economy, you know their fiat (which is their legal tender), and how the government financial systems work. So, I thought it would be interesting to bring students from different cultures and countries to explore these differences.
LL: How was the COIL formatted?
JR: The Office of Internationalization helped me connect with UDD (Universidad de Desarrollo) in Chile and we navigated through their departments until we found someone who was interested in collaborating on this course. My partner for the project was Vik Murthy, who actually is American and lives there with his Chilean wife. He and I spent some time brainstorming about the learning outcomes that we wanted to have and the focus of this course. And then also how to have the students collaborate- noting that the most important part is the ability for the students to work together across borders. We spent about 3 months during the summer 2021 putting together this course in terms of the course content, the course deliverables and tying assessments to those learning outcomes that we identified.
LL: How did students connect cross-culturally throughout the COIL?
JR: That was a little bit tricky but the way they connected was first in class [synchronously]. My students would be in class in-person and then half of the students at UDD would be online and the other half would be in person. We started to try to build and facilitate conversation through whatever topic we were focusing on so that students would have a chance to connect that way. We also had a quarter-long the group project. The group project required at least 2 students from UDD and 2 students from DU in each group so they would connect. We used a lot of the traditional technology tools out there, such as Zoom, Whatsapp, and Facetime for communication. The students were also required to use a project management tool such at Trello or Asana to manage their project. However, what we really wanted to do was empower the students to figure out what was the best way for them to communicate. Finally, they all opened crypto wallets as well, so they would exchange cryptocurrency and interact between each other as well.
LL: What was the biggest challenge of doing the COIL?
JR: There were actually a couple challenges. One was teaching on Zoom with classrooms that are not set up for online teaching experience. What I mean by that is we would have students in our class, in person, and I would be in person while UDD would have some of their students in-person and some online. We had a camera focused on the class but it wasn’t wide angle enough to see all the students. So, when one of our students asked a question or made a comment, you could not really see who that student was, their face, nor they’re non verbals. Sometimes we woul have difficulty hearing, so it really didn’t make for a cohesive collaborative environment between the two classes.
The other challenge was time zone. We went through 2 time changes during the during the course (Chile and US implement daylight savings several weeks apart) and that impacted our ability to hold the classes at the right time.
Finally, communication. Communication between the UDD students and our students. It wasn’t a language barrier, because we all spoke English, rather it was just more of communication style and expectation differences.
LL: What was a key takeaway you had from the experience?
JR: To make sure the course objectives and teaching styles between the two faculty from the two universities are aligned and clear I. It’s very important because once you get into the actual course you are focused so much on the student experience that if those if those objectives and styles are not clearly articulated, you could run into some bumps. The second one is that it is important to integrate the students much earlier in the quarter (in terms of their teams) in order to make them more comfortable. That is to say, maybe have the project on the same timeline but have them doing different activities in breakout rooms or other things to increase interaction early on.
LL: What advice do you have for someone considering doing adding a COIL component to their course?
JR: I would recommend that there are clear objectives from both universities and both professors, and that there is a clear understanding around rigor and expectations from the students. For example, identify what is required on different assessments and on the final project. I would recommend having a lot of assessments and check ins to make sure everybody is truly understanding the material and everybody is moving through the course at the same pace and understanding.
Another is to understand the technology that you’re going to use and try to leverage the best technology available that will help create a good student experience. Finally, require the students use a project management tool. They will push back on it but this helps them organize a project but also allows you to look at the project management tool to see if students are hitting their deliverables. It’s also a great way for them to learn how to manage something across borders, across cultures, and across time zones. My students used Asana, Trello and Monday.
Special thanks to Joshua Ross for sharing his thoughts and experience. If you would like to learn more about Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) you can access our self-paced Canvas course by contacting the Office of Teaching and Learning, OTL@du.edu. A half-day COIL workshop will be offered as part of this year’s Internationalization Summit. Details on that opportunity to come!