Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL)

COIL is best thought of as an integrative practice to connect students together, in real time, across different geographical locations.

What is COIL?

Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) exists under the wider banner of ‘Internationalisation at Home’. Beelen and Jones (2015: 69) provide an encompassing definition of IaH as ‘…the purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum for all students within domestic learning environments’. COIL is best thought of as an integrative practice to connect students together, in real time, across different geographical locations. Its purpose and goal is to nurture an appreciation of similarities and differences between cultures through working and networking together collaboratively.

Origins of the Academy:

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when opportunities for interactions between many young people were severely minimised due to national restrictions, a group of academics across the UGPN network shared a belief that the pandemic provided an opportunity for a new type of interaction for many students across the four partner countries. Originally titled the ‘UGPN EDU Project’, the name has now changed to the ‘UGPN Academy’ due to its development into an annual project. The term ‘Academy’ we feel, perfectly captures the evolved motivations and aspirations for this group: to connect students to grow cross-global collaborations that address pressing issues facing the world. As the Academy enters its third year, we are confident of the educational value this can contribute to the learning experience of our students across the network, not least in its ability to strengthen the international experiences of students without the requirement of physical student mobility. The staff, who design and operate the Academy, have become collaborators and close friends through a common value of wanting our students to think differently about the world through their participation.

Structure of the Academy:

Taking the 2022 Academy as a case study, a cohort of fifty students, across all four partners, were individually asked what United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) they had a particular interest in. Students were then allocated into groups based on their interests (ensuring a diversity of students from each university in each group). Staff/Faculty were then assigned as a group mentor to help the students start to develop discussions and a presentation on how their universities were responding to their chosen SDG. The Academy opens with a live session, via Zoom, introducing the project and the staff/faculty facilitators. Students are then allocated into breakout rooms based on their grouping under the SDGs to begin to network and discuss the task. Over the course of the first week, the students agree to meet (often with their group mentor at first). We have found that, after the first week, organic relationships develop, and staff/faculty mentors slowly step back from facilitating the discussions. In the following week, we have another live session where faculty and students provide updates before further group meetings throughout the week. At the end of the project, we have one final live session whereby each group presents their academic poster on how their universities respond to their chosen UN SDG.

Running parallel with the above activities, we also create a Slack space for the students to converse in real time. This acts as an inhouse social media platform for the project where students can post pictures, provide updates on their daily activities and share aspects of their lives that they feel comfortable with. For this reason, the UGPN Academy is both an academic and social arena. Nurturing the social dimension deeply helps facilitate the group bonding and dynamics within the cohort. For many of us, this is fantastic to see!

Benefits of the Academy:

There has been a demonstrable positive impact on the student experience, by developing the skills and knowledge for networking and engagement within an international setting. This, we feel, is particularly important for young people’s futures.

Based on our post-participation survey in the 2022:

  • 82% of students said they are considering a career that would allow them to travel internationally (an increase from 56% in the pre-participation survey)
  • 88% said developing their global and cultural awareness was a valuable aspect of participating in the project
  • 82% said learning about the experiences of students in other countries was valuable
  • 76% said networking with students and faculty members from other educational institutions was valuable
  • 67% said developing their professional skills (teamwork, communication and presentation) was valuable
  • 82% said they had developed their use of new online platforms and digital technologies
  • Students felt more confident socializing with people from other cultures and talking about/discussing their ideas online with peers. There was also an increased belief in their ability to adjust to new people, places, and situations.

The above findings are especially valuable given the changing world of study and work. For example, the expected rise of home/flexible working means knowledge of online platforms is growing in importance. Communicating and being able to form meaningful relationships, with a variety of people, is also an essential skill. This, and the international networks students have established as a result of their participation, can be positively leveraged during their future careers. For this reason, we could argue that the Academy provides both a timely opportunity to connect socially with students in other times and locations whilst, simultaneously, creating highly transferable skills for their futures. Furthermore, the Academy has allowed teaching and learning staff/faculty the opportunity to develop and nurture international collaborations between one another. International collaborations are often developed through research relationships amongst staff. The Academy, though, has developed and extended this opportunity for staff/faculty with a strong interest in the teaching and learning sphere.



Beelen, J., & Jones, E. (2015). Redefining internationalization at home. In A. Curaj, L. Matei, R. Pricopie, J. Salmi, & P. Scott. (Eds.), The European higher education area: Between critical reflections and future policies (pp. 59-72). Springer.