Heilbronn University is expanding its international collaborative learning formats

German article by Johanna Malz (02.08.2021)

Today working on a case study together with fellow students from a US university, tomorrow the statistics course with students from an Israeli university. - The world is now moving even closer together at HHN. The promotion of internationalisation and digitalisation goes hand in hand: it has never been easier or more natural to make new contacts digitally, especially international contacts, and to learn across national borders.

"Corona has clearly fuelled the trend towards digital learning formats, but such virtual collaborative learning formats will certainly remain even after the pandemic," says Simone von Boddien. She coordinates international, collaborative learning projects at Heilbronn University in the International Office.

Within the framework of the project "HHN IDEAL" (Internationalisation through Digitally Enriched Active Study Preparation & Collaborative Learning) funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), she supports the expansion of "Collaborative Online International Learning" formats (COIL) and promotes the establishment of a COIL community at the university. The project is located in the International Affairs and Diversity Office under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Ruth Fleuchaus.

The most recent successes of the project: Heilbronn University's membership in the most important network for telecollaboration and virtual exchange in higher education at the European level, "UNICollaboration", the membership as the first university in Baden-Württemberg and the second German university in the large US network "SUNY COIL Global Network", virtually the mother of all COIL networks, as well as in the Virtual Exchange Directory "COIL Connect", which was founded by Jon Rubin, the inventor of the COIL concept. "Finding partners through networks is the key to implementing collaborative learning formats," says von Boddien, emphasising the importance of membership in such networks.

How does COIL work?

COIL is already a big trend in the USA. But how exactly do the learning formats work and what are the advantages for everyone involved? A COIL course is a joint, virtual course with another college or university. Blended formats are also possible, i.e. a mixture of presence and digital learning. First, 2 or more teachers form a tandem and organise a joint course - whether a lecture or a practical project. This usually has the following components: The participants get to know each other, are given a task, work on it in groups and finally the teams present their results and the lecturers grade them. In the end, there is always a reflection on the course with regard to the digital and collaborative implementation as well as the intercultural aspects of the cooperation in order to identify potential for improvement.

What are the benefits?

"In addition to the professional exchange, the language skills, but also the international competences in dealing with other cultures are promoted and, above all, the contacts to the participants from the other university are so valuable to build up an international network already for the time after graduation," von Boddien describes the advantages. "Through COIL, I was able to gain valuable experience for working in international teams. Especially the virtual, but still personal exchange with the Austrian students was very exciting and enriched our joint project work," adds Laila Fischer, a student in the 2nd semester of the Master's programme Sustainable Tourism Development at HHN. She took part in the lecture "Sustainable Tourism Management", which Professor Lauren Ugur had realised in COIL cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Vienna.

But the joint formats are not only enriching for the students: "The teachers also benefit immensely from the professional and didactic exchange with their international colleagues," says von Boddien.

More information

Therefore, 3 further COIL projects are being planned as "lighthouse projects" across all faculties within the framework of the IDEAL project in 2021 and 2022, in which practical partners will also be involved. Future COIL projects should benefit from the experience gained. There is great interest in COIL at the university - the COIL community is growing: a separate COIL-ILIAS group has now been set up for the exchange of information and COIL workshops for beginners and advanced learners are planned in the autumn for further training. Other telecollaboration projects are already underway and many more are sure to follow in the coming semesters. If you are interested in COIL and are not yet in the coil community, just send a short email to: