Evolution of the HCT-SAIT Virtual Student Exchange Using the COIL Approach

Nazia Viceer and Bharti Pandya
Innovation Showcase

Virtual student exchange programs have been implemented by higher education institutions across the globe. The Stevens Initiative (2021) found that 214 colleges and universities offered 3,073 virtual exchange programs from fall 2020 to summer 2021 and that 62 of the responding institutions had more than five years of experience with virtual exchanges. These programs, which offer platforms for students to communicate, collaborate, cooperate, and achieve their learning objectives by building learner communities, have been coined by scholars as Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) (Guth, 2013; Tenorio, 2021). According to Hackett et al. (2023),

COIL promotes collaborative learning for both educators and students (Rubin, 2017). This involves two or more educators, who are working at geographically separated institutions, connecting and collaborating (online) to design a shared syllabus for their students, including joint online group assignments. (p. 3)

Existing studies on practicing COIL are limited to either theoretical aspects or discussing the approach used in a particular virtual student exchange program. There is a dearth of literature on the progressions, transformations, and evolutions of such exchange programs from one cycle to another.


In fall 2021, the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in the United Arab Emirates and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Alberta, Canada, piloted a virtual student mobility initiative using the COIL approach for an Introduction to Organizational Behavior (OB) course. The second cycle of the international virtual student exchange program was delivered in fall 2022 and scaffolded onto the pilot course. This article sheds light on innovative teaching practices implemented by the instructors of HCT and SAIT and shares the evolution of the exchange program from 2021 to 2022 by reflecting on the content, assessments, teaching methods, and faculty readiness.

Evolution of Content

In the pilot, academic teams from both institutions determined four topics that overlapped each institution’s curriculum for the joint classroom: stages of team development, conflict management, organizational culture, and communication. This resulted in 13 joint sessions being delivered. Lead faculty developed a delivery and assessment framework for each session which included dates, topics, faculty lead(s) for sessions, collaborative activities (to be completed in or out of the classroom), and assessments.

A successful framework from the 2021 pilot served as a foundation to add more sessions and topics in fall 2022. Lead faculty increased the joint sessions to 18, adding four new topics: power, politics, influence, and leadership. Lead faculty internationalized, revised, and developed new content which encouraged students to connect and apply the concepts to real-life scenarios. A variety of applied activities, such as reflection, role plays, survival simulation, story writing, vlogging, interviewing, case studies, and numerous team-building activities, were added. A final project and workshop in which students developed OB competencies individually and through team work were added. The content was reviewed for intercultural sensitivities with an inclusive approach by both instructors for the context of the countries involved.

Evolution of Teaching Methods

In fall 2021, the instructors had access to the learning management systems (LMS) of both institutions. It was the first time that the HCT lead faculty used D2L Brightspace as the LMS to review the course content of SAIT. The faculty at SAIT had prior experience using Blackboard Learn and were given access to HCT resources, including email and Nearpod. Nearpod was used by SAIT faculty and students for the first time, and there was no time allotted for learning this new technology. For communication technologies, HCT students adapted quickly to Microsoft teams, and SAIT students swiftly learned WhatsApp.

In the fall 2022 iteration, the LMS remained the same for both SAIT (D2L Brightspace) and HCT (Blackboard Learn). The new SAIT faculty and students were required to, again, learn Nearpod, and during this iteration a session for the SAIT students was developed to learn the new technology prior to engaging with HCT, which proved to be quite useful.

Faculty leads created and added engaging learning environments using various technologies, such as gamification, real-time polling, and cloud-based video conferencing platforms. There was ample space built into the sessions for the content, which was interwoven with the real-time exchange of knowledge, storytelling, and personal experiences. Zoom and Nearpod allowed for a collaborative learning environment despite the geographical remoteness and cultural differences. The use of an interactive environment allowed students to communicate in both small- and large-group discussions. This facilitated student engagement in conversations about culture, work environments, and day-to-day life in their respective countries. Outside of class time, students gravitated toward social media as a form of communication. Faculty encouraged the use of alternative methods of communication due to social media’s ability to enrich remote learning through relationship-building, content creation, and connection (Greenhow & Galvin, 2020).

Communication and collaboration went beyond the students, as both instructors addressed individual student and team concerns mutually. There was regular discussion and collaboration by the instructors via meetings one to two times a week, and sometimes more. Both pilot instructors met outside of regularly scheduled work hours due to the time difference. This allowed for any foreseen or unforeseen issues to be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner.

Evolution of Assessments

In the fall 2021 pilot, joint assessments comprised 40 percent of the final grade for SAIT students and 30 percent for HCT students. This included one joint group project in which students compared the leadership style and organizational culture of one organization from Canada and one from the United Arab Emirates. The final project work was assigned a weight of 20 percent for the group project report and remainder for the individual’s oral defense.

In fall 2022, joint assessments increased to 65 percent, which reflected the expansion of joint content. Applied and competency-based assessments were added in the form of a workshop and final project. Both assessments focused on the application and the OB competencies of course-level objectives. Students were placed on teams that remained the same for the rest of the course and were comprised of equal numbers of SAIT and HCT students.

The final project was weighted at 40 percent and teams were provided with both the rubric and the final project assignment. Students researched an organization either in the UAE or Canada and were required to (1) identify the organizational problems, (2) analyze the organizational problems with an OB lens, (3) propose an action plan to solve the organizational problems, and (4) complete a team reflection.

Along with the team reflection, a reflective individual assessment was developed. In this assessment, each student gave an oral presentation, summarizing and reflecting upon their personal, professional, and academic growth through the course and final project. At the end of the presentation, students were asked two to three questions by peers and instructors. A list of sample questions related to the course and final project addressing competencies and application of content was attached to the assignment.

The second project consisted of students creating a workshop, weighted at 25 percent, which focused on skills or techniques that were related to content discussed throughout the course. The objective of this assessment was to develop the organizational behavior-related competencies of students. Teams were given several topics to choose from and were also given the choice to come up their own topic with consultation from the instructors. The teams designed and delivered this workshop to both instructors and their peers.

The process for grading consisted of each faculty member grading the assessments individually and then meeting through Zoom to discuss rationale and collaborate on a combined grade for joint assessments. Both instructors found that their grades were similar, allowing the COIL to function as two instructors with shared students.

Evolution of Faculty Readiness

In the pilot, the SAIT faculty member joined after development of the program had been finalized. The course content, technologies, assessment, and delivery sessions were shared with the SAIT faculty. After two sessions, both instructors reviewed the delivery framework and made necessary adjustments. The course content and activities were refined with the progression of the program.

Fall 2022’s faculty leads consisted of the original HCT faculty member and a new faculty member from SAIT. The new faculty lead was brought into the program two weeks from the start of the course. Although the Canadian faculty member had a steep learning curve, materials were provided from the pilot and connection to the HCT faculty member was established by the previous SAIT faculty member. Both the HCT and SAIT faculty members had an opportunity to select topics and jointly work on the schedule and delivery. As mentioned above, a session was incorporated for the introduction of Nearpod, which was new to the SAIT students. The continuity of the HCT faculty member was paramount in the smooth continuation and scaffolding of the pilot.

Participant Response

This article unpacked a high-level view of the evolution of a virtual student mobility initiative by comparing the pilot and the second cycle. Through the use of innovative teaching practices, instructors from HCT and SAIT reflected on the evolution of content, assessments, teaching methods, and faculty readiness through the two iterations. Content and assessments were created to be applied and competency-based in alignment with joint course-level objectives. A collaborative, innovative, and creative learning environment was created and encouraged, as was the use of different technologies, including social media, for students to build relationships, collaborate, create, grow, learn, and have fun.

Student and faculty quotes indicate a high level of satisfaction with the HCT-SAIT Virtual Student Exchange. One student states,

Because there are people from different countries in this class, our ideas are also very different. Everyone's point of view is unique. When I hear other people's views, they are what I never thought of. This is what I think surprises me most.

Another advises other students to take the course because it taught them a lot and allowed them to explore new experiences and build global friendships. A third student says,

It is really a great experience for me personally because it exposes me to what is obtainable in the world of business in relation to ethics, behavior, and relating with people internationally. It is really a good place to be, especially now that businesses are beyond the four walls of a building.

A faculty member notes,

As I tell my students all the time, business does not happen in a vacuum and globalization and is here to stay. Our students will be in careers that will call upon the skills they have acquired through this experience. The competencies and skills covered in the classroom were so interwoven with [what] is required in the global business environment . . . Communication and collaboration skills kept consistently surfacing as we witnessed the challenges and the triumphs of our students. Building these skills required both human and professional skills as we crossed cultural, geographical, language, and time zone barriers. What students learned here cannot be taught by a textbook, but really needed to be lived and experienced.


Greenhow, C., & Galvin, S. (2020). Teaching with social media: Evidence-based strategies for making remote higher education less remote. Information and Learning Sciences, 121(7/8), 513-524.

Guth, S. (2013). The COIL institute for globally networked learning in the humanities: Final report. SUNY COIL Center.

Hackett, S., Janssen, J., Beach, P., Perreault, M., Beelen, J., & van Tartwijk, J. (2023). The effectiveness of Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) on intercultural competence development in higher education. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 20(5). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-022-00373-3

Stevens Initiative. (2021). 2021 survey of the Virtual Exchange Field Report. https://www.stevensinitiative.org/resource/2021-survey-of-the-virtual-exchange-field-report-stevens-initiative

Tenorio, A. K. (2021). The diverse challenges and impact of multicultural learning in a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.31338.80325

Dr. Nazia Viceer is Instructor, Business, at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Dr. Bharti Pandya is Instructor, Business, at Higher Colleges of Technology in United Arab Emirates.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.