Collaborative program with German universities enlivens online teaching and learning

Second language education professor Bill Dunn was looking for a way to enliven an online class he was teaching during the pandemic. By taking advantage of a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program with the University of Paderborn in Germany, he was able to create a more enriching learning experience, but it turned out to be a worthwhile professional development experience for him as well.

“I knew students were getting tired of online classes, so I thought [COIL] might add more excitement and an international element to make it more interesting,” Dunn said. “But I can’t think of many experiences I’ve had that have brought this kind of freshness to my teaching.”

Dunn and other Faculty members who have participated or are currently participating in the program want to encourage colleagues to discover the upsides of this unique opportunity for themselves.

The COIL program is one initiative stemming from a Memorandum of Understanding between post-secondary institutions in Germany and central Alberta. The German government provided funding and other supports for instructors to deliver course content to students in Albertan and German classrooms. Funding was available for teaching assistants, workshops and travel between countries, the latter of which the pandemic, unfortunately, has ruled out for now.

Dunn said that, while the course content he and his German counterparts developed drew on familiar material, negotiating new teaching technologies and the differing educational contexts added a fresh dimension to the work.

“In addition to what I’ve learned about teaching online and ideas for my own courses, it stimulated a lot of thinking about my own teaching,” Dunn said. “And the relationships I’ve built — I think this is a lasting connection we’ll use in the future for teaching and research.”

He added that the program allows for flexibility in designing a learning experience that enables instructors to manage the associated workload for themselves and their students.

“You can develop and teach an entire course together, or set up a single project for students, or anything in between,” he said.

Education through an international lens

English language arts education and curriculum studies associate professor Claudia Eppert said it’s been gratifying to refresh her perspective by working with a counterpart at Bielefeld University whose focus on critical and digital literacies complements and enhances her own.

“It’s been invigorating in terms of the new knowledge and possibilities of sharing our approaches,” Eppert said. “I’m really excited to be teaching this course I’ve been teaching for many years. There’s been lots of new learning.”

Early childhood education professor Anna Kirova and Educational Psychology sessional lecturer Shiva Zarezadeh Kheibari are just concluding their COIL course with counterparts at Bielefeld University, for which they used a technology platform called Perusall. They said collaborating with both German academics and students to step outside their usual frame of reference added value to the experience.

“You rarely have an opportunity to work collaboratively and co-teach, so creating content and thinking about assignments together and thinking about what’s relevant in the international context has been enriching,” Kirova said. “We take so much for granted in terms of what’s important to our students. When you present to a different cultural group, it makes you think about what’s actually relevant and what are the big questions in education that we can all share.”

“I learned a lot from students’ comments and annotations on Perusall. It’s a high-level reflection and understanding of both cultures,” Zarezadeh Kheibari added. “I learned a lot about the German education system, and they learned a lot about Canada’s education system.”

Dunn, Eppert and Kirova said anyone wishing to know more about their COIL experiences should feel free to reach out. For more information about the possibility of forming a partnership with a professor or course instructor in Germany, contact Magdalena Mayer, Strategic Partnerships Coordinator, International Office, Bielefeld University, at