By Heather Ward
Glenville State College in West Virginia is bringing global learning to its rural Appalachian campus—where 85 percent of students come from the surrounding counties—by connecting Glenville faculty and students online to teach and learn with their peers in Spain and Mexico.
In 2014, Glenville was one of three institutions selected for its potential to advance internationalization through Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), part of the ACE-State University of New York (SUNY) COIL Center Internationalization Through Technology Awards Program. (Click here for more on SUNY COIL Center.)
“COIL has literally opened the world to our students,” said Milan Vavrek, interim vice president for academic affairs. “They’ve gained an appreciation for other cultures, expanded learning in content areas and developed international friendships without leaving campus.”
The COIL method has been adopted by scores of institutions in the United States and abroad as a way to expand students’ cross-cultural skills, enhance language learning, tap the expertise of faculty at international institutions and contribute to comprehensive internationalization. For institutions like Glenville State, it is proving to be a cost-effective, scalable way to deliver global learning to students who might not have other opportunities to experience the world.
Since Glenville State launched its COIL program in the spring semester of 2015 with two courses—one in Spanish Conversation and Culture and one in U.S. History—the college has increased COIL course offerings to six per semester and formed partnerships with two universities in Mexico, reaching over 100 students a year. By comparison, just one Glenville State student studied abroad in 2014, and—while it marks a significant increase over a two-year period—only nine will go abroad during summer 2016.
For Glenville State, providing students with 21st century global learning meant first taking a step back in time. By rediscovering the story of Spanish immigrants who settled in nearby Anmoore, whose descendants still form part of the local community and continue to speak Spanish, Glenville helped students see a direct connection between their West Virginia roots and a foreign culture.
Luis Argeo, a filmmaker from Asturias, Spain, created a documentary about the small community that migrated from Asturias—also a rural mountain region—to West Virginia, and helped with the initial introduction between Glenville State College and the Universidad de Oviedo. Faculty at Glenville State and Oviedo agreed to make the partnership official by jointly creating and delivering the first COIL courses for both institutions.
Alicia Laspra, professor in the Department of English Philology at the Universidad de Oviedo, met Glenville State faculty and staff in person during the ACE-SUNY COIL Center site visit and faculty workshop in October 2014. Dr. Laspra, who continues to serve as COIL project coordinator at Oviedo, was instrumental in securing a memorandum of understanding between the two institutions in April 2016.
The partnership with Oviedo will be sustained by Glenville State’s institution-wide commitment to developing its COIL Program. During the first year, John Peek, then provost of the college, authorized a $1,000 stipend to faculty who developed COIL course modules. In 2015-16, Glenville State faculty and staff participated in a special Fellows program supported by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (WV HEPC) to create two additional COIL course modules. Megan will continue deepening the partnership between Glenville and Asturias as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Universidad de Oviedo during the spring 2017 semester. The award will enable her to conduct research on the Glenville State-Oviedo COIL program and the effect it is having on students in both Asturias and Appalachia.
The initial impact of the program is best expressed by the students themselves. One of the students at Oviedo asked for “more” in her end-of-project video reflection—as in more time to COIL, which means additional activities and a longer module. In this video reflection submitted by a Glenville student, similar enthusiasm for the project is expressed in the desire to take more classes with COIL modules.
Recognizing Glenville State’s relatively quick success in expanding global learning through the COIL method, the WV HEPC is now tapping the college’s expertise in replicating the program at three other public institutions—Bluefield State College, Concord University, and Marshall University—and will support a second cohort of COIL Faculty Fellows during the 2016-17 academic year. Megan shares the training she received with these COIL fellows both in person and in an online course hosted by Glenville State. Some of this training will begin in Puebla, Mexico, during June 2016, when she and several faculty members will travel to visit new partner institutions.
Since the launch of the pilot courses in Spring 2015, Glenville State’s COIL program has included successes and failures, but perseverance and flexibility have led to more widespread excitement on campus about the program’s potential.
“When I first heard of COIL a couple of years ago, it was new and folks were a little bit confused by the concept because it is so different. Now that it’s more familiar and we understand it better, there’s a definite buzz,” said Leslie Ward, a COIL fellow and the college’s web design specialist. “I recently had the chance to travel to Puebla, Mexico, to meet with professors at one of our partner institutions. I’ve also had fellow faculty members stop me to ask questions about COIL and how they can get involved.”
Further lessons and insights from Glenville State and other institutions selected for the Internationalization Through Technology Awards are discussed in the latest installment of ACE’s online Internationalization in Action series, “Connecting Classrooms: Using Online Technology to Deliver Global Learning.”