COIL Standard – #1

COIL Standard – #1

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Intercultural Communications

Learners engage in scaffolded opportunities for Decorative image of the COIL logocommunication among intercultural virtual team members.

Review These Explanations

Cultural differences impede learners’ ability to communicate effectively, according to a substantial body of research (Kayworth & Leidner, 2000; Sarker & Sahay, 2002; Van Ryssen & Hayes Godar 2000). COIL co-Instructors are in a unique position to facilitate the development of understanding of cross cultural differences in learners, and how they might impede learners’ abilities to communicate effectively by providing and scaffolding multiple opportunities for communication and interaction among intercultural virtual team members, COIL engagements can begin to support and foster an understanding of cultural differences, and the opportunity for learners to develop the skills and experience necessary for successful intercultural online communications with deeper awareness and sensitivity.

For example, activities designed to target cross-cultural differences can help learners build awareness of differing contexts, perspectives, and circumstances. Activities that assist learners to Identify issues of access, and limitations, or assumptions about time, technology, expectations, and language capabilities, can assist learners to develop improved ways of working together. Communication in online synchronous and asynchronous environments can be negatively impacted by a lack of, or limited non-verbal social cues like gestures, facial expressions, and body language that are “readily appreciated in face-to-face discussions,” as well as prosodic features and paralinguistic elements such as intonation, stress, and pitch, which can be used for emphasis and contrast in face to face communication (Kim, et al., 2007, p.338; Vignovic & Thompson, 2010).

Being aware of limitations imposed by the medium allows co-instructors and learners to anticipate possible obstacles and challenges in communication; develop strategies to clarify understanding; and identify and diffuse possible instances of miscommunication. Additionally, identifying and acknowledging cultural differences in areas such as work ethics, while addressing cultural stereotypes, can help mitigate unintended microaggressions and cultural biases. Encouraging active listening skills and empathetic responses to diverse perspectives and communication styles is an essential component of a successful online intercultural experience.


Kayworth, T. & Leidner, D. (2000). The global virtual manager: a prescription for success. European Management Journal 18(2), 183–194.

Kim, I.; Anderson, R.; Nguyen-Jahiel, K.; & Archodidou, A. (2007). Discourse patterns during children’s collaborative online discussions. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16(3), 333–370.

Sarker, S & Sahay, S. (2003). Understanding Virtual Team development: an interpretive study. Journal of the Association for Information Systems (JAIS) 4, 1–38.

Van Ryssen, S & Hayes Godar, S. (2000). Going international without going international: multinational VTs. Journal of International Management. 6, 49–60.

Vignovic, J. & Thompson, J. (2010). Computer-mediated cross-cultural collaboration: attributing communication errors to the person versus the situation. Journal of Applied Psychology. 95(2), 265–276. (Effects of Cultural Cues on Perceptions Formed During Computer-Mediated Communication).

Explore these Additional References:

Ackerman, S.A. (2007). Developing Positive Team Collaborations. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 88(5), 627–629. 

Appiah-Kubi, P. & Annan, E. (2020). A Review of a Collaborative Online International Learning. International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (IJEP), 10(1), 109. 

Barkley, E.F., Major, C.H. & Cross, K.P. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. 2nd ed. John Willey & Sons.

Gapinski , A.J., et al., (2018). Assessment of effectiveness of teamwork skills learning in collaborative learning. The Journal of Management and Engineering Integration, 11(2). Winter 2018.

Garson, K.; Bourassa. E.; & Odgers, T. (2016). Interculturalising the curriculum: faculty professional development, Intercultural Education, 27:5, 457-473.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices : what they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. ([Monograph]). Association Of American Colleges and Universities.

Luc, K. (2022, April 13). How Effective is unconscious bias training? Culture Amp.

O’Dowd, R. (2007). Evaluating the outcomes of online intercultural exchange. ELT Journal, Volume 61, Issue 2, April 2007, Pages 144–152.

Rubin, J. (2022). Introduction. In J. Rubin & S. Guth (Eds.), The Guide to COIL Virtual Exchange. Stylus. (

Ward, H. (2016). Connecting classrooms: Using online technology to deliver global learning. Internationalization in Action: Special edition. American Council on Education, Washington, DC.

Washington, E. (2022, May 10). Recognizing and responding to microaggressions at work. Harvard Business Review

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  1. Foster a sense of community in synchronous and asynchronous activities to help learners feel connected.
  2. Facilitate open dialogue in a safe-space regarding culture and norms and use ice-breakers to build communities within multicultural teams.
    • Create opportunities for learners to be introduced to, identify, and acknowledge cultural biases.
    • Design intercultural ice-breaking activities and cross-cultural activities that assist learners to begin to identify and mitigate their own cultural biases and understand one another’s cultural identities. 
    • Ice-breakers and welcoming messages can include cultural games and ‘getting-to-know’ you examples.
    • Encourage teams to discuss similarities and/or hobbies to build communities.
    • Create an activity that identifies cultures and expectations (Country Guides to Culture, Customs and Etiquette), so all learners understand each of the represented countries, cultures, and perspectives. The activity can be synchronous or asynchronous, and vary in length based on COIL experience(s).
  3. Clearly outline communication protocols, expectations for respectful dialogue, and strategies for managing potential conflicts.
  4. Facilitate open dialogue to recognize and create opportunities for learners to be introduced to, identify, and acknowledge cultural microaggressions and how to work toward mitigating cultural microaggressions.
  5. Recognize subcultures within multicultural teams.
  6. Facilitate student reflections on their intercultural communication experiences. This allows them to identify areas for improvement and celebrate their successes.
  7. Implement open and inclusive communication by creating space for teammates. This can be achieved through synchronous and asynchronous meetings, as well as discussion groups and team challenges for ice-breakers. 
  8. Provide opportunities for team members to interact and build relationships outside of work. This can enhance understanding and trust.
  9. Create opportunities for cross-cultural interactions and knowledge sharing, such as team-building activities, or cultural exchange programs.

Cross-Cultural Considerations

Addressing hidden, unconscious, or implicit biases is an important consideration in any cross-cultural communications. There are a number of tools and resources that can be used/adapted as pre-COIL orientation activities, such as icebreakers and introductions with intercultural teams, as a second cultural activity, or as a reflection.Opportunities for intercultural engagement and reflection should take place consistently throughout the COIL experience, and these resources can be helpful to design and facilitate those important activities and conversations.

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