COIL Standard – #2

COIL Standard – #2

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Cultural Awareness

Decorative image of the COIL logoLearners engage in activities that help them recognize their partner’s cultural values, beliefs, and biases, as well as their own.

Review these Explanations

Cross-cultural awareness is the recognition and understanding of the different cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors that exist beyond one’s own culture. It involves being aware of one’s own cultural identity and biases, as well as the cultural diversity of others, and the ability to interact effectively and respectfully in various cultural contexts (APA, 2018). Co-instructors can facilitate the growth of cross-cultural awareness in learners by using examples that demonstrate how an individual’s cultural perspective influences their participation in diverse cultural interactions. This approach can help learners understand the impact of their own cultural background on intercultural dynamics, and enhance their ability to navigate such situations with greater sensitivity and understanding. Co-instructors are responsible for creating activities that not only prompt learners to reflect on and express the changes in their behavior due to intercultural interactions, but also help them cultivate a heightened awareness that guides them to adjust their actions according to the cultural context. It’s equally important for learners to be adept at noticing when others alter their behavior in cultural settings and to actively seek out additional information or advice whenever there is uncertainty about what behavior is considered appropriate. A Welcome module is recommended to greet and introduce learners to the COIL portion of the course. The Welcome module provides the context of the project, as well as introductions to the partner campus’ instructor and fellow students. By nurturing a supportive and inclusive learning community, instructors can create a platform for rich learning experiences that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.

Creating a culturally responsive curriculum is essential for a multicultural and inclusive classroom. It involves integrating teaching practices tailored to meet the diverse needs of learners from varied cultures, ensuring that every learner’s educational experience is enriched and equitable. Offering students a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning is another successful instructional strategy. This can be accomplished with group projects, project-based evaluations, or even letting learners select the format in which they want to submit their COIL assignment. Giving learners the opportunity to express themselves in a way that resonates with them can help build a more diverse and culturally aware COIL experience. When participating in a COIL virtual exchange, it is just as important to acknowledge learner self-autonomy in their deliverables while still maintaining the integrity of the assignment..

Developing a sense of community reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation among online learners (Bibeau, 2001). Learning can take place “in a social context” (Dewey, 1938) and the impression of a correspondence course is lessened by courses that foster a sense of community inside the class. Early-course activities that foster a sense of community among students usually fall into three categories:

  1. Social events that emphasize personal expression, such as an Icebreaker and/or ‘Welcoming Meeting’ on Zoom/WebX.
  2. Cognitive exercises that center on achieving professional and academic objectives that may include a learning inventory and/or pre-COIL survey with cultural and self-reflection.
  3. “Getting Started” activities introduce students to the course materials and technologies, including a scavenger syllabus hunt, or a cultural introduction game.

These types of activities encourage social presence, increase student involvement, and create channels for communication. Affective expressiveness, candid communication, and group cohesion are all components of social presence. In an online COIL collaboration, each of these elements encourages learner participation (Annand, 2011). After getting to know one another and forming first impressions in an online course, learners experience a sense of belonging that builds trust and a sense of class community.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2018).Guide to Cultural Awareness for Disaster Response Volunteers. Retrieved from

Annand, D. (2011). Social presence within the community of inquiry framework. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(5), 38-54. 

Bibeau, Shelley. (2001). Social Presence, Isolation, and Connectedness in Online Teaching and Learning: From the Literature to Real Life. Journal of Instruction Delivery Systems. Volume 15, Number 3 p35-39, Summer 2001.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.

Explore these Additional References:

Berardo, Kate., & Deardorff, D. K. (2012). Building Cultural Competence : Innovative Activities and Models. (1st ed.). Stylus Pub.

Bragadóttir, H., Potter, T., (2019) Educating nurse leaders to think globally with international collaborative learning. Nordic Journal of Nursing Research. 39(4):186-190. 

Gilbert, R. M. (2019). Inclusive Design for a Digital World Designing with Accessibility in Mind / by Regine M. Gilbert. (1st ed. 2019.). Apress.

Molinsky, A., & Jang, S., (2016, January 20). To connect across cultures, find out what you have in common. Cross-Cultural Management: Harvard Business Review.

Moran, R.T., Harris, P.R., & Moran, S. (2007). Managing cultural differences. (7th ed.) OX: Elsevier.

Moran, R.T., Harris, P.R., & Moran, S. (2010). Managing Cultural Differences (8th ed.). Routledge.

Parkinson, A. (2009)“The Rationale for Developing Global CompetenceOnline Journal for Global Engineering Education: Vol. 4: Issue 2, Article 2.

Pennsylvania State University Work Campus. (2021). Lesson 4: Global communication. OLEAD410. Retrieved at

Tervalon, M. & Murray-García, J. (1998). Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competence: A Critical Distinction in Defining Physician Training Outcomes in Multicultural Education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Volume 9, Number 2, May 1998, pp. 117-125. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Williams, H. (2019). Toward Being Inclusive: Intentionally Weaving Online Learning, Reconciliation, and Intercultural Development. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Volume 2019, Issue 157 Special Issue: Learning at Intercultural Intersections: Indigenization, Internationalization and Intercultural Learning, Wiley, Wiley Online Library. 

Winkelman, M. (2005). Cultural awareness, sensitivity & competence. Peosta, Iowa: Eddie Bowers Publishing Co., Inc.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  • Provide learners with activities designed to develop a sense of community between the partners. This will encourage open communication, foster frequent and meaningful interaction, and establish confidence throughout the COIL project.
  • Provide a platform for learners to share their heritage and experiences. Create a safe and brave space where they’re free to speak their minds and have questions answered. This will promote understanding and empathy between learners.
  • When participating in a COIL virtual exchange, it is just as important to be mindful of content development as it is collaborative development. 
  • Establish a mechanism for proper collaboration and space to allow for learners to openly engage, will encourage more meaningful interactions within the project.

Cross-Cultural Considerations

Cultural awareness is an important consideration in any intercultural interactions. Developing an understanding of cultural values, beliefs, and biases are an important consideration in any cross-cultural communications. There are a number of tools and resources that can be incorporated into COIL activities, interactions, and project assignments. 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

  • Cultural self-assessment from the Curricula Enhancement Module Series – This self-assessment is a useful tool that can be used to encourage learners to reflect and raise awareness about their own cultural attitudes and competencies. 
  • Country Guides to Culture, Customs and Etiquette – This searchable repository of 90+ country-specific culture guides can be used to build awareness of cross-cultural differences and learn more about the culture, language, people, beliefs, etiquette, business practices and more.
  • Crossing Borders Education. Cross-Cultural Skills (Study Abroad Tool Kit and Campus Internationalization). – The Study Abroad and Campus Internationalization toolkits, although built for a different purpose than COIL, can be adapted to help learners get in the mindset of intercultural communication.
  • Diversity Circles – A diversity circle is an activity where learners are put into smaller groups to discuss commonalities and differences. The activity book includes multiple group activities and discussion starters to use with your COIL experience.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s – The Danger of a Single Story This narrative could be used as an icebreaker activity to introduce cultural biases and the dangers of making assumptions about culture.

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