COIL Standard – #4

COIL Standard – #4

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Teamwork Skills

Decorative image of the COIL logoLearners in cross-cultural groups build skills to organize and distribute the work in asynchronous and synchronous technology platforms.

When working on a COIL partnership, the co-instructors, or instructional team need to be sensitive to any potential equity challenges in technology access, language capabilities, time differences, and other barriers to effective teamwork. These considerations should be addressed and incorporated as soon as co-instructors begin to prepare the COIL course/module. The co-instructors define culturally-specific aspects of teamwork, select the tools necessary, and determine the types of activities they will need to prepare course participants for international group work. Developing these types of intercultural competencies that can be brought to future careers or endeavors, is one of the benefits and desired outcomes for learners in the COIL experience. 

Creating an inclusive and effective learning environment for learners from diverse cultural backgrounds involves implementing strategies that foster intercultural competence and prepare students for a globalized workforce (Saunders & Kardia, 1997). To accomplish this COIL co-instructors should reflect on their own cultural identities and experiences, as self-awareness is a crucial first step in the ability to create a comfortable and inclusive virtual learning environment. (Hockings, 2010). Inclusive pedagogy actively celebrates diversity and recognizes its profound impact on learning. (LabXchange, 2023). In the design of COIL assignments, activities and interactions, it is important to acknowledge the wealth of experiences shaped by students’ cultural backgrounds, cognitive abilities, physical needs, and socio-economic realities. Embracing UDL principles can provide a framework for presenting information and providing opportunities for learners to express their understanding in multiple ways, such as visual aids, audio recordings, and hands-on activities. Differentiated Instruction can tailor the content, process, and product to provide individualized learning pathways. For example, this might involve offering varied reading materials at different difficulty levels. Creating a safe space for learners to freely express their thoughts and ask questions will foster an open dialogue and encourage learners to share their cultural backgrounds and experiences. Building awareness around the use of inclusive respectful language will promote and build understanding of varying perspectives and contexts, and help everyone avoid stereotypes. Virtual field trips, or activities such as “a day in the life of…” can be designed to connect learners to the realities and contexts in which classmates live. Collaborative Projects among course participants are a key strategy to build teamwork skills. It is essential to establish clear expectations for respectful behavior and interactions, and to address any instances of discrimination or bias immediately. 

Implementing these strategies can help create an environment where every learner feels valued, supported, and empowered to contribute, which will in turn prepare them for the diverse and interconnected world of work.


Brett, J., Behfar, K., & Kern, M. (2006). Managing Multicultural Teams. Harvard Business Review 84(11), 89-96.

CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from 

Saunders, S. & Kardia, D. (1997). Creating inclusive college classrooms. University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

Hockings, C. (2010). Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: a synthesis of research. London: Higher Education Academy.

Jiménez J. L., Subbarao, S., & Bagatelia, E. (2022). An unspoken truth: faculty (in) equity in the context of invisible violence: virtual exchange case studies. Journal of Virtual Exchange, 5, 42-53.

LabXchange (2023) Inclusive Classroom: Strategies for Educators. August 8, 2023, Harvard University.

Explore these Additional References:

Barkley, E.F., Major, C.H., Cross, K.P. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. (2nd ed.) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Deardorff, D. K. (2022). Communicating Successfully Across Differences Within COIL Virtual Exchange. In The Guide to COIL Virtual Exchange. (pp. 274–286). Stylus Pub.

de Hei, M., Tabacaru, C., Sjoer, E., Rippe, R., & Walenkamp, J. (2019). Developing Intercultural Competence Through Collaborative Learning in International Higher Education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 24(2), 190–211.

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

Hertel, G., Konradt, U., & Voss, K. (2006). Competencies for virtual teamwork: Development and validation of a web-based selection tool for members of distributed teams. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 15(4), 477–504.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions

  1. Encourage learners to work together to build team skills and collaborate equally in completing tasks and objectives for COIL course assignments and activities.
  2. Conduct a pre-collaboration meeting with your students using the checklist for a COIL Project Introduction to establish what COIL is; what to expect in the intercultural collaboration; what the cultural / historic / geo-political differences in countries of the collaboration will be; and to explain the benefits of participating in a COIL experience. 
  3. Provide expanded online learning netiquette information to include a section on cultural awareness. Example: Practicing Inclusive Communication in Your Courses
  4. Provide activities and opportunities to enhance cultural awareness and sensitivity, ensuring that all team members respect and understand each other’s cultural backgrounds.
  5. Establish clear assignments and expectations to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that all team members are on the same page regarding their roles and responsibilities.
  6. Offer scaffolding to learners in different steps such as team formation, establishing common ground for group work, and developing intercultural awareness.
  7. Engage all participants through interactive exercises that promote intercultural understanding and teamwork.
  8. Incorporate peer evaluation to provide feedback and encourage reflection on team dynamics and individual contributions.
  9. Accommodate and celebrate cultural differences, turning them into learning opportunities and sources of inspiration to build intercultural awareness.
  10. Implement virtual multicultural team assignments that can contribute to the development of intercultural competence as a meaningful internationalization outcome.

Cross-Cultural Considerations

Developing teamwork skills in a cross-cultural context is a targeted outcome of COIL virtual exchange experiences. The ability to organize and distribute work in online synchronous and asynchronous learning environments presents challenges and opportunities. Issues can arise as a result of differences in direct vs. indirect communication styles; there may be conflicting approaches to decision making; differing attitudes towards hierarchy, authority and respect; and challenges with fluency and accents (Brett,, Behfar, & Kern, 2006). 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.

Consider that COIL can be a valuable addition to the AIDE (Access, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity) toolbox, particularly at higher education institutions in socio-economically privileged countries. Traditional power structures and invisible privileges can easily negatively impact a COIL experience, particularly when faculty from socio-economically privileged cultures are not fully cognizant of the sociopolitical realities being experienced by their partners in socio-economically challenged regions. Solutions should go beyond practicing cultural humility. COIL is intended to be grounded in the ethical responsibility of honoring the human capital that both partners bring to the partnership.(Jimenez et. al, 2022).

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