COIL project enables exchange with South Africa

Studying internationally from home

Studying internationally during the corona pandemic? Many of those looking forward to a semester abroad were stopped in the midst of their preparations and planning. But first-semester students in the Food Science Master's degree course had the chance to obtain international experience in winter semester. This was made possible through a project in the Sustainability module (COIL). We talked about the project with Prof. Dr. Sebastian Thiem and student Sebastian Tok.

Veranstaltungsraum Department of Food and Nutrition Consumer Sciences an der DUT mit Studierenden, die an Tischen sitzen

Last spring, Prof. Thiem was on site. This winter semester, the exchange between students and professors in the Department of Food and Nutrition Consumer Sciences at DUT and the Food Science course at HAW Hamburg took place online only.

Competence-oriented international teaching and learning

Last year we reported on the upcoming four-week COIL project, which was carried out in the Faculty of Life Sciences (LS) in winter semester 2020/21 in cooperation with the Durban University of Technology (DUT), a HAW Hamburg partner university. 'COIL stands for collaborative online international learning. It isn't a kind of software or a platform, but rather a concept which has instructors from partner institutions jointly teach a team of students online,' explains Prof. Dr. Sebastian Thiem.

COIL enables students and instructors to signficantly broaden their own experiential horizons, to learn about different perspectives on diverse topics and to think in an interdisciplinary way. Additionally, COIL makes it possible for students to obtain international experience with relatively little effort. In doing so, it draws perfectly on the idea of competence-oriented teaching, which is highly valued at HAW Hamburg: 'The main focus of the project is not the learning of content but rather the students' intercultural and digital development: how do we communicate digitally across cultural and spatial borders?' asks Thiem.

The main focus of the project is not the learning of content, but rather the students' intercultural and digital development: how do we communicate digitally across cultural and spatial borders?

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Thiem, Professor of Food Science in the Faculty of Life Sciences

For Sebastian Tok, who started his Master's degree at HAW Hamburg in winter semester and participated in the COIL project, this realisation only became clear at the end of the course: 'Looking back, I would say that both groups fulfilled the existing clichés very well. We at HAW Hamburg immediately drew up plans, wanted to proceed according to certain structures and, above all, wanted a good result, while our fellow students in Durban had more of a relaxed, wait-and-see approach,' says Tok. The soft skills he learned are an important asset for the Master's student: international cooperation is about understanding each other's cultures, different ways of working and the local circumstances.

Transcending cultural and spatial borders

Beyond all the borders, there was at least strong agreement on the communications tool: the teams communicated primarily via WhatsApp. 'Neither my colleagues at DUT nor those of us here gave the students instructions about how they should communicate with one another,' explains Thiem. 'This is also the big advantage of COIL. The project can be carried out perfectly using the digitial tools that we've all more or less mastered. WhatsApp or Teams were used mostly for group work, and we used Zoom for exchanges between all the students at HAW Hamburg and DUT.'

For the COIL project topic – the mass production of animal products as seen from a sustainability perspective – it was extremely important to look beyond one's own cultural horizons, for Sebastian Tok as well. What most interested him about the Sustainability module was how the German and European view of the subject differs from the international perspective: 'Within Europe there is a certain degree of consensus on the topic of sustainability. But anyone who wants to work internationally in this area should ideally gather experience during their studies about how sustainability is variously defined and viewed internationally, and why. The exchange with South Africa was perfect for this,' says Tok, convinced.

Not a replacement for a semester abroad, an incentive

As the semester closes, Sebastian Tok has several takeaways from the project. After a study abroad semester in Spain, it was a good experience to get an impression online of studying in South Africa. 'I don't see the COIL project as a replacement for a semester abroad, but rather as an incentive. And without having been there, one of my takeaways is to rethink my own culture's way of working. Maybe working together should be more of a focus than the outcome. Here it would have been helpful, however, if the students had known in advance that the cultural exchange was at least as important as the project result. I would have liked a joint closing session where all of the students could have given feedback on the cooperation,' says Tok.

I don't see the COIL project as a replacement for a semester abroad, but rather as an incentive. And without having been there, one of my takeaways is to rethink my own culture's way of working.

Sebastian Tok, Master's student in the Faculty of Life Sciences

Sebastian Thiem, who carried out the COIL project at HAW Hamburg for the first time, also has some takeaways for his next course in summer semester 2021: 'The project is to some extent a black box: we don't know if the randomly formed student groups will work well together, if the communication will get going at all, and how independently they will work. This is why good, long-term planning is important. In addition, a different type of leadership is required within the course. As instructors we have to give constructive feedback, be knowledgeable about the other culture, and spontaneously adjust our teaching methods where necessary,' says Thiem.

Overall though, the students' positive feedback shows that the project was a good beginning for COIL at HAW Hamburg. What especially pleased Sebastian Thiem was that the students viewed the four project weeks as a welcome change and enrichment in everyday corona life.

About the two interview partners:

Sebastian Tok, 23, has been studying Food Science at HAW Hamburg since October 2020. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Home Economics in Münster the year before.

Prof. Dr. Thiem is Professor of Food Science in the Department of Nutrition and Home Economics in the Faculty of Life Science. The COIL project offered in winter semester 2020/21 will be followed by another this summer semester, which Thiem would like to offer for Bachelor's students over the entire semester.

The collaborative online international learning (COIL) model was established by the association of state universities in the US state of New York in 2004. The expansion of the COIL network with partner universities from around the world has been intensified since 2006. Today almost 100 universities from very diverse locations belong to the network. The COIL project in winter semester 2020/21 was the first at HAW Hamburg. In summer semester another project will take place in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

Text: Anke Blacha

 

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