Study Abroad Reimagined in a Virtual World
The SUNY COIL initiative offers virtual study abroad experiences amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including SUNY Brockport’s first partnership with an international non-governmental organization.
When countries across the globe were afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic during the Spring 2020 semester, SUNY students studying abroad quickly returned home. Since then, no SUNY Brockport students have left the country to study abroad, but that doesn't mean they’re not taking part in global learning.
SUNY’s Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program works with faculty across SUNY to develop courses that are taught in cooperation with a professor abroad, enrolling students from both SUNY campuses and the partner institution.
"COIL has been a part of the Brockport curriculum since 2011," said Ann Giralco Pearlman, senior instructional design specialist for the Center for Global Education and Engagement and COIL coordinator at Brockport. "Due to travel bans on study abroad, SUNY Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Tod Laursen tasked SUNY COIL with developing a global program that would provide students with a virtual international experience."
The SUNY Global Commons Virtual Study Abroad program is a six-week experience that fulfilled this goal.
Students who participated in the virtual program this summer completed coursework on intercultural storytelling and international perspectives focused on one of six UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students then collaborated with international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working toward their chosen SDG to understand how they are taking action towards achieving their goal. The project culminated in a multi-media effort in which students created videos, posters, and more that tell the story of their partner NGO.
"While this was the first time our COIL program worked directly with an NGO, we noticed that it was a major point of interest for students and faculty that took part in the Global Commons project," said Lindsay Crane, Director of Global Education and Engagement. "The success of the program gave us a model that we intend to use moving forward."
Barbara LeSavoy, associate professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies, was chosen as the representative from Brockport to oversee the projects for SDG 5 – Gender and Equality.
"SUNY was looking for institutions to take the lead on each initiative, and Brockport was chosen due to our thriving women and gender studies department," LeSavoy said. "This was a great opportunity for students to take part in what I consider high-impact learning: an experience that goes beyond the classroom and interacts with the world around us."
LeSavoy’s group worked with Hope Revival Children’s Organization (HRCO), an NGO that specializes in providing help with hygiene and education for women and girls in Tanzania. SUNY Brockport junior Leighann Favro was one of the students who took a lead role on the project, meeting with the Executive Director of HRCO Stephen Marwa, who helped them understand the difference they were making.
"Even through a Zoom call, I could see how much passion Stephen had for this project," Favro said. "The energy he had when talking to us really helped me realize that, even though we aren’t with them, these are real people we are helping make a difference in the world."
Favro and her classmates created a video that highlighted key initiatives of the HRCO including the Reusable Pad Project, which teaches women how to create a sustainable income through raising livestock, dyeing Batik, or implementing and maintaining clean water.
While Brockport continues to internationalize its curriculum, COIL will play a key role in a virtual world, connecting faculty and students with international partners. While a virtual international program can’t replace an experience studying abroad, COIL offers a unique form of global education for students who cannot afford to travel or are unable to because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions.
"With the onset of COVID-19 and continual growth of online learning, multiple new national and international partner universities are joining COIL," Pearlman said. "With more opportunities for COIL partnerships, the Center for Global Education and Engagement is planning to create classes similar to the Global Commons program."