What is COIL and why has the University thrown its weight behind this project on our Journalism degree? We’re training to be journalists, so we need answers. Therefore, we did what you have to do in these cases: we went to the source.
José Antonio Solves, a lecturer on our degree, was our source and gave us all the answers to our questions, telling us exactly what this project is about and what impact it will have on students’ day-to-day work. We had some idea already, having seen how the project has been implemented on other degree programmes, but we were sure that the project for Journalism would have its own distinctive features. And that’s what we wanted to know.
Pepe, where did the idea come from to use the COIL approach at the University and what does the University aim to achieve with this?
It’s an initiative proposed by the Office of the Vice-Rector for Internationalization and the aim is to involve our students in an international learning environment while still at the University. The COIL approach has been used for some years now at other universities, but it’s still quite new and innovative, and it’s still not that widely used. One day, the Vice-Rector, Alfonso Díaz, asked to think about taking this approach, so we got the right training and we started to create projects.
What we want to do with these COIL for Journalism modules is to get students from different universities to work together simultaneously on the same issue. Based on the objectives set by the lecturers, the students have to work together as a group to make a success of the project. And they can do that by using platforms such as Blackboard, Zoom or Skype.
The Faculty of the Humanities and Communication Sciences initially wants to set these projects up with universities with which we already have a relationship. However, we want to gradually open up new avenues of cooperation with other institutions, in other languages, and looking for new cultural insights. There’s no doubt that it’s a rewarding experience both for the lecturers and the students. In the end, what we’re doing is taking the courses we teach and getting other lecturers to scrutinize them, lecturers who teach similar things but in different cultural contexts.
And once you’ve identified the university you want to work with, what’s the next step? How do you decide for what courses and points of time in the degree the COIL approach is going to be used?
In this case, we’ve proposed COIL modules for the first-year Theory and Sociology of Communication course and for the fourth-year Structure of Communication course. For the first-year course, we’re not quite there yet, but it’ll happen next year. But for Structure of Communication, it will happen shortly. In any case, we’re already thinking about new COIL projects for the Journalism degree.
“WE KNOW THAT THE STUDENTS SEE THE COIL MODULES AS SOMETHING OF REAL VALUE, AN EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITY THAT WILL MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE TO THEIR FUTURE.”
These two modules have been chosen as the pilot projects because I teach on both of them – I’m also the Erasmus+ coordinator for the degree. We had already had some contact with Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires, so it wasn’t difficult to get this project off the ground: the curricula are similar and there’s no language barrier. And then you add to that the enthusiasm and motivation on both sides to make this a success. We quickly struck up a great relationship with Dr Ethel Pis Díez, coordinator of the Maestría en Gestión de Contenidos degree there.
What we want to do is to get our students to reflect on the media from two perspectives. One is the economic or business perspective and the other concerns content management in a global sense, right across all media. In short, what we want is for students to consider the whole media sector from the legal, political and economic points of view. And, of course, also for them to see how that context determines the role that the media play; how, in some contexts, that leads to the concentration of media in a few hands; and how, in others, it leads to media organizations fighting against such oligopolies.
Studying the leading media groups in Latin America and Europe
With regard to the projects themselves, what can students expect?
For this first COIL module, Journalism students will have to study different media groups: PRISA, Planeta, O Globo, Clarín, La Nación, etc. The plan is that the students here will study the Spanish and European groups, and that our Argentinian partners will study the groups in Latin America. Then the really interesting thing will be to compare that work and the results. Two groups from Austral and two from CEU UCH will present their conclusions and their analysis of those media groups: how they were created, what their current situation is, what their competitors’ value proposition is, what plans for expansion they have, etc.
We wanted our first COIL collaboration to be straightforward: with a university we already know, in Spanish and using an approach that we know well. For that reason, the final presentations will be in a PechaKucha format: 20-slide presentations, with 20 seconds for each slide.
COIL: the perfect approach for stand-out people
But we’re sure that implementing OCIL on the Journalism degree has been a bit more difficult than what you make out. Have there been any obstacles during this process?
Of course! One difficulty is the start of the academic year and the five-hour time-zone difference. That means you’ve got to be really careful to
make sure that the timetables are aligned and that people are available. They start their lectures in mid-July, so the final presentation is very late in their semester, whereas for us, it’s the other way around.
And then some students can find new ways of doing things to be difficult to get used to. The thing is that everyone, whether they take part in the COIL module or not, has to do a final presentation. The only difference is that, for the COIL groups, it is international via the online platform. And so, whether you like it or not, that means your work gets scrutinized by students in Buenos Aires and people you don’t really know at all.
But I think you have to focus on all the positive things that these experiences bring. The students will work with lecturers and methods that they don’t know, and so will we! The teaching staff too will have to deal with new content and new challenges in these projects. Being able to interact and work with other universities may mean that there’ll be more opportunities for collaboration in the future. Who knows? For research, for teaching, COIL is just the beginning of a much greater phenomenon.
From what you’re saying, there doesn’t seem to be much resistance to this change. How do you see the future of Communication degrees?
Change is always difficult to accept, but it always brings good things. There’s no language difference for this collaboration with Austral, but, in the future, we’ll also have to deal with activities in other languages. I don’t think that’ll be a problem, because we’re already seeing that change on our own campus: I’m teaching two French students this year, and they’re not Erasmus+ students. This multicultural reality is something that we, as lecturers, have to get used to. These are people who have learnt about what CEU has to offer and have decided to come here because they have bought into it.
“THE WORLD IS BECOMING SMALLER AND EVER MORE INTERDEPENDENT. IT’S IMPORTANT TO ENSURE THAT THE CONTEXT YOU ARE IN REFLECTS THIS JOINED-UP REALITY.”
As we are aware of this cultural mix, we want to create more projects like COIL, even for first-year students. “We know that the students see the COIL modules as something of real value, an educational activity that will make a real difference to their future.”
So, what do you think the future holds for these COIL collaborations?
I’m sure they will change over time. This year, for example, we’ve let the students choose their own “side”. Next year, the groups will be mixed. That will make for an even more engaging experience, as the students will be working in close collaboration with others that they didn’t previously know at all. And maybe that person will become your friend. A friend who lives, for example, in Buenos Aires. And then, why not make personal contact by visiting that friend and spending time in Buenos Aires? I’m sure that this project will keep on developing and it will soon become a kind of prior step to participation in the Erasmus programme.
Even if it seems like a cliché now, the world is becoming smaller and ever more interdependent. And it’s important to ensure that the context you’re in reflects that reality: studying for your degree in the same university, in the same city, alongside the same people? Things don’t work like that any more. The COIL initiative is part of that, part of the commitment of CEU UCH to internationalization.