In the fall of 2022 Hojung Kim, assistant professor at the College of Architecture and Design, was considering ways to enhance global education in his classroom. Kim, no stranger to global experiences himself, wanted to give his students an experience like his upbringing.
Kim explains that he was “born in South Korea and raised in Hong Kong, Denmark and the United States since the age of ten, I have experienced what it is like to embrace the difficulty of a new environment despite vast differences in language, culture, society and politics.”
Early in his career at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Kim was surprised to learn that over 70% of his students had not traveled outside the southern region of the United States, saying, “some of [students] mentioned that the furthest they have visited is Memphis.”
For Kim, with political and social polarization rising across the U.S., now is the time to connect students with learning experiences that put them outside their comfort zone when it comes to language, culture and collaboration. Yet, how would he do this with limited financial and travel resources?
He soon found the answer in Collaborative Online International Learning, or COIL for short. COIL “brings students and professors together across cultures to learn, discuss and collaborate as part of their class. Professors partner to design the experience and students partner to complete the activities designed. COIL becomes part of the class, enabling all students to have a significant intercultural experience within their course of study.” (SUNY, n.d., para.2)
A flagship feature of this creative global learning experience is both faculty and students directly benefit from COIL. It allows faculty at institutions across the world to collaborate on curriculum across borders. Similarly, students at universities in separate countries—and often on different continents—collaborate on coursework, engage with other cultures and learn new interpersonal skills to bring to the workforce.
Kim believes that “exposing students early in their higher education to a different culture and understanding the values of what it takes to be a socially responsible designer” is key for students. Based on his experiences in the design field, “the chances of a professional engaging other professionals in a different cultural background [are] very high.”
To introduce a COIL component into his classroom, Kim connected with Professor Baek Seunghan from Pusan National University’s architecture department. PNU is one of 10 Flagship Korean National Universities. It can be found in Busan on the southeast coast of the Korean peninsula.
The two professors connected and soon began constructing a COIL component to be introduced in Kim’s course titled IARC 475 Comprehensive Capstone Studio and Seunghan’s course titled PR25086 Architectural Design Studio IV.
The COIL piece of the course, which virtually connected UT and PNU students, challenged them to explore urban problems related to asylum seekers and refugees within the context of increasingly decentralized city environments.
Students were split into teams of four with most groups having two UT students and two PNU students. Each team chose a site in either Busan, South Korea or San Diego, California. They studied the various urban conditions in their chosen city and developed an architectural project based around their findings.
After watching the students collaborate on these projects in a virtual setting, Kim says that there were three main outcomes to this global learning experience.
First, the course was conducted in English and, while PNU students are proficient in the language, there are cultural differences between how it is spoken. This became a real-life barrier students had to confront head on. Kim observed that this challenge led to enhanced “architectural drawing and diagramming to communicate ideas more effectively. Drawings became the primary medium to expose the design process.”
Second, since each group was comprised of students from different countries, unique perspectives allowed for issues and perspectives unseen by the local community to be uncovered and addressed.
Lastly, to close out the course, the UT students gathered on campus in a lecture hall while their PNU classmates participated virtually. A group of design industry professionals from the United States, Chile and South Korea joined the virtual session and listened as each group presented their design project. These experts then offered feedback that students were able to implement in their work.
After the course, UT students were asked what kind of cultural differences they noticed when interacting with their classmates in Asia. One student explained how they learned to navigate around language differences by making “sure that when we are translating, we are not using any slang or phrases that are specific to American or Korean culture. Typos and phrases caused issues because the translations would make no sense, and we would have to figure out where the issue was.”
Students also noticed the stringent formality of higher education instruction in Korea compared to the United States. They learned to respect and account for this as the course progressed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all students that provided feedback at the conclusion of the course stated that they had never interacted across borders in an educational setting before.
One student clearly summarized that, “it really helped put into perspective how important it is to be patient with those that we work with, and also better ourselves by understanding their perspective, since our curriculums aren’t necessarily set up in the same fashion.”
Kim is adamant about the architecture field’s connection to international education saying, “I truly believe that [in] architecture education [it] is crucial to engage as a global citizen in the beginning of [an] academic and professional career.”
COIL has allowed Kim to give his students that opportunity. It’s also given Kim an opportunity to take a step back and learn how he can improve. He’s found that the “COIL program has taught me to be creative in teaching and connecting the world with limited resources.”
UT will continue to connect Volunteers with the world through future COIL programs at colleges and departments across campus. To learn more about how to implement a COIL program in your course, contact email@example.com.