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Faculty use online learning to bridge study-abroad gap

DePaul University to co-host global learning conference with SUNY COIL Center

international flagsMore than 250 international faculty and staff will gather in Chicago Oct. 30-31 for the “Global Learning Conference: Transcending Boundaries through COIL.” (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
CHICAGO — Only a small percentage of U.S. college students will study abroad, but many will enter fields that require intercultural competence. This fall, DePaul University will host a conference for faculty and staff who use collaborative online international learning (COIL) to bring global experiences into college classrooms.  

“In a time when the political narrative is often hostile and closed, this model can open students to other cultures and ways of learning,” said GianMario Besana, associate provost for global engagement and online learning at DePaul. “COIL pedagogy and technology help faculty collaborate with colleagues at institutions in other parts of the world, and together they create transformational experiences where students connect and learn,” said Besana.

Several DePaul faculty are presenting at the Oct. 30-31 conference and can discuss how they’ve used this pedagogy in their classrooms. Experts include:

Nick Thomas, Assistant Professor, School of Hospitality Leadership, Driehaus College of Business. Nick Thomas teaches hospitality and tourism courses at DePaul. In 2017 he designed and implemented a 110-student global learning experience with colleague Yuan “Kate” Liu at the Shandong College of Tourism and Hospitality in Jinan, China. Their online course focused on technology trends within the hospitality industry. Thomas earlier connected with Liu when she completed a fellowship at DePaul to learn about approaches to hospitality education. During their four-week exchange, Thomas and Liu used recorded and synchronous lectures to teach while students used tools including the Chinese messaging service WeChat to connect and to discuss their project. The 13-hour time difference was a barrier for students at first, said Thomas, but soon they were chatting at all hours. “When one student was going to bed, one student was waking up. They learned that’s the nature of the global economy,” said Thomas, who also directs the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Center for Student Development and Engagement at DePaul. Thomas can be reached at or 312-362-6539.

Robert Steel, Associate Professor, School of Cinematic Arts, College of Computing and Digital Media. As a composer and sound designer, Robert Steel has worked on many film and TV projects where “everything was done virtually” by communicating online and sending large files back and forth. Steel wanted his film sound and scoring students to understand this component of the industry. “I realized our students need to have this virtual, international experience in cinema, because they’ll be doing it in the real world,” he said. Steel will present on a collaborative sound design course he conducted with Kenny McAlpine at Abertay University in Scotland. Both universities are committed to increasing participation from first-generation college students from lower income brackets who often do not have the resources to study abroad. The two will discuss “how to embed a sense of genuine cultural exchange when students are remote and enmeshed in their local culture.” For instance, Steel and McAlpine encouraged their students to “blow apart” stereotypes using soundscapes: Students in Scotland imagined how Chicago might sound, and vice versa. Steel can be reached at or 312-362-5819.

John Shanahan, Associate Professor of English, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. John Shanahan has been teaching the history of books for more than a decade, and he used an online exchange with faculty and students in China to widen student perspectives and his own. “Too often, students get only a Eurocentric story of mechanical printing, but that’s not the whole story,” said Shanahan. The earliest extant printed books are from East Asia, said Shanahan. He teamed up with Baihua Wang, a faculty member at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. For one project, DePaul graduate students studied how Emily Dickinson’s poems changed over time – from Dickinson's handwriting on loose sheets of paper to the first printed editions in the 1890s, up to their presentation today online. The class at Fudan identified Dickinson poems with special interest to them as translators from English to Chinese. Students in Chicago connected with peers in Shanghai on the WeChat app for shared reading assignments and exchanges of critical insight, culminating in live and recorded presentations at the end of the quarter using the Zoom videoconferencing platform. Shanahan will repeat the class in the winter of 2018 and examine medieval and early modern books from DePaul Library's Special Collections and Archives. He can discuss how student study links across time zones can have a positive outcome for students and faculty. Shanahan can be reached at or 773-325-7309.

About the conference
More than 250 international faculty and staff will gather in Chicago Oct. 30-31 for the “Global Learning Conference: Transcending Boundaries through COIL.” DePaul is co-hosting the event with State University of New York COIL Center, which has hosted these types of conferences for more than a decade. Keynote speakers include Mohamed Abdel-Kader, executive director of the Stevens Initiative at the Aspen Institute; Daniel Obst, president and CEO of AFS; and Denise Lewin Lloyd, associate professor of management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Find more information on the conference at

DePaul has its own collaborative online international learning initiative, the Global Learning Experience, which has helped more than 100 faculty through workshops and direct support. For more information visit


GianMario Besana

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Kristin Claes Mathews