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29 April 2024 | Story Marina Orsini-Jones and Thembani Nosipho Hoho | Photo Supplied
COIL 2024
The Female Voices in the Third Space project team alongside attendees from various institutions.

On 18 March 2024, the inaugural international conference for the British Academy/Leverhulme-funded project, Female Voices in the Third Space: Researching Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in South-North Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), convened at the Coventry Conference Centre, held in hybrid mode. This gathering drew 70 participants worldwide, representing diverse regions including Brazil, South Africa, China, Vietnam, and several European countries. Experts spanning various disciplines, including students, academics, COIL consultants, and educational developers, converged in person and online. Additionally, many delegates congregated in Coventry to engage in workshops held from 19 to 20 March for the successful Erasmus+ funded COIL project, iKUDU.

The conference commenced with a warm welcome to Coventry and Coventry University by organiser, Prof Marina Orsini-Jones of the Research Centre for Global Learning (GLEA). Subsequently, the project team – comprising Prof Finardi from the Federal University of Espiríto Santo in Brazil, Prof Lynette Jacobs from the University of the Free State in South Africa, and Profs Wimpenny and Orsini-Jones from Coventry University – provided an update on the progress of the Female Voices in the Third Space project. This initiative explores the evolving landscape of Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) in higher education (HE), focusing on female perspectives. COIL, defined as a collaborative online teaching and learning approach fostering intercultural dialogue with international partners, was discussed in light of a model previously co-designed by the applicants (Wimpenny, Finardi, Orsini-Jones and Jacobs, 2022), juxtaposed with insights garnered from interviews with female stakeholders across four continents. The research seeks to deepen understanding regarding digital inclusion and equality in HE, portraying COIL as a third space facilitating substantive equality and embedding global citizenship attributes within HE curricula. Emphasising a decolonial lens, the study aims to decentre the conceptualisation of ‘Internationalisation of the Curriculum (IoC)’, thus promoting alternative epistemologies rooted in knowledge generated by women.

Following the project team's presentation, former Coventry University students reflected on their COIL experiences, particularly highlighting the platform's role in fostering an equitable, diverse, and inclusive learning environment for women. Preeti Suri, Patience Mkpayah, Sofia di Sarno García, and Guray Koseaglu – all hailing from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds – provided poignant insights into the transformative impact of COIL on their academic and professional trajectories. Preeti Suri, for instance, underscored how COIL empowered her by amplifying her voice across geographical and cultural divides, enriching her academic journey, and nurturing digital literacy, communication skills, and teamwork. Meanwhile, Patience Mkpayah shared her journey of reclaiming linguistic diversity within English language teaching, advocating for a decolonised perspective. These narratives collectively validated COIL's potential as an inclusive and empowering educational platform for female students and staff in HE.

After lunch, female academics shared their experiences of integrating COIL into their pedagogical practice. Dr Valeria Baloyi highlighted the interdisciplinary potential of COIL projects, advocating for their alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and emphasising the significance of staff training and institutional support. Nomfundo Khoza echoed these sentiments, affirming the enriching educational experiences afforded by COIL-VE collaborations. Ané Church showcased the integration of gamification into COIL projects, demonstrating its efficacy in fostering active learning and knowledge co-construction. Dr Asuman Aşık and Prof Andrea Wehrli further elucidated the benefits of COIL in enhancing intercultural sensitivity and professional development among female participants.

Subsequently, an interactive knowledge-sharing workshop facilitated by COIL experts Eva Haug and Prof Ntsoaki Malebo, encouraged participants to reflect on their COIL experiences, discuss best practices, and explore recommendations for South-North COIL-VE collaborations. This session sparked a spirited debate, underscoring COIL's potential to develop transversal skills while identifying challenges such as technological constraints and workload issues. Recommendations for effective COIL implementation included extensive planning, institutional recognition, and robust technical infrastructure.

The conference concluded with remarks from Dr Andrew Turner, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Curriculum, who expressed his support for COIL integration into the curriculum, citing its role in fostering intercultural competence and community building among students. The event received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with attendees lauding the informative sessions, inclusive atmosphere, and engaging discussions. Moving forward, insights gleaned from the conference are expected to contribute to the continuing research on the Female Voices in the Third Space project, as well as to facilitate further collaboration and knowledge exchange within the COIL community.

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