iKudu Erasmus+ CBHE project:
Transforming curricula through internationalisation and virtual exchanges
By: Chevon Slambee and Cornelius Hagenmeier
iKudu Consortium delegates
For higher education institutions to stay truly relevant and impactful, they need to be able to respond to global trends and patterns of higher education and internationalisation. Digitisation is one of the critical aspects of 4IR, and is an important 21st century skill linked to employability.
The iKudu project, co-ordinated by the University of the Free state, has been awarded €999 881,00 funding from the European Union’s Erasmus+ Capacity Building in Higher Education (CBHE) framework and will for the next three years, together with its 10 partner consortium universities, have the responsibility of developing a contextualised South African concept of Internationalisation of the Curriculum (IoC), which integrates COIL virtual exchanges. The concept will integrate African indigenous knowledge, draw on classroom diversity and allow South African partner universities to become the country’s leading Higher Education Institutions in IoC, curriculum transformation and virtual exchanges.
Curriculum decolonisation is understood as a central aspect of curriculum transformation. COIL virtual exchanges will provide an alternative to physical mobility, which cannot be implemented on a broad basis in South Africa due to the country’s socio-economic realities. At the heart of the project is staff capacity development, as it will produce a group of trained teaching staff who will have access to an international and local pool of knowledge, skills and expertise in the relevant areas.
The innovative character of the project seeks to connect large numbers of students utilising digital technology, thereby allowing students to gain international exposure irrespective of socio-economic background, gender or disability status. It extends an international opportunity to all students at the university and can thus be considered a smart way to implement internationalisation at home, i.e. infusing an international dimension into the formal and informal curriculum of students whilst in their domestic learning environment. Internationalised and transformed curricula, which integrate Cooperative Online International Learning (COIL) and virtual exchange, are thus a new model for the higher education teaching and learning which allows all students to develop the graduate attributes required for success and employability in a globalised world.
In the 2014 Erasmus Impact Study, the effects of mobility on the skills and employability of students and the internationalisation of higher education institutions was assessed. According to the findings, 64% of employers considered international experience important for recruitment which was a significant increase from 37% in 2006. Additionally, the study showed that 64% of employers said graduates with an international background are given greater professional responsibility. Although the study was conducted in Brussels in the European Union, the results reflect the growing view that internationalisation and digitisation is the future.
COIL, the acronym
Collaborative: student to student learning to improve teamwork and collaboration skills.
Online: learning how to work in a remote team and manage virtual tools in a professional manner.
International: cross cultural learning by bringing the world into your classroom, offering ALL students an international experience.
Learning: practicing professional skills and learning from peers around the world.
How can students benefit from COIL virtual exchanges?
- It provides all students the possibility of an international experience.
- It prepares students for an international mobility, both whether physical or virtual.
- It creates awareness and knowledge about other cultures; strengthening cross cultural collaboration.
- It strengthens the ability to work in cross-national and virtual teams.
- It promotes experiential & collaborative student learning.
- It improves competency in English (or other languages) in authentic communicative contexts.
- It develops online communicative competence, and digital literacy.
- It enhances Digitisation skills which is an important 21st Century skill.
- It contributes to employability skills (i.e. communication, language, cultural, leadership and time management skills).
- It affords opportunities to build diverse personal relationships.
What does COIL offer academics?
- It assists academics in developing new partnerships.
- It enables discussions about pedagogies and the curriculum with international peers.
- It allows academics to internationalise their curriculum.
What does COIL offer universities?
- It enables inclusive internationalisation.
- It facilitates intercultural learning.
- It contributes to the development of new collaborations and partnerships.
- It enhances the institutional profile.
Bridging the mobility gap
At the 2019 Project Kick-off meeting held in Bloemfontein, COIL Consulting Director, Jon Rubin expressed the view that International education has long suggested that the way to expand one’s view of other cultures is to travel, usually by studying abroad, and that modality, when engaged with intensity and self-reflection, is probably still the best way for students to learn about the world. However, only a select few university students and professors have the chance to blend study and research with travel. And this is where the true strength of COIL as an online bridge to other cultures and exposure to knowledge paradigms is illustrated. COIL is a method for re-purposing the tools and opportunities provided by online education so that they serve a new goal – that of providing meaningful international experiences for students and instructors.
For the iKudu project, 55 sustained COIL virtual exchanges are anticipated for the project over the three-year period with a student target of 2625 students from Europe and 2625 students from SA to engage in COIL virtual exchanges.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the iKudu project. It disrupted the planned activities and necessitated fundamental rethinking of many aspects of the project’s implementation. However, the pandemic has given additional urgency to achieving the core project outcome, which is a contextualised South African concept of Internationalisation of the Curriculum (IoC), which integrates COIL virtual exchanges. While internationalisation continues to grow in relevance in a period during which graduates need to be capacitated to navigate an unknown future environment, travel has become temporarily impossible and may be far less available in the future. Consequently, the development of internationalisation strategies which can flourish in the absence of physical travel is thus of paramount importance.