Transcending Large Time Zone Differences: Connecting FIU students in Miami and Qingdao Virtually

The faculty behind the COIL project are Claudia Lau, Adjunct Instructor of Asian Studies, who teaches Pop-Culture of East Asia at FIU in Miami and Jose Morcillo Gomez, Assistant Teaching Professor of Spanish and Coordinator of the Spanish Dual Degree Program in Qingdao. Claudia and Jose collaborated for their COIL project, Cultural Elements in US and China.

Using Technology to Build Bridges Across Time and Space

Given that Miami and Qingdao are 12 hours apart and many students have job obligations, scheduling synchronous COIL meetings is difficult; however, both professors see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. To engage students in meaningful dialogue, Jose and Claudia use tools like VoiceThread, a cloud-based interactive collaboration and sharing platform, and WeChat, a messaging and calling app, to enable students to work on projects. Using VoiceThread, students record their answers to prompts given by their professors and are then able to view and reply to each other’s videos. VoiceThread’s many media-rich features "humanize” online interactions and facilitate greater social presence during asynchronous dialogue.

Although there are a substantial number of students altogether—60 in the Qingdao classroom and 20 at FIU— connections between students flourish. One such example is Yixuan from FIU Qingdao and Chiara, a psychology major in Miami, who broadened each other’s perspective of their countries and have continued their friendship past the conclusion of the course. Chiara was surprised by the number of Chinese students interested in learning Spanish and became more interested in visiting China and discovering “what in China impacts its citizens.” Yixuan was excited to utilize her foreign language conversational skills—both in English and Spanish. Even though adjusting to the various accents was difficult and she had to listen to prompts several times to understand their entire meaning, the COIL project ultimately helped her gain confidence communicating in a foreign language. “I enjoy learning about foreign cultures and believe we can’t limit ourselves to our own world,” she stated.

Designing for Intercultural Growth

Both professors believe COIL is an enriching experience for everyone and a powerful pedagogy for students to learn to become global citizens. Still, at the onset,  Morcillo Gomez had worries about how prejudices might manifest themselves during the course. “American students tend to believe that they’re number one and wonder why they should have to learn from others,” he noted. With careful planning, both he and Lau designed icebreaker activities and prompts that guided students to explore and navigate cultural and social themes in a critical and thoughtful manner. Research shows that structured activities like these provide students an opportunity to debrief and reflect on intercultural experiences and help them to develop intercultural competence—a powerful skill to become effective global citizens. Below is an exchange Chiara (left) and Yixuan (right) shared on VoiceThread regarding their intercultural learning on COIL:

The Project

Who? FIU undergraduate students in Miami and FIU-Qingdao University students enrolled in the 'Cultural Elements in US and China' COIL course.

Task: Students engaged in conversation with each other about cultural and social issues of the U.S. and East Asia and completed a capstone presentation.

Tools: VoiceThread, WeChat

Languages: English, Spanish

Overcoming Challenges

Time Difference: Students communicated via WeChat and VoiceThread to address the 12-hour time zone difference between Miami, Florida and Qingdao, China and to accommodate students’ work schedules.

Cultural Prejudice: Both professors designed icebreakers and prompts to guide students to critically and thoughtfully reflect on their intercultural experiences.

Ripple Effects

Relationships: Friendships continued beyond the course.

Mobility: Students expressed greater desire to travel to the country they COILed with.

Further Study: Students expressed more interest in learning more about the culture they COILed with.