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Supporting the development of intercultural competence is an important aspect of COIL collaborations. For many students, a COIL collaboration is the first opportunity they have to engage with peers from another country. It is likely that students have engaged with people from other cultural backgrounds in their home communities, but most students have not been asked to reflect on cultural differences at home, therefore, COIL is frequently the first intentional intercultural communication activity they will undertake.
Cultural awareness and cultural competencies are essential in today’s world. Modern societies, groups and organizations are becoming increasingly multicultural, where people from different cultural backgrounds live and work together. Our understanding of culture depends on many factors, including our own worldview, academic background, and experiences. Technology makes it possible for people in different places in the world to meet and share online.
Globalization – characterized by increasing interconnections and integration between economies, nations, businesses and societies – has an impact on the context in which most people live and work. Globalization is accelerated through information and communication technologies such as special interest websites, social media, messaging apps, videos, and conferencing systems. These technologies have given rise to networks and communities involving individuals from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds who share common interests and purposes.
Helping students develop intercultural competence (skills that facilitate effective and appropriate interactions with people from other cultures) is important for 21st century higher education. COIL represents an effective approach to developing these skills through intentional online academic collaboration with peers around the world.