Alyson Morris MA, SFHEA
Senior Lecturer, Creative Writing
Lyle Weir, MA
Lecturer, Creative Writing
(C)OIL with the USA – A Student Night Out in Coventry and New York
This study addresses the challenges presented by conducting an OIL project with an overseas institution. In 2016 during the Writing for Magazines module, students were asked to compare and exchange travel articles with students in New York, and tasked with reflecting on the cultural references whilst showing appreciation of the complex interacting factors that contribute to notions of cultural relationships. Their articles focused on cultural comparisons between their experiences on ‘A Student Night Out’ using a new online environment. The aim of the project was to help students develop key competences (whether knowledge, attitudes or skills) enabling them to communicate appropriately and effectively in intercultural contexts, socially and at work.
It is self-evident that countries sharing more similarities than differences might well benefit from international collaboration on research projects addressing issues common across those countries (Goddard, Cranston and Billot 2006).
SUNY – Genesee Community College:
Communications & Media Arts students on ENG101/5 Composition & ENG214 Intro to Creative Writing
English and Creative Writing students, Writing for Magazines module
The aim of the project was to help students develop key competences (whether knowledge, attitudes or skills) to enable them to communicate appropriately and effectively in intercultural contexts, socially and at work. The outcomes were mostly positive, and demonstrated that students were able to reflect upon cultural references and show an appreciation of the complex and interacting factors that contribute to notions of culture and cultural relationships.
Students participated in an asynchronous task using blogs on a specific shared theme followed by reflection of peers’ writing styles, syntax and cultural experience. Coventry students were expected to create a blog of short articles – 500 words each, using travel writing style – ready to share via Learnium by March 14th. As part of their assessment for the Writing for Magazines module, students were also expected to write a reflective report by 22nd April – minimum 300 words, maximum 600 – comparing syntax and cultural references.
During the Writing for Magazines module, students are encouraged to think internationally by producing their Travel Writing pieces – by incorporating the OIL project into this module, it was possible to encourage this international approach without being too invasive. Students, tasked with producing an article on A student Night Out, compared their own experiences in Coventry with those of their cohorts in New York. Students then had to reflect upon cultural references and show an appreciation of the complex and interacting factors that contribute to notions of culture and cultural relationships.
The expected outcomes of this OIL project were for students to demonstrate an ability to reflect upon their own and peers’ cultural references and appreciation of the complex and interacting factors that contribute to notions of culture and cultural relationships. Additionally, students were to gain an increased competence in using blogs as a form of creative communication.
To make their cultural comparisons, students were introduced to a new online environment, Learnium. Although students demonstrated increased competence in using online environments as a form of creative communication, it became apparent that their focus had shifted from cultural differences present within the articles, to instead focusing on copy-editing their international peers. It became apparent that without face-to-face communication between home students and their New York cohorts, competitiveness in regards to each group’s command of English was taking precedence over consideration of cultural differences. To address this issue, it was decided that although Learnium received overall good feedback from all those involved with the project, its lack of a chat function to allow students to properly communicate with one another made it unsuitable for this OIL project. It was concluded that using WordPress as a hosting site for the articles, and Skype as a means for students to communicate with their international peers, was a more suitable option.
Coventry students identified many differences between their own experiences and those of their international cohorts. Most notable was the age gap – students from New York were over the age of twenty, and many were parents, sharing their child-raising experiences. It was difficult for the Coventry students to relate to this; they also noted that their own articles mostly focused on a night out drinking with friends, whereas their New York cohorts were writing about traditional American pastimes of roasting marshmallows by a campfire, and drive-in movie theatres. Overall, students were surprised at the cultural differences that existed between what they had previously considered to be two culturally similar countries.
Notable Differences by Coventry Students
Coventry students noted several differences between their own experiences and those of their New York cohorts. The New York students appeared to enjoy less elaborate nights out, in most cases preferring a bonfire in the woods as opposed to the Coventry nights out that consisted mostly of clubs and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. It was noted that driving was a common aspect of the New York students’ night out and some articles focused almost entirely on having to drive to places to enjoy themselves. Religion appeared to be an important part of the New York students’ lives, and family get-togethers were viewed as the equivalent to a night out. The New York articles were also limited to a single student’s perspective and did not include nights out with peers from their degree; it was noted by the Coventry students that this could be due to students living within close proximity to one another in Coventry. Finally, it was noted that there was a significant age gap between the two cohorts of students.
Notable Similarities by Coventry Students
Coventry students made note of many similarities shared with their New York cohorts; in particular, it was noted that the New York students enjoyed the same television shows, fast food and music. It was also noted that, although the spellings of certain words were ‘Americanised’, the language used was easily understandable; the Coventry students’ pre-existing knowledge of American media made their comprehension of the New York students’ articles non-problematic.
Changes to the Project for 2017
Despite the OIL project being a success for the Writing for Magazines module, it was decided that changes would need to be made in order for the focus of the project to remain on the cultural similarities and differences between each cohort of students. Learnium, whilst a successful online learning platform in many regards, was not well suited to the Student Night Out project. By moving the articles to WordPress, and allowing for more face-to-face interaction between both groups via Skype, it will be possible to create a stronger bond between the Coventry students and their international peers in New York. This should eliminate the focus on copy-editing, placing it entirely on cultural similarities and differences. The introduction of Skype as a means to facilitate this communication should eliminate the disassociation between each cohort of students, due to a lack of face-to-face interaction, that was found to be directly linked to their sense of competition in regards to each group’s command of English.
Once discussions had taken place with the New York tutor, it was decided that the 2017 OIL project would take place during the second half of semester two. By February 20th, tutors will introduce both cohorts to the collaborative project. By February 27th the names of students involved in the project will be finalised, and student partners determined by tutors. By March 6th New York and Coventry students will make contact via Skype and finalise plans for their articles. Between March 13th and 20th students will work on their articles, and by March 27th all articles will have been through a final editorial process ready for upload onto the WordPress site. Finally, by April 3rd students will post their reflections on the cultural similarities and differences they found to the WordPress site, and then engage in a final Skype session.
Overall the project has proved to be a success for the English and Creative Writing department, and the 2017 OIL project with Genesee Community College is moving forward with the above changes having been agreed by both institutions.
Goddard, T., Cranston, N., and Billot, J. (2006) ‘Making it Work: Identifying the Challenges of Collaborative International Research’. International Electronic Journal for Leadership in Learning [online] 10(11). available from <http://iejll.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/iejll/index.php/ijll/article/view/611> [20 August 2016]