New Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Course 

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

street art

Marcelo Mejía and Kristal Bivona collaborated on a mural at the Paint Memphis street art festival.

Kristal Bivona, assistant director and lecturer in the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies, brings people together with her energy and creativity. During the past year, at the College of Arts and Letters, she has supported faculty with ideas for innovative pedagogy, developed an art space for the center’s Digital Brazil Project, and implemented new ideas for online learning. In fall she plans to take her academic creativity to the next level with a new COIL course.

COIL courses not only facilitate international, cross-cultural learning, but they expand access to international experiences without the need to travel abroad. COIL fulfills the international experience requirement for many students.

Bivona’s debut course, Artistic Interventions in South American Streets (BRAZ 496 and ANTHRO 529), takes an interdisciplinary approach to examining street art, public art, artistic manifestations of protest, performance, and other forms of artmaking and exhibiting in South American cities, namely Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador in Brazil, and Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia. 

Students will interact and collaborate with other students in classes at Universidad Católica de Colombia (UCC) in Bogotá through synchronous and asynchronous sessions, coursework, and group projects. 

“The course will draw on theory from urban anthropology to ground our understanding of the intersection of art and the city. In the second half of the semester, we'll be ‘COILing’ with faculty and students who are taking a course on urban photography from the School of Architecture and Design at the Catholic University of Colombia,” Bivona said.

“My colleague at UCC, Marcelo Mejía, is a world-renowned muralist and we've collaborated on street art projects in the U.S. and Bogotá in the past (the photo of the mural is one we painted together in Memphis), so I'm really happy to co-teach with him,” Bivona said. Mejía teaches courses in architecture, design, and photography for the School of Design at the Universidad Católica de Colombia. He is an architect and holds an MFA in plastic arts and a graduate certificate in photography from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Prior to the fall roll-out of the course, Bivona and Mejía attended SUNY’s COIL Design workshop with support from International Affairs to gain more details about how students will work together. Bivona envisions selecting common texts to assign before “COILing” so that students can work from a shared vocabulary in order to achieve a baseline conceptual understanding of one another. 

The course is offered bilingually in both Spanish and English. With language justice in mind, students can speak whatever language they feel most comfortable in.”We will make it a point to make it a place where everyone can understand what is going on,” Bivona said.

Students will gain an understanding of cultural and disciplinary contexts as they exchange creative ideas with students from the other country. Students will compare and contrast diverse ways of seeing the city, and develop a creative project that accounts for two ways of seeing the city (as a photographer and as a humanist). 

Both graduate and undergraduate students are invited to enroll. Graduate students will leave the course with an annotated bibliography, which will be useful for their research and theses.

“My hope is that students, in addition to what they learn, will discover deep connections with their peers and possibly travel to meet one another sometime in the future,” Bivona said. “I hope it inspires them to study abroad.”