Hello! I'm interested in starting a discussion with other educators who have participated in online learning where there was a significant intercultural dimension (e.g., a teacher ed class with teachers from two different countries, an informal environment where various cultures talk about common interests, or anything else)

What are people's experiences with intercultural online learning? What are the dynamics that make it a rich learning experience? Or, what are the factors that constrain it?

Tags: cross-cultural, culture, development, education, efl, esl, fl, intercultural, multicultural, online, More…professional, teacher

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My interest in this discussion is partly to understand more deeply how online intercultural learning benefits those involved -- we assume (especially we language teachers :) that it is wonderful to interact with people from various cultures; I know I have always thought so. But, just because you can connect people through communicative media, does that mean they are necessarily learning something valuable through that? I think it can happen, but I think it's harder than we think. I would love to hear people's experiences doing online intercultural learning and start to figure some of this stuff out.
I'm intrigued by this question, Erin. I do hope someone adds to your comments. I can't, I'm afraid as I'm not working in this area at the moment, though I used to. Also, I haven't managed to collaborate with other teachers either. I hope to eventually though. Good luck with this one.
Erin,

That's what we do on our language teacher community and what I cheerlead as the most important aspect of the internet and especially the 2.0 aspect. It makes the world smaller and it brings to education the most important aspect, even more important than content (which I think you infer with your comment, "But, just because you can connect people through communicative media, does that mean they are necessarily learning something valuable through that?"). I've been around the teaching block many years and if I've divined anything, it is that we are teaching A LOT more than the content.

Connecting classrooms in whatever way - postcards, pictures,projects or full blown video chat - leaves a lasting impression on a person. The world needs more "awareness" and more youth that know about other cultures not from Nat. Geographic or PBS but as friends, as people, as a "connection". It is all about that community building. This stuff can change students - I've heard countless testimonials. (one today at a conference, a Korean girl talking about her Australian penpal and showing the fluffy koala she got as a present).

I'm not sure it will make the world a more peaceful place, but it is a place to start. So what I'm really saying is that you are all wrong in your approach. Education is about the experience, not the "learning something". Connecting people IS the learning. Many will advocate a balance but I'm less convinced. I say concentrate on the first and the other will come....

David
http://eflclassroom.com
Thanks for your thoughtful response to my discussion, David. It is heartening to hear that you have witnessed (and been a part of, I imagine?) so many instances of successful online intercultural exchanges. I certainly agree with you that the experience of learning through the building of relationships is central to the educational enterprise, and awareness about other ways of life and about the diversity of people on the planet is a fundamental and essential goal for education, one that CAN be done by connecting people online.

I'm not convinced, however, that it naturally happens simply by connecting classrooms or orchestrating ways to communicate across time and distance. Not all communities will automatically build themselves, without some deliberate attempts to create them. Bringing people together is a good first step, and often people are naturally predisposed to make the most of those connections and relationships, naturally curious, naturally good-hearted, skilled communicators, etc. But sometimes they aren't. Or their attempts to share with others don't go well, and they are left with a negative impression of whatever is unfamiliar to them. I once knew an American student whose encounters with native German-speakers online were so offputting to her that she dropped German after finishing the semester! Perhaps an extreme example, but I think less extreme examples are probably more common than we realize.

So, while I am a believer, both in the goals of intercultural communication and in the very process of communication itself, I also believe that there are better and worse ways of doing it and better and worse outcomes for learners. It sounds like you've been on the 'better' end of things...so I'd love to hear your take on what factors go into making online intercultural dialog a successful experience for the students you've known. How have you been able to avoid the...let's call it the "German dropout effect"? :)

Thanks again for your thoughtful response!
Thanks for the interest, Rebecca! What type of work did you used to do in this area?
Nellie Deutsch just did a culture exchange on WiZiQ a day or so ago.

Erin,

You are so right, it isn't automatic. It really takes a teacher that first "sets it up for success" and creates the project/connection so that both classrooms "share" something. It can be anything, music / science / a trip - so long as there is some common point through which the communication happens. Further, the teachers should do the proper pre teaching in terms of both setting up the atmosphere and skills for communication/interaction. I also firmly believe that this should be part of the formal assessment/curriculum (and not just an extra/filler). So students should know they will be assessed and are required to do certain activities. Without this, if teachers just expect it to happen, they most likely will be disappointed....

I'll write more later but I hope others might share insights into what makes this work! Got to get to class!

David

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