Technology in this New Era provides unparalleled cross-border opportunities for integrating language and culture teaching in virtual environments toward cultivating interculturality. We build on a long tradition: European scholars started focusing on the comparative study of cultures (in the 1800s), Americans sought to understand and integrate the cultural background and contributions of immigrants (in the 1900s), and an early “intercultural education” movement aimed to engage students and adults in school assembly and cultural dialogue sessions (in the 1930s). Following WWII, “intercultural communication” (IC) was conceptualized and intercultural training methods developed (in the 1950s) in ways that culminated in the formation of several “intercultural” and “cross-cultural” fields (in the 1970s) which have spread around the world (entering China in the 1980s, founding CAFIC in 1995, and being included in national foreign language teaching guidelines in recent years).
As language educators and cultural exchange proponents, we have been seeking to find/develop/use materials and means that expose learners to the global knowledge that facilitates greater awareness of other cultures, helps cultivate attitudes that are conducive for intercultural contact, and provides vehicles for developmental interaction across boundaries. Online learning focused on cultural self- and Other reflection (Weigl, 2008?) via cultural stories, intercultural exposure activities, and virtual interaction has great potential for accomplishing these objectives.
We’ve been trying to do this, especially since 2014, when FutureLearn signed us on to develop one of the first international MOOCs focused on “intercultural communication.” Since our first run went online in November 2015, nearly 50,000 have enrolled, 26,600+ have engaged in the course, 15,300 actively, with 7,400+ social learners (those replying to other’s comments, developing virtual conversations). The success of this ongoing course is evident, in that even over 7 runs, only 12% have left the course, more than 60% started, of those 60+% were active and 27% have become social learners, most showing IC development through this process of virtual interaction. Of the more than 400,000 steps completed (about 15 per each of the 5 weeks, on average one third (25 of those 75) per learner), and learners have left over 100,000 comments (on average nearly 15 per active learner per course).
Apart from the MOOC, similar procedures have been used in Blackboard/Moodle online learning (Wang & Kulich, 2015). Again, the development of cultural stories, the posture of an ethnographic learner, and openness to reach out to interview a culturally-different Other was shown to have an impact on learner’s development along the DMIS/IDI spectrum.
Evidence suggests that such virtual course components can contribute to IC Bildung, which includes the holistic cultivation of language, social, and intercultural knowledge, attitudes, and skills. Interculturality describes the clarified personal values/identities, perspectives, and practices toward this pedagogical goal of each global citizen “becoming intercultural.