Darla K. Deardorff

Steve J. Kulich

Cultivating Interculturality through Online Virtual Exchanges – Research and Reflections on the e-Design, Teaching, and Mentoring of an International MOOC

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.”

Dr. Chen Jianlin

An Exploratory Study of Changes in IT-Based Foreign Language Learning Methods (FLLM) in the Era of Big Data

This lecture, based on the social cultural perspectives of language learning, talks about the changes in IT-based FLLM in Big Data Era and their implications on the foreign language teaching (FLT) reform in China. The arguments in the lecture are presented in terms of the changes in IT-based FLLM, majorly covering these issues: (a) the features and functions of Big Data in all aspects of human society; (b) the rapid growth and changes of Big Data and their impacts on the birth and development of internet; and (c) Big Data as the triggers on the FLT reform and IT-based growth of FLLM in China. The lecture discusses the above issues majorly from the social cultural perspectives, triggering some reflections on the inadequacies of the present language education and FLT and raising some hot issues for further research.

Dr. Jan Van Maele

Transaction or dialogue: What do we exchange in (virtual) intercultural exchange?

On its website APVEA reminds us that “virtual exchanges are technology-enabled, sustained, people-to-people education programs.” But what exactly is exchanged in virtual exchanges? What is deemed of value to participants in these exchanges? Might it be that there are interactions that could enhance this added value better than 'exchanges’? How about if we dropped ‘exchange’ and speak of virtual ‘dialogue’, for example?

In order to answer this last question, we need to understand what it takes to have a dialogue. Its characteristics can be gleaned from insights in the fields of communication, business, and philosophy. Particular emphasis will be paid to dialogue as defined by Bohm (1996), and to principles of holding dialogues as described by facilitators like Isaacs (1999), Pranis (2005), and Weisbord & Janoff (2007). “Encouraging intercultural dialogue” is often named as a vital purpose of virtual exchange, as in the case of the recently established Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange initiative. Consequently, we also need to understand what makes a dialogue ‘intercultural’. This question has been addressed not only by trainers and educators (Hoffman & Verdooren 2018; Van Maele & Mertens 2014) but also at high-level international bodies such as the Council of Europe (2010) and UNESCO (2013; 2018).

Once we have established a conceptually and practically relevant definition, we shall explore what can be done to create an online environment that is conducive to intercultural dialogue. To add to the conversation, I will bring in the voices of colleagues and students I have had the pleasure of working with, and I will illustrate my points with examples from several projects co-funded by the European Commission, including CEFcult (Online CEF-based assessment of oral proficiency for intercultural professional contexts) and RICH-Ed (Resources for Interculturality in Chinese Higher Education). Throughout the talk I will encourage the participants to consider how these experiences and ideas resonate with realities and possibilities in Asian-Pacific contexts they are familiar with, and I hope to start up some dialogue of our own.

Last modified: Friday, 22 March 2019, 1:39 PM