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Intercultural Language Learning & Group-to-Group Videoconferencing. Robert O´Dowd University of Essen, Germany. Contact & Learning.

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Intercultural language learning group to group videoconferencing
Intercultural Language Learning & Group-to-Group Videoconferencing

Robert O´Dowd

University of Essen,


Contact learning
Contact & Learning Videoconferencing

  • “Most teachers who have used the Internet have started out with some kind of simple key pal (computer pen pal) exchanges. And most teachers who have used these exchanges have felt something lacking. Simply put, there is no more reason to except a significant educational outcome from simply creating a pen pal connection than there is from simply bringing two students into a room and asking them to talk.”

  • Mark Warschauer & P. Fawn Whittaker (1997)


The challenge
The Challenge Videoconferencing

“...for communication to be meaningful, we need to do more than link computers: We need to construct an approach to how others, in other cultures, experience their world (Furstenberg et al., 2001:2).”

Overview Videoconferencing

  • What do language learners learn from contact?

  • Towards an ethnographic approach

  • Background on videoconferencing

  • Videoconferencing in León

    • Tasks

    • Opportunities for intercultural Learning

    • Guidelines and lessons learned

1 what are they looking for definitions of culture
1. VideoconferencingWhat are they looking for? Definitions of culture…

Cristina (Spanish student):

“They live alone and not with their parents – as almost all Spanish students do“

Marta (Spanish student):

“Like everybody else, some Americans are like you and me and some are different.”

2 students receive information but do not know how to interpret it
2. Students receive information, but do not know how to interpret it

  • Interview with Cristina after videoconferences with USA:

  • Q: What did you think of Americans before the exchange?

  • A: People who are always thinking of themselves and don‘t care about others.

  • Q: Did you get this impression from the videoconference?

  • A: Maybe, cos they did not seem very interested.

  • Q: All of them?

  • A: No, but that boy who was drinking coffee – he wasn‘t serious at all.

Intercultural communicative competence byram 1997
Intercultural Communicative Competence (Byram 1997) interpret it

  • Attitudes of curiosity and openness

  • Knowledge of social groups and their products and practices in both cultures

  • Skills of discovery and interaction – how to acquire new knowledge about a culture

  • Skill of interpreting a document or event from another culture ...and relating it to documents from one’s own culture

  • Critical cultural awareness

Students as ethnographers
Students as ethnographers interpret it

  • A move away from an encyclopaedic approach of seeing culture as a collection of facts and figures to…

  • an ethnographic approach: “…the study of a group’s social and cultural practices from an insider’s perspective” (Roberts et al. 2001)

Spradley on ethnography 1979 6
Spradley on Ethnography (1979:6) interpret it

  • “…we do not eliminate an interest in behavior, customs, objects, or emotions. We have merely shifted the emphasis from these phenomena to their meaning. The ethnographer observes behavior, but goes beyond it to inquire about the meaning of that behavior.“

Videoconferencing in foreign language learning
Videoconferencing in Foreign Language Learning interpret it

  • Teacher-Class

    • Traditional teacher-led instruction

  • Student-Student

    • Tandem-Style intercambios

  • Class-Class

    • Presentation, debate and group discussion

Videoconferencing exchanges 1999 2001
Videoconferencing Exchanges interpret it 1999-2001

  • Universidad de León, Spain.

  • 2nd Years Students of English.

    Connections Made:



Partner Classes:

Students of Spanish at:

  • University of Michigan, USA.

  • University of Dundee

  • University of Nottingham

Videoconferencing facilities
Videoconferencing Facilities interpret it

  • Large view of other group and own group on screen

  • Pictures and text can be presented on screen via projector

  • Video clips can also be shown on main screen

Task cycle
Task Cycle interpret it

Some examples of tasks
Some Examples of Tasks interpret it

  • Students present products or practices from their home culture which they think might be strange or different for the other group (e.g. Easter in Spain)

  • Comparative reviews of films

  • Both groups try to agree on punishments for controversial crimes

How can videoconferencing contribute to intercultural learning
How Can Videoconferencing Contribute to Intercultural Learning?

1. Presentations by members of the target culture

  • Insight into the foreign perspective

  • Explanations of products and practices are supported through media and demonstrations

How can videoconferencing contribute to intercultural learning1
How Can Videoconferencing Contribute to Intercultural Learning?

2. Discussion and debate brings about:

  • Better understanding of the reasoning and values that underly beliefs and behaviour in the target culture

  • Practice in negotiation and interaction with members of the target culture

Drawbacks of the technology
Drawbacks of the Technology Learning?

  • Time delay between sound and image

  • Rules of interaction: Turn taking, interruptions and simultaneous starts

  • Passive viewing

  • Organisational practicalities

Practical guidelines
Practical Guidelines Learning?

  • Integrate visual materials (photos, video, overheads, real objects)

  • Give the sessions a clear structure beforehand

  • Begin with icebreakers such as quizzes or vocabulary games

  • Make clear to whom comments and questions are directed

  • Use non-verbal signals to show understanding

Pedagogical guidelines
Pedagogical Guidelines Learning?

  • Add-on v. integrated approaches

  • Balance personal views with statistics and factual material

  • Follow-up discussions and feedback

  • Reciprocity in language use and workload

All contact welcome
All Contact Welcome Learning?

Bibliography 1
Bibliography (1) Learning?

  • Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Multilingual Matters.

  • Feldman, A. (2000) Network science – A decade later.

  • Furstenberg, G. et al. (2001) Giving a virtual voice to the silent language of culture: The Cultura project Language Learning and Technology (Vol. 5:1).

  • Intercultural E-mail Classroom Connections

Bibliography 2
Bibliography (2) Learning?

  • International Association for Languages and Intercultural Communication.

  • Roberts, C. et al. (2001) Language Learners as ethnographers. Multilingual Matters.

  • Spradley, J. (1979) The ethnographic interview. Hold, Rinehart and Winston Inc.

  • Warschauer, M. & Whitaker, P. (1997) The Internet for English teaching: Guidlines for teachers The Internet TESOL Journal (Vol 3:10)