Culture, Culture Learning and New Technologies: Towards a Pedagogical Framework

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper seeks to improve approaches to the learning and teaching of culture using new technologies by relating the key qualities and dimensions of the culture concept to elements within a pedagogical framework. In Part One, five facets of the culture concept are developed: culture as elemental; culture as relative; culture as group membership; culture as contested; and culture as individual (variable and multiple). Each perspective aims to provide a focus for thinking about culture, and thereby to provide a valid and useful point of departure for thinking about the practice of culture learning and teaching with new technologies. The referenced literature draws from a broad range of disciplines and definitions of culture. In Part Two, five projects are chosen to represent relevant technologies currently in use for culture learning: e-mail, chat, a discussion forum and a Web-based project. Each project is used to illustrate facets of the culture concept discussed in Part One with a view to identifying key elements within a pedagogical framework that can help us respond effectively to the challenge of culture learning and teaching utilising new technologies. Thus the goal is to align fundamental qualities of the culture concept with specific pedagogical designs, tasks and technologies.

INTRODUCTION

From the first attempts in the 19th century to pin down the notion of culture through to contemporary interpretations of the idea, culture as a concept has attracted numerous definitions and interpretations (Atkinson, 1999; Baldwin, Faulkner, Hecht & Lindsley, 2006; Geertz, 1973; Kramsch, 1998; Robins, 2005; Tyler, 1881; Wilson, 1935). The recent publication by Balwin et al., Redefining Culture, presents over 300 definitions of culture from across the disciplines. For language learning and teaching, Omaggio Hadley (1993), Kramsch (1993) and Lo Bianco (2003) also provide definitions and valuable introductions set in an historical context. Collectively, these works give a sense of the breadth and depth of the topic and the range of definitions and interpretations that have been applied over time. These authors illustrate the multifaceted qualities of the culture concept as they discuss the relationship between culture and civilisation, culture as it relates to the exotic and to the ordinary, culture as a set of facts or an inventory, culture as a collection of practices, and culture as learned, transmitted, changing and multiple. Work to date has undoubtedly greatly enhanced our understandings of the culture concept, but, as Lo Bianco (2003, p. 11) observes, the concept of culture remains "complex and elusive" (see also Baldwin, Faulkner & Hecht, 2006).

The complexity and variation in our understanding of the culture concept has been echoed in the range of approaches, strategies and techniques that have been advocated for language and culture teaching (e.g., Byram, 1997; Furstenberg, Levet, English & Maillet, 2001; Kramsch & Andersen, 1999; Liddicoat & Crozet, 2000; Lo Bianco, 2003; Lo Bianco & Crozet, 2003; O'Dowd, 2003). These approaches, strategies and techniques have aimed to highlight points of focus for learners and teachers as they engage with a complex topic. They have included strategies to enable learners to become more objective about their own culture and heritage, more aware of cultural aspects that are "hidden" (Hall, 1966), lists of attributes said to be representative of a particular culture, tasks that are structured to help learners examine stereotypes, and specific techniques and procedures to provide insight and perspective, among others. However, there remain areas which are not sufficiently drawn out across contexts, especially as far as the particular relationship between culture learning and teaching and the differential application of new technologies is concerned.

The purpose of this paper is not to re-present a history of how our understandings of culture have evolved and developed. …