Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

A Discussion-Based Online Approach to Fostering Deep Cultural Inquiry in an Introductory Language Course

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

A Discussion-Based Online Approach to Fostering Deep Cultural Inquiry in an Introductory Language Course

Article excerpt

Abstract: Fostering and assessing language learners' cultural understanding is a daunting task, particularly at the early stages of language learning with target language instruction. The purpose of this study was to explore the development of beginning French language learners' intercultural understanding in a computer-mediated environment where students discussed online cultural instruction among peers, in English, outside of formal instructional time. Discourse analyses of the discussion transcripts revealed sizeable growth in learners' development of intercultural sensitivity in response to different types of online instructional materials. Volunteer participants provided additional insight into the influences of the instructional materials on changes in their worldviews in post-discussion interviews. In addition to providing evidence of effective uses of technology to resolve conflicts between target language use and deep cultural learning in the beginning world language curriculum, findings from this study document the application of an assessment model used to measure learners' development of intercultural understanding.

Key words: cultural instruction, Cultures standards, intercultural sensitivity, introductory foreign language curriculum, 3Ps

Introduction

The need to understand cultures and worldviews other than ones own has critical personal, social, economic, and cultural importance in our increasingly diverse, mobile, and globalized society. The importance of intercultural understanding is emphasized in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (National Standards, 1999, 2006): Standard 2.1 focuses on cultural practices and perspectives, Standard 2.2 addresses cultural products and perspectives, and Standard 4.2 explains the importance of cultural comparisons. Al- though a number of theorists (Bennett, 1993; Byram, 1997; Fantini, 2011; Kramsch, 1993, 2009) have addressed the subjective process by which learners negotiate cultural differences, research shows that educators are unsure about how to include meaningful cultural con- tent and inquiry in the world language classroom (Fox & Diaz-Greenburg, 2006; Phillips, 2011; Schulz, LaLande, Dykstra- Pruim, Zimmer-Loew, & James, 2005). Researchers have also pointed out that teachers in K-16 classrooms find it diffi- cult to address cultural practices, products, perspectives, and comparisons in the target language (TL) primarily due to learners' limited language proficiency (Sercu, 2005). Furthermore, assessing cultural knowledge is a dauntingly subjective task (Fantini, 2011) and is a commonly overlooked component of both assessments of student learning and world language teacher preparation programs. The ACTFL 2011 Standards Impact Survey reported that "the Cultural Framework with the 3Ps (products, practices, perspectives) is nei- ther taught nor assessed by a sizable number of teachers" (ACTFL, 2011, n.p.). This may in part be due to teachers' reluctance to use English during class time -a practice that reflects ACTFL's position statement on the use of the target language, which recommends maintaining classroom interactions in the target lan- guage for more than 90% of the time. Unfortunately, particularly in introductory and intermediate courses, students' limited proficiency in the target language prohibits them from engaging in deep cultural analysis during classroom instructional time.

This study draws on previous research that demonstrated the effective use of online classroom discussions to foster learners' intercultural understanding in a German cultural studies course with a blended learning format-half face-to-face, half on- line (McBride & Wildner-Bassett, 2008). The online discussion board in that study afforded learners the opportunity to collec- tively explore their personal worldviews compared to the alternate perspectives presented in the classroom. Unlike the previous study, the participants in this study were beginning foreign language (FL) learners who used the online classroom discussion board to talk about cultural instruction they accessed in a computer- mediated environment, thus preserving all classroom instructional time for interactions in the TL. …

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