VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES =REAL COMMUNICATION?
THE LLCM Conference October 12, 2009National Foreign Language Resource Center University of Hawaii at Manoa -------- Gilberte Furstenberg Foreign Languages and LiteraturesMIT
Huge areaSo many different kinds of virtual or online communities (social, professional)Such a huge variety of modes of communication (via chatrooms, blogs, Flickr, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, etc..) and a variety of environments such as MUDs, MOOs,etc.. Everybody (including us) seems to be chating, tweeting, blogging, etc..So many different definitions of communicationSo many ways of defining what real communication is.-----> will quickly narrow it to a particular type of online community, within a specific context (a language class) and with a specific purpose (developing intercultural understanding)
My goals for this talk First set up the broader context for language-based intercultural learningshare with you what I see as the key components for ensuring real/virtual online communication between our students and the students abroad focus on the very important questions of the teachers role and the issue of assessmentshare important lessons I have learnt regarding the design and use of technology for learning language and culture in general
My perspectiveWill speak on subject, not as theorist or even researcher but as a practitioner, and share my 12-year experience developing and using Cultura - a web-based exchange for developing students intercultural understandingPersonal background: not a teckie, but someone who views technology as a pedagogical tool
Back to the questionVIRTUAL COMMUNITIES = REAL COMMUNICATION?Obviously not a mathematical formula. Communication within virtual communities: not more or less real than face-to-face communicationIndeed: we all know how easy it is to parler pour ne rien dire (= speak empty words)
Parler pour ne rien dire
Parler pour ne rien dire?It is quite common practice indeedIt is also a subject of great debate (for the French at least) who even manage to turn this into a philosophical question.
But back again to our basic questionWhat constitutes real communication?
The corollary question for us being: Is there any way we, language teachers, can ensure that it takes place in the new virtual intercultural communities our students are involved in?
A quick definition of communication vs real communicationTaken from a World Bank blog:Most dictionaries and basic textbooks define communication basically as the act of sending messages or, more specifically as a sender transmitting messages through channels to one or more receivers [..] Communication needs to be seen as a two-way process not used exclusively to send message or pass information, but to explore, discover and generate knowledge and consensus. Interestingly enough, the semantic root of the word communication is the same as in communion and community and it is about sharing [..] It would imply that communication should not be restricted to informing people and persuading them to change certain attitudes or behaviors, but it should be used also to facilitate dialogue, build trust and ensure mutual understanding
Trust and mutual understanding are in short supplyCultural divides are many and deep, in our societies as well as the geopolitical arena. Examples abound every dayThe need for bridging cross-cultural barriers is greater than ever in spite of the globalization of our worldThe necessity for us all to develop the skills that will allow us to really communicate across cultures is being increasingly recognized as central and crucial.
Intercultural communication is now increasingly taking center stage in domains such as: - business (the role of culture in international business now widely recognized)- and academia, with the internationalization of the curriculum being a very big topic (as illustrated by the creation of the Internationalization Collaborative by the American Council on Education), and such initiatives as the CLAC Consortium (Cultures and Languages across the curriculum)
MIT itself has joined the ranks
Logo of MITs new report
A few quotesBy preparing our students to work, lead, and thrive in cultures around the globe, we equip them with crucial skills for tackling the worlds great challenges. Susan Hockfield, President, MIT.
Giving MIT students deep knowledge of other languages and cultures, and the capacity to be global citizens and wise leaders, is vital to a 21st century education - and critical to the Institutes leadership position.Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
The 2007 MLA Report.. made it very clear by emphasizing the importance of developing students "translingual and transcultural competence, adding that it is one of five imperative needs to which higher education must respond in the next ten years if it is to remain relevant. http://www.mla.org/flreporthttp://www.mla.org/mlaissuesmajor
We, in FL, are at the heart of that missionHave always been (teaching language and culture)We have always known they are inextricably linked, and teaching about foreign cultures has always been part and parcel of what we doSo we do have a very big role to play in the international education of our students! But we need to do more. We need to convince our institutions how crucial a role we play, and show them how we do open our classrooms to the world.
In fact, we are already doing it
.by using one of our greatest ally: technologyWe have long seen the assets of the WWW (enabling our students to explore the world at large) and have long seized the assets of the W2 tools, connecting our students with native speakers all over the world via chat rooms or environments such as MochaLive and Second Life (examples of which we will see in this Conference)And now, increasingly: we use those tools, in our language classes, not just for language learning but for intercultural learning - many of us having developed telecollaborative projects, connecting our students with native students abroad, with the explicit goal of developing intercultural understanding.
A new challenge for usNot trainedNot necessarily specialists in the fields of communication or culture We are used and very adept at getting our students to communicate in class, but how do we get them to communicate with native students, with a focus on intercultural communication?
Now, the core questionHow do we get our students to enter into real online communication in a way that will really help them better understand the other culture?
Excerpt from a Cultura forumOf what I consider to be real intercultural communication, and well then take a step back and look at what ingredients seem key to creating real intercultural conversations and communities.
A conversation around the word familyInitial impetus: the students comparative analysis of the answers to the word family.
Alicia, an MIT student starts the conversationOne big difference that I noticed in reactions to this word was that on the American side, "love" showed up a lot of times. However, on the French side, only 2 people used "amour." I think that in America, there is a strong emphasis placed on cultivating a "loving, caring, supportive family environment" which is why "love is one of the first words that come to mind. I was wondering, what do the French not use that word much..
Gabrielle, a French student, responds
Il semble effectivement que les Franais utilisent moins le mot "amour" dans le test. Peut-tre est-ce parce que, justement il n'y a aucune crainte de manquer d'amour, donc ce n'est pas une proccupation. Cela dit, ce n'est qu'une thorie : je ne sais pas rellement quoi cela tient. Il faudrait avoir plus de dtails sur les contextes familiaux pour avoir une meilleure analyse. Mais cela deviendrait peut-tre trop personnel...
Galle, another French student, chimes inJ'ai galement remarqu la forte concentration du mot amour dans vos rponses. Peut-tre qu'en France, il reste plus implicite, cach, ceci ne signifiant pas alors que l'amour n'est pas prsent.
Howard, an MIT student, asks a good questionIs it possible that love has a different connotation in France and other words related to love are being used do describe family on the French side? Words such as entraide, bonheur, soutien, etc.? From my experience, I know that Americans sometimes tend to overuse the word love and the exact meaning really depends on the context.
Alicia, responding to Galles commentI think Gaelle touched on something very interesting about love being a more implicit emotion in France than it is in America. Definitely in America, the word "love" is thrown around a lot. It is used a lot as a way of parting, like people will say "I love you" before ending a phone conversation with their boyfriend/girlfriend, parents or siblings, even sometimes with very good friends. This is something that happens very often and we don't think very much of it. I was wondering, what is the case in France? Are the words "amour" or "s'aimer" spoken very often?
Gaelle tries to respondCette question est vraiment intressante. Les Franais sont, je le crois, peut-tre un peu plus pudiques, plus discrets sur leurs sentiments amoureux. Je viens de faire un petit sondage dans la classe pour savoir combien d'entre nous disaient parfois "je vous aime" leurs parents. Or, personne ne semble le faire, moi y compris. Malgr cela, il est certain que cet amour existe. De votre ct, cette habitude (trs bonne d'ailleurs) de dire "je t'aime" assez souvent n'entraine t-elle pas une dvalorisation partielle de ce mot? Existe t-il des mots plus forts encore que "love?
Kezia, an MIT student, is confused..Interesting comment, Gaelle. I always thought that the French were more open about their emotions. The French always seem to be kissing and hugging each other. Whereas in America, people tend to touch less when they're in public. Some people even frown upon couples kissing in front of others and mothers breast-feeding their babies. Why do you say the French are more discreet?
To which Galle respondsLes Francais sont plus pudiques quant leurs sentiments, le fait de les clamer haut et fort, mais il est effectivement frquent d'apercevoir des couples s'embrasser dans la rue [..]
Some key components of this intercultural forumStudents:share observations and reactions (One big difference I noticed) piggyback on s.o.s observation (il semble effectivement)make hypotheses (Peut-tre que..is it possible that?)
Some key components (continued)ask questions: why do the French not use that word much.. Are the words "amour" or "s'aimer" spoken very often? Are there other words? Existe t-il des mots plus forts encore que "love?
acknowledge the others postings, going further: I think that Gaelle touched on sth interesting. Cette question est vraiment intressante about love being more implicit(in the process acknowledging that she thought it was an interesting observation and perspective)
Some key components (continued)Students:provide pertinent, real life illustrations (in America, the word "love" is thrown around a lot. It is used a lot as a way of parting, like people will say "I love you" before ending a phone conversation)take initiatives: (Je viens de faire un petit sondage dans la classe ..)respond to questions
Some key components (continued)challenge the other Cette habitude (trs bonne d'ailleurs) de dire "je t'aime" assez souvent n'entraine t-elle pas une dvalorisation partielle de ce mot?)allude to the context (I know that Americans sometimes tend to overuse the word love and the exact meaning really depends on the context.confront clichs and raise paradoxes (I always thought that the French.. The French always seem to be kissing and hugging each otherWhy do you say the French are more discreet?
Finally studentslearn some key cultural concepts, such as: the different culturally imbedded ways of expressing emotions (saying and verbalizing vs showing and demonstrating)Notions of implicit vs explicitBoth being fundamental culturally driven values (values they will revisit when looking at other documents)
In the process, they also learn a lot of language and get to see first hand how the French structure their arguments
Essential componentsAsking questionsIn the context of comparing the French and American to what a good neighbor is, Ellie, an MIT student wrote: After viewing the responses of the French students, it appears that in France, a good neighbor is simply one that respects your privacy and is discreet. In other words, there is not much interaction between neighbors at all. My question is: why is there not much interaction between neighbors in France? I feel like interacting with your neighbors is just another opportunity to make good friends
Essential componentsReceiving informative responsesBndictePeut-tre que ces relations disons plutt froides entre voisins viennent du fait que lon naime pas que les autres se mlent de nos affaires (mme si ces derniers sont pleins de bonnes intentions). Another one wrote: Les Franais sont souvent mfiants vis vis de leurs voisins. Trs souvent, les jardins mitoyens sont spars par des murs ou des haies suffisamment hautes pour qu' on ne puisse pas tre vu. Ne pas tre vu est d' ailleurs une obsession chez beaucoup de Franais.
Essential componentsDoing cross analysis of several documents, making connections, (spontaneously) raising paradoxes, in order to try and reconcile what they see as contradictions. In a discussion about what is viewed as a good neighbor/un bon voisin, an MIT student, referring back to a discussion about what constitutes a rude person/une personne impolie in the two cultures, asks: in the "Rude Person", many Lille 3 students indicated that it is impolite not to say hello. How is it that strangers are expected to greet each other but neighbors do not socialize?
Essential components Synthezing observations - which often leads to complex, in-depth cultural feedback.Hashem: "One major difference that I found between the two cultures is the issue of social norms. I felt like there was greater rigidity in the French culture on what is acceptable and what isn't when compared to the US. Do you feel like this is true based on what's been said in the forums and the questionnaires? I feel like in France, these social norms are much more defined and agreed upon by the people.". "Salut Hashem, En ce qui concerne les conventions sociales, il faut savoir qu'ici les rgles du "savoir-vivre" sont certes trs codifies et parfois complexes mais leur mise en application est trs flexible. Il n'est pas rellement considr comme inacceptable de ne pas respecter toutes les rgles, bien au contraire : toute la subtilit des relations consiste choisir la bonne mesure de politesse 
Essential componentsReading across several types of documents.Excerpt from an on-line discussion forum based on comparison of the films..Allison - Hi Sbastie...