The Trouble with Cyberpragmatics: Embedding an Online Intercultural Learning Project into the Curriculum

The Trouble with Cyberpragmatics: Embedding an Online Intercultural Learning Project into the Curriculum

Marina Erica Orsini-Jones, Elwyn Lloyd, Michael Cribb, Fiona Lee, Gwenola Bescond, Amine Ennagadi, Brenda Ivonne García
DOI: 10.4018/IJCALLT.2017010104
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This paper reports on MexCo (Mexico-Coventry), an ongoing online intercultural learning project underpinned by action research. Its aim is to embed internationalisation into the curriculum of the institutions involved in order to promote citizenship competences, online intercultural communicative competence in particular, among both students and staff. The integration of telecollaboration into the curriculum has highlighted problematic aspects of the development of intercultural communicative competence (ICC), such as cyberpragmatics (Yus, 2011). Cyberpragmatics is intended here as the skill of understanding others' intended meanings in computer-mediated communication. It is suggested that cyberpragmatics in online intercultural learning exchanges is a ‘Threshold Concept' (TC) (Meyer & Land, 2005, p. 375), i.e. a key concept that is troublesome to understand as it is challenging to the identity of the learner, but which could open new learning horizons to the students who do manage to grasp it.
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The MexCo (Mexico-Coventry) online intercultural learning project has evolved from a project aimed at tandem language learning to one aimed at developing intercultural awareness and raising students’ ability to operate in a “difference-friendly world” (Fraser, 1996, p. 3). It is an ongoing international intercultural knowledge-transfer exchange involving students and staff from Coventry University (School of Humanities, CU from now on) and students and staff at the Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM - Dirección de Programas Internacionales de la Universidad de Monterrey - UDEM from now on).

The project aims at making the HE curriculum at each of the partner institutions involved more intercultural and international, in keeping with their strategic priorities to encourage students to become digitally literate global citizens. At CU MexCo has been integrated into the Languages and English curriculum, while at UDEM it is part of the intercultural suite of modules offered to all courses by the international office. Both in Britain and Mexico, project MexCo aims to enhance its participants’ intercultural awareness and transferable employability skills in a global context and help its participants to acquire ICC. This includes raising their awareness of the conventions of effective online engagement, or cyberpragmatics (term coined by Yus, 2011). In agreement with Stroińska and Cecchetto (2013, p.175) it is proposed here that the pragmatics of politeness proposed by Leech (1983) should be revisited in the light of Computer Mediated Communication developments. Politeness literacy for online intercultural exchanges in academic settings should become part of intercultural online awareness teaching and learning and is a digital and intercultural communicative competence per se. A distinctive feature of the MexCo project is that politeness literacy for online intercultural exchanges in academic settings is being explored by staff in collaboration with “Expert Students”, in a model of staff-students action research developed at Coventry University (Orsini-Jones, 2015, p. 50; Orsini-Jones, Brick, & Pibworth, 2013). The “Expert Students” are students who have participated in the project in its previous cycles and appear to have grasped the complexities of ICC. They work closely with staff and enable them (staff) to see their practice through their eyes, in a role-reversal model of threshold-concept-informed curricular change (Orsini-Jones, 2013).

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