Investigating Optimal Computer-Mediated Cultural Instruction to Foster Intercultural Sensitivity in Online Peer Discussions

Investigating Optimal Computer-Mediated Cultural Instruction to Foster Intercultural Sensitivity in Online Peer Discussions

Paula Garrett-Rucks
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6174-5.ch005
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Online classroom discussions in response to instruction about native speakers' cultural perspectives can foster learners' intercultural understanding (McBride & Wildner-Bassett, 2008). However, Garrett-Rucks (2013) found that varying the format of the cultural instruction prior to learners' online discussions can change learning outcomes. This chapter builds on Garrett-Rucks' previous finding—that native speaker informant videos promoted learners' intercultural sensitivity more than the combined use of authentic texts and explicit cultural instruction—by investigating the use of authentic texts in the absence of explicit cultural instruction. Specifically, the present study examines the ways in which 13 language learners enrolled in a Midwestern introductory French class in the United States (US) collectively mediated NS perspectives toward family practices presented in French informant videos compared to authentic texts in online peer discussions. A content analysis of the discussion transcripts detected collective shifts in learners' intercultural sensitivity—shifts from ethnorelative and ethnocentric stages of Bennett's (1993) Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity—reflected in participants' postings. Findings from the analysis contribute to an understanding of ways to maximize learners' development of intercultural sensitivity in online peer discussions with optimal uses of computer-mediated cultural instruction outside of classroom instruction time.
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Fostering learners’ intercultural sensitivity, the psychological ability to deal with cultural differences (Bennett, 1993), is increasingly important to prepare learners for success in multicultural industrialized societies and to become responsible global citizens (Kumaravadivelu, 2003). Over a decade ago, foreign language (FL) educators started responding to the need to prepare learners for intercultural understanding in the FL curriculum as evidenced in the addition of the Cultures Standards (2.1 and 2.2) (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 2006). Despite the cultural turn in the field, there are still substantial issues to be addressed. Educators are often confused and anxious about the implementation and assessment of culture learning in FL instruction (Cutshall, 2012; Fantini, 2011; Fox & Diaz-Greenburg, 2006). In particular, instructors who follow the ACTFL position statement to maintain over 90% of their instruction in the target language (TL) struggle to foster meaningful cultural inquiry among learners with limited linguistic mastery, offering a possible explanation for why the Culture Standards (2.1 and 2.2) are neither taught nor assessed by a sizeable number of teachers (Phillips & Abbott, 2011, p. 7). Fortunately, advances in technology offer possibilities to meet the Culture Standards at beginning levels of instruction.

Previous research (Garrett-Rucks, 2013) demonstrated an effective use of computer-mediated cultural instruction used to foster adult beginning French language learners’ intercultural sensitivity outside of the classroom while preserving TL use for classroom instruction time. The learners in Garrett-Rucks’ (2013) study participated in two online classroom discussions that consisted of two phases over a five-week long discussion for each cultural topic—(1) Greetings and (2) Education. During Phase 1 of a discussion, learners discussed the cultural perspectives from explicit cultural instruction (written for US learners about French culture) and authentic texts (written by French speakers for French speakers), followed by French informant videos in Phase 2. The analysis of the discussion transcripts revealed that the explicit cultural instruction perpetuated ethnocentric thinking among learners, whereas the French informant videos fostered learners’ development of intercultural sensitivity. Although the authentic texts were primarily ignored by the learners who relied more heavily on the explicit cultural information in their Phase 1 postings, the few learners whose postings drew from the authentic texts bore witness to the development of intercultural sensitivity. Accordingly, the present study investigates the influence of authentic texts and French informant videos in the absence of explicit cultural instruction. Findings from this study can contribute to an understanding of the optimal design of computer-mediated cultural instruction to prepare FL learners for meaningful online classroom discussions.

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