Virtual Learning Environments for Culture and Intercultural Competence

Virtual Learning Environments for Culture and Intercultural Competence

Amy Ogan (Carnegie Mellon University, USA) and H. Chad Lane (University of Southern California, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-883-8.ch023
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The authors review six virtual learning environments built to support the acquisition of cultural knowledge and communication skills: ATL, BiLAT, Croquelandia, Second China, TLCTS, and VECTOR. Each leverages modern 3D video game engine technology which allows high-fidelity simulation of new cultural settings, including representations of buildings, streets, art work, dress, voice, gestures, and more. To bring more realism to simulated cultural interactions, several of the systems are driven by artificial intelligence (AI) models of culture, communication, and emotion. Additionally, several rely on narrative-based techniques to place the target culture in context and enhance motivation of those using the systems. The authors conclude with a discussion of the reviewed environments and identify potential research directions that focus on (1) intercultural competence skills, (2) learner assessment, and (3) cultural model building and validation.
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Cultural And Intercultural Learning

Cultural training programs have evolved substantially in the last six decades. The earliest examples began to surface after World War II when international travel and collaboration became more prevalent in business and government work. As the need for these programs became more evident, scientific interest in creating theories of intercultural growth, identifying underlying cognitive processes, and demonstrating their effectiveness also grew. The field of intercultural training is highly interdisciplinary, attracting researchers from a variety of fields, including anthropology, cognitive psychology, social science, business, and more. Surprisingly, very little of this work leverages state of the art computing technology.

The usual structure of intercultural training programs includes a blend of didactic and experiential components, including methods such as lectures, discussion, film, case study, and role playing (Landis, Bennett, & Bennett, 2004). Many of these methods are based on a classroom instruction model and seek to leverage peer interaction and debate to engage learners. Typically, the goal is to induce changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes. Knowledge includes basic facts about a new culture, such as common values and beliefs, preferences for physical contact, or typical eating and drinking patterns. Skills usually refer to the learner’s ability to interact with someone from the new culture, including communicating their desires and interpreting the behaviors of others. Finally, attitudes have to do with basic beliefs a learner has about people of a different culture and whether a positive, neutral, or negative disposition exists towards them. Evaluations of intercultural training programs also tend to focus on these three dimensions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culture: The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes members of one group or category of people from another.

Cultural Model: A representation of a culture which is designed to be used by a computer to drive a simulation.

Virtual Immersive Environment: A computer-generated environment which simulates portions of the real world.

Learner Assessment: The process of documenting a learner’s skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

Experiential Learning: The acquisition of knowledge and skills through learning by doing, reflection, and repeated revision of internal mental models.

Validation: The process of inspecting, testing, and confirming the accuracy of a model used to drive a computer simulation.

Intercultural Competence: The ability to successfully communicate with members of another culture.

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