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The Effects of a Virtual Exchange on Students' Interest in Learning About Culture


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AbstractA 12‐week electronic exchange was conducted between a third‐year German college class in the United States and an advanced English high school class in Germany. The exchange consisted of e‐mails between tandem partners, blogs, videoconferences between both classes, and class essays. The study examined the effects of participation in the semester‐long cross‐cultural, cross‐lingual exchange on students' interest in learning about the target culture. The results showed that students' interest in learning about culture was high before and after the exchange. Likewise, students believed that learning about culture is an important part of foreign language learning. The virtual exchange outlined here is an example of a standards‐based approach to integrating language and culture instruction.
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The Effects of a Virtual Exchange
on StudentsInterest in Learning
About Culture
Theresa Schenker
Yale University
Abstract: A12week electronic exchange was conducted between a thirdyear
German college class in the United States and an advanced English high school class in
Germany. The exchange consisted of emails between tandem partners, blogs,
videoconferences between both classes, and class essays. The study examined the effects
of participation in the semesterlong crosscultural, crosslingual exchange on students
interest in learning about the target culture. The results showed that studentsinterest in
learning about culture was high before and after the exchange. Likewise, students
believed that learning about culture is an important part of foreign language learning.
The virtual exchange outlined here is an example of a standardsbased approach to
integrating language and culture instruction.
Key words: culture, email, 5 Cs, studentsinterest, virtual exchange
The world is becoming more and more globalized and, as a result, in most
communities individuals are surrounded by people from diverse cultural or language
backgrounds (Block & Cameron, 2002). Strong communication skills are needed to
interact effectively with others who may not share ones language, worldviews, or
cultural beliefs. In order to communicate successfully and efciently not only abroad,
but also within ones own diverse community, one needs cultural awareness as one of
the key competencies for everyday interactions in the 21st century.
Both cultural awareness and communication skills have been emphasized in a
number of key documents, including the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in
the 21st Century: The United States must educate students who are linguistically and
culturally equipped to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society
and abroad(National Standards, 1999, p. 7). According to the Standards, foreign
language instruction should enable students to communicate and to learn to
respond appropriately in a variety of cultures(p. 245). Furthermore, the Standards
emphasize that students cannot truly master the language until they have also
Theresa Schenker (PhD, Michigan State University) is Lector and Language
Program Director of German at Yale University, New Haven, CT.
Foreign Language Annals, Vol. 46, Iss. 3, pp. 491507. ©2013 by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign
DOI: 10.1111/flan.12041
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 491
mastered the cultural contexts in which the
language occurs(p. 31). In order to do that,
students need to have an understanding of
the interdependent and interactive relation-
ship of the perspectives, practices, and
products(p. 257) of a culture. Similarly,
the American Association of Teachers of
German (AATG) Task Force on the Teach-
ing of Culture has emphasized that cross
cultural understanding and intercultural
communication are more essential now
than ever, particularly because modern
means of communication and transport
bring us daily into contact with [other-
ness] for which we need not only knowl-
edge, but also strategies to interpret, to
understand, and to put into perspective
what we are experiencing(Schulz, Lalande,
DykstraPruim, ZimmerLoew, & James,
2005, p. 172).
In order to ensure that all learners have
the skills they will need to become success-
ful members both in aand for a
changing world(Schulz, 2007, p. 88), it
is critical that students develop deep cultural
awareness as well as language prociency.
Consequently, it has been suggested that
culture should be at the very heart of foreign
language instruction (Sercu, 2005) and that
culture cannot be regarded as an expend-
able fth skill(Kramsch, 1993, p. 1).
However, although there seems to be
consensus concerning the importance of
culture in the foreign language classroom,
few studies have investigated students
interest in cultural learning in foreign
language classes. This study investigated
the effects of participation in a 12week
telecollaborative project between a third
year German class at a large Midwestern
university in the United States and an
advanced English class at a high school in
central Germany and reports students
interest in learning about culture in their
foreign language class. As noted in the
description of the project, offered later in
this article, the virtual exchange allowed
learners to meet all ve goal areas of the
Standards in an interconnected and person-
alized way and may provide an example
from which instructors in K16 settings may
develop similar learning opportunities for
their students.
Review of Literature
For the purpose of the study reported here,
culture is understood as the philosophical
perspectives, the behavioral practices, and
the products of a society(National
Standards, 1999, p. 47). There has been little
argument among language professionals
about the central role of culture in foreign
language classes (Bennett, 1997; Finger,
2008; Kern & Warschauer, 2000; Lochtman
& Kappel, 2008; Lovik, 2008; Samovar &
Porter, 1999; Schulz, 2008; Seelye, 1997;
Williams, Warren, & Olaniran, 2009). How-
ever, previous research has shown that the
majority of students do not share the
consensus view that culturehowever
understoodhas a rm legitimate place in
the language classroom(Chavez, 2002,
p. 135). Chavez noted that:
•“there is no immediate reason to accept
our studentsinterest in foreign language
culture as a fact(2005, p. 31)
•“a sizeable portion of students(2002,
p. 134) believe that culture in the foreign
language classroom competes with lan-
guage teaching
only a minority of students believes that
culture is not teachable, or at least not in
the foreign language context (2002)
Similarly, Dechert and Kastner (1989)
revealed that there was a mismatch between
studentsspecic interests in regard to
learning about the target culture and the
topics covered by standard textbooks. Their
study concluded that undergraduate stu-
dents enrolled in German courses were most
interested in learning about topics con-
cerned with regular, everyday life.
Although the profession regards cultural
learning as crucial, it is critical to also
understand how culture can be included in
foreign language classes and to take students
interests and motivations into consideration
492 FALL 2013
as well. By helping students to see the
relevance of or by increasing their curiosity
about cultural learning, studentsinterests in
and the professionsbeliefs about what
should be taught can become more closely
aligned. Thus, the present study reports the
results of a 12week virtual exchange on
studentsinterest in culture learning. Specif-
ically, the study sought to answer the
following questions:
1. To what extent are American college
students studying German as a foreign
language and German high school students
studying English as a foreign language
interested in learning about German and
American culture? What effect does a
12week email exchange have on their
level of interest in learning about culture?
2. How important do American college
students studying German as a foreign
language and German high school stu-
dents studying English as a foreign
language nd cultural learning in the
foreign language classroom? What effect
does a 12week email exchange have on
this evaluation?
Nineteen American students and 31 German
students participated in the 12week virtual
exchange project. The American students
were enrolled in a thirdyear German course
at a large midwestern university and com-
prised six males and 13 females who were
between 19 and 23 years old. Fourteen of the
19 American students were not taking any
other German classes during the semester of
the exchange. The other ve students were
also enrolled in a German linguistics course,
or in a German linguistics and a German
literature course. Only two American stu-
dents indicated that they were taking this
German course for their major; many
students (47%) took the course out of
personal interest, and some took the course
to improve their German communication
skills (21%), because of German heritage
(11%), or to continue from high school
(11%). All but two of the American students
had previously spent time outside of the
United States. The American class was
selected because the level of a thirdyear
German class was deemed high enough to
engage in crosscultural discussions with
native speakers.
The 31 eleventh grade German students
were between ages 15 and 19 and were
enrolled in two advanced English courses
taught by the same instructor at a small high
school in central Germany. Of the 31
German students who participated in the
project, complete data were only available
for 19 students, of which 11 were male and
eight were female. Twelve of the 19 German
students had previously spent time outside
of Germany. The German students were
taking English because of the important
role of English in the world (32%), because
it was a requirement (32%), or because of
personal interest (32%). The German high
school class was selected because the
semester schedule between German high
schools and U.S. universities aligned more
closely and thus allowed for a longer virtual
exchange. In addition, the school had
previously collaborated on a project with
the American university. Before the ex-
change started, the American students
selected one or two German students to be
their exchange partners based on short
descriptions sent to the American class by
the German students.
Although the other two sections of the
thirdyear German class in the United States
were asked to volunteer to participate as a
control group by completing the preand
postsurveys at the beginning and end of the
semester, volunteer participation was too
small to be incorporated in the study.
Data Collection
Data were collected from surveys, email
transcripts, two videotaped videoconfer-
ences, and reective blogs written by the U.S.
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 493
Initial Survey
A survey
was used to measure students
curiosity about German culture prior to
participation in the project. This survey
consisted of 14 Likertscale items and 10
openended questions that investigated
studentsbackground, interest in language
and culture, and cultural beliefs. The items
targeted included studentsinterest in
cultural learning (items 2, 5, 10, and 12)
and studentsevaluation of the importance
of cultural knowledge (items 1, 3, 4, and 6).
The remainder of the Likertscale items
targeted studentsopinions about the use of
telecollaboration for learning language and
culture and were not included in this study.
Students rated their agreement with the
statements on a scale from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The Ameri-
can students completed the surveys in class
and turned them in to the researcher at the
end of class. The German students complet-
ed the surveys outside of class and emailed
them to the researcher during the rst week
of the exchange.
After the individual components and require-
ments of the exchange were explained to both
classes, the partners were selected, and the
presurveys were completed, students in both
classes were given a task sheet that detailed
the weekly discussion topics.
These topics
were selected based on the content covered in
both classes during the semester and included
a comparison of leisure time activities, the
role of sports, educational systems, national
pride, citizenship and immigration, multicul-
turalism, the role of family, violence, friend-
ship, and current events.
While students were allowed to discuss
other topics that were of interest to them, they
were required to discuss these assigned
weekly topics with their partner, or partners,
from the other institution in a minimum of
two emails per week for the duration of the
12week exchange. In their rst weekly
email, students were expected to answer
the discussion question; in their second
weekly email, students could respond to
their partnersemail, provide followup
information, and discuss the topic further.
All students wrote in their target language but
were both allowed, andencouraged,tocode
switch as well as give linguistic feedback to
their email partners. During semester breaks,
students were encouraged to continue ex-
changing emails. The exchange was part of
the regular class work for the American
students, and they were graded on completing
all components. Participation in the exchange
was optional for the German students, and
they were not graded on the project. All
emails were forwarded to the researcher but
not to the instructors of the courses.
In addition to the email exchanges, two 60
minute videoconferences were conducted
between the two partner classes. The rst
videoconference took place during the
second week of the exchange and was held
in English. The second videoconference
took place during the 13th week of the
exchange and was held in German. While
the instructor in Germany moderated the
rst videoconference, a German student
moderated the second one. The students
chose the topics that they discussed during
the videoconferences, which included, for
example, politics, current events, fashion,
and the everyday life of German and
American students.
The American students kept a biweekly
blog in which they were asked to reect on
the exchange. In addition, students had to
comment on at least one other students blog
every other week. The blogs were written in
the target language and designed as a
reective tool in which students were able
to discuss problems or deal with uncertain-
ties, learn from each other, and share diverse
opinions on the assigned discussion topics.
The German students did not have access to
the blogs.
Postsurveys were administered during the
last week of the exchange. As with the pre
494 FALL 2013
surveys, the American students completed
the surveys in class while the German
students completed them at home and
sent them via email to the researcher. In
addition to the 24 questions contained on
the presurvey, the postsurvey also includ-
ed 11 openended questions that solicited
general feedback about the studentsatti-
tudes toward language and culture learning.
Data Analysis
Statistical and qualitative analyses were
conducted on the data obtained from the
surveys of all 19 American students and
from the 19 German students for whom
complete data were available. First, a
repeatedmeasures ANOVA with one be-
tweensubjects variable (group belonging)
and one withinsubjects variable (time;
pretest and posttest) analyzed the data
obtained from the Likertscale items on
the preand postsurveys. The test revealed
differences in answer patterns between the
German and American classes as well as
changes within the classes from the preto
The test of normality of distribution
revealed signicantly nonnormal distribu-
tions for all variables, and the scores were
therefore ranked to allow the use of the
mixeddesign ANOVA (Field, 2009). Lev-
enes test showed a violation of the assump-
tion of homogeneity of variances for the
postsurvey scores for the variable interest
in cultural learning(p¼0.014). However,
this variable was already ranked due to the
nonnormal distribution. The analysis was
carried out with the awareness that this part
of the data did not meet the requirement for
homogeneity of variances.
The answers to the openended ques-
tions as well as optional comments on the
Likertscale items on the preand post
surveys were analyzed qualitatively. The
researcher coded the answers in order to
reveal patterns in studentsperceptions of
the importance of cultural learning as well as
their interest in learning about culture in
their foreign language classes.
Although students were expected to write a
minimum of 20 emails, in reality students
wrote between 11 and 26 emails, with the
majority of students (63%) writing 20 to 24
email messages. Students were not told how
many words to write in each email message.
Thus, the total number of words written by
the students over the course of the 12week
exchange ranged from 876 to 6,697 (Ameri-
can students) and from 1,024 to 8,926
(German students).
On the postsurvey, students rated their
enjoyment of discussing the assigned topics
on a scale from 1 (not enjoyable) to 5 (very
enjoyable). They were also asked if there
were additional topics they would have liked
to discuss. It is interesting to note that
students generally expressed interest in all of
the topics that were discussed; the average
level of interest overall was 3.5, the average
level of interest for Americans was 3.5, and
the average level of interest for Germans was
3.6. Everyday topics such as freetime
activities, family life, and friends were
among the more highly ranked topics both
by the German and the American students.
Both classes ranked the topics of violence
and recent history lowest. Interestingly, the
topic of sports was ranked fairly highly by
the German students and lower by the U.S.
students. Figure 1 shows the class averages
for enjoyment of the assigned discussion
On openended questions before the
exchange, German students expressed spe-
cic interest in learning about the target
country and the lifestyle of people, differ-
ences between the two countries, whether
what is taught in school about the target
culture was true, and peculiaritiesof the
target culture. The American students did
not indicate interest in specic topics before
the exchange. After the exchange, students
from both classes expressed interest in
discussing the following additional topics:
language in general, entertainmentmusic,
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 495
movies, and mediatravel, art, and politics.
One American student suggested discussing
the most current events in each weekly e
mail before moving on to the assigned
discussion topic, and another student em-
phasized that more personal topics would be
best as these were easiest to write about.
Only one German student mentioned that
fewer assigned topics and more freedom to
discuss anything would have made for a
more enjoyable exchange.
Interest in Cultural Learning
Quantitative Data
Using a rating scale from 1 to 6 (6 being the
highest), students rated their interest in
learning about culture in their foreign
language classroom on the preand post
surveys. Table 1 summarizes the averages
for both classes.
As shown in Table 1,
studentsinitial interest in cultural learning
was very high in both classes. On the post
survey, both classes had a slightly lower, but
still very high, average for the variable
interest in cultural learning. Both before
and after participating in the exchange, the
American students expressed a marginally
higher interest in cultural learning than did
the German students. The repeatedmeas-
ures ANOVA showed no statistically signi-
cant withinsubjects effects, F(1) ¼.000,
p>0.05, and also did not show statistically
signicant betweensubjects effects, F
(1) ¼3.339, p>0.5. This indicates that
the two classes did not differ in statistically
signicant ways in their interest in learning
about culture and that studentsinterest in
learning about culture was initially, and
remained consistently, very high.
Qualitative Data
Before participating in the exchange, 84% of
the American studentsand 79% of the
German studentsresponses to openended
questions also showed a very positive
attitude toward learning about the target
culture. Almost all students reported enjoy-
ing learning about culture and explained
that they were enthusiastic about learning
about the target culture, fascinated by it,
interested in it, and very excited about the
prospect of learning more about culture.
On the postsurvey, 79% of the students
(30 of 38) continued to express an un-
changed but still very strong positive
attitude about, and interest in, learning
about the target culture. In addition, 18% of
students (three German and four American
students) explained that their interest in
learning about the target culture had
increased, with 3 of the 19 German students
specically mentioning that because of the
exchange, they were more excited about
Enjoyment of Discussion Topics
496 FALL 2013
their English class and looked forward to
going to class more. In contrast, on the post
survey, only one American student men-
tioned a negative change in his attitude
toward cultural learning. In a followup
interview, he explained that he had become
somewhat disillusioned once he realized
that racist tendencies could be present in
both cultures, and he thus regarded German
culture with greater disinterest.
Thus, studentsresponses to the open
ended questions consistently supported the
general statistical results and conrmed that
students did not become bored or lose
interest in communicating with their part-
ners about each new cultural topic over the
course of the 12week exchange.
Importance of Cultural Learning
Using the same rating scale from 1 to 6 (6
being the highest), students rated the
importance of including cultural learning
in the foreign language classroom both
before and after participating in the cross
cultural exchange. Table 2 summarizes the
averages for both classes. First, the average
importance of learning about culture for
both classes increased during the 12week
period under consideration. The results of
comparing the two classes on the variable
importance of cultural learning in foreign
language classes showed that both classes
deemed cultural learning to be an important
part of foreign language classes, with the
American class on average nding cultural
learning more important than the German
class. The repeatedmeasures ANOVA
showed no statistically signicant within
subjects effects, F(1) ¼.000, p>0.05;
thus, although both classes showed in-
creases from preto postsurvey in the
averages for this variable, the changes from
preto postsurvey were not statistically
signicant. However, the repeatedmeasures
Chart of StudentsInterest in Cultural Learning
Class Interest in Cultural
Learning Before
Interest in Cultural
Learning After Exchange
German Class 5.61 5.35
N¼19 (SD: 0.49) (SD: 0.77)
U.S. Class 5.84 5.75
N¼19 (SD: 0.32) (SD: 0.29)
Chart of StudentsView of the Importance of Cultural Learning
Class Importance of
Cultural Learning
Before Exchange
Importance of
Cultural Learning
After Exchange
German Class 4.78 4.88
N¼19 (SD: 0.79) (SD: 0.77)
U.S. Class 5.42 5.55
N¼19 (SD: 0.79) (SD: 0.40)
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 497
ANOVA showed statistically signicant
betweensubjects effects, F(1) ¼13.214,
p¼0.001, indicating that the American
class valued culture as a part of foreign
language instruction signicantly more than
the German class did.
In addition to rating the importance of
culture learning highly on the Likertscale
items, 6 of the 19 American students added
optional comments explaining why they
found it important to learn about culture
while learning a foreign language. They
mentioned, for example, the connection
between language and culture (E001,
E018), that knowing culture is important
in learning the context of the language
(E002), in order to understand language
development(E012), and because it helps
progress the language(E003). On the post
surveys, ve American students also added
optional comments on the Likertscale items
expressing a similar opinion. Students
emphasized that You must learn about
the culture [because] culture plays a role in
language learning(E006) and that culture
teaches a lot about the country as well as
why people say certain things(E017). They
also mentioned that knowing culture helped
when learning the language and that
language and culture are interconnected.
On both the preand postsurveys, the
American students commented positively
on the importance of culture in foreign
language instruction.
Of all the students for whom data were
collected on the presurvey, only one student
from the American class (E018) did not
express a positive attitude about the impor-
tance of culture, noting before the exchange
that the target culture sometimes feels
irrelevant and Vergangenheitsbewältigung
[coming to terms with the past] got overdone
last semester.After completing the ex-
change, this student stated that she liked
learning German but not as much the
culture.Nonetheless, this same student did
acknowledge the connection between lan-
guage and culture before the exchange,
commenting on the presurvey that culture
and language go togetherand that culture
inuences the language and vice versa.The
students assessment of the importance of
cultural learning appears to have been
impacted by her previous experience of
learning about culture, which seemed to
have focused more exclusively on historical
events and perspectives rather than a broader
range of topics.
Like their American counterparts, most
German students indicated on the pre
survey that learning about culture was
very important. Some of their arguments
included the role of culture in understand-
ing the language, the way members of the
target community think, and behavioral
norms including both speech and gestures
so as to avoid offending others as well as to
communicate more effectively. Postsurvey
responses of the German students revealed
a similar assessment of the role of culture
in foreign language learning. Congruent
with many comments by the American
students, many German students again
remarked that learning culture was impor-
tant in order to better learn and speak
the language. One student, for example,
explained that um eine Sprache auch
erfolgreich anzuwenden müsste man auch
kulturelle Hintergründe kennen [in order to
be able to use a language successfully one
would also have to know the cultural
Four German students also believed
that culture should be more explicitly taught
in their foreign language classes or that they
should learn to draw more connections
between language and culture. In contrast,
four other German students did not nd
cultural learning to be as important, noting
that culture already played an important role
in their English classes and that they had
learned, or were already learning, enough
about culture. Three other students, who
had emphasized the importance of learning
the English language, explained in their
answers that knowing the target culture was
not important, absolutely necessary, or
relevant in order to learn the language.
Thus, only a minority of German students,
16 and 21%, respectively, believed that
498 FALL 2013
culture learning was not important for
learning a language and that culture did
not have to be emphasized in their English
courses. In summary, the overwhelming
majority of German and American students
believed in the importance of cultural
learning as part of foreign language instruc-
tion both before and after the exchange.
Discussion and Summary
The virtual exchange project reported here
investigated (1) studentsinterest in cultural
learning and (2) studentsbeliefs about the
importance of learning about culture in
their language classes. The results revealed
that, both before and after participation
in the electronic crosscultural exchange,
both the American and the German students
were highly interested in learning about
culture in the foreign language classroom
and that they believed that learning about
the target culture should be included in their
foreign language classes. Although few
signicant differences were found, the
ndings still have important implications
for curriculum design and instruction.
First, the American students deemed
cultural learning to be signicantly more
important than the German students, per-
haps due to differences in the role of culture
in foreign language curricula in German
and U.S. educational institutions. In
Germany, foreign languages and cultures
play a much larger role and students become
acquainted with other languages and cul-
tures both at an earlier age and throughout
their education. In contrast, in many
language classes in the United States,
instructors may incorporate culture on an
inconsistent basis, emphasize only a few
aspects of culture, or neglect the teaching of
culture because they see linguistic compe-
tence or curriculum coverage as the ultimate
learning goals (LangMelcher, 2000). Stu-
dentsbeliefs about the essential relationship
between language and culture combined
with the professions understanding of the
importance of culture in foreign language
learning calls for increased attention
toward, and class time devoted to, culture
in postsecondary education.
In addition to preferring a stronger
focus on an integrated approach of teaching
language and culture, students reported
having the greatest interest in learning about
varied topics related to daily living, a nding
that replicates an earlier study on students
cultural interests in German classes (De-
chert & Kastner, 1989). This suggests that
there has been little change in the aspects of
German culture about which students enjoy
learning most. Thus, providing students
with the opportunity to explore an array of
cultural practices, products, and perspec-
tives by means of a virtual exchange not
only addresses their interests but also
prepares them to live in a pluralistic and
multicultural society at home and, in
addition, may prepare them to more suc-
cessfully integrate into and appreciate the
culture when abroad.
While other studies have reported an
increase in studentslearning interest and
motivation because of participation in
synchronous computermediated commu-
nication (Donaldson & Kötter, 1999;
Sun, 2009), this study conrmed that
studentsmotivation remained high
throughout the 12week, primarily asyn-
chronous, exchange. The fact that students
interest in learning about the target culture
did not decrease can be regarded as a
positive effect of the exchange. A similar
result also emerged after a sixweek tele-
collaborative exchange (Schenker, 2012).
This further conrms Cohens (2005) sug-
gestion that an email partnership may be a
successful tool for motivating students to
learn more about the target language and
As instructors often have difculties
effectively incorporating culture throughout
the foreign language curriculum, a virtual
exchange of the nature outlined in this study
can offer a comprehensive, standardsbased
approach to thoroughly and methodically
integrating language and culture during
instruction. Not only does a virtual
exchange with members of the target
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 499
community give students increased oppor-
tunities for cultural learning, but it also
simultaneously offers them opportunities
for meaningful, personal, and authentic
communication as well as opportunities to
engage in crosscultural and crosslingual
comparisons and thus better understand
their own language and culture.
Perhaps of greater importance, virtual
exchanges like the one described here
provide students with opportunities to
become part of, and connect with, a learning
community that extends beyond the class-
room. It is particularly important to note
that, once relationships were established,
many students contacted their partners
outside of the context of the exchange via
Facebook and Skype, and some students met
each other facetoface during subsequent
study abroad trips. These benets highlight
the exchanges important function in help-
ing students to become lifelong learners of
language and culture. Thus, including
virtual exchanges in foreign language edu-
cation allows instructors to target almost all
of the goal areas of the National Standards
(1999) by offering opportunities for stu-
dents to:
engage in interpersonal, interpretive, and
presentational communication in a lan-
guage other than English (Standards 1.1,
1.2, and 1.3);
understand the practices, products, and
perspectives of the target culture and
compare those with ones own (Standards
2.1, 2.2 and 4.2);
connect with others and their diverse
points of view (Standard 3.1); and
participate in multilingual communities
at home and abroad (Standard 5.1).
Virtual exchanges can be incorporated
at all levels of K16 foreign language
instruction using a variety of approaches
including asynchronous email exchanges,
discussion forums and blogs, synchronous
classonclass videoconferences, textor
voicebased chat exchanges, or classon
class participation in a chat room.
Limitations and Future
Lack of a control group was a limitation in
this study. Including a control group that
does not participate in a virtual exchange
would help validate the effects of virtual
exchanges. In addition, because students
initial interest in cultural learning was very
high, measuring change was difcult. To
minimize the ceiling effect in future studies,
a more nuanced assessment of students
interest, both before and after the exchange,
should be considered. Additional open
ended questions specically targeting
studentsinterests along with a ner assess-
ment scale and oral interviews could also
provide the data necessary to triangulate the
effects of the virtual exchange on students
interest in cultural learning. Moreover, a
larger sample focusing on majors and non
majors both in different languages and at
different levels of language learning would
help answer the research questions.
After conducting a study on students
motivations for learning Spanish as a foreign
language, Ely (1986) suggested that in order
to increase studentsinterest in learning
about the target culture, various aspects of
that culture can be presented in an appro-
priately sensitive, sophisticated, informa-
tive, and attractive manner(p. 32).
Similarly, 2 of the 10 recommendations
made by Dörnyei and Csizér (1998) about
how to best motivate learners were (1) mak-
ing the language class interesting and
(2) promoting learner autonomy. The
virtual exchange conducted in this study
presents an example of how language classes
could be made more interesting and become
more fully standardsbased while also fos-
tering student autonomy through tandem e
mail partnerships. The information that
students received about German culture
through the virtual exchange may be a good
example of how culture can be presented in
an attractive way to maintain high levels of
interest and hopefully motivate learners to
500 FALL 2013
continue to study, and to nd ways to use,
the new language within and beyond their
educational experiences. Combining part-
ner emails with grouptogroup videocon-
ferences and reective blogs allowed
students not only to get to know one or
two exchange partners more closely, but
also to learn from the opinions and
experiences of the other students from
both classes. This made the exchange a
truly collaborative, crosscultural learning
experience through which all students
became members of a learning community.
The virtual exchange presented in this
article models a truly standardsbased
approach to language education that gives
students the opportunity to enhance their
understanding of German culture, improve
their language skills through authentic
openended communication as well as
guided comparative discussions, and be-
come members of crosscultural and cross
lingual communities inside and outside of
their classroom. It is an ideal project to
successfully combine the learning of lan-
guage and culture in a studentcentered
1. See Appendix for survey.
2. See Appendix for complete list of topics
and schedule of project.
3. In this article, German class refers to the
German students in Germany enrolled in
the advanced English course. U.S. class
refers to the U.S. students in the United
States enrolled in the German course.
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PA: Information Science Reference.
Submitted October 2, 2012
Accepted May 31, 2013
Survey Culture and Language Learning
(A) Please answer the following questions.
Name: ______________________________ Major: __________________________
Gender: FMAge: 1517 1820 2123 2426 2729 3032 3335
1. Why are you studying German?
2. What German classes are you taking this semester?
3. What is culture? (How would you dene culture?)
4. What skills (or knowledge) do you think you need for successfully communicating with
people from a different cultural background?
5. How do you think you can best learn a foreign language?
6. Do you think connecting language learners online can help you develop your language
skills? Explain!
7. Are you aware of differences and similarities between German and U.S. culture? (Give
some examples!)
8. What is your attitude toward (a) learning German and (b) about German culture?
502 FALL 2013
9. How would you evaluate your skills for communicating with people from a different
cultural background?
10. How would you evaluate your knowledge of German history, politics, and social norms,
and the way these have shaped German life and culture?
(B) Please indicate your agreement/disagreement with the following statements by
(1) strongly disagree (2) disagree (3) somewhat disagree (4) somewhat agree (5) agree
(6) strongly agree
You may add additional comments in the space below each statement.
1. When learning a foreign language, it
is not important to learn about the
foreign culture.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
2. I am interested in learning more
about German culture.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
3. There should be a strong focus on
culture in foreign language classes.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
4. It is important to learn about the
foreign culture when learning a
foreign language.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
5. I have no interest in gaining more
knowledge about German culture.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
6. There is no need to emphasize
culture in foreign language classes.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
7. Communicating via the Internet with
students from Germany does not
intrigue me.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
8. Using online communication with
Germans does not have an impact on
my German language skills.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
9. I can learn a lot about German
culture by talking to German
speakers online.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
10. I find no pleasure in learning about
other cultures.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 503
11. Please rate the following items by importance. (1 ¼most important; 5 ¼least important)
In my foreign language classes:
____ I am particularly interested in learning how to write better in the foreign language.
____ I am particularly interested in learning how to speak in the foreign language.
____ I am particularly interested in learning how to read in the foreign language.
____ I am particularly interest in learning how to understand (listening to) the language.
____ I am particularly interested in learning more about the culture.
PostSurvey Only:
C. Please answer the following questions! You may write as much or as little as you want.
1. What did you like about the email exchange?
2. What did you learn from the email exchange?
3. Did you encounter any problems with the email exchange? If so, what were they and how
were they resolved?
4. Do you consider yourself to be a more successful intercultural communicator because of
what you learned from the exchange? If so why? If not, why not?
5. Do you think your language skills have improved because of the email exchange? If so,
can you explain how (or in which areas)?
6. What have you learned about German culture or language, or communicating with
individuals from Germany, that you did not know before the exchange?
7. Has your attitude toward learning German, or learning about German culture, or toward
individuals from Germany changed because of your participation in the exchange? If so,
8. Did you learn anything about yourself or your own culture through the exchange? If yes,
9. Are there other topics you would have liked to discuss?
10. Do you have further comments about the email exchange, the blogs, or the
11. Below is a list of topics you discussed during the email exchange. Please rate each topic
from 1 to 5 (1 ¼enjoyable, 5 ¼enjoyable) according to your enjoyment of discussing
the topic!
11. Communicating electronically with
speakers from Germany can help me
improve my language skills.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
12. I enjoy learning about other cul-
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
13. Communicating electronically with
speakers from the target language is
not a good way to learn more about
the target culture.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
disagree agree
14. I am interested in communicating
online with students from Germany.
1 2345 6
strongly strongly
Explain: disagree agree
504 FALL 2013
a. ___ Free time
b. ___ Sports
c. ___Educational systems
d. ___ German and U.S. identity
e. ___ Multiculturalism
f. ___ Family
g. ___ Friends
h. ___ Violence
i. ___ Recent History
j. ___ Culture
Virtual Exchange Schedule and EMail Topics
Week 1
Explanation of exchange in class and selection of partners
Completion of presurveys in class
Week 2
First, informal contact between partners
Videoconference 1 (in English)
Week 3
Email topic: What do students do in their free time in Germany and the United States?
What do students like to read? Do students read the same things in school or at university
as they like to read in their free time? Do you have a favorite book?
Emails 1 and 2
Week 4
Winter break in Germany; no ofcial tasks; students should try to maintain contact
Week 5
Email topic: What is the role of sports in the United States and Germany? Do you play
any sports or are you fan of a specic sport?
Emails 3 and 4
Blog entry 1
Blog reaction 1 (write a comment on one of your classmates blogs)
Week 6
Email topic: Describe the educational system in Germany or the United States! How do
the educational systems differ? What do students study at high school and at university?
Have there been any trends or recent changes to the educational systems? What do you
think of the two educational systems?
Emails 5 and 6
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 505
Week 7
Email topic: What does it mean to be German or U.S.American? Is this a matter of
citizenship alone, or what makes a person German/American? What do you know about
the laws of immigration and naturalization in your country? What do you think about
these laws and migration in general?
Emails 7 and 8
Blog entry 2
Blog reaction 2
Week 8
Email topic: What do you think about multiculturalism? What do you think characterizes
multiculturalism? What are advantages and disadvantages of a multicultural society?
Emails 9 and 10
Spring Break in the USA
No ofcial topics; no ofcial tasks; students should try to maintain
Week 9
Email topic: What role does family play in your life? What is your family life like? What
does a typical day look like in your home? Have the roles everyone has in your family
changed over time? How important is family for the individual and for the society in
Germany and the United States?
Emails 11 and 12
Blog entry 3
Blog reaction 3
Week 10
Email topic: One topic in the novel Der Mond isst die Sterne auf is violence. Are there
instances of violence in your environment, and how do you and others deal with this? Do
you think there are instances where violence is morally justied?
Emails 13 and 14
Week 11
Email topic: What does it mean to be a good friend? What role do friends play in your
life? How do students of your age spend their time together? How important is friendship
to you?
Emails 15 and 16
Blog entry 4
Blog reaction 4
Week 12
Email topic: What role do recent historical events play in the Germany and the United
States (e.g., 9/11 or the economic crisis, the introduction of the euro)
Emails 17 and 18
506 FALL 2013
Week 13
Email topic: In your opinion, what are the greatest differences between German and U.S.
culture? Are there similarities as well? What do you think is typically German or
typically U.S.American? Do you have prejudices or stereotypes about the other culture, or
do you know any about your own that other people might have? How could you help
eliminate stereotypes and prejudices?
Emails 19 and 20
Blog entry 5
Blog reaction 5
Videoconference 2 (in German)
Week 14
Easter break in Germany
No ofcial tasks; students should try to maintain contact
Week 15
Easter break in Germany
No ofcial tasks; students should try to maintain contact
Completion of postsurveys in class
Final inclass discussion and wrapup of exchange
Foreign Language Annals VOL. 46, NO. 3 507
... This underscores the importance of approaches to language learning and teaching that prepare students to be the critically engaged citizens our global era requires. Language researchers have identified telecollaboration as a means to improve both foreign language learning and intercultural competence (Belz, 2003;Chun, 2015;Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001;Guth & Helm, 2010;Schenker, 2013). Given these benefits, O'Dowd and Lewis (2016) suggest virtual exchange "go beyond being an isolated activity pursued by practitioner researchers in the area of ...
... These findings echo results of other studies that support using telecollaboration for intercultural learning (Furstenberg et al., 2001;Levy, 2007;O'Dowd, 2007O'Dowd, , 2011O'Dowd and Lewis, 2016;Schenker 2013). Previous studies reported cultural misunderstandings often arising from asynchronous email exchanges (Levy 2007;O'Dowd & Ritter, 2006;Ware, 2005;Ware & Kramsch, 2005). ...
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This study explores using the Conversifi platform for video-based speaking activities to deepen students' intercultural learning and language skills during the Spring 2021 semester in a fully remote teaching environment. The study included 20 students in an intermediate/advanced college-level Spanish course at The College of New Jersey that focused on intercultural understanding. As part of the course students engaged in five 15-minute conversations via Conversifi with Spanish-speaking students in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Spain. The results of an anonymous survey conducted at the end of the course along with analyses of recorded conversations strongly suggest that this approach deepened students' intercultural awareness and improved their oral proficiency. The Spring 2021 survey results were compared with survey data from similar virtual exchange initiatives during four previous semesters. The comparison revealed slightly less satisfaction and learning in Spring 2021, but all of the exchanges showed positive gains in both language and intercultural learning.
... Scholars have reported on the practical implications of their research on blogging to foster linguistic competences mainly in EFL (Sun, 2010;Wu, 2012;Ince and Akdemir, 2013;Wang, 2013;Iglesias, 2014Iglesias, , 2019aIglesias, , 2019bWang, 2014;Okzan, 2015;Miao, 2017;Hronova, 2018;Spanou and Zafiri, 2019). Yet, communicative competences in other languages have also been increasingly examined, and more specifically in German (Schenker, 2013;Vlckova, 2014;Petrova, 2018), Spanish (Rovira-Collado, 2016; Mamaeva and Noskova, 2017), French (Appetito, 2018;Diez, 2020), Arabic (Kuntz, 2013), Italian (Miceli et al., 2010), Dutch, Swedish, Polish, Catalan, andIrish (Appel et al., 2012). ...
... Information and communication technologies are an everyday ingredient not only in individuals' lives, but also in high-quality university programs (Villalba and Gonzalez-Rivera, 2015;Kuimova and Zvekov, 2016;Bogdanova and Zharkova, 2018;Buyvol et al. 2018). Instructors need to develop their digital competences (Titova, 2012a(Titova, , 2012b to support their students' professional and personal growth, as well as their linguistic, cultural, and inter-cultural development effectively (Schenker, 2013;Kolesnikov and Polyakov, 2017;Uosaki et al., 2017;Bogdanova and Zharkova, 2018). A number of empirical studies in higher education institutions suggest that vlogs, i.e. video blogs (Appel et al., 2012;Harkova et al., 2018;Hronova, 2018) and blogs can be an effective means to work on writing (Sun, 2010;Wu, 2012;Ince and Akdemir, 2013;Kuimova and Zvekov, 2016), reading (Kuntz, 2013), speaking (Appel et al., 2012;Iglesias, 2014Iglesias, , 2019aIglesias, , 2019b, and to build a wider vocabulary range (Behjat, 2013). ...
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A methodological online approach for learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in a higher education context is presented in this paper. The pedagogical experience is described and examined following a mixed-methods approach based on bibliometric analysis, content analysis, and categorization. The participants were a group of undergraduate students (n=17) at CETT Barcelona School of Tourism, Hospitality and Gastronomy, from the University of Barcelona (Spain), who had to switch to virtual learning due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. They were required to work on a collaborative project arranged in four stages using a combination of two tools, namely Flipgrid and Blogger. Therefore, the underlying theoretical framework draws on previous studies on class blogging and on a document search of academic publications on these two instruments carried out across the core collection of Web of Science (WoS). At the end of their EFL course, students submitted their final portfolio questionnaires, where they expressed their satisfaction with this new approach. However, their comments also put a spotlight on a number of concerns, like anxiety deriving from digital pressure and technological difficulties.
... 51). Schenker (2013) found that American and German students after a 12-week asynchronous exchange were interested in culture, appreciated the importance of learning it, and suggested that culture should be explicitly taught in foreign language classes. Tran and Duong (2018) also saw that both students' linguistic competence and motivation increased when ICC was emphasized. ...
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p>Foreign language instructors want and need to keep up with the rapid changes in the field of foreign language teaching and learning, but sometimes have a hard time identifying which areas they should focus on (and within each area, what to do) to make their instruction in line with 21st century approaches. The present article describes 10 areas instructors should examine and reflect on (technology, culture, collaboration, interaction with native speakers, communication and grammar, materials, skills, content, motivation, and professional development) to assure they are using innovative techniques that reflect modern philosophies in the field of foreign and second language teaching. Article visualizations: </p
... En este sentido el intercambio virtual, al ser realizado con entidades extranjeras, apoya el aprendizaje y el intercambio intercultural y ofrece la oportunidad para que los estudiantes puedan formar parte de comunidades de aprendizaje virtuales (Schenker, 2013). También, siguiendo a esta autora, el intercambio virtual genera oportunidades para aprendizaje significativo por medio de comunicaciones auténticas, favoreciendo, en el caso del aprendizaje de lenguas extranjeras, una motivación para los estudiantes frente al desarrollo de competencias en la cultura y lengua destino. ...
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Resumen El intercambio virtual busca generar espacios de interacción cultural, de investigación, de idiomas, entre otras modalidades entre grupos de estudiantes y docentes ubicados en diversas localidades o países. En la educación superior se usa entre instituciones como una estrategia para el desarrollo de competencias en estudiantes, así como para la construcción de comunidades de aprendizaje. Con el fin de caracterizar las acciones de intercambio virtual para estudiantes realizadas en las instituciones adscritas al Nodo Caribe de la Red Colombiana para la Internacionalización de la Educación Superior (RCI), se realizó un estudio cuantitativo descriptivo, donde se encuestaron a las 26 instituciones miembro, de las cuales 24 realizan acciones de intercambio virtual. Resaltan las modalidades como el intercambio académico, pasantías de investigación, en empresas y esquemas de aprendizaje colaborativo en línea. Los países principales con los que se realizan estas actividades son México, Argentina y Perú. Existen desafíos para su implementación especialmente por la capacitación de docentes, seguimiento y monitoreo a estudiantes y sus resultados de aprendizaje. Es necesario contar con una buena infraestructura, conectividad y docentes capacitados en aspectos técnicos y pedagógicos para facilitar el éxito en la ejecución de estos intercambios, así como generar procedimientos institucionales que faciliten su implementación. Palabras clave: intercambio virtual, internacionalización, educación superior, innovación educativa.
Virtual exchange (VE) is an emergent but promising trend in course internationalization, which consists of using technology to interact and work with another class located in another city/country to develop digital skills and intercultural competence. After a VE project was implemented in a sports-related communication course, students reflected on their experience in a short paper or a video. This case study is a qualitative analysis of these 17 reflections. Despite some complications, students indicated they learned much about cultural differences and would be keen to repeat the VE experience.
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This bibliometric study examines the overall research trends and productivity in the field of virtual reality (VR) in higher education. Bibliometric data were retrieved from Scopus databases. The findings suggest a rising trend in terms of citations and publications showing increased interest in the VR domain have been seen during the last few decades. The year in which the most citations of this type occurred was 2009, in which 1913 citations were recorded, whereas 2019 was the most productive year, as 127 documents on this subject were published in that year. The data analysis revealed that all the top ten researchers belong to Australia. Further, the top three researchers (Gregory S., Lee, M.J.W., and Wood, D.), countries (United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia), organizations (Charles Sturt University, Queensland University of Technology, and University of New England, Australia), journals (Computers and Education, International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, and Journal of Surgical Education) and collaborations (Australia and New Zealand, United States and the United Kingdom, and Australia and the United Kingdom) belong to developed countries. Virtual reality, virtual worlds, augmented reality, e-learning, and simulations are the top keywords used in the VR domain. The thematic evolution of the keyword shows the importance of “Virtual Reality” as a keyword throughout the 27 years of its existence (1994–2020). Furthermore, the main finding of the study is the interdisciplinary nature of the VR domain, which extends from the field of computer sciences to other disciplines.
This article describes how to create virtual exchanges during times when study abroad, in its original state, cannot be accomplished, such as during the COVID pandemic. It discusses how two professors from a liberal arts institution in the US American South used two virtual exchange projects with universities in Spain and Egypt to debunk stereotypes and fight national narrow-mindedness while promoting intercultural knowledge. Focusing on recognizing our own biases through active learning classrooms, promoting twenty-first-century skills, and using digital technologies have the potential of not only rethinking stereotypes, but also combating the notion of “West as best.” Developing relationships among U.S college students and university students from the countries they are studying, in this case Spain and Egypt, with virtual exchanges help all learners to empathize, understand, and stretch their perspectives. Building empathy and expanding perspectives can be transformational and ultimately help students become more inclusive, global citizens.
As a result of globalization, World Language Education has experienced considerable changes within recent decades. With these changes, there is a need for new approaches to teaching and learning a world language, as there is a growing mismatch between language use in the real world and the approach to teaching a world language in the classroom. This chapter, then, presents a pedagogical model that was implemented in an Introduction to Second Language Acquisition course in order to adequately prepare teacher candidates for their future careers as educators in a globalized society. In particular, the model in this chapter discusses authentic experiences grounded in inquiry-based learning that provide opportunities for teacher candidates to collaboratively research current trends in the field of World Language Education and put them into practice through undergraduate research projects.
In the context of a global pandemic, techniques for remote instruction have become increasingly vital to undergraduate instruction. This essay discusses how synchronous virtual encounters can have a similar pedagogical impact as in‐person encounters by outlining specific methods of intercultural learning via Virtual Exchange Pedagogy (VEP), in which students in different locations interact with one another through structured online activities. This essay shares techniques used prior to the pandemic to connect undergraduate students in the American south to students in an urban setting in Egypt. VEP can facilitate successful intercultural learning by enabling students to share and discover the deep emotional narratives that structure their view of self and others, assisting participants to achieve empathic understanding between our students and their interlocutors, even while separated by great physical distances and never able to meet physically in person.
Within a globalized society, foreign language acquisition is essential to promote intercultural global communication. For many, the use of information communication technologies (ICTs) to teach a foreign language is the easiest way to accomplish this task. However, it is important to consider the cultural implications of foreign language e-learning, and to answer the question: Can culture effectively be transmitted through ICT? To investigate the transmission of culture through ICT, this chapter examines language codes, culture and cross-cultural challenges to communication. Afterward, two commonly used and easily accessible ICTs, the Rosetta Stone and, are evaluated for their cognitive development and cultural sensitivity. The chapter will conclude with implications and recommendations to enhance cultural awareness for teachers and students utilizing ICT for foreign language learning.
Research on culture in foreign language teaching has focused on definitional and curricular problems as well as on instances of non-adaptation to target-language cultural norms. Relatively little attention has been paid to the students' views on these matters. In this article, the definitions of culture of 212 first-, second-, and third-year German students are presented and discussed. Results show that--in the terms of the national Standards--students overall prefer "practices" and "perspectives" over "products". Students' views on the teachability of culture and its appropriate place in the foreign language classroom are also explored.
This paper presents the findings of a six-week telecollaborative project between sixteen American students enrolled in a second-semester German class at an American university and sixteen German students enrolled in an advanced English course at a high school in Germany. Students discussed various cultural topics with their partner in two e-mails per week. The study strove to reveal the American college students’ understanding of their own and of German culture, their interest in cultural learning, and possible changes therein through telecollaboration. Moreover, the study aimed at exploring if intercultural competence can be exhibited, and thus assessed, through an e-mail exchange. For that purpose, Byram’s model of intercultural competence (1997) was used for the data analysis. One e-mail exchange was used as representative of the exchange. In addition, a pre- and post-survey were administered to answer the research questions. The results of the study revealed that students became more knowledgeable about the other culture, but not about their own. The students’ interest in cultural learning did not change significantly. The case-study findings were inconclusive about the possibility of using e-mails for assessing intercultural competence, but suggest that e-mails could serve as the basis for assessment of intercultural competence if the e-mail assignments were different.