This paper reports on the pairing of Spanish-speaking in-service teachers and Turkish-speaking pre-service teachers in a telecollaborative intercultural project in which English was used as a lingua franca. The authors of this paper were the course leaders. Participants' discourses were examined to understand how they communicated their cultures and whether they thought they had gained any cultural understanding from their interchanges. These data came from three sources:
- The exchanges on the online cultural rooms in the discussion board area,
- The students' final reports, and
- The course usage statistics.
As a challenge to O'Dowd's (2003) claim that such interchanges can end up as meaningless and superficial exercises, we demonstrate that they encourage people from different cultural backgrounds to develop and further their understanding of other cultures via such exchanges.
This paper reports on a practitioner ethnographic study on the building of intercultural awareness between two groups of adult university students, one in Mexico and one in Turkey . The participants in Mexico were in-service English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers, and the participants in Turkey were pre-service EFL teachers. The course and our investigation were not directly related to English language learning. English was used as a lingua franca (Jenkins, 2005). Students from two languages other than English used English as the language of communication to build understanding of each others' cultures.
The pairing of two groups, without either being from an English-speaking country, seems to be rare in the literature of intercultural learning and telecollaboration. A review of the literature reveals that a majority of research articles in this area report on studies between an English-speaking country and a non-English-speaking country (Spanish-English: O'Dowd, 2003; German-English: Belz, 2002, M&uumul;ller-Hartmann, 2000, K&oumul;tter, 2003; Turkish-English: Sakar, 2001; Japanese-English: Gray & Stockwell, 1998; Belisle, 1996: Finnish-English: Tella & Mononen-Aaltonen, 1998, to mention just a few).
In addition, most of the studies
cited above have to do with foreign language learning. Our inquiry
was focused on culture and intercultural communication. We formulated
two research questions to guide our exploration of the communication
and building of cultural understanding between these two groups:
We see our work as falling
within three domains: Computer-mediated communication (CMC), intercultural
communication, and intercultural communication through telecollaboration.
As Erlich, Erlich-Phillip,
and Gal-Ezer (2005) have summarized, to this date there have been many
studies looking at the various aspects of CMC. Erlich et al. (2005)
list numerous studies in this area, among the latest being Bork (2001);
Hathorn and Ingram (2002); Hirumi (2002); Muirhead and Juwah (2004);
Pahl (2003), and Rovai (2002). They also list studies that examine
CMC in regard to its effectiveness in teaching and learning. They
note that most research on CMC in higher education indicates that it
is an effective medium for teaching and learning. The most recent
studies in this area that they cite are Nachmias, Mioduser, Oren and
Ram, (2000); Pena-Shaff and Nicholls, (2004); Selim, (2003); and Tolmie
and Boyle, (2000).
Belz (2002) states that much
of the literature on CMC focuses on issues related to pedagogy and course
design of CMC programs. The most recent article of this nature
that she cites is Warschauer and Kern (2000). Through Chapelle
(2000), Belz establishes that to date, there have not been many studies
examining social or cultural factors of students participating CMC or
CALL, thus indicating a need for more studies looking at these particular
In this study, asynchronous
computer-mediated exchanges taking place on bulletin board discussions
between these two cultural groups are analyzed in the light of the model
of intercultural communication (IC) developed by Bennett (1998). To
the best knowledge of the researchers, there are also other intercultural
frameworks developed by experts in the fields of anthropology, sociology
and sociolinguistics to understand how people interact in intercultural
communication situations (e.g., Brislin & Yoshida, 1994; Scollon
& Scollon, 2001; Spencer-Oatey & Jiang, 2003). For the purposes
of this study, we chose Bennett's (1998) description of IC which gives
description of the behavior of different cultures from different cultural
backgrounds via examples from North America, Asia, Europe and Africa.
Bennett (1998) describes the
concept of IC in a comparative perspective. First he defines the concept
of "monocultural communication" as interaction that takes place
between people from similar cultural backgrounds. He further points
Common language, behavior patterns, and values form the base upon which members of a culture exchange meaning with one another in conducting their daily affairs. These similarities generally allow people to predict the responses of others to certain kinds of messages and to take for granted some basic shared assumptions about the nature of reality. (1998, pp. 2-3)
In monocultural communication difference is an indication of potential miscommunication, and is therefore not encouraged in the society. However, in IC difference is the basis of communication. People from different cultural backgrounds with different languages, different behavior patterns and values intermingle. As Bennett states:
[C]ultures embody such variety in patterns of perception and behavior, approaches to communication in cross-cultural situations guard against inappropriate assumptions of similarity and encourage the consideration of difference. (1998, p. 3)
Therefore, the difference is
the base of IC. Even though there can be individuals who share similar
beliefs with those from other cultures, the basis of IC is finding out
the differences between two or more dissimilar cultures. In this
study, we focus on how (or if) participants share their ideas and explore
their differences in relation to their cultural backgrounds on asynchronous
In her article on social dimensions of telecollaboration, Belz considers CALL from several perspectives. In a German-English telecollaborative project, she considers the "socially and institutionally contingent features of language valuation, computer know-how, Internet access, and learning accreditation and the micro-level features of situated classroom interaction and individual psycho-biography" (2002, p. 60).
In the same article, she defines telecollaboration. According to Kinginger, Gourves-Hayward, and Simpson, and Warschauer (as cited in Belz, 2002), telecollaboration is the use of worldwide computer networks between remotely located pairs or groups of participants. The advantages of using telecollaboration in building cultural and social understanding are obvious. However, Belz (2002) notes that those elements are underrepresented in CMC and CALL research literature. Although her research seeks to fill that gap, the focus is on language learning environments.
Similarly, O'Dowd (2003) establishes that there is a gap in the literature on building cultural understanding from CMC. He observes that there is little literature on whether online IC develops a learner's understanding of other cultures. He concedes, however, that the issue is beginning to be addressed in various studies (Belz, 2002; Belz & Kinginger, 2002; Kramsch & Thorne, 2002 ).
In a study investigating the effects of IC on building cultural awareness among people from different cultural backgrounds through e-mail exchanges, O'Dowd (2003) found that intercultural learning had taken place among the participants. He concludes that the factors responsible were the presence of a "receptive audience," the examination of cultures through others' eyes, and the understanding of the "products and practices" of the other culture (O'Dowd, 2003, p. 138). Although the present study differs from O'Dowd's, through an examination of various discourses, we find an indication of building of cultural understanding.
In this study, Richards' (2003) framework for qualitative data analysis is adapted.
The Mexican participants in this study were 18 in-service EFL teachers (17 female, 1 male) finishing their bachelor's degrees in teaching English at a private university. Their ages ranged from 63 to 23. Their level of computer literacy was either beginner or intermediate, and their online communication skills were mainly text-based, ranging from exchanging e-mail messages to using chat rooms on the Internet.
The Turkish participants were junior-year undergraduate students (11
female, 4 male) studying in the department of Foreign Language Education
at a state university. Initially, there were 25 students who registered
in the online portion of their course. Fifteen of them actively participated
in the discussion rooms. Their ages ranged from 21 to 28.The
Turkish students participated in the project voluntarily; this project
was an optional requirement of the course offered on the Turkish side
of the study. The title of the course was 'Sociolinguistics
and Education.' Cross-cultural/intercultural communication was a subcomponent.
(It was not designed the same way as the course in the Mexican site.)
The courses at both sites are explained in more detail below.
In the Mexican context, the course related to this project was based on the course described by Straub (1999), using the text Communication and Cultural Transformation (Dahl, 2000). Straub's intercultural course involves two parts: the first looks at the home culture, and the second, after participants become aware of their own cultural features, involves intercultural exchanges.
The first part of the course helps students acquire the language they
will need to talk about their cultures. The course "raises the
participants' awareness" of their own "culture" by examining
and talking about their culture (1999, Part One: Home Culture).
Following the course, the Mexican participants analyzed five components
their home culture: a definition of "culture," a definition of "human
needs," a definition of "human behaviors," the concept of "friendship,"
and Mexican cultural symbols and rituals (1999, Part One: Home Culture).
For the first part of the course,
Straub proposes twenty hours. However, due to time restrictions,
the Mexican participants only had ten hours during two weeks to cover
the material in the face-to-face component of the course. The
first part was conducted in five one-hour sessions, during the first
week of the term that is referred as the intensive week . Because
of the maturity of the participants and small size of the class, this
part of the course was designed to be workshop sessions. Participants
worked in groups of three or four to generate ideas about the areas
in their own culture and then reported their opinions.
During the second week, students
were assigned readings from Dahl's book, which was made available
on an online course site. Five one-hour sessions were used to
discuss and define the six chapters of the book. The sessions
were conducted in an informal discussion format.
Once students were aware of
these cultural features in their culture, we moved to another culture,
the online part of the course. Participants for this part were
recruited through messages sent to the online groups TESLCA-L and Webheads
in Action. Responses were received from several people, including one
from Turkey, which was selected for this project.
The Blackboard course management system (CMS) licensed to the university in Mexico was used. On the site, the discussion area was divided into seventeen "culture rooms." These rooms were modified from a list of cultural values identified on the AskAsia Web site (http://AskAsia.org). The values are "commonly used to sensitize study groups going abroad" (AskAsia, n.d., Introduction). As an introduction to the areas, Mexican participants were asked initially to comment on and discuss in a class session these cultural values in their cultures.
The seventeen rooms were:
On the Turkish side of the project, the participants joined via "Fled 312 - Sociolinguistics and Education" (Fled 312), offered by a state university in Turkey. Fled 312 offered a general introduction to sociolinguistics. One of the subcomponents of the course covers IC as stated in the course syllabus (see Appendix D). Since it was one subcomponent, the Turkish participants were given the option of joining the study.
Another restriction on the Turkish side was the participants only joined the discussion rooms portion of the course on the Mexican site. The instructor let the students participate in the discussion rooms portion of the Mexican course as extra credit. In addition to voluntarily joining the discussion rooms, the instructor asked the students to write a final report on their impressions of the outcome of their discussions with their Mexican counterparts after the course was over.
Three different data sources were used:
For the final analysis, data from eight rooms that had interchanges from both groups - Dress Codes and Taboos, Eating and Food Customs, Children, Languages, National Heroes, Religion and Beliefs, TV and Entertainment, and Life Stages and Rituals - were examined.
The analysis entailed downloading the discussions from the Blackboard site to a word processing program, and then copying and pasting individual posts to files related to each room. Within the files, individual posts were put into three-column tables, and then numbered and labeled for the origin of the speaker. The coding of a post as belonging to category A, B, or C (explained below in Results), or any combination of those, was noted in the far right column. This arrangement made it easy to count features of the individual rooms (See Appendix A for a sample room coding). The posts were analyzed according to Richards' (2003) framework of qualitative data analysis.
Mexican participants were asked to write final room reports to summarize the discussions. Each student was assigned a room and was responsible for reporting on the discussion in that room. Eleven of the seventeen students completed their reports.
Fifteen Turkish participants contributed to the discussions. Eleven turned in their final reports. Final reports of the Turkish participants comprised opinions on their experience in these discussion rooms, including what they found interesting and surprising about other cultures. One main feature of the self-reports was to gain insights into the opinions about the nature of the Blackboard discussions.
Blackboard allows instructors to access certain statistical information related to course usage. In this study, statistics such as total access per area (communication, main content areas, group areas, student areas), number of accesses over time, accesses per hour of the day, accesses per day of the week, and total accesses per user were analyzed. The Blackboard course statistics were a data source that revealed additional useful information (see Appendix C for the course syllabus from the Mexican site).
The research questions that
guide this inquiry are: 1) What are the characteristics of discourse
that typify the intercultural communication of Mexican in-service and
Turkish pre-service English teachers? And 2) Do the data sources indicate
any perception on the part of the participants of an increase of cultural
awareness as a result of the course? The following presents examples
of the data in relation to the research questions from the three data
sources previously discussed.
1) Discussion Rooms
From the discussion rooms, which are the main sources for the possible answers to our research questions, we identified three categories of discourse (A, B, and C) related to the IC of these two groups:
Well, families are also becoming smaller in Mexico, so that is the tendency here too: only childs are also very spoiled.
In reference to classroom size, there are private schools that don't allow more than 20-25 students per class, others do have 40. In public schools 40 is the general number too and teachers are very strict as well.
generally in Turkey there is not strict dressing taboos but there are some exeptions too. especilly in my region, which is situated in the west part of Turkey, people do not care much about what you wear. especillay in my city, Tekirdag which situates in Marmara Sea coast, you can wear whatever you want. people do not look at you. this is may be because of the fact that it is a caost city and a lot of tourist come there for holiday. but in the east part this is not the case I think. they are a little more conservative especially in realted to the girls' clothes. but if you are a foreigner from the other parts of Turkey of abroad, nobody say anything about your clothes and it is throught that it is your culture and you can do the things that your culture permits.this is especillay true for ruarl areas.
I think that in almost all the places, people don't say anything about how tourist wear, but how do people in your country wear everyday?, do you have specific outfits for special occasions? do people in rural places wear "differently" than people in urban?
Subject: Re: dressing
Pxxxx: we try to obey the innovations that great Atatürk has done related to clothing.
Ixxxx: What are these innovations?, Who is "great Atatürk"? could you tell me more please?
I really don't know much about muslims and would like to ask you a few questions:
What is the purpose of Ramadan and your fasting?
What is the story behind Allah?
What do you basically believe in?
We -catholics- also have a fasting time during Easter, when we remember Christ's passion, because he also did the same. He went to a mount ( Sinaì in Spanish) to pray and fast for 40 days before he died.
This is not a must for us to do, but if we want, we don't eat anything until 2 pm (dinner time), and every friday we are not supposed to eat meat. The Catholic church says that we don't have to do do it, but it is good to make a sacrifice during this period.
Look forward to your reply,
Subject: Re: Religion in Mexico
I'm surprised with this comment, where are those testigos de Jeovà children from? Religion and Civic duties are two different things!!!
Subject: Re: Foods in Atlantic Canada
Ixxxx: guau!, I think that "chiapanese" culture is full of "comfort food" because here, EVERYTHING, goes around the food!
Subject: Re: Food in Puebla.
Those Tamales de Cambray sound delicious, I'll have to remember to try them when I visit Chiapas.
Table 1 presents selected discussion rooms , showing the total number of posts for each room, the number of Mexican and Turkish posts, and the number of each post for each of the three categories (see Appendix A for a coding example for one of the rooms).
Table 1. Results from
|Dress Codes and Taboos Room||35||30||5||28||4||21|
|Eating and Food Customs Room||37||30||7||32||4||25|
|Life Stages Rituals Room||12||11||1||9||2||6|
|National Heroes Room||11||7||4||9||1||1|
|Religion and Beliefs Room||14||12||2||12||3||9|
|TV and Entertainment Room||16||15||1||14||0||13|
|PERCENTAGES (in relation to total posts)||85.5||14.5||79.7||11.0||65.1|
The first notable feature is the difference in participation between the Mexican and Turkish participants. The Mexican students posted the majority of messages (85.5%). There are several possible reasons for this. One is that the course for the Mexican students was designed around the concept of IC, with the discussion areas being a main feature of the course. For the Turkish students, participation was a secondary and voluntary part of a larger course on sociolinguistics. Additionally, the Mexican students were online and communicating with each other approximately two weeks before the Turkish students joined them. A possible third reason is that the Mexican participants had been in classes with each other before and knew each other fairly well. As a result, they felt perhaps less inhibited talking to each other.
The language categories showed several interesting numbers. Many of the posts showed features of more than one category. Most of the posts exemplified the type-A category (79.7%). It is reasonable that the A category would characterize majority of the posts, since the intention of the cultural rooms was to share cultural information.
The type-C category was the second most common post (65.1%). Type-B posts represented 11% of the total. There were 137 type-A posts and 131 type-B/C posts. The type-B/C posts exemplify a communicative purpose of attempting to engage another person in conversation and showing interest to encourage participation, asking questions to promote communication, and creating feelings of goodwill. The type-A posts might also have the same intention, but this feature seems clear in the B/C posts.
The discussion board posts demonstrate sharing of cultural features, a desire to extract more information from other participants and engage them in conversations, and features of demonstrating interest, expressions of personal opinion, and an overall willingness to share elements of the participants' cultures. Through these language elements, they built a sort of cultural understanding even if it may have been at a polite level and, as some might argue, a superficial level (see Conclusions).
Final Room Reports
The final reports of students
also present this same attitude as found in the discussion boards.
On the Mexican site, students were each assigned a room on which to
report. (They were given a model for writing their reports).
The reports were to be in the form of an essay with an introduction
and conclusion. The report needed to mention the number of messages,
who they were from, and in general, what was discussed and any interesting
things the writer learned (see Appendix B).
Students generally followed the model, but some deviated into discussions of customs in other parts of the world. We found this in final papers from both groups. Students were encouraged to email other participants and ask for more information. A few did this.
The following examples summarize the characteristics found in the papers which helped in answering the research questions:
From the Introductions Room
All of the room reports had a kind of summary of usage:
Most of these posts had to do with personal information about the participants. They usually focused on age, studies, and reasons and interests for participating in the course. The posts also expressed excitement about being able to share their culture as well as learn about new cultures. Some of the participants from Turkey sent beautiful pictures of their country in attachments to their posts. Those particularly helped us to "see" the country and get an idea of what it's like.
The author of this room report identified five areas of discussion: Segregation of children, different ways to express love, raising children, number of children in a family, and discipline and education. Within those subheadings, the author summarized what was said but did not identify the cultural origin of the information. Various comments in the report indicate that the exchanges were informative to some degree:
(Introduction) Everyone shared their very personal opinion about the topic, which by the way was very interesting. Cultures can be different in many aspects but sometimes as parents or adults as well, no matter where we come from we do the same things in relation to children
(Children segregation) Children who don't belong to a certain social-economic class, who may look different because of skin color or race or don't practice the same religion can be segregated by peers or even by adults (i.e. teachers). Many times children are not allowed to go to certain places like elegant weddings for instance. But in rural communities you can see children running all over.
(Conclusion) Every comment was very important and gave us a wide point of view from each culture. Certainly parenthood is not an easy job and educating children in order to become respectful and responsible adults is a hard task and no matter our culture.
The author of this room report
found that there was not enough material to write about:
Although the room refers to taboos also, generally the comments were about dressing codes so, in order to find out more information about taboos from different countries, I had to do some research about them.
The report shows items from the discussion board as well as information she got from other sources. In the example below she combines information from both sources. Chiapas was discussed in the rooms but Afghanistan was not:
Also in Chiapas, many mothers do
not feed their little boys with eggs from hens which were fed food with
processed products added with hormones because they think that boys
will become homosexuals.
In Afghanistan homosexuality and pedophilia are forbidden by the Koran, so they represent a big taboo (the source of this information was not cited).
The following customs about young people and body piercing was discussed in the boards:
[H]owever, piercing and tattoos have become a fashion among young men and women in all around the world (especially in urban areas) and most of them are piercing or tattooing many body parts as their belly-buttons, noses, tongues and eyebrows with the society's permission as it is happening in many cities of Mexico and Turkey . . . .
In Turkey especially in rural areas the situation is the same. It is still not good to wear mini skirts or shorts but in cities people wear what they want. People in Turkey are free what to wear except extreme things. They try to obey the innovations that great Atat&uumul;rk has done related to clothing.
The last comment about Atat&uumul;rk was information received as a result of asking for more information from the Turkish students. The final comment indicated, though, that the author's questions were not always answered. However, overall the experience was a positive one:
All the participants in this room,
were very sincere to expressed their opinions and it was very helpful
to learn about the different ideas and taboos that all of us have, However,
I just received comments from the foreigners about the dressing codes
and even when I did some directly questions about another kinds of taboos,
they never answered me.
I think that it would be very interesting to know their opinions about the other taboos, either.
Finally, I think that it was a great experience because I not only learnt about dressing and taboos but I also learnt about my classmates ideas, and it makes me feel closer to them.
From the Languages Room
One student commented only
on things learned from contributing to the room. This student
might not have learned anything from the discussions, but did learn
about his/her culture through the experience of having to report something
to the others:
The language room generated 18 entries. There were participants from China, Canada, The U.S. and Mexico. Everyone participated enthusiastically and I think we all learned a lot. Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas in this room.
I was aware that India was rich in languages but I did not know Mexico was almost as rich in the number of languages, some of them only have a few speakers left, I hope something is being done to preserve those languages. It was also intriguing to find that there are some similarities between some words of Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and ancient Egyptian.
The writer of this report commented on rituals familiar to people in Mexico but which were discussed in the room:
Then talking about an important
stage is when children are not longer kids but they become teenagers
(little adults) . . . and we will focus on the celebration that Mexicans
have and it is called the XV birthday party.
It is very interesting if we go back and we analyze when this celebration began, it was first celebrated in the early 19th century and it began because young women were introduced to the society and people thought this was the perfect age to get married; nowadays it is celebrated to show everyone that the quinceañera is not a child anymore . . . .
This author had to do further research to talk about Turkish wedding and funeral customs because they were not discussed at the level of detail included in the final report:
In contrast, Muslim wedding traditions
maintain some similarities based on faith. However, there are also colorful,
cultural variations from place to place. The various wedding traditions
reflect the diversity of the Muslim world and we will focus on Turkey.
Weddings vary with social standing, with the social distance between
the parties, and with area . . . .
To finish with let's talk about
funerals . . . I know this can be something nobody wants to deal with,
but this is part of life!!!. In Turkey as in Mexico there are some things
which are partially related, but there are other things that are totally
In Turkey all relatives are expected
to be there the same as in Mexico, Turkish people also pray the difference
is that the "hodja" (person who prays) is the only one who does
it, everyone else is just listening, however in Mexico one person is
in charge of saying the Rosary and then everybody else prays or repeats
Talking about what is done after the burying-stage, in Mexico; people gather the next nine days and pray sometimes once or twice a day, however; in Turkey they gather 7 days after the burial and also pray. In this case everything is focused on the religion and people do what they consider is the best thing to do to save the soul of the dead person.
Turkish students were given the option of writing a report for extra credit. All of the reports expressed positive reactions and a heightening of cultural awareness. (The question remains as to how much of that happened to be genuine expression and how much was written trying to please the teacher. Probably it is a combination of both.)
We've identified seven categories into which most of the data from the papers fall. They follow with excerpts:
1) All of the writers expressed
how much they liked the experience:
Overall, I want to indicate again
that, I am very glad to participate in such kind of a project and I
am planning to continue to write this site during the summer or may
be until the project is finished. We are having a good exchange and
it is beneficial that I am learning about the other cultures . . . .
I was happy that this discussion
board gave me a chance to explain the style of our dressing and I tried
to change their views about us. By this way, I tried to explain ourselves
and correct the wrongly known things in their minds . . . .
As many other people in this course, I enjoyed the little experience of other cultures via a link on the website of Xxxxxxxx University in Puebla . . . .
Moreover, it was a great pleasure for me to have contact with the people from Mexico and other foreign countries. To learn about their ways of life is a precious experience for me, as it sounds me fascinating to talk about other ways of life throughout the world . . . .
First of all, it is nearly perfect to establish contact with others from all over the world by the aid of just a link on this side. This link enabled us to communicate with a number of people in varying ages from twenty to forty. It, as the course name suggests, encompasses a comprehensive deal of intercultural communication, namely "communicacion interculturel" in Mexican Spanish . . . .
2) One of the interesting comments from a couple of the writers was about the discussion boards and their practice as teachers:
Visiting the discussion board and
reading people's opinion about topics such as greeting, custom, norms,
values and behaviors have made me more conscious about the cultural
differences. In other words, thanks to the discussions I have read and
participated, I have become more knowledgeable about the cultural similarities
and differences. Besides, I have made use of what I have learned in
these discussions by giving cross-cultural examples in my courses . . . .
As a result, knowing these particular differences and similarities is very crucial especially for us as prospective teachers who live in the age of "global village" because we are always surrounded with different cultures and various languages in our life.
3) Some comments were related to how the discussion boards were useful
for the participants as learners:
In my opinion, the discussion board is very useful, especially for those who are interested in different cultures. In this semester, after I was introduced with this discussion board, I have felt that the Psychology 242 course and Fled 312 course that I have taken, has become more efficient, meaningful and interesting for me . . . .
In general, this on-line discussion board was not only enjoyable but also pretty informative. In fact it can be utilized as a database for sociolinguistic researches since you can find many cultural specifics that you cannot come across in books. I think it helped us a lot broaden our horizons by gaining new perspectives and develop a sense of intercultural understanding . . . .
Secondly, it was a real fun for me to participate this discussion board. That is, I really enjoyed learning about different cultures which have different values, norms, ideas, perspectives. Within a limited time, I can say that I have learned different things. For example, I have learned that "Teachers' Day" in abroad is 22nd of May. But in Turkey, it was 29th November. It was really enjoyable to learn such cultural differences as well as cultural similarities . . . .
In this respect, I believe that the international communication through the discussion board contributed to me a lot in terms of understanding how perception, cultural patterns of thinking and behavior, styles of communication, assumptions and values change from one culture to another and how all these things can affect their social behaviour . . . .
This valuable opportunity have enabled me to see the views of people from different cultures about some specific areas such as child rearing, taboos, family rituals, religion, greetings, and so on. For example, in terms of child rearing, I have realized that in general, all cultures are aware of the fact that it is very important how you treat and train children . . . .
Regarding greetings, people in all cultures find greetings as an initial stage of establishing a close relationship with another people. However, I think that this also one of the most critical areas which may easily cause misunderstandings. For instance, greetings in collectivist cultures tend to be more extended, sometimes talking as much as twenty minutes, than in individualistic cultures . . . .
Again it was a common tradition in India that on the first day of marriage wives wash their husbands' feet and drink those water which symbolizes the respect for mascunality. (Happily we are not as masculine as Indians.) . . . .
5) Some students expressed how it felt to talk about their own culture:
Third, I enjoyed sharing ideas related to my own cultures with people who come from different cultures. That is, people in the discussion board are very sensitive and answer your e-mail immediately by stating different or similar opinions about their cultures. For example, I sent our school photos and my hometown's, Ordu's, pictures to the discussions board. I also talked about our traditions in Ordu. Within a few days, I noticed that people sent me e-mail. They mentioned that they liked the pictures and they would like to come to Turkey. It was really a great pleasure for me to introduce my country, its costumes and traditions to different people from different parts of the world . . . .
To reveal something from your own way of life somehow makes you proud of your unique lifestyle in your own culture. Likewise, to hear about other cultures on the world arouses great curiosity to learn about other people's ways of life throughout the world . . . .
Reading about other cultures helped me to become more conscious about my own culture as well. I made comparisons with my own and other cultures which helped me to discover secrets of my culture . . . .
Later, one of the participants
in this room had asked me about piercing in Turkey and she was like
a little surprised. I think she was become more surprised when I wrote
her that yes it is acceptable in Turkey and I even think about piercing
my nose and I have already have 7 earrings in my both ears . . . .
6) Another feature we see in
the Turkish students' reports is a noticing of similarities rather
In general, I have seen the fact that our ways of life (esp. in terms of beliefs, views and use of language codes, varieties) are so similar to each other. I mean, for instance, in the issue of family and children rearing, most of the people on the site said, "Yeah, your way of family and child rearing is somehow very similar to ours." In this issue, at a time, I mentioned our nuclear and extended family types in rural areas of Turkey. Then, most of them agreed on these issues, and they said that they could understand the case in Turkey since it was the same case in some other parts of the world, esp. in Mexico. Therefore, it was a great pleasure to see other people on this earth who have similar ways of life . . . .
7 ) Although we did not have participants from France, Holland or Spain, students talked about what they knew of greeting customs in those cultures:
For instance, it was very interesting to learn that in some parts of France, in order to greet someone, one kisses the other for four times. In some parts of Spain, some people kiss on the lips even with ones they don't know. I used to think that there are not so many countries as Turkey where two men kiss each other on their cheeks while greeting. However, I've learned that it is also an appropriate behaviour in Holland between close friends . . . .
In the discussion board for drinking habits, I wrote about our "meyhane". I used to think that such places can only belong to our culture where men drink with their male friends and women do not go at all. Yet, through a response to what I wrote, I leant that in Mexico there are also such places called "cantina" where women are not allowed at all. Besides, I really wondered traditional holidays of Chinese and Mexicans, and I felt the holiday board was established just to answer my questions . . . .
It is not appropriate for a woman to get drunk, it is the same with the men yet women have to be careful while drinking. This is the idea getting common in our society. Woman can drink with their female and male friends (it is for sure that sounds much more accepted . . . ) in public places like pubs (bar) . . . .
In the national heroes room, I realized that the national heroes for every culture are depicted with awe and love . . . .
There were no negative comments except for the following. This student was offended by something said in one of the discussion rooms:
In the room titled as "eating habits" one of the participants talked about her Tanzanian friend. Her friend invites her for dinner but when she goes there she finds out that they eat with their hands. She and some other participants stated that this is very disgusting because hands are dirty. Although I am not a Tanzanian I got offended by their way of talking about other cultures. Eating with hands is what they are accustomed to; it is a part of their culture. What they did was not respectful toward Tanzanian culture . . . .
Overall, the language in the papers expressed similar reactions to the discussion boards. Writers from both groups said that they liked the experience and that they thought it valuable. All gave specific examples of things they had learned about the other culture. Many expressed how it made them feel to share features of their cultures with others, and many said that they learned things about their own cultures from talking about them or from reading posts of other members of their groups. As in the case of the Turkish reports, some of the writers related their experience to their professions as teachers and as an aid to understanding some of their courses as students. Several of the Turkish students were impressed with the similarities between the cultures as opposed to the differences.
Fifty-seven percent of the
areas accessed were in the communication areas. The other areas
accessed were the main content areas where the syllabus, course instructions,
course materials, and course text were located. The participants
in Mexico were responsible for the majority of the site accesses. They
had reasons to access areas other than the communication areas.
Fridays and Saturdays had the most participation; although there were
no days in the week when people didn't participate. Mondays were the
days of least activity. The most common time of day was in the
early afternoon, although there were accesses in a variety of times
probably due to the differences in time between Mexico and Turkey.
The numbers of times read for each post averaged 14.
The usage statistics show that in the asynchronous environment, participants took advantage of the flexibility of this medium by accessing the course in a variety of times and days according to their time constraints. And, most importantly, it shows that they were expending the effort to read a large quantity of posts.
Only one student mentioned being offended by a post. Other than that, the course seemed to be received by all the participants positively. Students seem to show that they achieved some kind of cultural understanding through the course and the discussion. One issue in the literature on CMC, IC, and telecollaboration, however, raises questions about such courses.
O'Dowd (2003) questions whether online IC leads to an understanding
of other cultures. He cites research indicating that this type
of interchange does not automatically lead to cultural understanding
(Allport; Coleman; Fischer; and Richter, cited in O'Dowd, 2003).
More recent literature, he states, has shown more support for building
cultural understanding through this communication medium (Furstenberg,
Levet, English, & Maillet; Tella; and von der Emde, Schnieder, &
K&oumul;tter, as cited in O'Dowd, 2003). But he comments that e-mail
exchanges, "often result in little more than superficial pen-pal projects
where information is exchanged without reflection and where students
are rarely challenged to reflect on their own culture or their stereotypical
views of the target culture" (O'Dowd, 2003, p. 121). To prevent
this, he suggests that these types of interactions should be fully "integrated
into the classroom" instruction that would involve students' reflection
and analysis of what was happening in their online exchanges (O'Dowd,
2003, p. 121, citing M&uumul;eller-Hartmann, 2000).
One might argue that the conversations and interchanges of ideas in our study never moved beyond a sort of superficial level, and that real cultural learning cannot be achieved on that level. However, there might be a case for building a degree of understanding based on superficiality. Perhaps the most important result of this course was that no ill will was created as a result of the interchanges. In fact, it seems, based on the students' comments, a lot of good will towards the other cultures was generated and some cultural understanding was generated. In the time that we had together, we conclude that this is a positive and sufficient outcome for this course.
Areas for Further Research
New ideas emerged as a result of our collaboration, analyses, and discussions. We hope in a future study to give a country/cultural pre-test to the participants to see how much knowledge each others' countries they have at the beginning of the course. We would also like to establish how much the participants know about culture and intercultural communication. At the end of the course, we would give a post-test to establish whether cultural understanding or knowledge was affected.
We would also like to conduct some pre-contact exercises, such as having the participants imagine that they were a person from the other culture in their country for the first time. How would the country and the culture look through their eyes? We would like to see if this exercise would affect discussions: Would the participants ask different questions? Would the exercise involve looking for more information about the other participants' countries or cultures before the online discussions start, and would that change the type of language in the discussion boards? Would the "B" category be more common than the "A" category?
We would also like to work with groups that were more similar in age and educational level. The students in Mexico were adults who had been teachers for many years (except for two that were in their early 20s). The students in Turkey were almost all in their early 20s and either beginning teachers or pre-service teachers. Under these conditions, would the participants achieve a more conversational level of interaction? Would the language be negatively affected? Was there an artificial level of politeness because of the differences in age and experiences of the participants? If the students were closer in age, would they be more candid with the information that they were sharing? Or would it make no difference? We feel that continuing with this inquiry is valuable because of the lack of literature on IC through telecollaboration between non-English speaking groups who are using English only as a lingua franca.
 Kramsch and Thorne's (2002) chapter is more on the effectiveness of learning in general through online interaction rather than specifically being about building cultural understanding from CMC.
 The program in Mexico was specifically designed for in-service teachers studying an undergraduate degree in teaching English as a foreign language. The courses are a combination of face-to-face sessions and distance sessions using Blackboard, with the distance component sandwiched between the two-week face-to-face sessions, one at the beginning and one at the end of the instructional period.
 Some of these may or may not have had a bookish or impersonal kind of tone. We decided not to make it a separate category because it is a feature that is hard to define. It is a kind of language that does not sound conversational and may be the result of unfamiliarity with the medium, a social formality that might change with time in a group, or lack of conversational ability in English. More research is needed with this feature.
 Eight of the 17 rooms were analyzed. They were chosen because they had both Mexican and Turkish participants.
Nancy Keranen holds an MA-TESOL
from Seattle Pacific University. She is an associate professor
at the Benemérita Universidad Autonòma de Puebla, Mexico. Her research
is on expertise and teacher professional development.
Yasemin Bayyurt is an assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Language Education, Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey. Her research interests are in language use and gender. She holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University.
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