This exchange involved students majoring in Mediazione Linguistica e Culturale at the University of Padova (Italy) and first- and second year students attending a course in Cultural Studies at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). For both groups English was the foreign language of their studies, and was therefore used as a lingua franca.
Main Focus:The aims of the project were three-fold: providing students with opportunities to develop and/or manifest intercultural communicative competence through interaction with people from a different cultural, national and language background perfecting the learners’ language skills through content-based interaction in English and fostering their ‘new online literacies’ through the use of a variety of Web-based tools (e.g. wikipage, Facebook, Skype, Wallwisher, Fotobabble etc..).
Dominant form of language production:
|Online Communication Skills|
Can be replicated in many different contexts.
How long did the project last?
How was the project organized?
All the activities of the project were hosted on a dedicated wikispace called &lsquo Padova-Innsbruck 2011&rsquo , and had been developed to prompt meaningful discussion on issues related to identity, culture, representation and discrimination. Interaction between the students took place by means of weekly Skype sessions in small groups of 3 or 4, reflective posts on the wikipages, and written discussion forums set up on a private Facebook Group page.
Every week, the participants were encouraged to prepare on the topics of their next Skype meeting through prompts agreed upon by their instructors, and to leave their comments on the various issues on dedicated forums in the wikispace. After each Skype session, they were asked to write a diary entry on their personal page hosted on the wikispace so as to keep track of their intercultural encounters and feelings toward them. Besides discussing the various topics of the exchange, the students also collaborated in three groups to produce and present a final project, namely the analysis of three films which dealt with intercultural issues (" Brick Lane" , " East is East" , " Ae fond kiss" ).
|Introducing each other using audio-visual materials|
Each Skype session started with an ice-breaking activity. Then, each week different topicswere discussed. The topics followed a sort of ascending journey of several interrelated aspects linked to culture, and included: the notions of culture and identity, rules for intercultural communication, examples of intercultural misunderstanding, difference, exclusion,stereotypes anddiscrimination. Given the lingua franca setting of the exchange, most topics took on a transnational and transcultural character, in that they prompted reflection and interaction on a variety of cultures which shifted the focus away from the cultures generally associated with English, and opened up new possibilities to explore other sets of values and behaviours. This transnational/transcultural approach was fostered by the constant encouragement to look beyond one&rsquo s own personal standpoints, so as to explore a variety of local, national and global perspectives. After each Skype sessions, the students were asked to write a diary entry on the wikipage, and to continue their discussion on the forumshosted on Facebook.
How were the students assessed?
For the Austrian group the exchange was an integral part of the course in Cultural Studies: consequently, the students enrolled on that course were required to participate and were formally assessed on the relevance of their written contributions to the discussions. For the students at Padova University, on the other hand, the exchange was not a compulsory part of their language courses, nor did it imply any final evaluation. Instead, theexchange formally belonged to the spectrum of optional courses offered by the university, for which participantsare awarded three ETCS credits. Despite this difference, however, at the end of the exchange all the participants were asked to carry out a self-assessment based on Byram&rsquo s model for intercultural communicative competence (1997) so as to give evidence of episodes in which they had been able to put their intercultural skills into action: to do so, they were encouraged to re-read all their diary entries so as to refresh their memories of relevant episodes and of their feelings towards the experience.
What worked well?
The Skype sessions in particular were welcomed with great enthusiasm, willingness to participate and eagerness to learn from others.
What did students think of the project?
" I think that this is one of the most useful and interesting activity I’ ve done since I started the University. I’ ve understood what intercultural communication means and I could improved my spoken interaction ability&rdquo (Padova student)
" Finally an opportunity to use English in an international context. I really liked it." (Innsbruck student)
" …we dealt every week with very interesting topics. I also found very funny and nice all the activities, videos, texts and so on that we had to prepare at home before the skype section. Very useful!&rdquo (Padova student)
" I liked to talk to my peers and to get to know them better and better. There was a good structure and so there was always something to talk about and it didn’ t get boring. I found the atmosphere quite good…like sitting in a café and having a talk" (Innsbruck student)
" I liked the weekly topics very much, because they forced us to think and reflect on things, but also to express our feelings and opinions trying to be clear and efficient in our explanations. I also liked the fact that every media (videos, texts, comic strips) were used to introduce us into the various topics." (Innsbruck student)
Overall, the use of English in a lingua franca context was also positively commented on, in that it helped the studentsfeel supported and understood by their partners. The studentsappreciated the idea ofcollaborating with other non-native speakers, whoshared &ldquo the same troubles and problems&rdquo with the language, and with whom they could negotiate language forms and meanings.
What challenges did you face?
Different institutional scenarios within which the project was embedded (compulsory and integral part of a Cultural Studies courseVS non-compulsory and not linked to any course): this implied different levels of workload,something thatseems to have had an impact on the level ofparticipation in the written activities of the exchange.
What did the teachers think of the project?
What kind of institutional support did you receive?