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The Cultura model: key methodological and pedagogical features Gilberte Furstenberg Senior Lecturer Emerita Foreign Languages and Literatures M.I.T. ----

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Presentation on theme: "The Cultura model: key methodological and pedagogical features Gilberte Furstenberg Senior Lecturer Emerita Foreign Languages and Literatures M.I.T. ----"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Cultura model: key methodological and pedagogical features Gilberte Furstenberg Senior Lecturer Emerita Foreign Languages and Literatures M.I.T Telecollaboration in University Foreign Language Education Conference University of Leon, Spain February 12,

2 My focus Not on technology per se (in spite of MITs reputation) But on pedagogy (through the use of technology)

3 A perfect synergy.. ….between the field of inter-cultural communication (which implies encounters between people) and the Inter-net and its communication tools (which facilitates such encounters)

4 Cultura is… A telecollaborative project - taking place in an intermediate-level language class (B1) over a period of a semester (eight weeks) - where the focus is on the development of intercultural competence. The main subject of the course and represents a deliberate attempt to reverse the traditional equation between language and culture.

5 Background and context Created in 1997 at MIT, by a team of three French instructors, with a grant from NEH. Started within an intermediate level French language class. Can be (and has been adapted) to other levels, cultures, languages and even contexts (ie: a French business class).

6 The Cultura set-up: a blend of in- class and online interactions English class in France French class at MIT

7 The specific goals of Cultura Bring students to understand: the attitudes, values, ways of thinking and interacting of those who live in another culture (=b ring an insiders view). Quite a challenge, as this is the hidden dimension, the silent language (Edward Hall) of culture. The BIG question: how to make that dimension visible? ---> An approach was needed.

8 Cultura: the approach A comparative one, with students comparing what Julie Belz calls parallel texts – similar types of documents/texts/ visuals drawn from two different cultures. See: Telecollaborative language study: a personal overview of praxis and research, NFLRC, Hawaii, 2005Telecollaborative language study: a personal overview of praxis and research, The juxtaposition process seems very apt in allowing resemblances and differences to clearly emerge.

9 A few relevant quotes Mikhail Bakhtin: It is only in the eyes of ANOTHER culture that foreign culture reveals itself fully and profoundly [….] A meaning only reveals its depths once it has encountered and come into contact with another, foreign meaning. Bakhtin, Michael Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff. In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, 6–7.Austin,TX: University of Texas Press. Bourdieu: la culture, cest la capacité à faire des différences. Bourdieu, Pierre Ce que parler veut dire. Editions Fayard


11 Cultura: a collective journey… …of students from different cultures who gradually construct together, around a set of materials and through a series of stages, an understanding of each others culture - with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of each others cultural attitudes, values, representations and frames of references.


13 Stage 1: students compare and analyze a large variety of materials starting with questionnairesquestionnaires Word associations One example: individualismindividualism Sentence completions Hypothetical situations These questionnaires (selected by both sets of instructors) have been designed to access many areas of life, different kinds of relationships, within different contexts and locations.

14 Stage 2: students exchange viewpoints via online discussion forums The main mode of communication Key aspects of these forums:forums Asynchronous (allow for a more reflective and deliberate stance.) Multiple: there is a forum attached to every word, phrase, document, etc.. Collective: a discussion that unfolds like an open dialogue between students.

15 Key aspects of the online forums (continued) Led entirely by students (they are in charge of the conversations; they take them wherever they want; the teacher never interferes.) They become another source of materials analyzed and discussed by students in class. They have also been archived since 1997, providing a very large intercultural corporaarchived Written in the students native language.

16 Rationale for writing in L1 in the forums All students can express their thoughts fully and comprehensively (not limited by their linguistic abilities). Congruence is key! No linguistic dominance by any person or any group.

17 Added benefits Our students read completely authentic French, which they will need to decode and understand, thus greatly enriching their language skills in general. Our students - in all classroom discussions as well as in all their writings - make full use of the words and expressions used by the French students in the forums (imagine the opposite!) The differences in discourse by the Americans and the French immediately become visible, thus creating yet another cultural object of analysis. OUR STUDENTS ALWAYS SPEAK IN FRENCH IN CLASS AND WRITE THEIR NOTES, ESSAYS, ETC.. IN FRENCH.

18 Stage 3: students constantly revisit issues… … as they explore and investigate a variety of other materials. as they collaborate with their peers (both classmates and partners). All along, expanding, deepening and refining their knowledge and understanding of the other culture.

19 A summary of the process - in and outside of class Students work in a series of stages: analyze the materials at hand, individually, outside of class. share their observations with their own classmates in the classroom. write individual comments in the online discussion forums, outside of class, participating in the collective discussions. bring back to class comments from the French students and discuss them in class. They then analyze a new set of materials, continuing their interactive and dynamic journey of exploration.

20 An animated view of the process




24 How to develop intercultural competence? Connecting students will obviously not automatically develop the skills necessary to develop intercultural competence – skills that include (according to Byrams famous categories): An attitude of openness. Knowledge of ones self and others. Skills of interpreting and relating. Skills of discovery and interaction. Critical cultural awareness.. This is a process. The question is….

25 How to help that process? It needs to be scaffolded through a series of tasks (and guidelines) - whose overarching goal is to enable students to go beyond the surface, expand their views and gradually develop together an ever more and more complex picture of the other culture(s) – a process that will prevent students from essentializing them.

26 The locus of activities in Cultura the classrooms: two distinct/separate spaces. the invisible part, but extremely important. the online forums: the common/shared space. the visible part (since all online discussions are archived). The online forums and the classroom are two different entities, but are intertwined (constant back and forth movement).

27 Tasks related to the online discussion forums (1) Providing students with very specific guidelines (in French). We tell them: share your discoveries and observations on the documents you have compared ask questions make hypotheses raise issues answer your partners questions. The goal is to promote a constant and reciprocal process of inquiry, where students will try to understand the others perspective and to explain their own cultures.

28 One quick example of asuccessful intercultural forum – Initial impetus: the students comparative analysis of the answers to the word family/famille Subsequent forum excerpts -

29 Alicia, an MIT student starts the conversation One big difference that I noticed in reactions to this word was that on the American side, "love" showed up a lot of times. However, on the French side, only 2 people used "amour." I think that in America, there is a strong emphasis placed on cultivating a "loving, caring, supportive family environment" which is why "love is one of the first words that come to mind. I was wondering, why do the French not use that word much..?

30 Gabrielle, a French student, responds Il semble effectivement que les Français utilisent moins le mot "amour" dans le test. Peut-être est-ce parce que, justement il n'y a aucune crainte de manquer d'amour, donc ce n'est pas une préoccupation. Cela dit, ce n'est qu'une théorie : je ne sais pas réellement à quoi cela tient. Il faudrait avoir plus de détails sur les contextes familiaux pour avoir une meilleure analyse. Mais cela deviendrait peut-être trop personnel... Translation: It does seem indeed that the French [students] use the word amour less often. The reason, perhaps, is that one is not afraid of lacking love, so it is not a worry. That being said, it is only a theory: I dont really know why. One would need to have more details on specific family contexts to make a better analysis. But that might perhaps become too personal…

31 Gaëlle, another French student, chimes in J'ai également remarqué la forte concentration du mot amour dans vos réponses. Peut-être qu'en France, il reste plus implicite, caché, ceci ne signifiant pas alors que l'amour n'est pas présent. Translation: I too noticed the high concentration of the word love in your responses. Perhaps in France it is more implicit, hidden, but this does not mean it is not present.

32 Alicia, responding to Gaëlles earlier comment I think Gaelle touched on something very interesting about love being a more implicit emotion in France than it is in America. Definitely in America, the word "love" is thrown around a lot. It is used a lot as a way of parting, like people will say "I love you" before ending a phone conversation with their boyfriend/girlfriend, parents or siblings, even sometimes with very good friends. This is something that happens very often and we don't think very much of it. I was wondering, what is the case in France? Are the words "amour" or "s'aimer" spoken very often?

33 Gaelle tries to respond (about why the French dont use that word much) Cette question est vraiment intéressante. Les Français sont, je le crois, peut-être un peu plus pudiques, plus discrets sur leurs sentiments amoureux. Je viens de faire un petit sondage dans la classe pour savoir combien d'entre nous disaient parfois "je vous aime" à leurs parents. Or, personne ne semble le faire, moi y compris. Malgré cela, il est certain que cet amour existe. De votre côté, cette habitude (très bonne d'ailleurs) de dire "je t'aime" assez souvent n'entraine t-elle pas une dévalorisation partielle de ce mot? Existe t-il des mots plus forts encore que "love? Translation: This question is really interesting. The French, I believe, are a little more modest, more discreet about their feelings of love. I just did a little survey in class to find out how many of us say I love you to their parents. Well, nobody seems to do it, myself included. In spite of that, it is clear that that love does exist. Now, doesnt this (actually very good) habit of yours to say I love you quite often partially devalue the word? Are there words that are stronger still thanlove?

34 Kezia, an MIT student, gets really confused.. Interesting comment, Gaelle. I always thought that the French were more open about their emotions. The French always seem to be kissing and hugging each other. Whereas in America, people tend to touch less when they're in public. Some people even frown upon couples kissing in front of others and mothers breast-feeding their babies. Why do you say the French are more discreet?

35 To which Gaëlle responds… Les Francais sont plus pudiques quant à leurs sentiments, le fait de les clamer haut et fort, mais il est effectivement fréquent d'apercevoir des couples s'embrasser dans la rue [..] Translation : The French are more modest in terms of expressing their feelings loud and clear, but it is indeed commonplace to see couples kissing in the streets.

36 Key components Students here: share observations and reactions piggyback on s.o.elses observations make hypotheses ask questions acknowledge the others postings, going further provide pertinent, real life illlustrations take initiatives respond to questions challenge the other allude to the context confront clichés and raise paradoxes

37 Why can it be considered asuccessful intercultural dialogue? It brings to the surface the notions of explicit vs implicit. It highlights the fact that there are different ways of expressing emotions (verbalizing them vs showing them). These being fundamental culturally driven values (values students will revisit when looking at other documents).

38 More broadly.. The key to a successful intercultural forum: The participants communicate not to talk directly about each other but to talk about a third object (= the materials they are discussing), through which they will reveal their culture and reveal themselves.

39 Tasks related to the online discussion forums (2) Encouraging students to express diverse opinions The end goal of these on-line discussions is not to create a consensus among all students but to provide a place where they will raise and debate issues, so as to better understand. While this tends not to be an issue with French students who tend quite naturally and quite frequently vigorously disagree and argue with each other, we do tell the MIT students not to hesitate to disagree on issues. After all not all Americans think that theAmerican dream is still alive or that individualism is necessarily a good thing --

40 An example Liana (about the word individualism) As has been said, we obviously have very different ideas of what the word means [..] I think that among some other groups in America, individualism is not seen so positively. There are many stories of people who have different opinions, different fashions, etc, being considered wrong or dangerous by their communities (schools, towns, and so on). So I don't think that every American would agree that individualism is a good characteristic, even though it is very important to me.

41 Tasks related to the online discussion forums (3): Encouraging students to: identify themselves (ex: I am from the Midwest, I am from Mexico, Poland, China, etc..) make constant references to different contexts (ex: MIT vs other schools; New England vs the South or California; big city vs small town, banlieues vs suburbs, etc..) So that the French students do not a monolithic view of the culture, but a broad kaleidoscopic one.

42 The role of foreign students There are quite a few foreign students in our classes who play a very important part (they are always encouraged to identify themselves and to state their perspectives). Their voices are just as important. As both outsiders and insiders, they naturally play a unique role: that of mediators (addressing themselves both to the Americans and the French; explaining what their classmates may mean), etc..

43 Tasks related to the online discussion forums (4) Adding other forums as warranted:: List of forums Forum about paradoxes (role of prompts)paradoxes A particularly important forum, meant to: - prevent students from essentializing the cultures ( by raising issues about contradictions, etc..) - to encourage them to look across a variety of materials.

44 Raising paradoxes: example 1 An American/Roumanian student at MIT (in response to the situation where they see a student cheating at an exam): I think there is a great difference between denouncing a Jew in WWII and denouncing a student who is cheating on an exam. Jews were innocent people and the treatment they received was immoral (to say the least). However, the punishment of a student who is copying is not immoral. I think it is unacceptable to tolerate cheating. If an exam is important, then people should take action when they see somebody attempting to cheat […] In most discussions in the forums so far, you (the French students) have advocated for social justice, yet you inexplicably tolerate being cheated …

45 Raising paradoxes: example 2 Ashley : One question that I had relates to risk- taking behavior. In general, it seems that the French are fairly averse to taking risks (e.g. "risque" has a very negative connotation) and prefer to execute more "safe" or well-thought-out plans. Americans, on the contrary, seem to like to take a lot of risks, both at the personal and national level. At the same time, I remember that in the "Un bon président..." questionnaire, one of you wrote "un homme qui prend des risques." And, interestingly, many on the American side were skewering Bush for some of his high-risk policies. How do you think French people view risk taking behavior--both for themselves personally and for their leaders? Any thoughts on how to explain this apparent paradox?"

46 Raising paradoxes: example 3 " Bonjour ! Je vous propose une petite réflexion. Il s'agit d'un paradoxe concernant la sociéte américaine. En France, nous pensons en général que la société américaine est très axée sur la religion. Par exemple, voir sur vos billets de banque "In god we trust" nous fait "sauter au plafond" ! (ça veut dire que ca nous fait beaucoup réagir / ça nous surprend). En effet, nous avons séparé ici l'Eglise et l'Etat en 1905, soit il y a plus d'un siècle. Nous sommes donc habitués à dissocier complètement la vie publique de la religion. Lécole est laique, les politiciens (comme le président de la république) ne font jamais de référence à un quelconque Dieu. En France, on ne jure pas sur la bible dans les tribunaux ! Au nom de quoi devrait on reconnaitre la bible ? D'autre part, autoriser la peine de mort d'une part, et prôner la religion (et donc le pardon) d'autre part me parait complètement paradoxal. Que pensez vous de la place de la religion dans votre pays ? Vu d'ici, cela nous ramène plusieurs siècles en arrière. Clément.

47 Raising paradoxes: example 4 Regina: To add to Irene's comment # 17. I'm surprised politeness is claimed to be the most important word in the French language. Is it really important to the French to be polite to strangers? The commonest complaint I've heard about French people is that they are sarcastic and rude. I've witnessed a lot of the sarcasm in the course of this forum and a little bit of the rudeness. I'm having a little trouble relating French politeness and their sharp sarcasm. Could someone help me out?.

48 Raising paradoxes: one response from a French student Fabrice: Bonjour!. La contradiction entre le sondage qui montre que 70% des Français ont confiance en leur police nationale, et le fait que dans le film français la police se fait doubler, est caractéristique du fait que les Français font toujours le contraire de ce qu'ils disent en public. On craint l'autorité, donc on dit qu'on est confiant en elle. Mais derrière son dos on n'y pense plus, ou pire on essaye de la contourner.

49 A students view Paradoxes are hard to come up with, but once you stumble upon one, they are pretty easy to write about. These discussions are among the more interesting because in this topic, the students are synthesizing more new ideas.

50 Assessment of forums by a student The forums were an invaluable part of my French course experience. It was good to interact with peers in another country and gain insight into a different cultural perspective on common themes and motifs. Through the word associations forum I was able to get a glimpse of the thought processes of my French peers. Its interesting to see how ideas are connected within the minds of individuals in another culture, in comparison to my own, so to better understand the other culture

51 Tasks related to the online discussion forums (5) Connecting the forums to the classroom It is very important to esign activities that will ensure that the online discussion forums are integrated and brought back into the classroom, so as to bring the voices of the French students alive. Example of task: Allez dans les forums et apportez en classe deux ou trois commentaires détudiants français que vous trouvez particulièrement instructifs, ou qui apportent une perspective différente, ou soulèvent une question intéressante… Soyez prêt à les partager avec vos camarades de classe et dire pourquoi vous les avez choisis.

52 A new type of classroom/ a new role for the teacher A new teaching environment is clearly emerging With the integration of the virtual online community, the teacher is no longer the only voice of authority in the classroom - his/her role is bound to change. Our responsibility is no longer to just impart cultural knowledge but to put our students on center stage and provide them with opportunities to: share what they have learnt and discovered and, in the process, expand their individual knowledge and understanding. arrive at new interpretations and constantly refine their understanding of the other culture, their knowledge enriched by the contributing voices of the native students across the ocean. Our main role: to provide tasks th at will achieve that goal.

53 Tasks related to the classroom (1) Designing collaborative activities An example and a view of the classroom -





58 The importance of the classroom This is where students start making connections, see patterns emerge and develop new insights. In this particular instance, they see some striking differences: the general emphasis on the affect (in American culture) vs an emphasis on savoir (in French culture). The boards play an important role in making differences and resemblances visible, in serving as mirrors of the students discoveries and bringing patterns to light.

59 A new kind of learning… … which clearly brings the process (of constructing and co-constructing knowledge) into the limelight, not the finished product. Students are like cultural archeologists, who with the help of their classmates, their foreign partners and the guidance of their teacher (through the varied tasks), try to make initial connections which they will then try to confirm or revise in the light of new materials they will analyze, trying to bring patterns to light and gradually put together the cultural puzzle.

60 Putting together the cultural puzzle

61 A validation from…... Mike Levy who wrote in the LLT Journal (in 2007)LLT Journal Cultura is exceptional for the ways in which its structure, content, tasks, strategies and techniques are designed to account for many of the facets of the culture concept, as described in the first part of this paper. The learning partnership is at once reciprocal, interactive and constructed suggesting at the outset that partners will learn about each other in ways that are respected, equitable and balanced. The stages and sequencing are central to the approach.

62 Other roles for the teacher in the classroom It is of course important for the teacher to take center stage in order to: clarify a particular misunderstanding (cféduquer). bring students attention to a document or a posting on the forum that he/she thinks is particularly culturally informative or which m ay be opaque to the student or may reflect an underlying attitude or bring particularly interesting cultural and/or linguistic information.

63 The role of the teacher in the classroom (continued) … To focus the class discussions: Ex: make students aware of the context they were thinking when responding to the questionnaires (cf policeman/woman). Ex: on some paradoxes they may have discovered. cf direct vs indirect cultures?

64 The role of the teacher in the classroom (continued) … To bring/show new documents that might illustrate, illuminate or contradict a point Ex: regarding the use of the word aimer (the video of Sarkozys speech to his voters, where he says je vous aime)where he says je vous aime Ex: regarding the slap: video of Bayrou during presidential elections where he is seen slapping a childwhere he is seen slapping a child Ex: a comic strip showing a father being upset at his sons grades -

65 From Le Monde de lEducation (May 5, 2010)

66 Key task: giving appropriate assignments Written essay: Une première synthèse En vous appuyant sur les réponses françaises aux trois questionnaires (les associations de mots, les phrases à terminer et les situations) et les commentaires des Français sur les forums, choisissez un concept qui vous paraît central à la culture française. Dites dans quels différents contextes et sous quelles différentes formes ce concept apparaît. Y a t-il des cas des situations, des exemples qui semblent le contredire, ou au contraire semble-t-il être une constante? Elaborez et donnez des exemples précis. Accompagnez votre essai dun diagramme montrant les différentes connections. Eblouissez-moi!

67 La notion de respect : un tableau/une illustration Les autres (cinéma) Les règles bonjour Savoir/ ( bon patron ) compétence Suivre? enfreindre ? RESPECT Lespace privé ( un bon voisin ) Politesse (banque/ relations professionnelles) Savoir vivre ( bon voisin ) La loi pouvoir

68 Type of essay titles by students La notion de respect dans la société francaise Limportance de légalité dans la culture française Le concept de Savoir dans la culture francaise Le rapport à largent Limportance de la vie privée Le rôle de lindividu Limportance des règles Le conformisme et lanti-conformisme La France si douce, mais si aigre La notion dordrenotion dordre

69 Other example of assignment: analyzing the photos exchanged The photo exchange: 1. Students, working in groups across the Atlantic, first select a topic to illustrate (either a topic relevant to their daily lives (ex: What we eat/ when/where? Where we live, how we dress, which case they take their own pictures) or a commercial product, as advertised in the French and American media (from the Internet usually), such as : beer/cars/ perfume/etc.. 2. Students upload the photos on the site 3. They then to do an oral group presentation:

70 PPT class presentations Students compare and analyze not just the photos themselves (what they say or illustrate) but also the type of photos taken. Once, a group noticed (regarding photos taken by the students themselves) that the American students tended to show themselves in the picture, whereas the French students tended to take photos that just focused just on the object (the food, the dorm room, etc..). And they related it to the differences in French and American discourse!

71 Is there an end to this journey ? The very process in which students are involved requires them to keep suspending judgments and be ready to revise them, question them, expand them, refine them in the light of new materials and new perspectives.

72 Quoting Simone de Beauvoir.. Je tiens à signaler quaucun morceau isolé ne constitue un jugement définitif; souvent dailleurs, je naboutis à aucun point de vue arrêté et cest lensemble de mes indécisions, additions et rectifications qui constitue mon opinion LAmérique au jour le jour, Folio Préface. p. 10

73 Discovering the other is discovering oneself Celui qui essaye de comprendre mieux lautreparviendra, dans le même mouvement, à une meilleure maîtrise et une connaissance plus approfondie de ses propres valeurs et de ses comportements culturels en les voyant à travers le miroir d'une autre culture." Martine Addallah-Pretceille, en préface à son ouvrage Relations et apprentissages interculturels, Colin, 1995

74 Some useful references The Cultura Site (currently in transition): where you can find: - Articles - A teachers Guide - Cultura archives My address: (dont hesitate to Sabine Levets address:

75 Muchas gracias! Thank you! Merci!

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