Internet World Stats reports that TAIWAN TW - 22,858,872 population - Area: 36,175 sq km, Capital City: Taipei - GNI p.c. US$ 13,392 ('99) 15,400,000 users as of June/07, 67.4% penetration, per TWNIC. At end-2004, the IDC Information Society Index (ISI) rated Taiwan as having the world’s best wireless Internet penetration. Taiwan has undoubtedly one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in Asia.
New Challenge “…the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre- digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” –Marc Prensky, (2001) On the Horizon Vol. 9 No. 5
“Should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new? Unfortunately, no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards.”
Virtual Learning Environments and Online Intercultural Exchange The availability of high-speed internet connections and communication tools allows students to socialize and communicate in ways that language teachers before never thought possible. David Crystal (2001: 218) suggests that the days of Anglo- American domination of the internet are quickly coming to an end. Global Research (2004) suggests that learners surfing the internet are likely to encounter users from a great number of different nationalities-each one bringing with it its own cultural-specific beliefs and expectations as to what is appropriate behavior in CMC.
From Communicative Competence to Intercultural Communicative Competence Communicative language learning –Authenticity –Interactivity –Contextualized learning Through online interaction, learners become aware that communicating in a foreign language involves not only the exchange of information, but also the expression of speaker identity and the development of relationship in situations of intercultural contact.
Interculturality Culture and communication are two intimately related elements of the process of meaning construction. Interculturality is the educational objective related to culture and communication and defined as the active participation in communication helped by critical awareness and analysis and motivated by the appreciation of diversity as the foundation of society.
Developing the intercultural dimension in language teaching involves recognising that the aims are: to give learners intercultural competence as well as linguistic competence; to prepare them for interaction with people of other cultures; to enable them to understand and accept people from other cultures as individuals with other distinctive perspectives, values and behaviours; and to help them to see that such interaction is an enriching experience. –Michael Byram, Bella Gribkova, and Hugh Starkey
“Students need to gain insights both into their own culture and the foreign culture, and be aware of the meeting of cultures that often takes place in communication situations in the foreign language.” –Claire Kramsch (1993)
“Learners must first become familiar with what it means to be part of their own culture and by exploring their own culture before they are ready to reflect upon the values, expectations, and traditions of others with a higher degree of intellectual objectivity.” –Hans Straub (1999)
Becoming Intercultural Speakers… Michael Byram and Michael Fleming (1998, p. 8) define “intercultural speakers” as people who can “establish a relationship between their own and the other cultures, to mediate and explain differences – and ultimately to accept that difference and see the common humanity beneath it.”
Key characteristics of virtual exchanges that help to develop learners’ intercultural communicative competence Students have opportunities to express their feelings and views about their own culture to a receptive audience Students are encouraged to reflect critically on their own culture through questions posed by their partners Students engage in dialogic interaction with their partners about the home and target cultures. –Robert O’Dowd (2003)
Models of Intercultural Exchanges eTandem founded with the support of the European Commission –Reciprocity –Learner autonomy –Asynchronous and synchronous text-based CMC (e.g., Instant messenger, Chat, MOOs) Cultura supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning –Structured model –Series of stages –Culture is the explicit focus eTwinning supported by European Union –For primary and secondary schools –Partnership on school or teacher level –Creating e-journals with the help of partner class
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Possibilities of Intercultural FL Education Groups from different cultures in contact together via online communication will interact on a more “equal footing” than they might in a face-to-face situation, thereby increase the potential for interaction in which neither group is dominated by the other. Interaction between individuals or cultures produces a genuine change or shift in their way of viewing the world.
Caveats Presenting online communication as a “utopian middle landscape” free from historical, geographical, national, or institutional identity is inaccurate, unrealistic, and fails to exploit the medium to its full potential. Online educators should take into account different cultural attitudes to online collaboration and interaction when planning online learning tasks for groups of international learners. Online communication should provide students with the opportunity to confront and deal with prejudices, stereotypes, racism, and myths that they hold about other social groups and cultures and that others may hold about them.