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A “Behind the Scenes” Tour of Cultura

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1 A “Behind the Scenes” Tour of Cultura
Second Cultura Conference National Foreign Language Resource Center The University of Hawai’i at Manoa October 10, 2009 - Gilberte Furstenberg and Sabine Levet Foreign Languages and Literatures M.I.T.

2 Outline The context for Cultura What is Cultura?
goals approach content process Impact on teaching and learning The Cultura Community Site

3 The Context for Cultura
Intercultural communication: a necessity in our global world. The stakes (political, economic and humanistic) are very high An increasing priority in the academic field, as more and more students are likely to work and interact with people from other cultures (even MIT sees the benefits of Study Abroad and Programs) In the foreign language area, the 2007 MLA report brought intercultural communication to the forefront --->

4 The MLA Report In a report entitled Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World, the MLA emphasizes the urgent need for students to develop "translingual and transcultural competence”, adding that “the need to understand other cultures and languages”, identified by Daniel Yankelovich, is one of five imperative needs to which higher education must respond in the next ten years if it is to remain relevant”. The MLA goes on to cite your own senator. “In May 2005 Senator Daniel Akaka made a similar point: "Americans need to be open to the world; we need to be able to see the world through the eyes of others if we are going to understand how to resolve the complex problems we face." In the current geopolitical moment, these statements are no longer clichés. The MLA is prepared to lead the way in the reorganization of language and cultural education around these objectives”

5 What is Cultura? A Web-based telecollaborative project - taking place in a language class over a period of a semester (eight weeks) - where the focus precisely is on helping students develop in-depth understanding of another culture (reversal of the usual equation). The Initial Cultura exchange took place between students in a French language class (at MIT) and French students taking an English class in a French Institution (funded by NEH, 1997) Since then, the project has been adapted to other languages and cultures in many different Universities, connecting language students in the US with students in China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Samoa, Spain, etc … and also projects within Europe (ex: between Italy and Turkey and Poland)

6 What is Cultura? - the goals
Bring students to understand: the attitudes, values, ways of thinking and interacting of those who live in another culture. Quite a challenge, as this is the “hidden dimension”, the “silent language” of culture (Edward Hall) Big question: how to make that dimension visible? ---> An approach was needed Will not happen on its own. Why those particular aspects of culture?? IC needs : to be constructed around an approach and on the basis of materials - that need to be selected in terms of relevance to the field of interest to include some level of reflection (including self-reflection) This is what the Cultura Project offers.

7 What is Cultura? - the approach
A comparative one - with students on both sides of the Atlantic, sharing a common website: (1) analyze and compare a large variety of digital textual and visual materials from their respective cultures. (2) exchange perspectives about these materials, via on-line discussion forums in order to gain an insider’s view of each other’s culture Why the comparative approach? Most apt/appropriate to bring the differences to the surface/ make it possible to see them

8 The set-up: a blend of in-class and on-line interactions
French class at MIT English class in France A hybrid environment: in-class and on-line interactions Slide lent to me by my partner..

9 But connection students…
… does not automatically develop intercultural communication. Understanding another culture does not happen on its own (it needs content) nor does it happen instantaneously (it is the result of a process).

10 Cultura can be viewed as a collective journey which students of different cultures embark upon together - a journey that can last a lifetime. A brief description of Cultura: : A collective journey - with students of different cultures gradually constructing together an understanding of each other’s culture, around a set of materials - with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of each other’s cultural It focuses on the process through which students go to acquire a better understanding of the other culture.

11 Where do we start? By having students answer a set of three questionnaires: Word associations Sentence completions Reactions to hypothetical situations These questionnaires have all been designed to fathom: (1) the meaning behind some key concepts (individualism/success) and basic aspects of everyday life (family/work/religion, etc..); (2) what might be viewed as “ideal” types of relationships with different people and what their roles are perceived to be (a “good” parent, boss, neighbor, etc..), (3) different kinds of potentially conflicting situations in different contexts and with a variety of people (strangers/friends/classmates) to try and highlight what might guide their attitudes and values. They can be changed from semester to semester. Questionnaires can easily be designed and updated thanks to a special tool we have developed at MIT and that is available free of charge)

12 Comparing the Answers A comparative analysis of the answers provides the entry point into the respective cultures and the initial basis of the on-line discussion forums. Example 1: Banlieue/suburbs Example 2: Word association to: individualism/individualisme Example 3: The hypothetical situation where A teller at a bank addresses you with your first name. What we show you.. Separately.. But each set of answers is followed by a dedicated discussion One week..

13 The on-line discussion forums
Multiple: there is a forum attached to every word, phrase, document. Collective: a discussion that unfolds like an open dialogue between students. Asynchronous (allow for a more reflective and deliberate stance.) Led entirely by students (they are in charge of the conversations and the teacher never interferes.) Written in the students’ “native” language They take place outside of class, but are completely integrated into the course

14 The online discussion forums
They are at the heart of the process. This is where the intercultural communication and reflection take place. Students: share their discoveries and observations on the documents they have compared ask questions make hypotheses raise issues answer their partners’ questions, in a constant and reciprocal process of inquiry, trying to understand the other’s perspective and to explain/reveal their own culture. We make space for this to happen. This does not mean it is going to happen on its own.

15 A closer look at a forum individualism/individualisme Cindy:
“Comparing the two responses to this word were quite shocking. Americans used words such as “freedom” and “uniqueness”, which are fairly positive, whereas the French used “self-centered”, “alone”, which are very negative. Why is individualism viewed in this way in France?” Sean: “Why is individualism practically synonym to self-absorption and egoism in France? If not individualism, do you value community? What do you think is the basis behind this mentality?”

16 Forum (continued) Michel:
“La définition du mot individualisme dans le dictionnaire français est: “tendance à privilégier la valeur et les droits de l’individu contre les valeurs et les droits des groupes sociaux.” Je crois qu’en France on privilégie beaucoup plus les droits des groupes. L’important ce n’est pas soi, mais la communauté.” Sean responds “I think the key word in the French definition of individualism is “contre”. For Americans, individualism isn’t valuing of the one over the many. Rather it is valuing of the one for the benefit of the many. Individualism is seen as an aspect of society that makes the whole better. See the writings of John Stuart Mill.”

17 Forum (continued) Aline:
“Merci pour ton explication, Sean. Elle lève le voile sur un malentendu lié au sens même du mot dans nos deux langues. Je pense que ce n’est pas la seule divergence dans nos lexiques respectifs. C’est pour cette raison que je vous propose de mettre sur le forum les définitions officielles (française et américaine) de chacun des termes sur lesquels nous ne nous entendons pas?” The dialogue continues. Dictionary as referee? Thank you for your explanation S., it clears up a misunderstanding about the meaning of the word in each language. I think that it is not the only difference in our vocabulary. This is why I suggest we post on the forum the official definitions (French and American) of each word about which we disagree.

18 Forum (continued) Aline (responding to Seans’earlier question: What do you think is the basis behind this mentality?”) “Je pense pouvoir expliquer cela en trois mots se rapportant à des valeurs dans lesquelles nous avons été éduqués dans nos familles et aussi dans l’Education nationale française: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”. Ces trois mots s’inscrivent dans le cadre d’une vie en communauté basée sur l’entraide et la solidarité.” I think I can explain that [fact], with three words having to do with the values that formed the basis of the education we received, in our families and in the French schooling system: “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.” These three words define a community life based on helping one another and on solidarity. Here, the student adds up to the definition, and expresses some fundamental values: families, French schooling systems, communauté, solidarité. Explaining the French answers to the Americans Room for disagreement and paradox. 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. Last fall especially, when there were many problems in the suburbs, some students wondered about the true life implications of the importance of the community, on solidarity. In a forum on France, a student said “sometimes one can wonder if this motto is true. A lot of people in France feel excluded from the society and ignored by the politicians. They feel they are forgotten.showing there is a disconnect between the offical motto and the way people live. But it enables also the French students to realize, when the conversation moved to the subject of community, that the community is very important for the Americans too, but more on a local level, where each individual talent could benefit all, with the often shared notion of “giving back to the community”..

19 Forum (end) Cindy: “I feel like our definition of individualism is firmly rooted in American transcendentalist philosophers, like Thoreau and Emerson. From the foundation of their works, came our modern sense of what it means to be an individual.” Michel: […] Ce débat m’a permis de me rendre compte que l’individualisme était carrément une notion philosophique qui s’est développée spécifiquement aux Etats-Unis… toute une manière de penser qui nous est inconnue…”

20 Multiple voices on the forums (1)
Important to note that there is a multiplicity of voices that emerge in the forums 1. People within a same culture often disagree (sometimes vigorously, as the French are likely to do!) and/or bring diverging opinions. Example (about individualism): “As has been said, we obviously have very different ideas of what the word means. MIT students in particular tend to be the people who were the outsiders in their high school, because they did better in classes and sometimes weren't so popular. 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. They discover commonlaities (cf Chinese students)

21 Multiple voices (2) MIT vs other schools
2. Students come from different backgrounds and also bring their own perspective to the conversation, spontaneously raising the very important notion of context. They make constant references to (for instance): MIT vs other schools East Coast vs West Coast New England vs the South Big cities vs small towns Different social milieux (ex: banlieues vs suburbs) Different kinds of relationships (professional vs personal) etc.. Different places where something may occur thus creating a broad kaleidoscopic portrait of a culture.

22 Multiple voices (3) Those of the foreign students in our classes
They play a very important part and offer yet different perspectives which they share (they identify themselves) As both outsiders and insiders, they often play the role of mediators (addressing themselves both to the Americans and the French; explaining what their classmates may mean), etc.

23 The rest of the journey (continuation of the process)
Other materials to be compared and discussed National French and American opinion polls on a variety of issues Films (comparing French films to their American remakes) Media (ex: comparing the New York Times and Le Monde) Literary and historical texts (ex: comparing The Bill of Rights and La Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme) Images (with students selecting topics to illustrate and downloading images on the site) ----->

24 The Image module Different from the other one, as students themselves will upload their own materials Adds yet another important dimension : a visual one. Students, in cross-Atlantic dyads, choose topics to illustrate their respective realities will comment on images individually (thanks the m:media tool) These images provide yet a new object of analysis, leading students to develop insights into the cultural meanings of everyday objects or products (ex: ice cream or coffee) ----> The Image module

25 Is there an end to the journey?
Not really. The dynamic process in which students are involved requires them to: - keep suspending judgments about the other culture - and be ready to constantly revise them, question them, expand them, and refine them, in the light of new materials and new perspectives.

26 Discovering the other also invariably means…
… discovering oneself. That is what the journey also entails. Those who try to better understand the other “will also be able to have a better understanding and mastery of their own values and cultural behaviors - after seeing them through the mirror of another culture.” Translated from Addallah-Pretceille, M. “Relations et apprentissages interculturels”, Armand Colin, Paris, 1995

27 Challenges Teachers need to: Find a compatible partner
Harmonize goals and calendars Select relevant and appropriate materials - which need to be varied, interesting, motivating, and sustain interest over the long term. Keep the ball rolling, making sure that students stay together on task, keep writing in the forums, etc.

28 New emerging roles for teachers
Teachers are not the only voice of authority in the classroom. Our main role as teachers is to give students as many opportunities as possible to share with others what they have discovered, to reflect, discuss, confront points of view and allow multiple voices and perspectives to emerge. OUI, ET AJOUTER QUELQUE CHOSE DE PLUS SPECIFIQUE SUR COMMENT FAIRE AVANCER LA CONVERSATION (A MOINS QUE CES SLIDES SUR UN NEW ROLE/A NEW KIND) SOIENT EN FAIT UN RECAP… ILS DEVRAIENT AVOIR COMPRIS A CE MOMENT Add speech about reconciling contradictions Sabine??

29 A new kind of classroom and learning
A new kind of classroom: a highly interactive and dynamic place where students, taking center stage and interacting with their classmates, develop more insights, co-construct and expand their own knowledge and understanding of the subject matter A new kind of learning: such a project obviously clearly brings the process (of 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, 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.

30 The Cultura Community Site
Main address:

31 How to contact us Gilberte Furstenberg:
Sabine Levet: Malaho! Thank you! Merci!!

32 Where does the study of language fit in?
Language is imbedded everywhere. Every document is an inexhaustible source of authentic language and provides: Vocabulary enrichment: single words; acronyms; word formation; semantic networks Grammar in context Multiple examples of language registers, speech acts and discourse

33 Language - vocabulary Students make list of vocabulary based, for instance, on the French answers to the questionnaires. Acronyms: HLM, RER, 93 (answers to Banlieue) CDI, CDD, Elysée (answers to Gouvernment) Common slang: The French inquire about popo, while the Americans wonder about flics Vocabulary: words/expressions we give students for analysis Les Français, les Américains, that they use

34 Language - semantic networks
Students create categories around some words: Example: bonheur: “plaisir, s’épanouir, intéressant, rend heureux, que j’aime faire, enrichissant” Example : salaire “rémunérateur, permet de vivre décemment, bien rétribué”

35 Language - Grammar We work on:
The comparative forms (when counting answers, using statistics, etc.) The relative pronouns (with the second questionnaire that focuses on definitions.) Ex: good job/bon emploi : pronoms relatifs: dans lequel on s’épanouit, qui permet de s’épanouir, où l’on peut s’épanouir, pour lequel je me lève chaque matin The different object pronouns: je lui dis, je leur signale, je le fusille du regard, etc. The forums can be used to review ways of expressing an opinion, an agreement, a disagreement (subjunctive vs indicative) etc. The forums ( by virtue of being written in the native language) can be used to review ways of expressing an opinion, an agreement, a disagreement (subjunctive vs indicative) etc.., opinion (on American side: that many times, which twice, or no pronom relatif)

36 Language - registers The issue of registers often emerges spontaneously as a topic of discussion in the forums Example: concerning the situation at the movies. In the responses, many French students wrote: “je leur demande de se taire” In the subsequent forum ---->

37 A student asks a question
An MIT student asks: “A lot of Lille-3 students responded with "je leur demande de se taire" or an equivalent. Is this polite in France? I cannot tell, since there is no adverb. In English, to ask someone to be quiet does not have a negative connotation, where to tell someone does.”

38 The answer To which the French student responds:
“Le fait de dire : "je lui demande de se taire" ne donne pas de précision sur la manière dont on demanderait à cette personne de se taire: ça pourrait être: "tais-toi" ou "taisez-vous" ou "taisez-vous s'il vous plait", "est-ce que vous pouvez vous taire s'il vous plait"... et en dernier recours, "la ferme" ou "ta gueule" dans le cas où on est carrément excédé!” What a wonderul document to use as a basis for working on different register

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