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Case Study 5

Page history last edited by sarah.guth@... 13 years, 8 months ago

Title

Close Encounters of a New Kind:
The Use of Skype and Wiki in Telecollaboration[1]

 


Student cohort

 

  Group 1  Group 2 
academic level  University students in the US University students in Italy 
major  various 

Modern Languages and Culture 

course subject  Italian - level 3 
English as a Foreign Language - various levels 
mean age 19 
21-23 
location of students Pennsylvania, US 
Padova, Italy 
native language mostly US English, but also others (Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, etc.) 
Italian, but also others (Albania, Croatian, etc.) 
exchange language Italian and English English and Italian 

 

Brief description and intended outcomes

This is an on-going action research project, starting in 2007. Common goals were established for the exchange, in compliance with the C’s established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (1999): Communication, Cultures, Comparisons, Connections, and Communities.

 

  • Communication: the emphasis on synchronous and asynchronous discussion aimed at improving students’ ability to interact in both the target foreign languages (L2) with native speakers in guided activities as well as in their native language (L1) with non-native speakers in spontaneous conversations and debates. 
  • Culture/s: practice of the foreign language was content-based, according to the syllabus of the American students as well as current international events, e.g. political elections, in order for students to learn language and content in tandem. 
  • Comparisons: the exchanges were designed with the goal to solicit comparisons between students’ own culture and the foreign culture, promote the use of a variety of strategies when interacting with native speakers, develop the ability to deal effectively with intercultural misunderstandings and to understand the roots of cultural stereotypes.
  • Connections: through guided activities, students were expected to reflect on how what they learned in the foreign language ‘classroom’ might apply to their other fields of study. 
  • Communities: the collaborative learning experience gained through the exchanges aimed at developing a sense of community with the foreign peers through discussions of cultural and contemporary topics culminating in the design, research, and development of collaborative projects.

 

Technologies used

 

Tool  Mode  Other

Skype

synchronous voice & text chat 

free

Wiki asynchronous communication, exchange platform free

 

Tasks & Phases

Information Exchange

The tasks in the first three weeks of the course were dedicated to familiarizing students with the technologies they were to use for the exchange (Skype and the wiki) and with one another. Task 1 involved writing personal introductions in L2 on the wiki; students were asked to add urls to their personal blogs, names on Facebook if they had an account, etc. so that students could ‘find out’ more about one another through each other’s existing online identities. Task 2 was the first Skype exchange and the topic was student life. Task 3 was a continuation of Task 2 from another perspective, i.e. what it would be like to be an international student at the respective institutions.  

 

Comparison and Analysis

 

Weeks 4–9 were dedicated to comparing and contrasting various cultural aspects from politics, given the focus in the American curriculum on Italian politics and Berlusconi (the Italian prime minister at the time) and the US presidential elections in 2008 (weeks 4–5) to representations of the two cultures through cinema (weeks 7–9). The last topic (representation of the mafia in American and Italian cinema) was the basis for the final Skype meeting which, unlike the previous ones, was class to class using video so that students could see one another. 

 

Development and Collaboration and Product Creation

 

Starting in the third week of the exchange, students had to begin the collaborative writing assignment, as mentioned above. The ultimate aim of this project was that it be a sort of role-reversal in which each student had to step into their peers’ shoes and imagine what it would be like to be at the other institution. The Italian students had to provide information about Dickinson in English based on their conversations and the links and resources their peers shared with them, and vice versa the American students had to write about Padova in Italian. The collaborative writing assignment was divided into an initial phase of collective authoring, involving contributing text and visuals (photographs from online photo sharing sites, personal photos, and YouTube videos) and a final stage in which students provided peer feedback. On the wiki pages there was a section where students could provide comments on one another’s work, offering suggestions for improvement without intervening on the text. Students were required to make changes based on their peers’ comments and then they were asked to correct their peers’ work by directly editing the wiki page. Then, by using the history and compare function of the wiki, students were able to see what changes their peers had made. 

 

Assessment

 

This telecollaboration project was one of the many activities in the American course whereas it was the sole activity of the Italian course. Therefore, the weight the project carried in the two groups was significantly different. The one aspect the two groups of students had in common was assessment of their collaborative writing assignments. In addition to the assessment on the part of the teachers (who used different criteria given the different levels of linguistic ability), students were also asked to peer and self-assess using an online form; this assessment was considered when assigning the final grade. 

 

Evaluation of the Exchange

 

Positive

Since students at both institutions have few if any opportunities to communicate with native or fluent speakers of the language they are studying, the opportunity to do so using Skype is very much appreciated by students on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of the American students are preparing for a year of study abroad in Italy and as such the Skype sessions give them an opportunity to become more familiar with both the language and the culture of the country where they will be living. On the contrary, many of the Italian students have already spent time abroad studying through the Erasmus program in Europe and have, therefore, had contact with either native speakers from Britain or the UK or non-native speakers in English-speaking contexts in countries such as Denmark and Germany. For these students, the Skype sessions are seen as an opportunity to become more familiar with American pronunciation as well as American culture. The opportunity of this telecollaboration project was even more significant for the Italian students who had not studied abroad. 

 

Negative

The exchange is the core of the Italian language course whereas it is an add-on for the US language course. Hence, the American students 'complain' about having too much work to do and the Italian students complain that their peers do not participate enough. The American teacher has had difficulties convincing her University to allow an exchange to be the sole focus of a course.

 

Extra Notes

 

Is the exchange the sole focus of the course or integrated with other aims and activities? 

Core in Italy, add-on in the US.
Is participation compulsory or voluntary? Assessed?  Compulsory & assessed.
Is online work carried out in class/lab or from home?   Both.
Class/lab time dedicated to project?  Yes.

 

Back to Telecollaboration2workshop

Footnotes

  1. Guth, S. & Marini-Maio, N.(2010) Close Encounters of a New Kind: The Use of Skype and Wiki in Telecollaboration. In S. Guth and F. Helm (eds.) Telecollaboration 2.0: Language, Literacy and Intercultural Learning in the 21st Century, pp. 413-426. Bern: Peter Lang.

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