Intercultural Online Connections: How to use cross-cultural online dialogues to build a global “virtual” college classroom
Concurrent Session 4
Using a digital cross-national collaboration, we examine teacher educators’ learning in four teacher education programs across two countries. We will highlight how using an online platform as a productive teacher education space, will enhance ethical and in-depth learning, and challenging norms for preservice teachers.
Collaborative Online Learning Across Borders (COLAB) program is a digital cross-cultural collaboration based on a shared goal of finding new and innovative ways to increase preservice teachers’ levels of intercultural understanding and sensitivity. The COLAB project involves four university-based teacher education programs that lead to a teaching licensure across two different countries. Given a global focus on student mobility and international student adaptation (e.g. de Wit, 2008; Kell & Vogl, 2012), not all university students can travel abroad or engage in university sponsored international programs (Author 2, 2018). Thus, COLAB seeks to provide students with cross-cultural experiences through an online, virtual platform that is embedded in their teacher education course content (Bennet, 2004; Cushner, 2018; Cushner & Chang, 2015; Penn, 2011).
COLAB was a 4-week teaching unit in 2019 with 110 preservice teachers across the four universities participating. We sought to provide an online platform that served as a productive teacher education space that would enhance ethical and in-depth learning and challenge norms for our preservice teachers. We asked the following research questions:
- What implications can be drawn from the 2019 reflections on COLAB for our future online teaching practices?
- In what ways can the implementation of COLAB across four universities support preservice teachers’ intercultural understandings?
During COLAB, students examined and digitally shared their cultural contexts and daily lives, childhood memories, and social justice issues, including narratives, images, their research, and experiences representing the everydayness of cultural diversity in the settings with which they were involved. Their learning activities and interactions occurred in CANVAS as an online learning platform that involved both individual and group sharing and collaborative tasks. Groups consisted of preservice teachers from each university with each instructor supervising and engaging with each group throughout the unit.
The COLAB platform offered students a space in which they could feel comfortable sharing their orientations and experiences, as a student stated the entire experience was new,
First, I have to say it is a new thing for me, a new way of learning and it is very effective in terms of overcoming the differences in time and places.
And another student mentions:
This specific experience allowed me to see an entirely new perspective that came from a comfortable space.
Additionally, the importance of this ‘comfortable space’ was exemplified in the interchanges of students’ sharing, and in the students’ reflections, showing that the use of technology in this instance to enhance intercultural understanding is not an individual phenomenon that happens in seclusion or as a unique experience. As one student explains:
During this … experience, I feel that I was able to self-reflect in ways that I have not before. The main thing that stood out to me was my ability to determine the ‘why’ behind my behaviors and ask other questions in a respectful way regarding theirs. I feel that I was able to understand the components of intercultural competence through interacting with others, as we all have a common goal to teach young children and do so in similar/different ways.
And as another student noted, explaining that it was the shared experience using technology that mattered:
By using technology to communicate it seemed a little easier to converse about a variety of things that could have been awkward to say in person. Each group member was willing to share and communicate effectively throughout the process so that we were able to gain
Additional crucial features that became evident through this experience of COLAB: are the (1) relational value of students’ immersion in each other’s experiences through online teaching, and (2) the relatively open, non-prescriptive nature of the unit tasks. Rather than merely being confronted with the stories and experiences of diverse contexts, it appears the reciprocity of their engagements and the opportunity to revisit and re-engage easily through an online platform, allowed what Dervin (2016) calls the process of interculturalism. This is affirmed in students’ comments on reading about each other’s stories, memories, values and how they shaped their childhoods as extremely useful, as they bring to life the realities of diverse backgrounds. Despite a busy study and work schedule, students’ self-initiated reciprocity was apparent in the time they took to examine and narrate their own stories in the online environment, leading to the realization of differences between each of their lives, and of the importance of the detail in their own cultural histories and experiences.
The unique potential of intercultural engagements through an online medium are critical and urgent for preservice teachers. Student voices on the impact of their encounters in COLAB have critical implications for local and global practices in teacher education. As an ongoing process of shifting orientations towards diversity, their impact is likely to be experienced in their immediate educational communities, and to inspire them to further develop effective intercultural communication skills and knowledge. Our analysis and student evaluations highlight using an online platform as a productive teacher education space which brought about individual shifts in orientations towards racism, ethnocentrism and otherness in education and in society.
Level of Participation: This session will be structured around presenting our findings and experiences shared by students and instructors. We will use the last few minutes to demonstrate some of the activities and assignments we asked students who participated in the COLAB unit.
Session Goals: This presentation will emphasize the importance of creating a comfortable digital space for preservice teachers by giving them access to cross-cultural encounters with other international students thus enhancing their interculturality and increased exposure to multiple social positions and practices. Individuals attending will be able to experience some of the activities used for this global online interaction program and will have the opportunity to examine their own cultural otherness and interculturality.