Online Intercultural Exchange Workshop
This is an online intercultural exchange workshop for English as a foreign language teachers. Each participant EFL teacher will work individually and collaboratively through online tools, video inputs, asynchronous video discussion posts, and text-based discussions.
The primary goal of the workshop is to develop EFL teachers' ability to design technology-based intercultural communicative competency tasks for English language learners.
Teachers will be given full instructions upon completion of a survey located here: https://forms.gle/XdsGv6hyCQcBrnBv5
Language is a social tool which has offered humans unique abilities for tens of thousands of years. Those who have managed to master this tool have consistently gained an evolutionary advantage throughout the generations (Atkinson, 2002). Society throughout thousands of years has developed language as a cultural artifact. This artifact symbolically permeates the way that individuals mediate their connection to reality, others, and themselves (Lantolf and Thorne, 2007). Although the constituent systems of language remain the same there is an ever-accelerating pace of language growth and as a result increasingly rapid changes to language learning. Today a language learner must interact cross-culturally, learn autonomously, and solve problems dynamically in order to flourish, as Greenstein’s puts it, as thinking, acting, and living people in the world (2012).
Clandfield and Hadfield explain the shifting environment for learners and teachers with five trends: pervasive internet availability, widespread online and blended learning opportunities, an increase in platforms and apps dedicated to education, expectations for student numbers to increase with tight budgets and limited face to face teacher time, and increased expectations of independent learning resulting from creation and adoption of documents like the Common European Framework (CEFR) (2017) and Thailand 4.0. -English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers must continue to devote attention and resources to the classical needs of language learners while at the same time addressing the expanding and emerging demands in the digital economy.
The atmosphere of persistent connectedness allows learners to communicate more frequently in a few hours than their parents did throughout an entire day. Teachers of EFL must account for the rapidity and volume of messages arriving at each learner’s digital doorstep minute by minute. Considering the sheer volume of messages received, the value of learning an additional language, especially English, is potentially greater than at any point in history. At the same time, the expectations for language mastery are more rigorous as physically distant learners are increasingly in direct competition as online work and international travel become more efficient and affordable.
Despite the societal shift towards digital connectedness there is too often a dearth of well-integrated and authentic linguistic experience in the EFL classroom. The root of this shortage could be the lack of proper training for EFL teachers in how to use technology specifically for language exchange and skill development. Instead EFL teacher education and professional development is focused on general digital literacy and software skills rather than proper use of computer assisted language learning (CALL) pedagogy (Kessler, 2006). Often EFL teachers acknowledge the need for language learning which harnesses modern tools and offers a chance to cultivate sociocultural language awareness (CITATION NEEDED). However, these teachers may not be prepared to design online learning tasks which they did not experience as students. Learners that face online courses that have inadequately planned exchange may suffer from learning deficiencies and decreased levels of satisfaction (Croxton, 2014). Currently practicing teachers must gain knowledge and experience with bleeding-edge tools and appropriate pedagogy while at the same time expanding their own perceptions of education, identity, and culture. Social interaction must remain paramount to any online language learning tasks to prevent potential learner isolation, disenchantment, and threats to simply drop out of participation (Liu et al., 2007; Morris et al, 2005; Tello, 2007).
Teacher perceptions about learning, especially computer assisted language learning (CALL), may be an obstacle to normalizing modern teaching methods. Each action that a teacher takes in the classroom is supported by their beliefs about the nature of language, the learning process, and the important qualities of teaching (Nunan, 2004b). Teacher beliefs are, at least partially, a function of their own experiences as a student. Fortunately, when beliefs are dealt with through teacher education there is evidence that new perspectives can be formed (Borg, 2003). Encouraging the critical inspection of ingrained beliefs as a feature of participatory learning can serve to change those beliefs and future practice (Bullock & Muschamp, 2004; Chen, 2013).
One pervasive challenge to effective EFL teaching is the consistent shortage of authentic linguistic exchanges and cultural awareness raising opportunities. Liddicoat and Scarino state that language is not, “a thing to be studied but a way of seeing, understanding, and communicating about the world” (2013). Learners can develop their critical awareness of culture right along with the grammatical basics if given the opportunity. EFL learners develop linguistic skill not only in order to use language, but also by using the language actively (Van den Branden, 2006). EFL teachers have many opportunities to put their students in contact with other learners or native speakers of the English language, however, they must understand how to design a task and the significance of an authentic language exchange (Ellis, 2009).
Increasing attention on other cultures and a learners’ own culture is an aspect of language education which has been acknowledged as a central aim by the Central European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages, an agency followed by education ministries throughout the world. Thailand has formally taken on this aim in that each student should develop related to religion, identify, and heritage (Nong 2010).
There is perhaps no lesson more valuable than learning that one’s own cultural perspective is constructed from creations of the human intellect rather than some sort natural process (Kramsch, 2010). However, the process of teaching the ability to interpret and understand speakers from another culture is deeply esoteric challenge that has been often debated through various linguistic and philosophical lenses. The ability to apply cultural sensitivity and individualized interpretation is often referred to as intercultural communicative competence Kramsch claims that ICC is an individual’s ability to interpret meaning from language, symbols, and actions both to relate it to their own culture and to create an identity for themselves within another culture (2003). The idea of ICC is expanded on by Dervin and Gross in their paper on interculturality, intercultural interpretation, and cultural dynamics (2016). In this work they lay out key details which help explain identity, individuality, and interlocutor significance in ICC teaching and assessment.
Acknowledging the lesson of cultural awareness is a multifaceted endeavor, there are still tangible paths to assure that learners get an opportunity to examine issues such as identity and cultural difference. Perhaps the most compelling and direct way to support these issues is by incorporating technology-based intercultural communicative competency language learning tasks. These tasks cab be inexpensive and attainable to implement, especially in comparison to physical travel for EFL learners.
In EFL teaching there remains a tendency to continue with ingrained teaching method of knowledge transmission (Kustati, 2013) justified by philosophies of learning and acquisition that have been long denounced by scholars and debunked by research. Education, language acquisition, and language learning theory have long since moved past adherence to behaviorist and cognitivist approaches alone (Roberts, 1998). Yet in many nations there remains a tendency to continue with ingrained methods inspired by these philosophies of learning and acquisition. There is a great need to enrich the typical EFL lesson offerings with robust, dynamic language that challenge learners to think. Training EFL teachers in the effective design and implementation of cultural awareness raising tasks is the first step towards change in EFL teaching. Through an online intercultural exchange workshop it is possible to develop EFL teacher ability to design technology-based intercultural communicative tasks which offer context for the foundational elements of language which have been, and will continue to be, taught through mechanical drilling and translation tasks. Training of effective EFL teachers that can design and mediate modern cultural awareness raising lessons is the first step towards real change in EFL teaching.
In Thailand, EFL teaching is often comprised of outmoded grammar translation and oral drills with little consideration of spoken or communicative needs (Baker, 2016). According to Education First’s annual English Proficiency Index Thailand is significantly underperforming compared to other countries in ASEAN. Thailand was recently ranked 64nd in an index of 88 English learning nnations (English First, 2018). Over reliance on rote and repetition in Thai education may be at the very root of Thailand’s struggle with English competency. The continued adherence to these approaches becomes a greater liability with each passing year as Thai learners are increasingly expected to compete with the millions of students across the ASEAN region.
Thailand faces immense and growing pressure for the addition of innovative methods and pedagogical strategies that can help in response to the recent launch of ASEAN’s mutual recognition arrangement (MRA) in 2015. On top of this pressing concern is the internal transformation towards a value-based economy via the Thailand 4.0 initiative which will necessitate even greater gains in competitive competencies, particularly English language ability, in the near future. In order for the Thai workforce to compete with the labor pool of ASEAN there must be substantial progress in English language proficiency which may only arise with the addition of substantial amounts of realistic, first-hand language exchanges.
Authentic intercultural interactions using English as a lingua franca are no doubt difficult to incorporate into language teaching in an EFL context. EFL is by its very definition a remote learning experience. Realistic interaction is only available for ASEAN EFL learners in limited circumstances in the day-to-day life (CITATION NEEDED). As a result, the traditional approaches and limitations of the Thai education system prevail in EFL TEACHING. Often, not just in ASEAN learning context, language education prioritizes structural knowledge of language which can be more easily measured, assessed, and reported on. Nevertheless, interactions which address the real-world needs of language learners must be incorporated into the Thai EFL TEACHING curriculum. Thailand’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has included communication, thinking, problem-solving capacity, and ability to apply technology in its goals and learners’ key competencies since 2001 (Basic Core Competencies, 2008, p. 11). Thailand’s MOE has outlined goals and standards related to learners’ gaining an appreciation of cultural difference, understanding of cultural practices, and reflective abilities about their own identity (Thailand Ministry of Education, 2008). Classical educational methods of EFL TEACHING are severely deficient when applied to aims and objectives related to cultural dynamics, understanding identity, and reflecting on identity.
Movement toward modern tools, methods, and pedagogy is no simple task. Even when these changes are successfully incorporated into an education system, they are unlikely to cure the struggles of educators and learners. Therefore, language teaching methods that address cultural awareness and non-linguistic cognitive challenges should not exclude a focus on linguistic fundamentals or abandon traditional EFL essentials. These traditional strategies have prevailed because they help teachers come to grips with real-life problems, such as over-sized classes, mandatory materials, and beginning learners’ limited skill. If only English language teachers could sometimes approach the goals of 21st century language learners with OIEs they might find a feasible environment to include aspects of language at the structural, communicative, and social level thereby promoting language learning as an exciting, comprehensive life-learning experience. Any steps toward normalization of non-traditional teaching practices will require significant changes to teacher training in Thailand. Initially, language teacher education may be best served by implementing OIE as the teacher education method for shifting towards the incorporation of new online literacy, teaching about intercultural communicative competence (ICC), and inclusion of first-hand English as a lingua franca exchanges. An OIE consists of some manner of ICT being used to bridge physical distance. This bridge allows for an exchange of ideas across culturally different groups that would not naturally interact. In the context of language learning these exchanges, interchangeably referred to as telecollaborations, are traditionally aimed at developing linguistic skill and ICC most commonly through a task-based approach. Telecollaboration offers a unique space for teacher professional development (TPD) in that it can help to cultivate new online literacies through autonomous learning while still addressing traditional aims. Presently, it is possible for teachers to connect with other educators who are culturally different and physically distant while accumulating hands-on experience with ICT directly related to an EFL teaching context.
The research presented in this paper was undertaken to develop an example of how OIEs may be used to instruct EFL teachers on the principles of EFL TEACHING task design specifically for the OIE setting. Through an experiential workshop, conceptual and procedural considerations were presented to support the key areas of EFL TEACHING in this unique setting. The primary ICT tools used were the Google Office Suite, YouTube, Facebook Groups, and FlipGrid. Teachers worked through activities, discussions, assignments, and a pair-work project that provided conceptual information and opportunities for procedural experiences in OIE. The teachers were given conceptual knowledge related to the selection of ICT tools, coordination with co-teachers, engagement of online learners, development of OIE goals and objectives, establishment of task design sequences, and design of task based on detailed criteria. Supplied with this knowledge the teachers were challenged to critique, discuss, and create their own tasks through participatory exchanges with culturally different partners while using English as a lingua franca. The culmination of this workshop was a pair-work project that allowed each participant to take away a fully formed OIE task which was designed for their own classroom to exchange with learners abroad.
The fact that teachers are learning concepts about OIE practice while participating in the OIE format was integral to the design of this curriculum and research. Following previous examples from many articles on teacher education explicitly constructed for language teacher education in OIEs there is a demonstrated relationship between the ability to design OIEs for language learning and having experienced this sort of learning first hand (Bueno-Alstuey & García, 2016; Waldman et al, 2016; Whyte & Gijsen, 2016; Vinagre, 2016; Wach, 2017; Kurek & Müller-Hartmann, 2017). Exploration of concepts and participation in the procedure of task-design for telecollaborative language learning offers integration which is essential to teachers’ successful implementation in the classroom (Stickler & Hampel, 2007).
According to Thailand’s National Education Act of B.E. 2542 there is a requirement that all teachers regularly develop instructional media to be effective and create opportunities for learners to learn under all circumstances. Further, that act requires teachers to organize activities around permanent results with a focus on systematically reporting on the results of learner development. When properly configured OIEs support individualized learning that is easily monitored to meet these policy criteria. Resulting from the use of online platforms such as those chosen in this study, there is an automatic collection of evidence that records details about the task and learner contributions. Consequentially, a paper trail is created by these online tasks which can be used to report on learners’ performance, participation, and improvements. For this reason, the pair-work project was presented by participants in the form of a Google Site which serves as a portfolio for their task sequence going forward in their career.
The workshop curriculum designed for this study informed and expanded each participants’ ability to plan, organize, and design OIE activities. Since this is a project-based syllabus there is a fully-formed OIE and intercultural co-teacher relationship to draw upon once the workshop has concluded. The intent of this research experiment is to address the modern needs of ASEAN EFL teachers in a manner that supports real long-term changes to the behaviors, capabilities, and attitudes of teachers. By approaching the problems of Thailand’s consistently low proficiency scores from the EFL teacher level it is expected that these OIEs can become a standard feature of EFL curriculums which in turn could be a game changer for lagging Thai learners in the competitive Association of South East Asian Nation’s (ASEAN) labor force.
Culture is a meaning system constituted by a complex amalgam of knowledge, assumptions and values broadly shared within a given collectivity, which functions as a resource for individuals and groups to give meaning to the objects and actions in the material and social world (Dervin and Gross, 2016).
Intercultural Communicative Competence refers to an individual’s ability to interpret meaning from language, symbols, and actions both to relate it to their own culture and to create an identity for themselves within another culture (Kramsch, 2003). The idea is expanded on through the concepts of interculturality, intercultural interpretation, and cultural dynamics which add subtlety to the role of identity, individuality, and interlocutor significance.
1.2 Research Questions
1) To what extent does an online intercultural exchange workshop affect EFL teacher ability to design OIE tasks for the EFL classroom?
2) What are EFL teacher perceptions of the online intercultural exchange workshop?