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Community Works Journal—DIGITAL MAGAZINE for Educators




Blogging Our Way to Cultural Understanding


The following article explores the experience of two educators who are using classroom based blogging to deepen understanding, raise important questions, and ultimately as a tool to build classroom community, Sylvie Debevec Henning is Professor Emerita at East Carolina University, in the Department of French and Francophone Studies. Luci Fernandes is a regular contributor to Community Works Journal. She is a cultural anthropologist whose research focus is on documenting daily life through audio/visual mediums. She documents life ways in both contemporary Cuban and in Eastern North Carolina, where she lives and teaches anthropology courses for East Carolina University. Her aim in to highlight everyday people, their joys and struggles to connect people in their human experience.

bloggingBlogs as a Tool for Reflection
A blog is an innovative way for students to maintain and expand the scope of the reflective journal that is required in the Global Understanding course. Students share reactions to course readings and presentations by guest speakers as well as cultural observations after linking sessions with international partners. Their interactions with one another outside the classroom help overcome class time restrictions, expand opportunities for peer to peer learning and create a sense of student ownership. By democratizing discussion, the blog helps students articulate their ideas more freely, develop critical thinking skills and build confidence. The technology is flexible enough to allow for inclusion of media. We have found the sharing information about and reactions to cultural differences and similarities through blogging encourages students to develop cultural awareness and opens the way to greater cultural understanding. We have not seen any resistance to blogging; students have adapted well to it.

Opening a Community of Dialogue through Blogging
Educators have come to realize that “blogs have the potential to increase reflection, sense of community and collaboration in undergraduate classrooms”. Consequently, blogging has increasingly become an important means of providing an additional open forum for student discussion apart from regular class time. A majority of students find that blogging enhances their learning and leads them to think about course concepts outside the classroom. It can also provide an engaging environment in which students can synthesize material and do research collaboratively (Halic,Lee, Paulus & Spence, 2010; Lenhart & Fox, 2006).

Both the Humanities focused (INTL 1050/FORL 1060) and Social Science focused (ANTH 1050) sections of the Global Understanding class at East Carolina Univeristy use blogs to develop cultural understanding. The first is taught by the director of the International Studies program, Sylvie Debevec, whose home department is Foreign Languages and Literatures, the second by a member of the Anthropology faculty. Luci Fernandes
Blogs are useful because of time constraints imposed by the class structure of the Global Understanding Program. Class time is limited to face to face sessions that use video conferencing and Internet chat rooms to link … students with students in partner institutions around the world. Only after presentations by the instructors or guest speakers is there any time for classroom discussion and typically that limited interaction is only between instructor/guest speaker and students. Rarely is it between or among students. Blogging makes possible more social and peer interaction, which are the “foci of the learning community” (Glogoff, 2005), by creating additional opportunities for students to interact directly with each other outside the classroom about course content. Our experiences are consistent with the published results of surveys conducted by, e.g., Coutinho (2007), Davi, Frydenberg & Gulati (2007) and Farmer,Yue & Brooks (2008). These researchers found that students valued the interaction and sense of connection with their classmates provided by blogging.

The blog as used in our Global Understanding courses transforms the traditional reflective journal into an open forum of discourse. (Cf. Bull, Bull & Kajder, 2003) Students are required to post their journal entries in the course blog. They are expected to reflect on what they heard and read as well as to interact with their peers outside the classroom environment. Their assignment is to post after every class, field trip, guest speaker and reading assignment. Most blogs allow for responses and reactions from other readers through comments subsequent to the main entry. This interactive feature, Burgess points out, is fundamental when thinking of blogs as “social, and not only textual practice” and when approaching them from a “network orientation, rather than simply a writing orientation” (Burgess, 2006). Our students are required to comment on what they learned through each activity and to dialogue with their classmates through questions and responses. The blogs are on a password-protected site. Only students registered for the class can post or read other students’ entries. We decided that the advantages of safeguarding student privacy while blogging outweighed the disadvantages. The openness and authenticity of shared views within a safe environment are more important to us than discouraging irresponsible posting, which we have never encountered. (See Ellison and Wu, 2008).

Over the past three years that we have incorporated the blogs into our courses their structure has changed. At first students simply posted a reflective entry. They did not comment on each other’s entries, or ask questions. There was no dialogue. In fact, we could not confirm that the students had read each other’s comments.

02/25/2010 Female Freshman
Today our link with Peru was about stereotypes and prejudices. I felt like they had more sterotypes [sic] about us then we did about them, because of movies, tv [sic] shows and the media. Some stereotypes are close to correct but have been dramatized by those programs to show an extreme. My partner believed the typical American ate at McDonalds and was overweight, which we do have a problem with obesity in the United States, but the majority of Americans are not overweight. These topics were extremely hard to communicate about, because it is a sensitive subject everywhere. It was interesting though to see their views on us and correct any that had been dramatized from the truth. We also learned many stereotypes and prejudices that others have said about them, such as that they lived in a hut.

02/26/2010 Female Junior
I found the topic of stereotypes difficult to discuss with Peru only because I honestly didn’t have any stereotypes of Peru. The only thing that comes to mind when I think of Peru is warm weather. When I told my partner that she laughed because apparently it gets cold there. When I asked her what her stereotypes of us were, she said the first thing she thinks of is junk food, which I found really funny. During the group video chat, Peru stereotyped the US as only caring about football and fashion. When we asked them what their stereotypes of the north and the south were they said they weren’t even aware that we were divided in the north and south. No one in our video chat could come up with a typical stereotype for Peru, so they told us that they are often stereotyped as being uncivilized and uneducated. They explained that this stereotype is a result of Peru still having tribes. Even though there are bad stereotypes of both Peru and the US, I think we all handled it well because we both keep open minds.

02/29/2010 Female Junior
I was aware that stereotypes and prejudices existed but I don’t think I completely understood the depth. My partner revealed to me that because the country is all about masculinity; there is some stigma towards gays. She did ask how were Hispanic Latin American perceived in the US. I explained to her that immigration is a important and arguable topic here. My partner told me that she did have friends that we gay/bisexual/lesbian; but she did not feel comfortable when they were showing affection towards others.
We both agreed that a person’s sexual orientation should not be used against them and that it should define them as different. We both believed that is their right and if they choose that lifestyle and it is not affecting you, then who’s [sic] business is it. I learned alot [sic] during this link and chat and it opened my eyes to things I knew little about before being educated about it.
Our first modification was to require students to make three entries for each class, whether a local day or a linking day, whether we had a traditional lecture, a guest speaker or another activity. They had to post a comment, pose a question and respond to a comment and/or answer a question. This resulted in more real interaction, but still not as much as we wanted because the blog was not set up to allow for threaded discussion. Students had to indicate in their comments that they were responding to a specific person, which made them less willing to interact with their classmates, it seems.

11/08/10 Male Junior
K, You know how here in the U.S. there are the couple topics you just don’t discuss, i.e. religion and politics, to avoid confrontation and debates. in this case i think they wanted to know our opinion but didn’t want to tell us theirs.
Currently, our blogs are structured to allow for multiple levels of threaded discussion. There is much more give and take among the students leading to real dialogue.

02/04/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Portugal)
I noticed that most of them still live with their parents which actually did not really surprised me. According to my friends, Moroccan young adults usually leave home when they get married and they find a job. Although they would like to live on campus, unfortunately universities do not have dorms.

It was interesting the distinctions between private and public schools. For instance, the teaching style in the private ones is more westernized and student participation seems to be very important.

02/06/11 Female Sophomore
I agree that it is different that students live with their parents until their married because college students move out as soon as they go to college.

02/13/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Japan)
I also had the same impression [sic] of no suprise [sic] that Moroccan young adults still live with their children, not so many countries have good enough resident systems to treat all participants in colleges as the domitories [sic]in Japan are for the people from relative low-income.

02/14/22 Female Senior
I somewhat like how many students live at home because I honestly think it would save me a lot of money if I did so as well. Yet, what about the people who never get married? They would probably be living with their parents forever.

02/17/11 Female Sophomore
I was wondering about the people who never get married as well. Do you think that they just move out when they can afford to b e on their own? Or do you think they have an obligation to stay and help out with their family?

02/22/11 Female Junior
Today we finished up College life and started to talk a little about Family life. They informed us that it usually takes 5 years to complete a degree in Turkey. Not all majors require internships, however, some do. They stay in dorms similar to us, or rent some type of house/apartment with other friends. When we ask them about where they study the first answer we got was Starbucks. Turkey seems very similar to American Universities when it comes to the idea of partying. Each semester is three to four months and of course there are two academic semesters per year. Between each semester there is a four week holiday. This was basically the end of college life.
As far as family life goes, divorce rates tend to be high in Turkey because women have now become more self-sufficent [sic] financially. In the case of a divorce the kids usually reside with the mother. Around the ages of 24 and 25 is the typical time for marriage (this age has increased compared to previous years). I also found it interesting that most adults wait 4 to 5 years after being married to have kids. For Turkey being so heavily populated and having major cities like Istanbul, I find it interesting that homelessness is rare among their culture.


02/23/11 Female Junior
I also found it interesting that they wait so long to have children, I am used to people pretty much having kids soon after they are married and settled into their home together.

What Do We Mean by Cultural Understanding?
Cultural understanding can be defined as an awareness of the diversity of cultures that exist around the world. It encompasses as well the knowledge that culture encompasses “the whole way of life of a people or group,” including “the social practices that bond a group of people together and distinguish them from others.” (Montgomery and Reid-Thomas, 1994) The Global Understanding courses provide opportunities for peer to peer interactions among students from a variety of countries around the world. In order to complete the course successfully, students are required to write papers about each of the three countries with which they have linked throughout the semester. Their cross cultural comparisons must focus on similarities and differences between cultures. As they analyze other cultures, they are also analyzing their own cultural beliefs and practices. This raises their awareness of the cultural other while shedding light on their own culture.

Usually cultural understanding is described synchronically or atemporally. Sometimes the focus is on values and beliefs (McConeghy, 1992) or rules of behavior, either implicit or explicit. The focus can also be on basic social, political or economic structures (Lincoln, 1989; Nichols, 2008; Wood,1987). When the literature and the arts (Nichols, 2008) are included, often the emphasis is on popular forms (Wood, 1987). Cultural understanding can also be focused on current issues, trends, and problems (Meyers, 1989; Strange, 1989). At a higher level, cultural understanding refers to the ability to recognize, and even analyze critically, conceptual categories, “fundamental codes” (Smith, 1990), “interpretive schemata” (Armstrong) and ideologies (Ryan, 1991). The diachronic or temporal dimension to cultural understanding should not, however, be overlooked. Codes, structures, mindsets and expectations all have changed over time and continue to do so (Babson, 1989). Before the linking sessions, students read about cultural practices and customs using texts from a variety of sources including literature and ethnographic material. Then they speak to people their own age who are a part of that culture to gain a deeper understanding of that culture as it is lived in the contemporary world. This combination of readings and actual interaction helps students to realize that culture involves great variation and is in a constant state of change.

Levels of cultural understanding extend from mere awareness up through the degree of competency at which a student becomes able to act effectively in a foreign context (Toyne, 1992). In the domain of attitudes, we can help our students develop an appreciation of both differences and similarities between and among cultures. Students quickly try to discover the familiar inside the unfamiliar or strange. We can help supplement this tendency with an openness to otherness and a sensitivity to diversity by helping them confront their reactions to what remains strange. We should no longer shy away from presenting the aspects of foreign culture that might shock or even offend our students (Ryan, 1991; Smith, 1990; Toyne, 1992). Students would benefit greatly from being able, Richard Wood wrote in “Seeing the World as Others See It,” to “get enough inside the thinking of others to respect their values (which is not the same as accepting them) and…. grow in our imaginative capacity to identify with people different from us” (Wood, 1987). In order to develop this ability, our students need to realize the extent to which their own acting and being are shaped by cultural constraints. More generally, they need, as Heidi Byrnes has written, to learn how to “appreciate cultural relativity while respecting demands imposed by cultural frames of reference” (Byrnes, 1990). Students would then be better able to reflect upon what they have learned through their interactions with students from a different set of cultural beliefs, religious practices, and societal norms.

Why should we develop cultural understanding?
Understanding of other cultures can help prevent cross-cultural misunderstanding and promote respect for cultural differences. We can hope that such understanding will lead to a diminution of the intolerance, xenophobia and racism that has bred intolerance, persecution, and conflict, sometimes threatening national security and world peace.

Cultural understand helps students make comparisons among cultures, not as a means of depreciating other cultures, but as a means of enriching their experience through a realization of diversity of possible ways of dealing with aspects of life. Comparisons make students aware that there is still diversity among cultures, even though some culture elements are being globalized.

As students learn about the diversity of cultures among countries, we can remind them that no culture is homogeneous. Every culture has many facets, levels, layers. There are many internal differences: regional, class, urban/rural, age. Reminding students of this internal heterogeneity by, for example, comparing regional differences within the Unites States, can be a way of countering stereotypes.

At the same time, some elements do help define the culture, even though all the individuals within the culture may not demonstrate these elements or agree with them. As students become more curious about other cultures, they develop a conscious sense of their own cultural identity or identities. They become more aware of their own cultural norms, values and perspectives.

Cultural understanding can also help students become better citizens who have the critical thinking skills necessary to participate thoughtfully in the global society as well as in their local multicultural communities.
2. How can blogging help to develop cultural understanding?

Students share with their classmates a new awareness of daily routines, customs, and behaviors in other cultures. They also share what they have learned about their partners’ feelings, concerns, values and attitudes. Students have the opportunity to compare what they have learned about other cultures to what they know and feel about their own culture. Through interacting and dialoguing with their classmates, students come to appreciate the range of perspectives that exist around the world. Blogs have been used in a similar way to expand the diversity-related literacy of pre-service teachers (Wang & Hsua, 2008).

On Multilingualism and American Monolingualism:

02/04/11 Male Senior
Firstly, I was extremely impressed by the students’ command of the English language. I was almost embarrassed when they told us how many languages a normal Moroccan would speak because as Americans I think we sometimes get caught up in the idea that as a dominant global culture, everyone should learn how to communicate with us rather than the opposite way around. The opportunity to link with them will provide such a great opportunity to understand a country, and culture which is on a completely different continent while simultaneously allowing us to portray a much more realistic idea of American life for them.

02/06/11 Male Senior
Why do you think Americans are less inclined to learn another language other than English?

02/09/11 Female Sophomore
I was embarrassed as well when they asked if could speak languages other than English. In most countries, it is essential to speak a few different languages. Here, all we worry about is how to communicate with each other in the U.S.

02/10/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Japan)
But American can always have a lot of opportunities to speak foreign languages with native people actually (immigrants, mixed, international students, and etc), it’s really enviable for me because even if we learn English hard, we don’t have much chance to practice English or communicate with natives.

02/10/11 Male Junior
I go straight to elementary education, there is no such thing as taking a language to actually “learn” the language. In countries across the world they can start learning a second language as soon as they hit grade school, if not before. I wish I could speak a few languages, it is quite embarrassing when you hear someone say they can speak four and you only speak your native language.

02/03/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Japan)
After the first linking session, 2 main things came up in my mind as the most memorable impressions in our interaction. First of all, it was interesting for me to know that they did really well to proceede [sic] with our conversation in English even though they were just using one of several languages they could speak. Taking the sistuation [sic] into consideration that most of us can speak only 1 or 2 languages, I came to be interested in knowing how they feel and recognize themselves when they have a conversation or discuss something in English. Second of all, though the 2 students whom we talked to were boys and wore casual clothes, I saw one girl on the screen who covered whole her body with Musulim [sic] black cloth and head scarf (though the female teacher looked wearing normally). That was the moment I could feel I came into a totally different world from my culture, and became looking forward to seeing more students at the next linking session.

02/08/11 Male Sophomore
Just curious, do people in Japan often speak more than one language?

02/10/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Japan)
No, we study English at junior high and high schools as mandatory subject, but don’t use it on daily basis because we’re not in need to speak it with little chance to meet natives. There is big population of Korean and China but they usually can speak Japanese fluently.

On Polygamy:

02/10/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Portugal)
I am still wondering how a man can love four women at the same time…Is that Love? Perhaps, the meaning of love does not have the same value as in monogamy societies. I asked them, but nobody replied. Why?

Some of my Muslim friends told me once that they are strongly opposed to polygamy. They cannot imagine that it is possible to truly love four women at the same time.

02/14/11 Female Senior
I agree on not knowing if that is true love. If you knew your partner had this as
part of his religion would you consider it in your life?

02/15/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Portugal)
Even though my partner had polygamy as part of his religion I would not accept that he marries another woman. I cannot imagine another woman sharing my bed with my husband and living with me in the same house.

02/18/11 Male Sophomore
Having four wives is almost impossible for me to imagine; I just feel like it would be really awkward for me.

02/19/11 Female Sophomore
I agree as well. Do you think the male would consider it love and the women
wouldn’t? Or vice versa? Or maybe, do you think the women actually love each
other like they are family? It sounds so bizarre to me.

02/21/11 Female Freshman-International Student (Japan)
My partner also disagrees with polygamy… From non-believer perspective, it’s understandable that how religions have great influence and sometimes miracle power to change beliver’s [sic] mind and behaviors but it sounds not easy to think about the manipulative control toward feelings of affections or romantic matters of human being.

We encourage our students to express in their blog postings their opinions about the cultural attitudes, values, and practices they encounter in the linking sessions and the cultural readings. They often include their emotional responses, both positive and negative. They also share personal experiences that lead to comparisons between the linking culture and our own.

Students tend to be more open and frank in their blog postings than in face-to-face interactions in class. Our observations are consistent with the finding of researchers such as Leslie & Murphy (2008) and Dickie (2004) that providing outlets for self-disclosure of personal feelings and reactions helps students feel more comfortable dealing with problems and stresses. Our students often have to confront unfamiliar or even disturbing aspects of other cultures, such as arranged marriages, polygamy, dietary restrictions, censorship. Being about to voice their feelings reduced their sense of cultural isolation and enhances the sense of community. It also helped some of them move beyond their initial feelings, usually negative, to positions of greater cultural understanding. ( Cf. the comments of pre-service teachers discussed by Wang and Hsua, 2008.)

Collaborative Constructionism and Blogging
Blogging leads to more than simple interaction, as Garrison & Akyol (2009) point out. They argue that blogging is collaborative because students are engaged in purposeful discourse. Students share their own reflections on what they have learned as well as their own perceptions and insights. In this way they construct meaning and validate each other’s understanding (Garrison & Akyol, 2009). A number of quantitative studies have found that students acknowledged that blog dialogues opened up new opportunities to reflect on course related concepts outside of class and to acquire from their classmates with whom they shared their own ideas different perspectives on the course material (Halic,Lee, Paulus & Spence, 2010). The research of Paulus, Payne & Jahns (2009) confirmed that students revealed different points of view on the general course topic, when blogging in an unstructured environment without discussion prompts or instructor intervention. Sharma &Xie (2008) as well, found that the different perspectives on the course content presented through blogging stimulated student thinking and learning by provoking more careful examination of the content in discussion beyond the classroom. These activities helped develop critical thinking and reflective skills. Students experience more satisfactory learning experiences, the researchers found, in classes where they have a sense of being connected to their peers and being part of a learning community. Lichtenstein’s research (2005), although it deals with classroom environments not the educational use of blogs, also found that the overall learning experiences of students and their learning outcomes were positively affected when they felt part of a classroom community.

The blog allows students to read each other’s reflections and comment on them; the traditional notebook of reflections, on the other hand, was only read by the individual student and the teacher. Blogging thus becomes a form of peer to peer learning. It democratizes the discussion. Students gain confidence in the articulation and development of their own ideas with minimum faculty intervention. They benefit by sharing information gathered from face to face interactions, chats, and additional personal research. They can ask questions about cultural aspects that are unfamiliar as well as about things that they didn’t understand, or found confusing. They encounter other perspectives on what they heard or read that can help them formulate their own interpretations. At the same time they can receive acknowledgement from their peers of their own perspectives and interpretations.

02/06/11 Male Senior
The presentation by Dr. M. allowed us all to get a better understanding of how Islam came about and what role it plays in todays [sic] society. The presentation also allowed us to see that the religion as a whole, is not one of violence or hate. The media today has portrayed Islam and Muslims as savages who seek to harm Americans. In no way does that reflect the teachings of Muhammad or the majority of its followers. The U.S needs to continue to improve upon its relationship with Islam and seek understanding and common ground.

02/08/11 Male Sophomore
I agree that one of the worst weapons against understanding Islam, sadly, is the media. It seems like it should be the opposite.
Some researchers have suggested that “posting information online makes the author think twice about its content and perception. What would my … classmates make of my musings? What if a knowledgeable reader came across my blog and pointed out my amateurish assumptions? Could I really be sure of any of the assertions I was about to make?” (Windham)

02/22/11 Male Junior:
Ok, I accidentally posted my comment before fixing it. So I don't want anyone judging my spelling errors, run-on sentences, and awkward jump-cut thoughts. My apologies.

Effects of Safe Space
This has not always been our experience, as the spelling, grammar and word choice errors in some of the blog comments from our classes indicate. Perhaps this is because we have chosen not to make our course blogs truly public; they are not accessible by people who are not in the class; they are not listed by search engines such as Google. This was a conscious decision on our part; we want our students to be in an environment that was an expansion of the classroom, but not part of the public space. Some students in our classes seem to post comments without any attempt at self-monitoring; their posts, while not being text messages or email messages, do exhibit some of the same carelessness with spelling, punctuation and syntax.

11/13/10 Male Junior
M, Well, you do have to agree, we do know how to party! ha ha. i don’t know how other countries party, but in the States its a norm. Go to college, study… and party. Again im sure they think this because of american movies portray that we party when we can.
The fact that the Chinese dislike the koreans does not surprise me at all. I mean considering the history and conflict which most of us had learned in history class, it is what it is. As for the stereotype of the fortune cookie, i really wanted to test the question on if they even knew what a fortune cookie was. A long time ago i watched the history channel and they showed how it was only catered to the U.S.

Question: Was anybody else aware or caught by surprise that the Chinese didn’t even know what a fortune cookie was?

11/07/10 Male Junior
J, i agree with ya, if you can afford it then do it, but i think 18 in the TLC show case is crazy.

To be honest, i never thought that what i previously herd about the chinese having one child was true, it just seems to unreal to me that a government could have that much control over family life. but in this case its understandable. Because i wish i could strangle the family on the TLC channel for having 18 kids, it almost like not even having a family but running a daycare, there is no direct parent child strong relationship, just seems like a weird scenario. But im sure the grocery stores enjoy their business.
i did like how they had old school principles, i.e. boys pay for everything, boys chase the girls, and boys have to really try to win the girl.

question: I never got around to asking, what would happen if people actually had more than one child. Do they have laws if a girl gets pregnant thats like underage? does that mean that if she has a child young that its her only one allowed?

01/22/10 Male Junior
B, i totally agree with your perspective of the russians in moscow and the close minded attitude.

About stereotypes, My biggest stereotype about Russia was Vodka and the fur hats, in Colorado they kinda started to become popular, i almost bought myself a rabbit one. when they said bears were a stereotype, i never thought of bears and Russia together. but i think it was good to throw our stereotypes out on the table and see what each other thought about it, because now when i think of Russia i don’t ‘entirely’ think of vodka, haha. but it does help elaborate our perspective.

Question: I wonder if we really impacted their perspective of American stereotypes?

Thinking Out Loud
They are quite free to say whatever comes into their minds, to use the blog as what Oliver (2005) calls a “think out loud space”.

This brings us to the question of faculty intervention. Windham has discovered that opinions differ among students, but they agree that if faculty are involved, they need to find ways that do not inhibit student expression. We have chosen to be minimally involved in the blogs. We monitor the comments to be sure that students are not posting any inappropriate speech. (We have never had to censor a posting for this reason.) We do respond to correct factual mistakes or to provide information when students request it. We would, however, prefer that other students correct these mistakes or provide this information in their responses.

Blogging can also help students develop their analytic and critical thinking skills. They can learn, for example, to determine constitutive parts and their relative importance, to see the relation(s) of parts to whole, to note similarities and differences. Beyond this they can begin to acquire the “ability to transfer what we know and how we understand from familiar to unfamiliar situations,” or even “to negotiate different perspectives when one discovers that common ground is lacking” (Armstrong, 1988).

We have found that peer pressure can enhance the quality of comments, pushing students to be more thoughtful, critical or analytical. The pressure comes from the peers and not the instructors. Each class has its own tone or creates its own environment. That tone may depend on the student’s life experience, years of instruction, their place in their academic career, in general their intellectual maturity or immaturity. Juniors and seniors, students with more life experience, international students: all these groups can serve as models for thoughtful comments.

1/11/10 Female Sophomore (non-traditional student; returning veteran)
In this session there was some discussion about the predominance of certain beliefs/religions in the U.S., China, and other countries; I am getting the impression for most ECU students that this only took place in the actual video-telecommunication portion of the class.

The students from SDU had a million questions for the ECU students, but not much to say in response to ECU students’ questions; claiming that English wasn’t a strong suit, that they weren’t interested, et circa…. I love it when people see something in what is said and not said. I think that this session was interestingly revealing for students on both sides of the world.

Do you know amount of control that has been and may still be exerted over anyone who gives a public international face to a foreign public university from either Russia or China?

How much of this exerted control, if there is any, is based upon historical issues that are now have [sic] become part of the culture?

How much of it has consequences that are really enforced as opposed to just threatened?

Creating a Sense of Local Community Through Blogging
Blogging helps build and broaden learning communities. The Global Classroom technology establishes a virtual international community. However, this is at the expense of the local classroom community that usually develops in a small class through regular discussion throughout the course of the semester. In the Global Classroom students are very focused on their interactions with their international partners, either through the video conferencing, Internet chat, or email and Facebook. Blogging contributes to the creation of a sense of local community that goes beyond the classroom. The threaded blog discussions also help students develop a social rather than the writing/textual orientation of the separate blog comments with which we originally started.

Interdependence and supportive interpersonal relationships are considered essential to the creation of a sense of community (Halic, Lee, Paulus & Spence, 2010). In fact, many studies have identified the second concept, supportive interpersonal relationships, as a prerequisite of sense of community (e.g., Battistich, 1995, Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Nichols, 2008; Solomon, Watson, Battistich, Schaps, & Delucchi, 1996). Many students, it seems, need to belong to a group. Baumeister & Leary (1995) argued that this need can be satisfied if frequent and positive interactions occur within a framework of stable interpersonal relationships. We have tried to structure our course blogs to be safe local communities that allow for freedom of expression.

The question arises: Why did we not expand the community to include the international partners? We share many different resources with our partners on the program Wiki, but we decided to keep the course blog private. We think that our students need to feel free to discuss what they have learned without comment, correction, or possible criticism, not only from their instructors, but also from their international peers. Students should be allowed to figure out among themselves, to sort out their own perceptions, to comment freely on what their international partners have said or revealed about their own opinions, especially concerning United States culture. Students should feel they can comment freely about what they find different, unusual, even wrong or offensive in other cultures. They should feel free to express their own emotional reactions: surprise, anger, or pleasure. They should be free to express their own ignorance or comment on the ignorance of their own partners.

11/24/2010 Female senior
The stereotypes linking session, like every other time, is a little awkward. I always feel like I am going to offend someone. Obviously I offend people within the class. Going back and reading some of the other discussion posts, I saw where Capps (don’t know your real name!) acted offended towards a statement I said about the president being a muslim [sic]. In these linking sessions and discussion posts, I am not trying to offend anyone. With that being said, not everyone is going to have the same opinion. If I offended you, please say something to me in the classroom and not online.

The Turkish partners gave us a few different stereotypes that they view or feel the United States has. For example, the television is always in the center of our living rooms. There is a lot of truth to this stereotype. TVs are most commonly the main focal point in American living rooms. Our Turkish partner class said that they get views of American by watching movies such as, American Beauty, Fastfood Nation and OO7 movies. They stated that there are always American flags flying in the background in American movies, which I have never really noticed before. Our class said the Turkish stereotypes are meat on a stick, dancing, drinking, and Turkish delights. Their class laughed because there are truths to every stereotype said that day during the discussion.

12/02/2010 End of semester reflection female junior
The best linking session by far was Peru. The students were really easy to talk too and cool. They actually responded back to email and made more of attempt to actually get to know us. What i got from this link is that we are basically all the same no matter where we are in the world. Every Country that we linked all had students pursing college education, which said a lot about them. My most memorable moment was Malaysia and their professor. I felt that he did all the talking for the students and which made it hard to really get to know the students. Malaysia would have been a good link to if we got to talk to the students more.

2/24/11 Male Sophomore
It was crazy, the story the student told us about the woman killing her child. I understand how unacceptable it is, but I don't feel like it should ever be taken to that extreme. That situation alone has me back on the band-wagon of my culture.

11/18/10 Female Freshman
I think its [sic] interesting that they cant [sic] tell the difference between Americans [sic] and british [sic] people. These links make you put yourself in other peoples [sic] shoes, and it makes you understand more about them. I really cant [sic] tell the difference beween [sic] most Asians, so i guess its [sic] all fair. Its [sic] really obvious that their government is in control of a lot of things because of the way that they acted when it came up. They had no interest in talking about politics which is just very different from us; a place where we debate in class. Do you think they ever have debates? or even a debate class?

We do not want to encourage self censorship. We want to encourage peer to peer feedback and correction, because we think that students are more likely to respond positively to comments and correction from their peers than from their instructors in the sensitive domains of attitudes, values and emotions. Wang and Hsua (2008) suggest that students use only first names or aliases so that sensitive topics can be discussed more freely. We did not consider this necessary since our classes as small (limited to 15) and anonymity would not be possible in any case.

Beyond the Blog
In the Anthropology-focused section of the course, students are required to write three “mini-ethnographies at the end of each linking session. The content of their papers are a mixture of information collected during video conferences, peer to peer chat sessions, conversations that take place outside of the class room face book, email, plus outside readings assignments. The paper reflects a synthesis of first hand materials plus secondary sources.

Humanities Perspective: Cultural Portfolio
In the Humanities focused section of the Global Understanding course, one literary reading (short story, poem, essay or excerpt) is provided for each discussion topic (college life/education; family life/traditions; meaning of life/religion; stereotypes/prejudices) Students are required to read all the texts for each linking country. In addition, students are required to prepare a cultural portfolio for each linking country that comprises two short essays. Each essay has three components: A section summarizing what students learned about the topic from the video discussions, Internet chats and email exchanges with partners as well the formal class presentations, guest lecturers and field trips; A section summarizing the text students have read, using the study guides if they like; A section summarizing what the text reveals about the culture that produced it. Students should include in their essay a discussion of whether what they have learned from direct contact with people from the culture confirmed, contradicted, or complemented what they had learned from the assigned readings. They are encouraged to compare readings from different cultures on the same topic whenever possible.

This is the same requirement for both classes These papers should be approximately two to three pages. Students submit a first draft to the professor. Once they receive feedback from professor, they rewrite their paper to adjust to respond to comments and resubmit. Since students are required to post blog comments about each class session, whether local or linking, as well as about each reading, the blog serves as a pre-writing exercise, giving students opportunities to try out ideas and get feedback from their peers before submitting their ideas to their instructor as part of their cultural portfolios/mini ethnographies.

Blogging provides students with opportunities to comment on what they have heard and read, to see what their classmates are posting, to ask questions and to respond to the comments of others. These peer to peer interactions are relatively rare in the classroom and often rather artificial and stilted. Blogging interactions are less inhibited by the classroom setting and professorial oversight. Students become aware of both insider and outsider perspectives. They learn about themselves and their own culture as they learn about other cultures. This learning is heightened when the class includes exchange students from non-linking countries. Thus blogging can help them develop a better sense of their own personal identity as well as of their own cultural/group identity.

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