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Integrating culture, language and technology.


This article reports the findings from a longitudinal assessment following a three-year project of faculty training in the design and development of interactive, multimedia courseware for the study of second languages and cultures. A multidisciplinary approach to faculty development included training in language acquisition theories, cultural studies, instructional design and computing skills. Participating faculty were awarded stipends to travel to the target countries and afterward employ authentic materials for the authoring of interactive courseware. The author's examination of the potential of a cognitive apprenticeship model for the study of culture is based on the analysis of faculty and students' perceptions of the effectiveness of the courseware. Parts of this study were presented at the 10th International CALL Conference "CALL Professionals and the Future of CALL Research" at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, 2002.



Most scholars recognize that "A language is part of culture and a culture is part of language; the two are intricately interwoven such that one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture" (Brown, 1987). In the past four decades, researchers have been proposing models for integrating culture and language in second language (L2) instruction (Born, 1975; Lafayette, 1988; Ballman, 1997). However, Moore (1996) found that these models have not been widely adopted, and the teaching of culture (C2) is frequently limited to cultural notes in the language textbook. Quinn Allen (2000) argues that because of limited experiences living in the C2, many teachers lack familiarity with and understanding of C2, as well as training on how to integrate L2 and C2 in formal instruction.

Can technology help integrate L2 and C2 in formal teaching? According to Furstenberg and Morgenstern (1992), one of the goals of new technologies is to "immerse the learners in a completely authentic world, giving them the tools and tasks to understand and interpret the linguistic and cultural reality around them ..." (p. 119). At the same time, technology is not a new teaching tool, but rather one that holds a potential for "making languages come alive for our students" (Iskold & Pearce, 1996). A review of research literature in the field indicates that theories of L2 acquisition, cognitive-theoretical views on L2 learning, and sociocultural approaches to L2 teaching provide a theoretical foundation for the integration of linguistic and cognitive skills with culture (Salaberry, 1996).

One of the current challenges for institutions of higher learning is to bring faculty into the world of technology not only as consumers, but also as researchers and developers of new instructional materials. At our undergraduate liberal arts college, an initial three-year (1995-97) grant provided faculty training in the development of multimedia courseware to complement elementary L2 learning outside of the classroom. The faculty development program integrated theories of L2 acquisition, instructional design, and multimedia authoring using Asymetrix ToolBook. In line with contemporary views regarding the benefits of authentic materials for L2 teaching summarized by Omaggio Hadley (1993), and in an attempt to resolve copyright problems, participating faculty were awarded stipends to travel to C2 countries and bring back authentic materials to be used in the courseware. The sociocultural approach to language learning, which places L2 acquisition in a context of social practices, has recently emerged form a theory proposed by Vygotsky (1962). Vygotsky focuses on the relationship among mind, language, communication and culture, and he demonstrates that apprenticeship learning is an integral part of formal and informal adult learning. According to this theory, the teacher serves as a "facilitator, guide, and when appropriate, expert" in apprenticing students "into discourse and social practices" of the communities of native speakers (Warschauer, 1997, p.90).

A subsequent two-year (1998-99) grant from the same foundation allowed for the integration of the faculty-developed materials into the college's L2 curriculum, as well as for studies examining the effectiveness of the project. Although the multidimensional evaluation of the effectiveness of the project considers more research questions, this article addresses only the following concern: does an integrated approach to faculty development, which combines sociocultural views of L2 acquisition, instructional design and computing with a cognitive apprenticeship model, lead to high levels of student satisfaction with C2 learning?

Courseware Description

With the assistance of five students, seventeen faculty-participants have authored twenty-six thematic CALL (computer assisted language learning) rifles in all six languages offered by the college. The courseware is not bound to any textbook and is intended to complement classroom instruction. Several CALL units in French, German and Spanish take students on exciting trips conducted by faculty to France, Austria, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Spain.

Video footage, audio files, photographs and maps brought back by faculty and integrated into the CALL units eliminate copyright problems frequently encountered with the use of authentic materials. The multimedia format and the design of the courseware allow the teacher to serve as a mediator between the C2 and a student learner. For example, the courseware incorporates ethnographic interviews with native speakers; visits to historical places, educational institutions, and cultural festivals; shopping sprees, and exploration of native cuisine. Two CALL units, "Russian Cooking" and "En la farmacia," which are also modeled on a cognitive apprenticeship framework, invite learners to visit a Russian restaurant and a Hispanic pharmacy respectively, by presenting video clips of scenes acted out by native speakers and videotaped at the college. In order to encourage students' use of multimedia materials authored by faculty, the courseware is incorporated into the L2 syllabi and 10% of the final grade in basic courses is assigned for coursework based on the CALL units.


The participants in this study were drawn from an undergraduate, four-year college with a population of 1,800 students. All students enrolled in basic language courses, including French, German, Italian, Latin, and Russian, participated in the study. In 1998, 252 students participated in the project evaluation in the spring and 329 in the fall semester; in 1999, 264 and 351 students participated, respectively. A baseline test during the first week of the semester was used to establish equivalency of participants' backgrounds with the backgrounds of students taking the same course in the previous semester, by language and by level. The test consisted of discrete-point items, which have only one correct answer; the maximum possible score on the test was 12 points. As an example, one semester group means (with standard deviations in parentheses) are listed here: 9.05 (1.83); 8.16 (1.96); 8.16 (2.11); 9.02 (1.3); 8.46 (1.86) and 9.01 (2.00). T-tests for comparison with the previous semester indicated that the differences were statistically insignificant. Ten full-time and ten part-time faculty in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures participated in the study. Among the full-time faculty, eight participated in the project as courseware developers and two were new hires. None of the ten part-time faculty participated in the project as a courseware developer. A team of faculty designed five assessment instruments to measure student and faculty perceptions of the effectiveness of original CALL materials. The criteria used in this evaluation were partially drawn from Howard (1989), and based on principles outlined by Brown (1988) and Dick & Cary (1990). The surveys employed a five-point Likert scale, with one equal to "strongly agree" and five equal to "strongly disagree." A panel of experts validated all survey items.

The study took place over four semesters in 1988 and 1999. Both students and faculty were informed concerning the purpose of the study, both signed consent forms for participation and were informed regarding the anonymity of their responses. In all participating sections, regular classroom activities were conducted according to the syllabi. Students used the faculty-authored courseware at the Language Learning Center, and were allowed to use the CALL materials at their own convenience with regard to the time of day and pace at which the learning occurred. All instructors demonstrated the courseware and trained students in its use.

(1) Upon completion of the development stage, faculty authors completed a self-evaluation of their own title and/or titles, using a special grid. The researcher conducted a qualitative analysis of the faculty self-evaluations. (2) Upon completion of each courseware unit, students filled out a two-section Courseware Evaluation Survey. The data obtained from this survey were analyzed quantitatively. (3) At the end of each semester, students responded to a post-treatment Student Survey on Multimedia, which contained four sections of items regarding student perceptions of the effectiveness of the courseware. This survey was administered during four consecutive semesters and quantitative analysis of the data was conducted. (4) Faculty responded to pre- and post-treatment surveys. These were also administered during four consecutive semesters and the data were analyzed quantitatively. In addition, student performance on an exit examination was compared with the same test given in the previous semester.


Qualitative analysis of the faculty self-evaluations revealed, that although different in content, the courseware share common features: they all present the target language and culture in a rich authentic context and employ graphics, photos, interactive images, textual support, audio and video, thus assuring multi-sensory cognitive processing. Averaged across all programs, students' rating of their enjoyment in using the faculty-authored courseware was M=2.08 (SD = 0.29). This rating varied from 1.47 to 2.67 for individual programs. Lower numbers indicate greater agreement with the statement that they enjoyed using the courseware.

When assessing the benefits of the courseware for each of the five areas (vocabulary, reading, listening, grammar, and culture), students were in general agreement that faculty-authored materials helped them improve their vocabulary (M = 2.51) and listening comprehension (M =2.26). However, students agreed that the courseware is most beneficial for the study of culture. The following means signify average student agreement that CALL materials helped to improve their knowledge of C2. The first number stands for year one, and the second for year two, of evaluation means, respectively: French (3.02; 2.28); German (2.54, 2.17); Latin (2.67, 2.23); Russian (2.15, 1.92), and Spanish (2.17, 1.89). Student performance on an exit examination was compared with the same test given the previous semester. A t-test of the scores revealed that students performed significantly better on culture and grammar in Spanish [t (43) = 2.81, and t (39 = 6.39 p < .05), respectively. No statistically significant differences were found in performance either in other languages or in other skill areas. In addition, students indicated that materials authored by faculty helped them to feel more relaxed (M = 2.29) and focused (M = 2.37). At the same time, the respondents were neutral about the impact of the courseware on the level of their linguistic confidence (M = 2.94) and desire for continued study of the language (M = 3.18). However, they pointed out that faculty should develop more CALL materials (M = 2.12).

Full-time faculty indicated that the courseware helped students learn the target culture (M = 1.45) and vocabulary (M = 1.75), and develop reading comprehension (M = 2.00); explanations were helpful and clear (M = 2.14), and the level of the courseware was appropriate. Full-time faculty members reported that students enjoyed using the courseware (M = 2.18), were more relaxed because they could work at their own pace (M= 2.27), and were able to focus on the areas of their individual needs (M = 2.25). Overall, full-time faculty became more comfortable using computers and integrating CALL materials, and showed a greater change (from M = 1.73 to 1.24) than part-time faculty (from M = 2.86 to M = 2.76). Students' responses were generally similar to those of full-time faculty on all items.


It appears that a multidisciplinary approach to faculty training, including cultural studies, language acquisition theories, computer-assisted instructional design and computer literacy, allowed faculty authors to acquire the knowledge necessary for courseware development and thus produce CALL materials that are beneficial for students. This finding is consistent with the claims of other scholars (Levy, 1997; Dodigovic, 1999; Barrette, 2001) that research should form an important part of any effective CALL development project. The present examination confirms that the study of C2, when conducted in an interactive, teacher-guided mode, is beneficial for L2 learners. At the same time, knowledge gained in the course of the project challenges certain aspects of the underlying theory. For example, the findings of the study did not confirm that the use of multimedia materials increases students' confidence in learning a language, motivates students to continue language study beyond the language requirement, or reduces the need for human tutors. In addition, no correlation was found between the levels of user control of the program (more vs. less control) and student satisfaction with the courseware. Interestingly, although students agreed that the use of courseware does not reduce the need for a tutor, several years later the requests for tutors in languages is dramatically down, which could be attributed to the effectiveness of CALL.

However, the findings should be interpreted with caution because they are based on student self-reports. The following limitations should also be considered when examining the results of the present investigation: (1) the nature of the population may present some questions about the role of attitude, interest and motivation in the use of CALL materials; (2) randomizing the sample might enhance the validity of the study; (3) although comparing "technology" to "no technology" in the classroom is considered a poor idea (Garret, 1991), having a control group may enhance the validity of the study; (4) the findings of the present study may not be generalized to those with different assessment procedures or instruments.

Conclusion and Recommendations

An integrated approach to training, which combined sociocultural views of L2 learning, cultural studies, instructional design and computing with a cognitive apprenticeship model, resulted in high levels of student satisfaction with cultural learning and improved performance on test items related to the study of C2. This finding is consistent with Jacobson's (1996) conclusion that the study of C2 can be effectively modeled on the cognitive apprenticeship framework. The longitudinal summative evaluation of the Mellon project sheds light on successes and failures of the project's organization, faculty advancement with technology and benefits for courseware developers and users. The data collected during the project point to positive conclusions regarding a multidisciplinary approach to faculty training. Overall, the outcomes of the project are beneficial for the following categories: faculty participants, faculty users, student participants, and student users. Whereas some of the commercial software purchased three-five years ago is no longer compatible with the current curricular needs of the department, the courseware produced by faculty was successfully upgraded several times, remains of interest both for faculty and students, and continues to be integrated into L2 curricula. Because faculty-authored CALL materials are not textbook bound, but are focused on the study of C2 and address students' needs identified by the instructors, they have outlived their commercial counterparts. Further examination of a cognitive apprenticeship framework for C2 study is necessary.


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Luba V. Iskold, Muhlenberg College

Iskold is an assistant professor of Russian and director of the Language Learning Center. She holds an Ed. D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Lehigh University. Her research interests are in effective uses of technology for the study of languages and cultures.
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Author:Iskold, Luba V.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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