Going Global: The Complexities of Fostering Intercultural Understanding

Lee, M. M. (2004). Going global: The complexities of fostering intercultural understanding in a rural school using videoconferencing technology. Unpublished Ph.D., Indiana University, Indianapolis.

Author: Mimi Miyoung Lee
Title of article: “Going Global”: The Complexities of Fostering Intercultural Understanding in a Rural School Using Videoconferencing Technology
Publication year: July 2004
Database source: Dissertation Abstracts.
Name of journal: n/a
My Codes: VCContentProviders

Main point of the dissertation: p. 4. The 7th graders participated in six videoconferences with persons from six different countries who connected from the University. Each program was 50 minutes long during the regular class period. While the one session videoconference interviews with someone from another country exposed the students to people from other cultures, it did not change their frameworks for understanding other cultures.

In some ways this study examines the effectiveness of the student learning through videoconferencing technology. And the conclusion is that short videoconferences don’t always effect deep change in students’ understanding.

Type of Study. Qualitative. Ethnographic study using Critical Ethnography (Carspecken, 1996). Observations, interviews and document analysis were used to collect data. The author was one of the speakers for the International Studies program. Data was collected on 18 students of the 34 in the class that participated in the international sessions with the content provider.

p. 27. The study was done with a very tiny school that serves students from around the area. However there isn’t a centrally location town and Wal-mart is 18 miles away. 40% of the student population participated in the free or reduced lunch program. This school is the extreme opposite from the school in the last dissertation I reviewed.


The findings suggest that the students’ interpretation often resulted in measuring the differences of other cultures with the symbols of American consumerism, producing “Americanized other cultures.” The study concludes that the integration of the International Studies program was received very positively by the teacher and the students but did not result in an awareness of, and challenge to, already established frameworks for understanding difference. p. viii in Abstract.

This is very intriguing. Having lived in two other countries myself, I suspect that short videoconferences cannot make the difference the author was looking for. I’m also interested in the perspective of the author. I believe that her cultural background makes this study richer and more meaningful than if she had been of the same culture as the students she was studying.

p. 142. The program provided opportunities for meeting people from other cultures that is not realistically possible for isolated rural environments. The programs generated student motivation, but did not “result in an awareness of, or challenge to, an already established framework for understanding differences.” p. 143. “The students’ interpretation and the understanding of the lives of the “other” cultures, in many cases, still showed signs of ethnocentrism.

Suggestions for future research
p. 144. “More research needs to be done on the implementation of programs which can better foster a pluralistic understanding of non-American cultures, where differences are respected and appreciated.” “Intercultural competence is closely related to the concept of empathy, which refers to the ability to understand the world from the point of view of another.”

The researcher suggested several improvements for the program including:

  • Continuous use of the sessions
  • Support of the teacher including social studies communities of practice
  • Deeper topics such as class and gender vs. simplifications of the culture such as focusing on food and entertainment
  • Using a problem solving task to provide an “experience of using different approaches to work toward a common goal.”
  • More collaboration between rural schools & universities
  • Providing a panel of speakers to “better highlight the diverse makeup of the culture”
  • Improve the training of the presenters (they receive training on the technology but not on how to impact students’ cultural understanding)

Changing worldviews and cultural perspectives
“Students in small rural areas have both a greater need to have this information in the curriculum and a greater challenge to incorporate it into their worldview than their peers in urban areas.” p. 1. Isn’t it really difficult to change worldviews? Doesn’t it take a lot of new experiences to change a belief?

Lit Review
p. 5. “Much research has been done on evaluating specific features of videoconferencing technology to the effectiveness of the medium….” That is probably all the studies I’m finding that are on shared classes and business communication.

Distance Learning Technology & Communication
“Yoakam (1995) points out that the real-time broadcast of video-based instruction is the closest replication of the interpersonal relations in traditional classrooms that distance-learning technology offers.” p. 9

p.15 In a distance learning environment, there is a “transactional distance” (Lee & Paulus, 2001) to overcome. “Based on this theory of potential transactional distance, interactions are even more important in distance environments than in face-to-face classrooms.” p. 15. This is why we all evaluate programs and events on their interactions. And why we’re always trying to create even more interactive environments.

Supporting the Connection
p. 14 has a long list of the people involved in making the connection, including the coordinators & techs on both ends, the MCU/bridge staff, and the teacher & students involved (13 people/positions listed). I think it’s an extreme example of how many people could be involved in a connection.

VCs to Introduce, Supplement or Review a Lesson?
How do teachers decide whether to use a videoconference as an introduction to a lesson or as part of the instruction for the unit, or as a culmination? Have you ever thought about that?
“In the beginning, Mr. Gordon wasn’t sure how to best sequence the presentation of the program and the book. He tried presenting the book first on some occasions and the program on others, and concluded that he liked the program as a preview better “because it draws [the students] more [to the book].” p. 92. Maybe it depends on which part of the lesson the teacher wants assistance: the motivation, the instruction, or the review.

Several descriptions of additional lesson activities are included as well: food fairs, discussions of current affairs, etc. that enhance and supplement the learning in the videoconference. i.e. p.96.

Are “loners” more interactive in videoconferences?
p. 100. The students who were considered “loners” in class were the ones who were the most interactive in the videoconferences. Have you noticed this effect with your students?

Descriptions of the videoconferences
Chapter three contains thick descriptions of each of the videoconferences with the people from different countries. The reactions of the students and their greater interest in basic life vs. political issues is similar to what I’ve experienced as well. For example:

[The Australian presenter] made a parallel between the case of the aborigines and that of American slavery. The students became noisy and in attentive during Nancy’s talk about the political issues. It was clear that the students did not find such topics as amusing as that of animals in Australia. p. 69.

While this experience is common to one session videoconferences such as those described, Read Around the Planet sessions I’ve observed, and other short experiences, the programs with Global Nomads stand out in stark contrast. I think the difference with the GNG programs is that the programs are longer than one session and the facilitators push the students into the hot topics and controversial issues quickly. It’s deeper, harder to facilitate, but more in depth learning occurs.

Questions I Have

  • Can one videoconference make a significant impact on student learning? Even in this case where there were six videoconferences, they were about six different countries so are still basically one per topic.
  • If one videoconference doesn’t make an impact, is it worth doing? Are the experiences and awareness level exposure worth the time and effort?
  • What makes some videoconferences more effective than others?
  • Are some topics harder to teach via videoconferencing than others? Or just plain harder to teach?

This topic seems to be one of those that is not easily addressed and a few videoconferences or in class lessons cannot make the impact that the researcher was hoping to see. However the videoconferences provided more experience than the students would have had otherwise. It was only a small step in the direction of fostering intercultural understanding. But an important step nonetheless?

Your Comments
This is the second in a series of research article “notes” that I’ll be posting throughout the summer. I invite you to join the conversation. What ideas struck you? What do you agree with? What questions does this article raise in your mind? Your comments are very much welcomed!

0 replies on “Going Global: The Complexities of Fostering Intercultural Understanding”

  1. Judy says:

    Well, when you say that ethnocentrism remained after students ecountered differences in lifestyles between their life and that of others, have you tried exploring points of interest that they have in common? Like showing kids playing sports, or games, or explaining what music they like and showing them dancing and hanging out?

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