Lit Review: Distance learning among Mexican and Texan children.

Cifuentes, L., & Murphy, K. (1999). Distance learning among Mexican and Texan children. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 94-102.

Authors: Lauren Cifuentes and Karen L. Murphy
Title of article:
Distance learning among Mexican and Texan children
Publication year: 1999
Database source: Wilson Select Plus. Also available through SpringerLink.
Name of journal: Educational Technology Research and Development
My Codes: VCProjects

Main Point: While students may not understand a distant culture or distant students, with well designed collaborative videoconference activities over a sustained amount of time, shared understanding can be gained.

The authors reference Moffett (1994) to emphasize that students need to develop relationships with people from diverse backgrounds in order to become more tolerant and respectful citizens. They reference Cummins & Sayers (1995) to suggest that collaborative learning has the potential to transform students’ perspective “from parochial to global.” A peek at the description of Cummins & Sayers’ book on sounds very intriguing. I wonder if their vision from 1995 holds up in 2007 with the advent of H.323 videoconferencing and Web 2.0.

This was a qualitative study that used content analysis and observations.

Two classes in Mexico City connected with two classes in College Station, Texas over a whole school year. Now that’s an extended collaborative project! Interestingly, the “activities were designed in response to Postman’s (1995) narratives that learners should share in order to achieve the diesred ends of education” including “stewardship of Earth, religion, democracy, diversity, and language.”PDF p. 2. The classes met mostly with videoconferencing, but occasionally via email. The student collaborative experiences were designed for “social construction of meaning (PDF p. 2).

First the two classes received two hour writing workshops, and students learned about poetry written about other places. Then the students wrote an “I am” poem describing what it might be like to live in the other country (Mexican students about the US; US students about Mexico).

Data collected included the poems, the lesson plans, and researcher observations and questioning during the lessons. Content analysis was conducted on the students’ poems.

PDF p. 6 Research question 1: “What impressions did the students have of each other?”

The Mexican students had moderate-to-high levels of knowledge about the United States, and their images were mostly positive. The Texan students were “unable to paint a vivid picture of Mexico”. Only a little over half of of the poems were completely positive. The Texan students used only four of the six likely sources of information that the Mexican students used. Most of the Mexican students “had enough experience with U.S. culture to accurately portray it in poetry”, but the Texan students had little firsthand knowledge, so they wrote “about their own culture, created an imaginary place, or referred to stereotypes.” p. 6. The authors suggest that this discrepancy indicates a need for teacher Texan children about their neighbors.

p. 6 Research question 2: “What activities brought children of Mexican and Texan cultures together successfully to learn with, about, and from each other?”

The students wrote the poem, as well as a story about the day in the life of a fourth grader in the other country so that they could see how much they had to learn throughout the year. They also created documents about themselves and exchanged these via a messenger who traveled back and forth for unrelated business.

The book I Felt Like I Was From Another Planet was used to think of ideas. They compared table manners across cultures.

They met two times to meet each other, a third time to learn about the interpretive nature of history focused on the Alamo, a fourth time to read diaries, reenactments and share comparative essays about the Alamo, a fifth to share folk tales and folk songs, and finally to share murals of their hometowns. Writing activities were included for each of these videoconferences. Each videoconference also had “a flood of questioning” as they learned how they were similar and different. This study is an excellent example of a collaborative project design and the quality learning experiences that accompanied each videoconference.

p. 8. The differences among the students may be in part related to their socio-economic status. The Mexican students attended an exclusive private school, whereas the Texan students attended public school. The Mexican students had many opportunities for travel, while the Texas students had not.

Author/Audience: At the time of writing, the authors were both college instructors of educational technology. The article is written for those interested in distance education and educational technology.


p. 2. The authors used Laughon’s (1998) four phases of online telecommunications projects: planning, advertising & registration, coordinating/moderating, and evaluation. I do think that we need to learn the lessons from Internet and email based projects as we develop and implement our videoconferencing projects.
Full reference: Laughon, S. (1998). Designing effective telecommunications projects. In Z. L. Berge & M. P. Collins (Eds.), Wired together: The online classroom in K-12, Vol. I: Perspectives and instructional design, (pp. 175-183). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton. This may warrant further instruction. Is anyone publishing these kinds of books now? Or did internet projects go away with the onset of Web 2.0?

PDF p. 4. “All videoconferences involved preconferencing, conferencing, and post conferencing activities for the students.” See a pattern emerging? Preparation is key! Even though the study doesn’t focus on that, several of these so far include a strong preparation component to the videoconference.

PDF p. 4 “Understanding the strong Mexican accent via videoconference technology required great concentration on the part of the Texan fourth-graders.” Have you noticed this with international VCs? Sometimes it’s very hard for the students to understand each other. We need to remember that when planning activities.

p. 5 The classes learned about their ancestries to find how many of them had parents born in other countries. They shared a self-collage in the first videoconference where they met each other. They said, “They are the same as us!” Sound familiar?

The authors created a model called “Cultural Connections.” It may be worth spending more time on this model and integrating it into my work.

The authors really didn’t focus on the effects of the technology or even describe what type of videoconferencing was used. The focus was on what they learned and how their perceptions changed throughout the year. Nevertheless, the experiences documented are a great model for videoconference collaborative projects, especially the international ones.

0 replies on “Lit Review: Distance learning among Mexican and Texan children.”

  1. Ian says:

    I agree preparation is essential and key. As I stated earlier VC offers novelty to motivate but theoretically it also offers an expert who is there to only ? explain , focus and clarify. The distant expert is either able to better clarify than the local ‘expert’ or this novelty factor becomes the reason d’être.

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