Question 12

12. From comments made by each student cohort, and from each Fellow’s own observations, how significant was the potential difference in English language skills to the collaborative work undertaken between students in the class?

At Corning Community College, I observe that many students are not as adept at articulating their experience in writing, although they can verbally express their insights when they feel comfortable. Two students expressed to me that they sometimes felt intimidated by the level of articulation the Actor’s College Students exhibited in talking and writing about the course work. While this is not specifically a basic language skills issue, it does speak to an issue that I find particularly critical at our college:  our students are very sensitive to appearing “stupid” or “foolish” in front of other people, and so they often tend not to speak at all or to share their thoughts freely with people they don’t know well. I observed, both in the audio posts and the written posts in Blackboard and on Facebook, that CCC students tended to limit a lot of their comments to “Great job!”  They were more articulate in early audio posts. As technology difficulties and schedule differences began to weigh in on the course work, I found that on our students’ side, the engagement tapered off even more, although they remained engaged in our face-to-face class.  / In the past I have always asked my students to write their observations in a more traditional format, either essay style or journal style. I was aware that the students seemed to discuss their experiences in more detail in the audio/video posts and was often surprised by the links and parallels that they drew in discussion. Their final assessment task, which involved a written reflection of the vocal techniques covered and their overall understanding of the work lacked the same depth. In terms of overall communication the language barrier was absent, but as Mary points out there was a divide evident in the responses from CCC and ACTT.

Because the Russian students were seeking to perfect their English literacy skills, and because these same students were quite proficient in English, there were little difficulties to communication. Still, for synchronous class meetings, American students’ English pronunciation, non formal or slang usage, and talking speed were important variables to Russian students’ understanding. If Brockport students spoke too quickly, or used informal vocabulary, Russian students had some interpretation challenges.  Communication via written text using the class blog was very clear and sophisticated in language and meaning.  This appeared true for students in both counties.

Comment from Lenora: The students at UNISA and NCCU were comfortable speaking and written communications.  However, some students from RAMA did mention the language challenges only with regard to understanding subtleties in perception or description of experiences.  The NCCU students did speak to me about trying to be careful in their comments, and/or live conversations so they would be understood by students in Denmark.

Common language skills were not a barrier to successful implementation of the class work.

Did not seem to affect the basic communication part and we only noticed it when writing papers together.

Differences in English language skill turned out to be less of a barrier than we (particularly Rebecca) expected. Neither the students, nor the instructors, seemed to find language skills a significant barrier to collaboration. While language differences were noticed, and commented on, by students, and informally addressed by instructors, we did not feel that it interfered with the collaboration. Particularly, we did not sense a power or prestige differential between the two groups, based on English skill.

English language skills were a central consideration throughout course planning and throughout the actual course. Modules were, therefore, built with this consideration in mind.

Fortunately thus far, relatively low significance given UDLAP has mostly bilingual instruction and students.

From Steven Barnes’s perspective, the differential language skills had a relatively small impact on the course. I overestimated the problems from language skills and underestimated the problems caused by logistic issues. In classroom discussions, the Russian students as a group more than held their own. I would estimate that they easily did 50% of the talking and usually without any extra prodding--certainly no more than the prodding that was sometimes necessary to get the George Mason students talking. The Russian students were slightly less adept in written English and seemed more reticent in the online discussion boards. All in all, I think the Russian students did an amazing job with their English usage in the class. / From Irina Filatova's perspective language was a problem. Students with poorer English were not coping with required reading and as a result their contributions were not as good as they would have liked them to be. Some felt shy because of that (though this was certainly not the general problem). Language was also one of the reasons for a high dropout level. Those whose English was better from the start, blossomed, others felt that the course required too much effort without bringing the pleasure of success, and as the course was not obligatory, they simply left.

I (Meredith) do not believe that language differences were impactful to our collaboration. As I mentioned above, differences in communication styles or nonverbal communication seemed to be more challenging, yet not problematic, for students to negotiate.  From Mira’s perspective, though MSU students had quite different level of English they did not complain, and I did not feel that English was of any problem.

I would say that for the UTEP - VU collaboration it wasn’t so much the potential in language skills but rather the lack of experience with cultural diversity.  On one occasion we had the students make a digital story of how they “imagined” each other’s nations/regions and there were some rather unpleasant stereotypes that emerged.  This made for an initial tense and somewhat uncomfortable exchange of ideas that blossomed into a positive teaching and learning moment as we worked together to sort out ideas and perceptions.  / As stated for VU in question 11, differences in English language skills was mainly due to a lack of confidence amongst recently arrived migrants and this was dealt with in a one to one situation. However, as Irma has said, what was more salient, was the cultural stereotypes that the students brought with them to the collaboration. Indeed both groups reacted, and at times diplomatic civility was lost. Yet it was this affront to their cultural sensibilities which yielded greater communication and indeed the desire to rekindle communication. Some student in fact took on the role of mediators!

Potential proficiency difference in English might have made certain Ashesi students more hesitant in responding or initiating online written work - Wordpress and Skype group presentations helped to alleviate this somewhat in that each member of the group had to participate.

Texas Tech--Surprisingly, students were more frustrated by time differences between the US and Korean than the language differences. Students were able to collaborate remarkably well in spite of language differences. I do think the amount of posting/corresponding, other than on major assignments, was reduced because of language differences. The MyongJi students seemed somewhat shy about their language use, but the Texas Tech students were impressed with the MyongJi students’ fluency, given how few languages our Texas Tech cohort spoke. / The Wordpress makes easy way for MyongJi students to understand Texas Tech students and trying their wishes to communicate each other’s. Especially, the video project using YouTube is better way to understand how to explain to do something to others.

The difference in language skills was not something that either the students or the fellows noted.

There was minimal difference in English skills in most cases and only one student at AUB struggled with being understood.

There was no substantial difference in English language skills which facilitated the completion of several collaborative assignments.

This was never an issue in our course.

Though the difference was rather significant, it did not have many implications for the communication (ESC perspective) / ULPGC : the potential difference did not represent any kind of gap that could jeopardize the common activities scheduled for this course. On the contrary, the aim of the course was to build on this potential gap to turn it into an opportunity to learn.

Very few considerations along this line as both groups of students were native English speakers. Occasionally, colloquialisms would arise which created more amusement than confusion.

Very significant.  Students needed “communicative skill” training to ensure understanding had been achieved.  Students from SJSU were invited to omit filler words (for example, “and um”, “ya know”, “and like”).  While using Skype, Japanese students were instructed to confirm that they had been understood (“Do you understand?” “Do you have a question?” etc).  / Occasionally, SJSU students were instructed to check in with the Japanese students to validate that they understood what was being stated, and to use gestures and other non-verbal cues to verify that they understood a statement or phrase. 

Viewed from the TTU side, the English facility of the German students was truly excellent, and offered no impediment to the networked seminar. From the perspective of the German group, any difference in skills was irrelevant.

We used Japanese language for the collaborative work.