Hauck, Mirjam (The Open University)
The ‘transnational’, ‘value-added’ graduate is described as being equipped with a global mindset and the transcultural and digital literacy skills needed for cross-cultural communication. These skills, as Wyburd (2017) reminds us, are implicitly developed in higher education languages students, or, can be explicitly enhanced by educators. Such explicit enhancement is the remit of telecollaboration or online intercultural exchange, more recently also referred to as virtual exchange (VE). It offers students the opportunity to improve not only their foreign language and intercultural communication skills, but also their e-literacy skills through the use of asynchronous and synchronous tools and applications which facilitate engagement and collaboration at a distance (O’Dowd & Lewis, 2016).
However, most VE-related research consists of small-scale, qualitative studies of interactions and/or experiences from one bespoke exchange. The Evaluating and Upscaling Telecollaborative Teacher Education (EVALUATE) project, a European Policy Experimentation, launched at the beginning of 2017, is a first attempt to provide large-scale empirical evidence of effectiveness in terms of developing trainee teachers’ digital-pedagogical, intercultural, and linguistic competences. A mix of quantitative and qualitative data were collected from students – language teacher trainees – and language teacher educators engaged in the encounters. The data is currently being analysed by the research team in terms of learning gains over time in the aforementioned skills sets.
This contribution reports on the participants’ digital-pedagogical competence development with a focus on evidence of emerging critical digital literacy understood as the critical and practical understanding of digital technologies in different socio-cultural settings (Alexander, Adams Becker & Cummins, 2016). Our qualitative content analysis of learner diary entries collected at 4 data points during each exchange is guided by Brown (2017) who sees the goal of developing critical digital literacies as inextricably linked to enabling a greater sense of personal and collective agency among learners, both with and without new technologies to disrupt ‘a world where 1% of humanity controls as much wealth as the bottom 99%’ of the population (Oxfam, 2017). Hence, the challenge with regard for VE lies in addressing not only issues of language in such a way as to avoid linguistic hegemonies, but also in addressing issues of digital literacy in such a way as to overcome technological determinism and to tackle some of the bigger issues confronting the future of humanity.
Alexander, B., Adams Becker, S. & Cummins, M. (2016). Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief (Vol. 3.3). Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2016-nmc-horizon-strategic-brief-digital-literacy.pdf
Brown, M. (2017). Exploring the Underbelly of Digital Literacies. Retrieved from https://oeb-insights.com/exploring-the-underbelly-of-digital-literacies
O’Dowd, R. & Lewis, T. (Eds.) (2016). Online Intercultural Exchange: Policy, Pedagogy, Practice. London: Routledge.
Wyburd, J. (2017). Transnational graduates and employability: challenges for HE language departments. In C. Álvarez-Mayo, A. Gallagher-Brett & F. Michel (Eds), Innovative language teaching and learning at university: enhancing employability (pp. 11-19). Retrieved from Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2017.innoconf2016.650
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