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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Kristen Campbell Wilcox

The Impact of Student Beliefs on the Effectiveness

of Video in Developing Cross-Cultural Competence

Kr i s t e n Ca m p b e l l Wi l C o x

University of Albany

KEYWORDS

ABSTRACT

This action-research project was designed to assess how the use of video as a central

instructional component impacts features of cross-cultural competence among adult

ESL students. The study was conducted in a college-level intensive English language

program in North America. Findings suggest that students’ deeply embedded beliefs and

values regarding their roles, expected behaviors, and what counts as language learning

(i.e., grammar) influences the effectiveness of video-based instruction in developing

cross-cultural competence.

Video, Cross-cultural Competence, English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English as a Second Language

(ESL)

INTRODUCTION

Over the last several decades research on how second languages (SL) and foreign languages

(FL) are learned has pointed to the intertwined and interdependent relationships among social,

cultural, and cognitive aspects of language in the ways individuals make meaning (Phillips,

1998; Vygotsky, 1986). Researchers in turn have attempted to define language in terms

of “competencies” that go beyond grammatical competence (Atkinson, 2002; Mitchell & Vidal,

2001; Zuengler & Miller, 2006).

Defining language competencies in the vague milieu of “culture” became a focus for

some language researchers toward the end of the 20th century with the term “communicative

competence,” originally introduced by Hymes in 1966, emerging as a layer on top of grammatical

competence (2000). Communicative competence has since been framed as incorporating

“sociocultural rules” defined by such organizations as the American Council on the Teaching of

Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in its Proficiency Guidelines-Speaking (1999). As Herron, Dubreil,

Cole, and Corrie (2000) explain, “While the first goal emphasizes standards for communication,

the second goal stresses the importance of learning about both cultural practices and

products” (p. 397). Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) also includes

“culture” in its ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students: “To use English in socially and culturally

appropriate ways” (TESOL, 1997). As these examples suggest, defining what culture is and

how one might achieve “competency” in culture has not only been a daunting task, but also

an important broadening of how language teaching and learning could be conceptualized. In

the definition of cross-cultural competence provided in the TESOL Standards: “The ability to

function according to the cultural rules of more than one cultural system; ability to respond

in culturally sensitive and appropriate ways according to the cultural demands of a given

situation” (p. 154), competence includes developing understandings of cultural practices and

products in addition to building awareness of both native and nonnative cultural perspectives,

beliefs, and values.

CALICO Journal, 27(1), p-p 91-100. © 2009 CALICO Journal

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Impact of Student Beliefs on the Effectiveness of Video

As SL and FL teachers are guided (via professional standards) to incorporate culture

in their instruction, it is imperative that questions on the effective use of technologies that

provide rich contexts for the exploration of cultural aspects of language (e.g., video) and the

impact that the use of these technologies have on the development of cross-cultural competence

be investigated.

VIDEO-BASED DESIGN IN SL AND FL CLASSROOMS

SL and FL research has, at the beginning of the 21st century, entered a new era as streams of

thinking about language competencies have changed and become more clearly focused on the

sociocultural aspects of language. Bialystok (1998) argued that second language researchers

had remained relatively confined to traditional methods of linguistics research but have,

in recent years, entered what she calls “adulthood.” At this stage, researchers are relying on

more interdisciplinary approaches drawing on psychology and anthropology for frameworks

that might capture the complex relationships of language, cognition, and culture.

To this end, ethnographic studies examining sociocultural aspects of language learning

have become increasingly popular in a variety of journals on SL and FL education (Cazden,

1994; Harden, 2000; Byram, 1997; Hough, 1997; Platt & Brooks, 2002; Dörnyei & Kormos,

2000). However, classroom-based action research on how technologies that have the potential

to both entertain and provide rich contexts for focusing instruction on culture (e.g., video)

are rare.

Salaberry’s (2001) review of research into the use of technology for second language

learning and teaching revealed a surge of research on the use of video in SL and FL classrooms

over the past two decades. His review included a study by Hanley and Herron (1995)

investigating students’ retention of information in foreign language videos using two advance

organizer conditions and Borras and Lafayette’s (1994) study addressing the potential usefulness

of subtitles for increasing learners’ oral communicative performance. Borras and Lafayette

found that “allowing fifth semester college students of French the possibility of seeing

and controlling subtitles may increase their performance on video-based oral communicative

practice tasks with multimedia courseware” (p. 71). Although these studies shed an encouraging

light on video-based instructional design in developing particular language skills, they

do not look specifically at the ways in which video can develop cross-cultural competence.

Herron, Cole, Corrie, and Dubreil (1999) investigated the effectiveness of a videobased

curriculum in teaching culture in a French classroom. Their study, relying on a pre-/

posttest design focused students’ learning of cultural practices and products as defined in

ACTFL’s (2006) Standards for Foreign Language Learning. The video used in this study was

described as a “scripted, yet authentic” mystery story on film including 52 lessons (p. 521).

The researchers found that introductory level French students were able to improve their understanding

of culture through the use of a video-based curriculum. Another study, Kitajima

and Lyman-Hager (1998), examined the effects of 1-minute silent video clips on students’

cultural awareness. They used think-aloud protocols to reveal what cultural information students

noticed as they viewed the video clips. The researchers asserted that their pilot study

“demonstrated that silent video enhances students’ discovery processes of culturally unique

phenomenon in the target language society” (p. 44). Yet another study, Herron et al. (2000),

provided more evidence that video-based design can help students learn cultural information.

In this study, 50 students viewed “eight targeted videos as part of their multimedia-based

curriculum” (p. 395). A pre-/posttest design assessed students’ long-term gains in overall

cultural knowledge and in the learning of little “c” culture (practices) and big “C” culture

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Kristen Campbell Wilcox

(products) as defined in the ACTFL Standards. Dubreil (2002) explored the effectiveness of

video and the internet to enhance culture learning. Dubreil addressed the effect of advance

organizers on students’ retention and comprehension of culture presented in videos and on

the internet and found a significant gain in cultural knowledge. Dubreil’s more recent publications

point to ways that perceptions of classroom roles and behaviors impact the effectiveness

of video in the teaching and learning of cross-cultural competence (2004, 2006).

THE STUDY

In response to the need for classroom-based action research on the effectiveness of the use

of video in developing cross-cultural competence, this author implemented a small project

guided by the broad question: How do students perceive the effectiveness of video-based

instruction in their language study? The theoretical underpinnings of this study were rooted in

a sociocognitive framework and based on the following beliefs about language learning:

1. culture and language are coconstructed (Bruner, 1996),

2. understandings of one culture and language form the foundations for learning

about and through other cultures and languages (Ausubel, 1963), and

3. learning about and through more than one language and culture impacts

cognition (Vygotsky, 1978).

The course examples and student responses described here came out of a course,

originally designed for low-intermediate-level Brazilian students in an EFL university setting,

that the author taught in an intensive ESL program in a U.S. community college. The impetus

for the design of these course components was based on the need to integrate culture and

language instruction to enhance students’ cross-cultural competence, which was lacking in

both the original course design and most of the materials typically used in such courses.

The semester-long (15-week) course centered on the theme of the Klondike Gold Rush

utilizing the Disney movie White Fang and a variety of related texts (e.g., poetry, newspaper

articles, and short stories). This theme and the Disney video were chosen for several reasons.

1. The main character travels far from home, encounters trials, and must learn

new ways of surviving; a theme that resonates with many SL and FL students.

2. The complexity of language and cultural detail is appropriate to the needs of

high-beginning to low-intermediate language learners.

3. The theme is historically and culturally rich.

4. The language is varied from standard to non-standard with some idiomatic

expressions.

5. The video is based on a classic in American literature (White Fang), providing

a kind of advance organizer to future readings by Jack London and other

popular American writers such as Gary Paulsen.

At the beginning of the course, the instructor provided a rationale for the use of the

video as an entry into language learning by explaining the importance of cultural context in

understanding the language. The sample exercise below, which emerges from an excerpt of

the video, provides explicit instruction in making and replying to requests, paying attention

to indirect requests, and cooperating in the production of coherent speech in role plays. Most

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Impact of Student Beliefs on the Effectiveness of Video

importantly, it focuses attention on building cross-cultural competencies such as making explicit

students’ cultural perspectives, beliefs, and values (in bold italics in the exercise).

Sample Exercise: Unit 3

Language Key: Making polite requests with you as the subject

Would you, Could you , Can you, Will you?

The meaning of would you and will you in a polite request is similar.

For example: Would you like to come to dinner? = Do you want to do this please?

Will you come to dinner? = Do you plan to do this?

Could you and would you have a small difference in meaning.

For example: Could you come to dinner? = Do you want to do this please, and is it possible

for you to do this?

Can you is often used informally.

For example: Can you come to dinner? = Do you have the ability to do this?

Typical Responses:

* Yes, I’d be happy to.

* Yes, I’d be glad to.

* Certainly.

* Sure. (informal)

If a negative response is necessary, a person may start by saying, “I’d like to, but…”

Video Segment: (Start - “Who’s that?”)

(Stop - street scene)

Listen to the polite requests in the next segment. After you listen once, work with a partner

to fill in the words that are missing.

Dialog #1

Belinda: Would you

Jack: I’d love one.

Reflection: Why do you think Jack left after he said he wanted a drink?

Dialog #2

(Start - Jack sees Ms. Casey in the street)

(Stop - “Yeah I’d love to.”)

Belinda: Would you

Jack: Yeah. I’d love to.

Language Key: Making Polite Requests with “I” as the Subject

May I May I help you? May I and could I are used to request permission.

Could I Could I help you?

Can I Can I help you? Can I is used informally to request permission.

Typical Responses:

Certainly.

Of course.

Sure

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Kristen Campbell Wilcox

Dialog #3

(Start - Jack sees Ms. Casey in the street)

(Stop - “Yeah, I’d love to.”)

Listen to the polite request using I as the subject in the same segment.

Fill in the blank.

Jack: that for you?

Belinda: You certainly can.

Dialog #4

(Start -”Come by in an hour”)

(Stop - “If you don’t get out of here in two seconds…)

Belinda offers Jack and Alex something. Write it in the blanks.

Belinda: I’ll get some dessert. some coffee?

Alex: No, thank you.

Reflection: Why do you think Alex responded the way he did? Would you respond

the same way? Why or why not?

Dialog #5

Jack makes a request using I as the subject. Write it in the blanks.

(Start - ”You’re not leaving are you?)

(Stop - mountains and thaw)

Jack: that book? I promise I’ll return

it.

Reflection: Would you ask for a book like Jack did? Would this seem rude or impolite

in your culture?

Clinch it!

You and a partner will role play. One partner will look at the Role Play A page and the other at

the Role Play B page. (Think about how you might respond to these situations in your

native language during this exercise.)

Role Play A

Role-Play 1:

A: You just won a Klondike vacation for two. You will be traveling on a dog sled. It will be a

great adventure, but it will also be very cold and tiring. You will call your friend to convince

him/her to come with you.

Role Play 2:

A: You are a receptionist at a hotel in Alaska. A guest is calling to ask for help. Politely respond.

Role Play 3:

A: You are going out to a restaurant and a movie with your boyfriend or girlfriend tonight.

Your best friend asks you to join him/her at a party. You don’t want to hurt your friend’s

feelings, but you want to go out with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Impact of Student Beliefs on the Effectiveness of Video

Role Play B

Role Play 1:

B: Your friend is calling you to convince you to go on a crazy dog-sled vacation in the Klondike.

You don’t like cold weather, dogs, or tiring vacations. You need to give a good excuse

not to go and not hurt your friend’s feelings.

Role Play 2:

B: You just arrived at a hotel in Alaska. Your room is cold, dirty, and the shower isn’t working.

You need to call the receptionist for help without being insulting.

Role Play 3:

B: You are invited to go to a party, but you won’t know many people there. You ask your best

friend if he/she can go with you. You really don’t want to go alone, so you want to convince

your friend to go with you.

Reflection: You were asked to think about how you might respond to these situations

in your native language during this exercise. How might your responses in

English be different than in your native language? Explain.

DISCUSSION

The data presented here were taken from nine beginning-level Japanese students in the U.S.

intensive ESL Program. The author asked the students to write reflective statements on the

use of video in this course and then analyzed their statements for patterns relating to the research

question of how students perceive the effectiveness of video-based instruction in their

language study. The students’ responses indicate a certain amount of tension between the

engaging nature of video in terms of entertainment and contextualization and their expectations

regarding emphasis on grammatical aspects of language and their role as students in a

classroom.

In the following reflective statements, some students underscored several advantages

of the use of video in terms of depth of understanding of the video’s content and its entertainment

value. They associated these factors with creating more of a motivation to engage in

language practice activities and a sense of being respected as a learner.

I liked study with watching video and really understanding content of movie.

In this class I learned many words and vocabulary. I think the all classes could

be like you class because is interesting and funny.

I’m very interested to learned with Ms. Kristen’s class. I felt I respectable class

for the first time in America. I learned a lot of things in class, and also confidence.

… Your class teached a wide and I really think about become owing to

myself.

However, other students expressed a disconnect between their expectations (to study

grammar and use grammar books) and the video-based class.

We didn’t much grammar as I thought. We can do more grammar using a grammar

book and solving problem.

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Kristen Campbell Wilcox

I like the way you present the class. I find that interesting, through a movie you

are encourage to learn expression, more words in different segements. I would

like to have more time to discuss about some grammar structures.

These reflections provide a view into some of the struggles students experience when

classroom materials and interactions shift in a video-based course intended to enhance not

only grammatical competence, but also cross-cultural competence. The author always explained

the purpose of the learning activities as being not solely focused on grammar or vocabulary,

but also on how cultural perspectives, beliefs, and values impact how we understand

each other. Nevertheless, some students perceived “real” language learning as grammar and

vocabulary learning that is to be done through fill-in-the-blank exercises in traditional textbooks.

In addition, some students perceived their role as language learners as taking notes,

completing exercises, passing quizzes and tests, and listening to the teacher lecture about

language rules. These students viewed video as an essentially nonacademic activity.

Many of the students discussed here, along with others taught using similar video

materials, felt some degree of dissonance between their experience of traditional grammartranslation

courses and a course in which video, rooted in an expanded view of communicative

competence, was used to incorporate cross-cultural competence as an instructional goal. Some

perceived student-teacher relationships reminiscent of the audiolingual approach—teacher as

the language rule informer and student as the repeater—as more valuable than teacher as

organizer of materials and activities and student as inquisitor and reflector (a dialogic activity

structure) (Rogoff, 1990; Tharp, Estrada, Dalton, & Yamauchi, 2000). The student responses

draw attention to important, yet often taken for granted, beliefs regarding classroom roles

and behaviors that impact the potential effectiveness of using video for developing crosscultural

competence.

IMPLICATIONS

As this action research study indicates, there is much more to be learned about the effective

use of video to enhance cross-cultural competence in the SL and FL classrooms. However,

as this study shows—and the other studies reviewed here also show—the use of video for SL

and FL instruction has the potential to enhance students’ awareness of cultural aspects of

language in ways that other media do not. Implications include the following:

1. Cultural assumptions and beliefs around classroom behavior and roles, when

explicitly examined by students and teachers, has the potential to enhance

the effectiveness of video-based design in the development of cross-cultural

competence.

2. Video materials should be varied in both form and perspective, and objectives

for the use of video in terms of developing cross-cultural competence

should be clearly explained and supported in the classroom.

3. Reflective practices based on cross-cultural content in a video, both selfregulated

(journal writing) and social (group discussions) should be encouraged

and maintained as an integral part of the SL or FL program

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CALICO Journal, 27(1) Impact of Student Beliefs on the Effectiveness of Video

CONCLUSION

Video provides learners with rich contexts to reflect on native and target language cultural

practices, products, and perspectives. The use of video in developing cross-cultural competence

is a worthwhile direction for further empirical research. Videos are increasingly being

used by SL and FL teachers, but oftentimes with little understanding as to their effective use

in developing cross-cultural competence. As suggested by this research, developing cross-cultural

competence through the medium of video-based instruction has constraints, but it also

includes many possibilities. As video clips in YouTube and other websites gain in world-wide

popularity, continuing research on how to effectively utilize video to enhance cross-cultural

competence can be of great use to SL and FL teachers.

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AUTHOR’S BIODATA

Kristen Campbell Wilcox is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Educational Theory and Practice

Department of the University at Albany. She has taught English as a second and foreign language

from the Kindergarten through doctoral levels in the United States and Puerto Rico in

addition to coordinating second and foreign language programs in Brazilian K-12 I schools.

Her areas of research interest are in the use of qualitative methods at the intersection of language,

culture, and cognition in multicultural educational contexts.

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS

Kristen Campbell Wilcox, Ph.D.

University at Albany

Education Building, ED115A

1400 Washington Ave.

Albany, NY 12222

Email: Kwilcox1@uamail.albany.edu

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