Spotlight on Technology

A New Environment to Learn French Culture

        "Quelle belle chose," he replied, "quelle belle chose que tu parles le français." As the semester was nearing its end, these were the words of a French student from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Électronique, Informatique et Radiocommunications de Bordeaux (ENSEIRB) to one of the twenty UT students engaged in an innovative telecollaborative project between the two schools. It is indeed such a beautiful, useful, and powerful asset to be able to speak several languages and, in the spirit of UT's "Ready for the World" initiative, to be able to engage in an actual dialogue that breaks linguistic and cultural boundaries. The partnership between UT and ENSEIRB, an engineering school located in Southwestern France, has developed over the last three years under the initiative of Dr. Sébastien Dubreil. The objective is to provide a context within which learners can engage in a true, meaningful intercultural dialogue, as well as foster intercultural learning. Within the framework of a contemporary culture class, French and American students take advantage of online communication technology (webcams, videoconferencing, collaborative web-design) to create an online community of learners in which they explore both French and American cultures. During weekly dialogues, groups of four students (2 French - 2 American) explore a cultural topic of their choice, as if they were a team of comparative anthropologists. At the end of the semester, groups present the results of their investigation on a website. Over the course of the semester, not only are students learning about both cultures, they also have a chance to examine in-depth their own and their partners' cultural values, attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives. Thus students begin to understand and appreciate cultural difference in a more complex, sophisticated, positive, and non-judgmental manner. They are also given the opportunity to exist in a truly multilingual and multicultural environment - a daily reality for so many people throughout the world - thereby giving them skills to become educated global citizens. In addition, students' proficiency in French increases as they are participating in real conversations in the French language. Overall, this is a challenging but rewarding experience as the aforementioned American student noted: "It was a big compliment. Sometimes, it seems the beauty is in the trying, not the fear."