Fostering Critical Engagement with Humanities Content Learning through Telecollaboration in an Advanced Foreign Language Class

Marianna Pankova (German) · Round 3

This project involves the planning, organization, and implementation of a telecollaborative exchange between students enrolled in an advanced course in the German Department (L2 German learners) and students at the Pedagogical University in Heidelberg, Germany (future teachers of German as a foreign language). Led by project investigator Marianna Pankova, this project includes the development and implementation of materials and tasks for the exchange, and evaluation of this curriculum development initiative. This telecollaborative exchange is embedded within an existing Level IV (advanced) course, Issues and Trends (GERM 161), which is undergoing a major revision and reconceptualization to enable this initiative. It uses diverse forms of synchronous and asynchronous bilingual exchanges, such as chats, blogs, and student websites within one of the themes of this content- and language-integrated course.

The project has a twofold goal. First, it aims to foster student critical engagement with the course themes and enrich learner exploration of the content through extensive negotiation of the multiple intercultural perspectives on it. Because of the telecollaborative aspect, the project encourages learners to engage with sophisticated content not only through course textual and visual materials but also through direct interaction and building of a personal relationship with the representatives of the foreign culture. At the same time, the project targets learners’ ability to use language associated with both German and English academic registers to argue about, reflect on, and interpret complex social phenomena characteristic of their home country and Germany.

While telecollaboration exchanges are not uncommon in today’s foreign language curricula, existing research shows that most focus on exchanges of personal information, conversational turn-taking, and discussion of everyday topics. The current project is novel in that it targets academic literacy abilities and aims to promote meaningful engagement both with the target culture partners and with intellectually-stimulating humanities content. The project can potentially provide a model for implementing telecollaboration activities within other courses in the German program as well as offer insights on telecollaboration for other foreign language departments, some of which already feature telecollaboration as part of their curriculum.