Friday, April 20, 2007

Global understanding through language and multimedia

Using language to communicate meaning on a global playing field is a challenge. This has become evident this week while working with the Horizon Project. This project involves 58 students from 5 diverse classrooms as well as many educators from many different parts of the world. It is being conducted with English as the first and only language however we are witnessing national and cultural differences in the way we express ourselves and even how we spell.

My question is, in a global project how do you define what the common language is so that one culture or nation does not 'dominate' the other? Can we in fact develop a global language in English that everyone is happy with or do the inherent differences between countries, schools, education programs and teachers mean we will continue to have to explain what we mean after having said it or written it? It is natural for a person to be more comfortable with the spelling, phraseology and terminology they have been exposed to in school or while in their developmental years. Exposure to other cultures may help to broaden the awareness of alternative ways of communicating. Projects such as the Horizon Project can only continue to reveal to all participants that there are differences between us and that we do have to work hard to make ourselves understood.

Here are a couple of examples from recent activities:
  1. The use of terminology to label seasons: The pre-winter season is labelled Autumn in Australia/Britain, Fall in the USA. When both northern and southern hemispheres are involved of course Spring/Autumn are present simultaneously.
  2. The use of terminology to label school levels: In the USA Freshman, Junior, Senior etc. Which one comes first? How old are these students? In other countries secondary finishes at Grade/Year12 and moves to tertiary. The terms under-graduate, graduate and post-graduate are used, but do they all mean the same things across the world?
  3. Spelling for understanding and uniformity: an interesting example on the HP Rubrics page today where our good friend Durff edited the page and changed all of the words 'Artefact' to 'Artifact' (as I type this into blogger the red-line spelling error is coming up under the latter indicating the 'non-USA preference is with the 'i'). This word has always plagued me. A quick investigation reveals the Wikipedia page has the 'e' version in its URL but in fact the 'i' version in the page title. claims that artefact is a variant of artifact.
I am not professing to be a language expert and invite more authoritative opinion on this topic. One rule of thumb (there is another example, common this a phrase that everyone understands??) we use at school is that in the one document (one wiki page?) the spelling and phrasing/terms should be consistent. Is this the best way to go? Therefore we can have 'color' and 'colour' and 'honor' and 'honour' as long as meaning is understood and as long as in the same blog post, wiki page etc the same spelling is used to be consistent.

On the other hand, we are moving into more multimedia forms of communication. Maybe these will eventually dominate over text (now I am sure that statement has upset somebody out there). David Warlick talks about the power of the new media on his blog today in relation to new forms of literacy and the development of film schools.

Hot off the Twitter press this morning I posed the question "..what is the dominant global way to spell in English? American or British?" Answer from Graham Wegner in Australia, "English, your honour. I realise that all these red lines under my typing say otherwise." and from Jeff Utecht (an American in China), "..that's a loaded question. :)"

The power of multimedia over text is exemplified in the introductory pages of the Horizon Project again this week. The student introduction page is where all participants have the opportunity to post an audio file (we are using to introduce themselves. Just hearing the different accents and the inflections in the students voices is a great way to start making connections and to get to know each other.

Here are a couple of examples:
Sabbab from International School Dhaka, Bangladesh

KuanJu Chen from Shanghai American School, China

In addition to the audio files, on the teacher introduction page we are encouraging communication via twitter (short messages of activity or thoughts) and video (with narration rather than images of ourselves in this case) and audio. Vicki has created an 'avatar' and talks through this image. I decided to share scenes of Bangladesh.

OK, now you be the judge. The power of multimedia is obvious however accessibility challenges participants with ongoing software and hardware and networking issues. The power of the word, the written form of communication is taken for granted but there are inherent problems with understanding and meaning for global communication.

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Unknown said...

I think in a project such as this with students in a variety of locations, from different cultures, and perhaps with varying levels of competence in the use of English, it is important to be sensitive to the language used and to reduce/avoid use of idioms and jargon. Where there are differences in terminology e.g. "autumn" and "fall", use both terms. In terms of the written work produced by students, the key is whether it can be understood and not get too hung up on whether “petrol” has been used instead of “gas”, "artifact" is spelt with an I rather than an e, etc.

As you have already mentioned, students in the Horizon Project are not limited to use of the written word – they have the opportunity to express themselves in a variety of formats in order to facilitate communication.

It is important to acknowledge, accept and feel comfortable with the fact that those participating in the project will express themselves and communicate in different ways. In my opinion, the main strength of this project is the opportunity it provides for students around the world to engage with one another and enhance their intercultural understanding. As Davis and Cho (2005) indicated, educational technology can act as a “bridge to introduce new cultures, knowledge and people to students.” Dunn and Marinetti (2003) also suggest, “Different perspectives challenge us and help us construct new knowledge. The intellectual capital generated by intertwining the experiences and knowledge of diverse people can be far greater than the sum of their parts.”

I have just got hold of a book entitled “Globalized E-Learning Cultural Challenges” (which I have yet to make a start on!).
I hope that this will provide me with further insight into some of the issues you have raised Julie.


Durff said...

I didn't get to read the entire post...have to go to school and will do it there. But I do apologize! I thought, in my ethnocentric way, that artefact was a mispelling and not British! You are educating me!! I knew that organisation was British and tend to use the 's' instead of 'z' myself, but never thought...i am dumb...the Latin is 'arte' Sorry Julie!!

Julie Lindsay said...

Lisa, no apologies necessary at all! You know at first I thought hmm here we go again with changing the word one way and then back and then forward...however, as Paul so astutely pointed out, the important thing is that we are able to communicate and 'enhance our cultural understanding'. That is the great power of connectivity!

Durff said...

I think I do need to apologize! As an ethnocentric american, I should be able to look past the end of my nose. I will have to wait until next Wed to tell my kids how wrong I was. I think it will lead to an interesting discussion!

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

I think that these conversations are GREAT! Lisa, you have been admirable in your desire to help us with our professional image. I too didn't know about these nuances of the English language and at first (even on this project) changed it. However, when I finally figured it out, then, I stopped changing those words out of professional courtesy and a desire to communicate. Interestingly, readers depending upon their country of origin will have different viewpoints of our work depending on how they spell things, I guess.

This is a fascinating discussion but I think it is a great one to have at the high school level to promote effective global citizens. But it is NOT a lesson that one can learn from a textbook... only a lesson that can be learned via connections.

Durff said...

Is there a way to change the defaults so the spelling is corrected for British instead? This would be very useful, also for future projects. Americans really need to become more aware. I had only one sociology course, but these thoughts were not integrated. We need to integrate these tolerances just like we need to integrate technology.

Jeff said...

It may be that you may not have to "define a global language" at all. (LIFT07: Suga Mitra and outdoctrination)

"We found that 6 to 13 year old can self-instruct in a networked environment irrespective of what we measure (educational background, English literacy, economic level, etc), if you lift the adult intervention."

The students it seems, given time, will take care of the communication issues. The tools have certainly made us rethink geographical horizons. We may also have to rethink temporal ones as well.

Anonymous said...

Jeff is right on. If students are confused by different spellings, idioms, sayings - good! Let them struggle to work it out. Bridging language differences between themselves and peers in other cultures is a skill they will need in the years to come. Hopefully, this helps them to see the language is a living and evolving entity. It morphs as cultures collide and human needs change. Technology is only speeding this process up and our students need to understand that and be able to adapt.

Durff said...

Here's another for ya'll to ponder: inquiry versus enquiry came across this puzzle this afternoon as I edited the rubric my class will use on April 30th....I put both spellings on it just in case, since I couldn't decide....

Karl Fisch said...

Great thoughts everyone.

I think I'm pretty much with Jeff and Mike on this - I think the students can handle it. I think it's something to talk about with them - definitely a teachable moment - but once they are aware of the issue, I think they'll do just fine. If we encourage them to make sure they communicate with each other any time there is confusion, isn't that a valuable skill in and of itself?

And, of course, unless you are planning on convincing the entire web (at least the English portion of it) to standardize, aren't our 21st century students going to have to learn to deal with it?

V Yonkers said...

I am a specialist in International Business Communication, teaching it at the University level and conducting research in the development of cross-cultural communication, international computer mediated communication, distributed teams (groups that work in different locations-including other countries) and student perceptions of written English. I would think that different Englishes, and the understanding of them, would be a goal of your project. In addition, the research has an ongoing debate about which English should be used. Many multinational companies have developed "language management" policies. As long as English does not have a central authority controlling its development (which I do not suggest), it will be allowed to evolve and meet the needs of the speakers.