The author, a professor at Western [North] Carolina University, has integrated technology into a course for teaching graduate students about intercultural communications. Many of his students are or will become educators, as North Carolina requires that education degree-holders and licensed teachers demonstrate technological proficiency through coursework and a technology portfolio.
The course began with three main goals for students:
- Develop competence in intercultural communication;
- Develop a relationship with someone from a non-U.S. culture via e-pal web sites; and
- Develop an intercultural communication web site and present this information, using PowerPoint, to area high schools.
The first year of the course (fall 1999) uncovered a problem: The web-design work took too much time, and it threatened to overwhelm the more important “content” side of the equation. Even with the students working in teams and with seemingly minimal digital requirements (three digitized images, five web site links, five scholarly sources), the nuts-and-bolts of web design proved to be too much.
So much of web site work is trial-and-error, but under the tight deadlines of an academic semester the students lacked the time to recover from their mistakes. Even when one of the web sites was completed, the actual presentation to a high school class was undermined when the computer link did not work properly.
For the second year of the course, the instructor reduced the input that he and outside experts (web designers, copyright experts, etc.) provided. His students in the first year indicated that they were “barraged” by the amount and range of information they had to learn.
Students also were given an option to produce a more traditional paper-based report or to produce a CD-ROM to present to a local high school. Students who chose the CD-ROM format were given access to better equipment and more upfront training in using it for the limited purposes of the project. Students and computer department staff at the university designed a special manual to help students produce the CD-ROMs.
After a review of digitizing software such as Premiere and Final Cut Pro, it was decided that these upper-level programs were “overkill.” Apple iMovie and Adobe Photoshop–programs many students had at home–proved sufficient.
A greater degree of success was achieved in the second year, both in terms of projects produced and teacher and student satisfaction. In the first year, technology and the teacher were the focus, and students tagged along. In year two, students and learning outcomes were the focus, and technology and the teacher (facilitator) merely were tools to support these outcomes.