Academic Exchange Quarterly     Spring   2006    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  10, Issue  1

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Standards in Internet-Based Newspaper Project

 

Miyuki Fukai, Columbia University, NY

 

Miyuki Fukai, Ph.D., is Lecturer in Japanese at Columbia University.

 

Abstract

This paper discusses a study exploring the Internet as a tool to address Standards for Foreign Language Learning.Data were collected from student productions during an Internet-based newspaper project in an advanced, college-level Japanese course.Although some goal areas surfaced more frequently than others, all five goal areas of the Standards appeared in the data, indicating that the Internet can play a major role in addressing the Standards.

 

Introduction

One major influence upon foreign language education in the U.S. is Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996; henceforth "Standards").The Standards aim to provide foreign language educators with guidance in their effort to enhance foreign language learning.This paper reports a study of Standards implementation in a Japanese classroom using the Internet.

Literature Review

Originating in the educational reform movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Standards set national goals for foreign language learning in the U.S.The Standards describe what foreign language learners should know and be able to do under five goal areas known as "five Cs": Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.The Communication goal area has three content standards, and each of the other goal areas has two.

According to the Standards, Communication focuses on the mastery of spoken and written communication skills in interpersonal (Standard 1.1), interpretive (Standard 1.2), and presentational (Standards 1.3) modes."Interpersonal" refers to two-way communication, while "interpretive" and "presentational" are the receiving and giving of information, respectively.Defining "culture" as consisting of three aspects, i.e., practices, products, and perspectives, Cultures promotes proficiency in the target culture by understanding the relationship between practices and perspectives (Standard 2.1) and between products and perspectives (Standard 2.2).Connections refers to interdisciplinary learning in which students use the target language to reinforce knowledge from other disciplines (Standard 3.1) and to obtain information about other disciplines (Standard 3.2).Aimed at intercultural exploration, Comparisons encourages students to become aware of other viewpoints through comparing the target language to their own (Standard 4.1) and the target culture to their own (Standard 4.2).The goal of Communities is use the target language both in and outside the classroom (Standard 5.1) as well as to encourage prolonged engagement in foreign language learning (Standard 5.2), thus equipping students with the skills to live in our global society.

 

These five Cs expand foreign language study beyond grammar and vocabulary into life-enriching skills and knowledge.In creating standards-based classrooms, many foreign language educators have utilized the Internet.Research shows that computer-mediated communication (CMC) such as e-mail enables learners to communicate in the target language with a real audience (Torii-Williams, 2004; Van Handle & Corl, 1998), corresponding to interpersonal communication (Standard 1.1).CMC is also effective in addressing Cultures: It helps students understand practices, products, and perspectives of the target culture (Standards 2.1 and 2.2 under Cultures) by linking learners with native speakers who can provide first-hand knowledge, surpassing traditional materials (Kern, 1998; Hertel, 2003).In a survey of 13 first-year college Spanish students in the U.S., Hertel found that e-mail exchanges with Mexican students resulted in increased openness to Mexican culture and more critical views of their own culture.

 

The Internet's multimedia possibilities enable easy access to reading and listening materials, allowing learners to practice the interpretive communication mode (Standard 1.2) (Brandl, 2002).Culturally rich, authentic Web-based materials can bring Cultures to life (Blyth, 1999; Van Handle, Ayres, Cimino, Dunn, Foell, & McCarthy, 2001).Moreover, the Internet "provides an environment in which learners can publish their own information aimed at a real audience" (Harrison, 1998, p. 441).As a place of publication, the Internet may engage learners in presentational communication (Standard 1.3).

 

The Internet allows learners to easily collect information, learn about other disciplines (Standards 3.1 and 3.2 under Connections), and compare the target language and culture to their own (Standards 4.1 and 4.2 under Comparisons) (Ady, 1999).Gonglewski (1999) maintains that the Internetís vastness means that there are resources in the target language for interdisciplinary learning at all levels.Torii-Williams (2004) conducted an e-mail exchange project between third-year Japanese students in the U.S. and Japanese native speakers.She found her students became increasingly aware of linguistic differences through trying to appropriately convey thoughts in Japanese.

 

As a medium of communication as well as information gathering and sharing, the Internet may facilitate learners' use of the target language beyond school settings: a goal under Communities (Standard 5.1).LeLoup and Ponterio (1996) claim that the Web helps learners continue their studies by making current materials in the target language available.Leh (1997) maintains that CMC can motivate learners to use the target language for personal enjoyment and enrichment through contact with native speakers (Standard 5.2).

Study

This study explored the ability of the Internet to address the Standards, focusing on an Internet-based newspaper project (henceforth "project") in an advanced, college-level Japanese course. It involved ten students in a fourth-year Japanese course at a large state university in the Midwestern U.S. in Spring 2003.Participating students included six Americans, two Koreans, one Russian, and one half-American, half-Japanese student who speaks Japanese with his mother at home.When the course started, all but one had stayed in Japan.The length of their stays ranged from two weeks to eight years.

The students engaged in the project in 16 class meetings over the 15-week semester.The project consisted of:

-         Providing biweekly summaries of instructor-selected authentic Japanese newspaper articles on the Web

-         Using email to exchange opinions about the articles with Japanese native speakers in Japan

-         Discussing the articles with the class and in smaller groups

-         Reading additional authentic Japanese newspaper articles of students' choice on the Web and writing summaries and opinions about them

-         Writing and publishing articles about the university or a local town in a Web-based class newspaper

From these five activities, the researcher collected 31 e-mail messages, 29 summaries of assigned articles, 17 summaries/opinions on articles of the students' choice, nine final drafts of the online newspaper articles for analysis, as well as notes, tape- and video-recordings of 16 class discussions and nine small-group discussions.

 

To examine how well the project addressed the Standards, each appearance in the data of the 11 content standards under the five goal areas was coded.One coding scheme was developed for each of the five data sets based on the descriptions of sample progress indicators at Grade 16 in the Japanese version of the Standards: Standards for Japanese Language Learning (1999; henceforth "Japanese Standards").Interrater agreements for all coding schemes between the researcher and her assistant were calculated, and the minimum of .80 was obtained.After coding, identified instances were grouped by goal area, and the proportion of each goal area to all instances was calculated, revealing the overall coverage of the Japanese Standards in the project.Proportional representations were also calculated for each of the 11 content standards (e.g., Standard 1.1).

 

Results and Discussions

1,145 total instances were identified: 644 (56.2 percent) of Communication, 161 (14.1 percent) of Cultures, 239 (20.9 percent) of Connections, 40 (3.5 percent) of Comparisons, and 61 (5.3 percent) of Communities.Thus, the project addressed all the Cs, but Communication appeared with particularly noticeable frequency.This was anticipated.The Standards consider communication essential to foreign language learning, and thus Communication has three standards, whereas all other Cs have only two.The coding schemes reflected this difference, and there were a greater number of Communication-related codes.Moreover, other goal areas could only be recognized through communicative productions.Therefore, this study looked for instances of the five Cs within student productions, necessarily resulting in double-coded data and relatively more instances of Communication than the other Cs.

For closer examination, the results were divided into 11 content standards.Table 1 shows that Standard 1.1 (interpersonal communication) was most prominent, accounting for 32.8 percent of instances, followed by Standard 3.1 (reinforcement of knowledge from other disciplines) at 19.1 percent and Standard 1.3 (presentational communication) at 14.7 percent.

[Table ONE]

The Internet was found to be a contributing factor in most of the instances of interpersonal communication. Foreign language learners tend to use the target language only in the classroom.By emailing with Japanese native speakers, these students gained additional opportunities for interpersonal communication.About 35 percent of the instances of Standard 1.1 were identified in the e-mail exchanges, supporting the claim that e-mail is valuable for achieving two-way interaction (Gonglewski, 1999).

 

The Internet offered another venue for presenting information: an online class newspaper.In the traditional classroom, instructors are often the only audience for projects and papers. The Internet, in contrast, "provide[s] access to student creative work in a non-time-bound manner" (McGee, 2001, pp. 539-540).Publishing articles on the Web expanded possible readership to all Internet users.Thus, the Internet provided students with increased opportunity for presentational communication.

 

Second in frequency were instances of Standard 3.1 (reinforcement of knowledge from other disciplines).Japanese newspaper articles allowed the project to incorporate interdisciplinary topics in a natural manner.Topics of assigned articles included the birth of a cloned baby, deliberation of a service-dogs bill, and the Oscar nomination of a Japanese movie.Of the 17 summaries/opinions about student-selected articles, eight were about international issues, three about incidents in Japan, three about politics, and one each about health, technology, and economy."Convenience in accessing and obtaining an endless supply of authentic materials in target languages" (Brandl, 2002, p. 88) on the Internet allows students to use authentic newspapers as information sources.By using the Web-based newspapers, the project successfully exposed the students to interdisciplinary materials.

 

Instances of Standard 2.1 (understanding the relationship between practice and perspectives) were frequently found, but many were related to the students' successful use of the appropriate style of Japanese for different tasks (e.g., the impersonal style in plain form within the newspaper articles, or the polite, formal style in desu/masu form in classroom discussions).Previous studies showed that e-mail exchanges (Kern, 1998; Hertel, 2003) and Web-based activities (Blyth, 1999, Van Handle et al., 2001) promote cross-cultural learning.Although similar instances occurred in this study, there were fewer than expected.The discussion of women-only train cars yielded the most instances of Standard 2.1.The problem of women being groped by men in train cars is very common in Japan.Among the eight assigned articles, this topic was most closely connected to relatively unique aspects of Japanese culture.The relative lack of cross-cultural learning in this study might be explained by the fact that the topics of the newspaper articles did not, for the most part, call on overt cultural references.

 

Standards 4.1 (cultural comparison) and 4.2 (linguistic comparison) were rare.When they occurred, it was often because the instructor explicitly asked students to make comparisons.For example, while discussing women-only train cars on April 11, the instructor asked the students why men groping women are conspicuous in Japan but not in the U.S.This elicited responses that included cultural comparisons:

 

††††††† On the other hand, perhaps, the difference between America and Japan is that

††††††† American women are straightforward, right?So, if they're groped, probably

††††††† they shout or cry out.I think that's probably [what happens], but perhaps

††††††† Asian women, well, Japanese, or Koreans too, but perhaps, when they're

††††††† groped, they're scared, so they can't shout.So, men think it's OK to do it and

††††††† do it, don't they? (Student A)

 

††††††† It's my opinion, but I think it probably has to do with education system.Like,

††††††† Korea and Japan, everyone listens to teachers quietly, and [avoids expressing

††††††† opinions] very often, but in America everyone openly [says] his or her own

††††††† opinions, so I think that's also related to the society. (Student B)

On another occasion, while discussing Japan's service-dogs bill, the instructor had students compare the number of service dogs in Japan and the U.S.Later, she suggested that the students ask their e-mail partners about people with disabilities in Japan, which led to in-class discussions on the lives of people with disabilities in Japan and the students' native countries.

This suggests that addressing Comparisons may require conscious guidance from the instructor.Bradley and Lomicka (2000) stress the importance of well-designed tasks in order to utilize the vast array of authentic materials available through technology.When students are faced with the cognitively demanding task of comparing languages and cultures, the instructor may need to provide support or scaffolding in the form of explicit guidance as an essential part of a well-designed task.

Finally, Standard 5.1 (use of Japanese within and beyond school) was found more than Standard 5.2 (evidence of becoming life-long learners).E-mail exchanges and writing assignments based on Web-based Japanese newspapers were the primary sources of Standard 5.1.For example, one student e-mailed her partner more often than expected during the project, thereby developing a personal relationship.By being an information source and communication medium, the Internet extends use of the target language beyond the classroom.

In contrast, Standard 5.2 was rarely identified.This may be due to the limited time that students could spare for the project.The students' busy schedules prevented them from going further than required even when they wanted to.This can be seen in such comments as "I think we're trying to do too much" and "I cannot spend more time on Japanese 'cause I have a lot of classes."Nevertheless, some students later stated that this project familiarized them with online resources and encouraged them to explore Japanese web sites for personal enjoyment (e.g., listening to music).Thus, the project seems to have sown the seeds of autonomous learning.

 

Conclusions

This study examined an Internet-based newspaper project from the perspective of the Standards.The project addressed the Standards, with the Internet contributing by making the project accessible and convenient.Internet-based projects can help students learn not only target languages but also how to utilize the opportunities available online.These include communicating through e-mail and using the Web to get information: activities which help students to develop the electronic literacy necessary for living in today's information society (Shetzer & Warschauer, 2000).

 

All five goal areas were found, but some were more prominent than others.Although this would seem to be a shortcoming, an examination of the 11 standards-based sample activities in the Japanese Standards (1999) used in this study leads us to a different conclusion: Only four sample activities encompass all five Cs, and none covers every content standard.This suggests that not all five Cs must be present with equal strength for an activity to successfully address the Standards.That three goal areas appeared more frequently than the other two does not diminish the projectís success.

 

While this study suggests the Internetís potential role in creating a standards-oriented classroom, limitations should be noted.The limited context of the study requires caution as to generalizing the results.Replication of similar research in different settings is needed.The interconnectedness of the five Cs made coding complicated, and consensus was at times problematic.Furthermore, because the nature of coding is to identify what is visible in the data, that which was not explicitly stated or done could not be coded.While the standards-based coding schemes were useful for recognizing the five Cs within this study, the five Cs as a research tool needs further examination.

 

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