Instagram for the Development of Foreign Language Students' Intercultural Competence
Fornara, Fabrizio (author)
Dennen, Vanessa P., 1970- (professor directing dissertation)
Leeser, Michael J. (university representative)
Ke, Fengfeng (committee member)
Klein, James D. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems (degree granting department)
The global diffusion of the Internet and the rise in affordable digital electronic devices has exponentially increased the access to culturally authentic materials (Hadley, 2001). Foreign language educators can take advantage of this wealth of resources to design activities that encourage students to explore a foreign culture online (Bush, 2007). For example, social media users often share snapshots of their daily life and discuss topics related to their home culture. This content can be used to provide students with a regular and frequent exposure to authentic and timely cultural information and to promote intercultural analysis and reflections. The last two decades have seen a growing concern of the role intercultural competence plays in contemporary foreign language education. However, despite the rising awareness that “the study of another language is synonymous with the study of another culture” (Cutshall, 2012, p. 32), integrating cultures into instruction is still not a priority for many language instructors, especially because of the challenges the process may entail. This study aims to address this gap in practice and research by introducing a model that foreign language instructors can use to design pedagogically-structured learning opportunities that guide students’ intercultural explorations and reflections for the development of intercultural competence. Specifically, the study introduces a sequence of Instagram-based activities and aims to explore how completing these activities helps foreign language students to develop intercultural competence through the development of cultural and intercultural awareness of cultural products, behavioral practices, and philosophical perspectives. The study has an explanatory single-case study design where the collective experience of the class with the instructional activity represents one case. Participants are 18 students enrolled in one section of a third-level Italian language course at a large research university in the United States. Students used Instagram to explore posts shared by Italian users and to share with their classmates their cultural and intercultural observations. Moreover, they completed a set of individual reflective online assignments aimed at developing their knowledge and skills for the development of intercultural competence. The general conclusion of this study is that using Instagram for intercultural explorations and reflections can help students to acquire knowledge and develop skills for the development of intercultural competence. Students engaged in the Instagram chat in a process of knowledge sharing and knowledge building that helped them to develop their skills of interpreting and relating and their cultural knowledge of products and practices, especially of the most unfamiliar themes. By completing the individual reflective assignments, students also developed intercultural awareness of products and practices and used their developing skills of discovery to develop awareness and understanding of foreign perspectives. Even if students completed these assignments individually, they agreed on what the core perspectives of Italians are. Some students were also successful in establishing cross-cultural relationships and showed instances of intercultural awareness development of perspectives. Some other students, instead, were hardly able to advance from the surface culture of products and practices and to reflect on the significance that specific products and practices have in different cultures. Students could benefit from more guidance and opportunities for feedback throughout the whole sequence of activities. While detailed instructions and the initial instructional support can help to scaffold students’ observations and analysis, they may not be sufficient to properly sustain the development of knowledge and intercultural competence in a process that becomes increasingly sophisticated. A continuous instructional support can facilitate the development of students’ autonomy for the development of intercultural competence. The study also presents two individual student cases and an overview of students’ reactions to the sequence of activities, which, in general, were positive. The study concludes by addressing its main limits and by discussing its implications for future practice and research.
Computer-assisted language learning, Culture, Instagram, Intercultural competence, Italian, Social media
April 4, 2018.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Vanessa P. Dennen, Professor Directing Dissertation; Michael Leeser, University Representative; Fengfeng Ke, Committee Member; James D. Klein, Committee Member.
Florida State University