The W&M-China Initiative: Digital Learning in Cross-Cultural Pedagogy

Skyping between W&M and Beijing Normal University students.

Skyping between W&M and Beijing Normal University students. Skype is an excellent digital tool for promoting cross-cultural learning.

This is a guest post by Emily Wilcox, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies in W&M’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. She is currently serving as the Project Director for the W&M-China Initiative for Film and New Media: Internationalization, Digital Learning, and Cross-Cultural Pedagogy.

How can digital tools such as Web publishing, image and video editing, and social media be used in the classroom to promote cross-cultural education? What changes can be made to existing courses and learning objectives to better integrate technology and international experiences in student learning on and off campus? How can traditional assignments be replaced by media-rich assignments to help students and faculty gain digital skills, interact with international partners, and share their work with a wider audience?

These were some of the questions asked by a group of faculty involved in the 2012-2014 grant project W&M-China Initiative for Film and New Media: Internationalization, Digital Learning, and Cross-Cultural Pedagogy. Funded through a Wendy and Emery Reves Center 2012 Internationalization Grant, and spearheaded by the William & Mary Chinese Program, it involves faculty from the School of Education, the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, the Confucius Institute, and Beijing Normal University.

Teaching and Learning in China: Student Projects

The multi-year Initiative officially launched on January 1, 2013. During the 2013 Spring Semester, the Initiative sponsored several new projects, including Education 500: Teaching and Learning in China, a School of Education study abroad course, conceived of and executed by School of Education faculty Jim Barber. Students traveled to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai, meeting with educators and counselors and observing classrooms.

Using digital storytelling and a course blog, students documented and presented their experiences and research in three types of multimedia blog posts:

  • Cultural Artifacts allowed students to focus on one object of significance encountered in China,
  • Teaching and Learning had students expressing their initial reflections on Chinese education and counseling based on interviews and site visits, and
  • Final Projects allowed students to explore in detail one question or topic related to the comparison of higher education and counseling in China and the United States.

Chinese Language Courses

While Education 500 used blogs and multimedia projects to pursue cross-cultural learning, Chinese languages courses taught by Ma Hua in the Chinese Program used social media to facilitate student engagement and language acquisition. Ma’s website provides detailed examples of how social media such as Twitter and Web-based tools such as VoiceThread can be used in the language classroom, supplemented by useful links and references to current best practices research.

Among scholars cited on Ma’s website are William & Mary’s own Mark Hofer and Judith Harris (both faculty in the School of Education and collaborators in the Initiative), who have studied the integration of new media into student learning outcomes and curriculum-based learning goals. Ma’s website for Chinese-language educators provides extensive and continually updated resources on “digital literacy” in the language classroom.

East Asian Cultures Through Film, the Digital Media Pilot Course

My course, Chinese 280: East Asian Cultures through Film, served as a “Digital Media Pilot Course” for the Initiative. It combined social media and blog-based multimedia projects to explore the possibilities for digital media and international collaboration in the existing William & Mary humanities curriculum. Students completed two Web-based projects, through which they learned Web publishing with WordPress, simple video editing, and international video-conferencing using Skype.

In the first project, students worked in groups to analyze the discursive construction of East Asia in Hollywood films, the results of which they presented in multi-media blog posts. In the second project, I paired W&M students with undergraduates majoring in English at Beijing Normal University. Through a series of three hour-long Skype conversations, students learned about each other’s lives and compared American and Chinese films. Their resulting blog posts reflected on their interactions and on the role of film in cross-cultural understanding.

The Initiative as a Resource for Collaboration and Reflection

Check out the W&M-China Initiative's Resources page for more information on using digital tools for cross-cultural learning.

Check out the W&M-China Initiative’s Resources page for more information on using digital tools for cross-cultural learning.

Based on its first semester of activities, the Initiative has become an important resource for collaboration and reflection on the relationship between cross-cultural education and digital media.

Projects will continue this summer and during the 2013-14 academic year, culminating in one semester of scholarly exchange and collaboration in Spring 2014 with Professor Leon (Yongliang) Xiao from Beijing Normal University. A leader in film studies, student film festival production, and digital learning in China, Professor Xiao will be working with the W&M Global Film Festival and other international learning projects on campus, with the goal of forging long-term collaborative projects between William and Mary and Beijing Normal University.

If you have any questions about the Initiative, contact any of the participating faculty or Stephen Hanson, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies. Please also see the Initiative’s Resources page for further information.