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Teaching Forum - Student Perceptions of Learning Outcomes in a Cross-Cultural Communication Course:

A Journal of the the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Sunday October 26, 2008 Edition

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Student Perceptions of Learning Outcomes in a Cross-Cultural Communication Course:
The Students Weigh In

By Susan Wildermuth and Barbara Penington

Abstract

The research on active learning techniques and their impact on student learning is mixed.  Some studies indicate that active learning techniques have a positive impact on affective and cognitive learning, while other studies find no impact or even negative impact on learning.  Additionally, while research related to intercultural communication competency has found that experiential learning is positively related to gains in competency, no one has specifically examined the impact of active learning techniques as forms of experiential learning on student gains in competency.    To address this deficiency, the current study takes a quantitative and a qualitative approach to investigating how active and passive learning techniques in the intercultural communication classroom impact student affective and cognitive learning and the development of students' intercultural competence.  Results indicate that the more active techniques used in the classroom had a more positive impact on student's perceived growth in affective and cognitive learning, and development of students' intercultural communication competence. 

In today's global economy, the value of being able to communicate effectively and appropriately with individuals who are culturally distinct cannot be overstated.  More and more corporations are operating on a global scale, and failure to train employees to communicate effectively in the global arena can be very expensive, with multinational companies estimating a loss of almost a quarter of a million dollars per expatriate failure (Albert, 1994).  As a direct result of the ever-expanding need for well-trained employees, great value is being placed on intercultural education and related initiatives in higher education (Wentling & Palma-Rivas, 1999).  For example, Littlefield (1995) found that representatives of over 50 countries identified intercultural education as key to solving diversity issues.  It is not surprising then, that courses focusing on intercultural communication have moved to the forefront in recent years in terms of student enrollment (Eblen, Mills, Britton, 2002).  The challenge of designing and teaching such courses, however, is a lack of information about what teaching and learning methods are most effective at improving intercultural communication competency in students. 

The lack of instructional research related to methods for obtaining cross-cultural communication goals is a real difficulty when it comes to designing and delivering effective courses as there are no adequate research-based guidelines to follow (LeSourd, 1992).  For example, LeSourd suggests that while there is a great deal of literature on the positive impact of active learning techniques on student intercultural learning outcomes, there is limited instructional research that addresses what specific types of classroom activities and classroom structure variables are most effective or on how instructors can best apply active learning to their lesson plans and classroom delivery techniques to enhance student learning.  Additionally, while most of the research is positive, some of the available research has found that active learning techniques can actually have a negative impact on student learning of intercultural communication competency (Eblen, Mills, & Britton, 2002; LeSourd, 1992).  The lack of consistency in the findings demonstrates a need for exploring what forms of active learning strategies work best for student learning related to gains in intercultural communication competency specifically.

The current SoTL research project used a mixed-methods approach to explore how specific course structure variables and specific classroom activities and assignments (grounded in both active and passive learning techniques) impacted our students' perceptions of their learning outcomes in terms of intercultural communication competence. 

Literature Review

Active learning techniques and student learning outcomes.

            Active learning is based on the philosophy that learning must be grounded in experience (Katula & Threnhauser, 1999).   Active learning is defined as any instructional method that directly engages students in the learning process and requires that students do "meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing" (Prince, 2004, p. 1).  Active learning techniques include in-class activities such as discussion, role playing, panels, guest lectures, reading quizzes, games/simulations, viewing media, case studies, small group activities, and collaborative teaching/learning exercises, as well as out of class experiences such as internships and study abroad (Allen, Witt, Wheeless, 2006; Prince, 2004; Roose, 2001).   In contrast, passive learning techniques are strategies such as traditional lecture-based formats and multiple choice assessments, which convey and assess a great deal of information but require the student to absorb information rather than engage in it (Bonwell & Eison, 1991).  Active learning proponents claim that active learning enhances student learning outcomes by increasing affective learning (i.e. student affinity or liking of the course and of the course material) (Allen, Witt, Wheeless, 2006; Yamazaki & Kayes, 2004).  The increased liking for the course and its content, in turn, positively impacts the students' cognitive learning (i.e. their comprehension and retention of the course content) (Allen, Witt, Wheeless, 2006).  In sum, supporters of active learning claim that by improving the quality of the educational experience and making it both enjoyable and creative, active learning techniques have an indirect positive impact on student comprehension and understanding of the material (Katula & Threnhauser, 1999).    

            The focus of instructional research on active learning techniques has been to fully examine this supposition and answer the question, "Do active learning techniques really work?"  Do they improve learning—especially in terms of student liking for the material, student comprehension of the material, and student ability to use the material in practice? (Powner & Allendoerfer, 2008).   Results have been mixed (Powner & Allendoerfer, 2008).  For example, in some research, active learning has been found to have a positive impact on student learning outcomes.  Hammond (1996) found that using active in-class activities and exercises rather than lecture to convey content increased student comprehension and retention of material.  Yamarik (2007) found that the use of cooperative discussion groups increased student affinity for and comprehension of the material.  McKeachie, Pintrick, Lin and Smith (1986) found that group discussion was more effective than lecture at improving student retention of knowledge, motivation to learn, and ability to problem-solve and conduct critical thinking.  Finally, Daugherty (2003) reported that students perceived that they learned better when material was assessed through case studies and simulations rather than through papers or exams. 

However, contradictory findings reveal that not all active learning techniques are equal and that certain active learning approaches may be less effective than others.  For example, Powner & Allendoerfer (2008) found that all types of active learning in combination with lecture did improve student mastery of material.  However, they did not find that role-playing played any greater role in comprehension than instructor-led discussion, even though the literature predicted that it should because in the role-playing context students are more actively involved in working through the material than they are in an instructor-led discussion format (Powner & Allendoerfer, 2008).  Additionally, while the most common type of active learning technique is student discussion in groups (Powner & Allendoerfer, 2008), this technique has been found to have mixed outcomes in terms of student learning and comprehension (Bonwell & Eison, 1991).  Prince (2004) conducted a meta-review of the instructional research on active learning and determined that the results are unstable.  Positive learning outcomes are inconsistent and depend heavily on the type of active learning technique in combination with the content/material being studied.  Reaching a similar conclusion, Powner and Allendoerfer (2008) concluded that evidence demonstrating that active learning techniques produce deeper or more learning than traditional instructional methods is mixed and thus, there is a real need for research that examines what particular types of active learning interventions produce what types of effects—in what environments and relevant to what subjects/content areas.

Intercultural Communication Competency

Intercultural communication competence (ICC) is a term that stems from 

communication competence which refers to interaction that is perceived as effective in fulfilling certain goals and appropriate to the context of the communication (Spitzberg, 1988).  Intercultural communication competence then, is defined as the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with others who are culturally different from yourself (Lustig & Koester, 2006).  Communication competence in intercultural situations is especially difficult to achieve.  The expectations we have for communicating including the meanings we actually give to words or nonverbal gestures, often differ  between national cultures as well as different co-cultures within the United States. 

Improving a student's ICC is the end goal of intercultural communication education (Yamazaki & Kayes, 2004).  Thus, throughout all the steps of designing courses with an intercultural focus, including choosing content, selecting assignments and assessment measures, structuring the delivery of the content, and designing classroom activities, intercultural communication educators direct their decisions toward improving student learning in the area of ICC.  Knowing the components of intercultural communication competence is important if instructors in intercultural communication courses are to reach their goal of helping students develop higher levels of ICC.  There is definitely overlap in these components when different scholars' work is examined. 

Most theoretical models in the field of intercultural communication focus on three dimensions of intercultural competency:  1) cognition, 2) affect and 3) behavior (Grunzweig & Rinehart, 1998).  Cognition refers to knowledge about how cultures differ; affect is a willingness to communicate with the other and an increased sensitivity/openness; and behavior relates to the ability to enact appropriate communication skills in intercultural situations (Gudykunst, Ting-Toomey, & Wiseman, 1991).  Empirical research supports these dimensions as key components of intercultural competency.  For example, Kelley and Meyers (1995) found that culturally-competent people possessed high levels of knowledge of the self and the other, flexibility/openness, and perceptual communication skills.  Additionally, Batelaan and Gundare (2000) found that people successful in intercultural situations possessed knowledge of cultural and language differences, open minds, and strong communication skills.

Active Learning and Intercultural Communication Competency

            If improved ICC is the goal, how do we build such competency in our students?   

Most scholars would agree that focusing on the cognitive or knowledge component of intercultural competence only is insufficient.  Passive strategies that simply teach about cultures or even about the skills one needs are not enough, thus, there is significant support for the use of active learning techniques in the field of intercultural communication.  As Bennett and Salonen (2007) suggest "cultural knowledge does not equal intercultural competence . . .intercultural communication is about negotiating shared meanings" (p. 46).  This statement points to the perceived importance of using active learning techniques to provide students opportunities to interact with members of cultural groups different from their own.  Zimmerman (1995) found evidence of this when she surveyed more than 100 international students on their ability to adapt to culture in the United States.  Zimmerman found that the students' oral language skills were only weakly related to their satisfaction and ability to adapt to a new culture.  "The most important factor in international students' adjustment to American culture was frequency of interaction with American students" (p.329).   Zimmerman's work reinforces the importance of giving students opportunities to interact with other cultural groups.

Other scholars also support the importance of direct experience in growth in ICC.  Campina-Bacote's (2002) inclusion of the dimension of "cultural encounter" as a necessary component of learning intercultural competency points out the need for at least some experiential activities in intercultural communication classrooms.  Learning intercultural competency begins by first experiencing a different culture, then analyzing that experience, then generalizing the knowledge gained from that experience to other potential situations, and then applying those generalizations to future intercultural interactions.  Research demonstrates that active learning techniques that directly expose students to others who are culturally distinct from themselves, decrease students' likelihood of stereotyping and increase their openness to new ideas (Roose, 2001).  Decades of research on intergroup contacts (experiences that get students talking to those who are different), shows that greater levels of contact correspond with lower levels of intergroup prejudice (Tropp & Bianchi, 2006).  Hammond (1996) found that the use of in-class activities that provided students with some form of simulated or real intercultural interaction facilitated student appreciation of diversity.  These perspectives support Allport's (1954) contact hypothesis and suggest that learning competency is predicated on the challenging of internal perceptions through direct interpersonal experience with members of diverse cultural groups (Beamer, 1992). 

Although students' active learning in diversity-related courses appears effective, there is evidence to suggest that particular types of active learning techniques may actually decrease intercultural communication competency and instead, foster a greater likelihood of focusing on difference (LeSourd, 1992).  Mere exposure to ethnicity and diversity does not, in and of itself, produce competencies.  In some cases, research has found that exposure to those who are different actually promotes espousing of unicultural perspectives (Anderson, 1994).  After all, if you have never interacted with a Frenchman, you may not have strong ideas about what "French people" are like.  However, after one interaction that did not go well, you can claim "experience" and argue that French people are rude and insensitive.    

In addition to the findings that some active learning techniques may actually increase ethnocentrism, other research has found that active learning does not significantly impact cognitive learning in a positive way.  For example, Meizlish and Bernstein (2003) found that short term factual understanding was higher in a lecture based class on political science/congressional issues than in a simulation situation.  In addition, Krain and Lantis (2006) conducted an experiment in their Global Problems course.  Readings were identical, but one reading had an associated simulation, while the other had an associated lecture.  Results demonstrated that both techniques resulted in similar amounts of cognitive learning. 

The lack of consistency in findings demonstrates a need for exploring if particular forms of active/passive learning work better than others in developing students' intercultural communication competency.  Thus, the current study was designed to address the following three research questions: 

1. How are various active/passive learning techniques related to students' perceptions of their affective learning in the Cross-Cultural Communication classroom?

2. How are various active/passive learning techniques related to students' perceptions of their cognitive learning in the Cross-Cultural Communication classroom?

3. How are various active/passive learning techniques related to students' perceptions of their growth in intercultural communication competency (including skill acquisition, intercultural mindfulness, and intercultural willingness to communicate) in the Cross-Cultural Communication classroom? 

Methods

            We collected data using both quantitative and qualitative methods.  Study A was a quantitative survey that asked students in an advanced course on cross-cultural communication to reflect on how various active and passive learning techniques incorporated into the course impacted their overall affective and cognitive learning as well as perceived gains in intercultural communication competency.  Study B was qualitative in nature. It utilized focus groups to obtain descriptive student-centered perceptions regarding course structure and activities related to students' learning and perceived growth in intercultural communication competence. 

Methods:  Study A

            The 153 participants in this study consisted of 78 students from the Fall, 2006 section and 74 students from the Spring, 2007 section of the team-taught Cross-Cultural Communication course at a small Midwestern university.  The researchers conducting both studies were instructors in the courses in which the data was collected.  There were 67 male and 83 female participants of which 12 were freshman, 24 sophomores, 57 juniors, 54 seniors, three graduate students, and three students who did not indicate their class rank.  Ninety-three of the participants indicated that they had traveled outside the US prior to taking the course.  Fifty-seven indicated that they had not previously traveled outside the US, and three did not reply to this question.  The course fulfills the diversity requirement for the general education curriculum and thus, attracts a variety of students from different colleges.  Seventy-one students indicated that they were majoring in the College of Arts and Communication, 46 students were majoring in the College of Business, 30 students were majoring in the College of Letters and Sciences, and two students were majoring in the College of Education.  Four participants did not indicate a college.  One-hundred and twenty-eight participants were Caucasian, nine were Black, six were Asia, four were Hispanic, and five indicated their race as "other."  Finally, 90 participants reported that they were between the ages of 18-21, 52 participants were between 22-25, five were between 26-30, two were between 31-40, and one was 41 or older.  Three participants did not indicate their age.

            In addition to basic demographics, students were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = negative impact, 3 = no impact, 5 = positive impact) how much impact seven different active/passive learning techniques and eight different active/passive assessment tools used in the course had on their liking for the course, their comprehension and understanding of course content, and their intercultural communication competency levels.  Intercultural communication competency was broken up into three components so students were asked to assess the level of impact that the active/passive tools and assessment measures had on their intercultural communication skills, their intercultural mindfulness, and their intercultural willingness to communicate.  In addition, students were provided with a set of open-ended questions where they could elaborate on what elements of the course most impacted their learning. 

Methods:  Study B:

Study B used focus groups to obtain descriptive information to compliment our quantitative data in order to gain a more comprehensive view of how our current course structure and activities impacted student learning and development of intercultural competency.  A total of four focus groups (one at the conclusion of the Spring, 2008 semester and 3 at the end of the Fall, 2008 semester) were used.  A total of 27 students

 (16 males; 11 females) volunteered to participate.  Students were motivated by extra credit points and free pizza.  Students signed consent forms prior to the focus group. 

Each researcher facilitated a total of two focus groups each using an interview protocol.  Sessions began with a brief explanation of the project.  Student participants were then encouraged to choose a pseudonym for purposes of anonymity.  The first questions asked participants to state their name and briefly discuss their past experience with intercultural communication not including the course.  The protocol also included five discussion questions developed with the intent to obtain responses that would answer the three research questions posed.  Student responses to these questions were probed for additional details during the focus group sessions.

The four focus groups were audio taped and lasted approximately one hour each.  The tapes were transcribed and resulted in approximately 58 pages of data.  During data analysis, participants' responses were coded according to the research question they addressed.  In many cases, class activities discussed addressed more than one research question and thus, were placed in two or even three categories.  Activities were also ranked in terms of number of responses associated with each.

Results

Study A:

As recommended by Powner & Allendoerfer (2008), we controlled for factors that we expected might impact student perceptions of their learning.  A series of MANOVAs was conducted to examine whether or not groups differed in how positively or negatively they perceived the class overall to have impacted their affective learning, cognitive learning, acquisition of skills, intercultural mindfulness, and intercultural willingness to communicate.  Summary variables were created by obtaining a sum score across each of the 15 components assessed for each dependent variable.  Results from the six relevant MANOVAs indicated that there were no significant differences between groups. The Wilks Lamda multivariate test of overall differences among groups based on gender was not significant at p= .931; the test for year in school was not significant at p= .211; the test for prior travel experience was not significant at p= .924; the test for major in college was not significant at p= .398; the test for race was not significant at p= .101; and the test for age was not significant at p= .769.  Thus, differences in gender, year in school, prior travel, major college, race, or age did not significantly impact how positively or negatively participants perceived the class overall to impact their affective or cognitive learning, their acquisition of intercultural communication skills, their intercultural mindfulness, or their intercultural willingness to communicate. 

The first research question was:  "How are various active/passive learning techniques related to students' perceptions of affective learning in the Cross-Cultural Communication classroom?"  To answer this question, two-tailed one sample t-tests were conducted examining whether or not means on student perceptions of their affective learning for each type of learning technique differed significantly in either a positive or negative direction from 3(neutral).  Results are summarized in Table 1.  Essentially, active learning strategies such as discussions, guest lectures, video clips, and interactive papers had mean affective learning scores that were significantly higher than neutral, so these strategies were seen by students as having a very positive impact on their affective learning.  The research paper assignment was not significantly different from neutral, so it was perceived as having neither a positive or a negative effect on affective learning, and the exams and quizzes were significantly more negative than 3, so those strategies were perceived by students as having a negative impact on affective learning.

Table 1: One-Sample Test for Affective Learning

Sample Mean

Std. Deviation

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Effect Size

Team Taught

3.8000

1.06185

9.227

149

.000

.80000

.7534

Lectures

3.5933

.94191

7.715

149

.000

.59333

.6299

Discussions

      3.8456

.80308

12.853

148

.000

.84564

1.0529

Participation

4.1689

.84426

16.844

147

.000

1.16892

1.3845

Course Reading

2.8219

1.08713

-1.979

145

.052

-.17808

.1638

Video Clips

4.0340

.80593

15.556

146

.000

1.03401

1.2830

Guest Lectures

4.1600

.79495

17.872

149

.000

1.16000

1.4592

Experiential Paper

3.8267

.93225

10.860

149

.000

.82667

.8867

Potluck

3.9733

1.03591

11.508

149

.000

.97333

.9404

I.D. Paper

4.0400

.90398

14.090

149

.000

1.04000

1.1504

Briefing Project

3.5274

1.04515

6.097

145

.000

.52740

.5046

Research Paper

3.0078

1.04205

.084

128

.933

.00775

.0074

Tests

2.2685

1.04384

-8.555

148

.000

-.73154

.7008

Reading Quizzes

2.7267

1.20901

-2.769

149

.006

-.27333

.2260

Extra Credit

4.1007

1.09511

12.269

148

.000

1.10067

1.0050

                The second research question of interest to this study was:  "How are various active/passive learning techniques related to students' perceptions of cognitive learning in the Cross-Cultural Communication classroom?"  In order to answer this question, two-tailed one sample t-tests were conducted examining whether or not means on cognitive learning for each type of active/passive learning technique differed significantly in either a positive or negative direction from 3(neutral).  Results are summarizied in Table 2.  Essentially, results demonstrated that exams and reading quizzes were not perceived by students to have either a positive or a negative impact on how much the students learned in the course.  All other techniques were perceived as having some positive impact on student retention and comprehension of material.  However, the more active or interactive the strategy, the larger the positive effect.  Thus, doing the readings only had a small positive impact on learning, while interactive strategies such as discussion or the experiential paper were perceived as having large positive impact on learning.

Table 2: One-Sample Test for Cognitive Learning

Sample Mean

Std. Deviation

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Effect Size

Team Taught

3.7933

1.01199

9.601

149

.000

.79333

.7840

Lectures

3.7400

1.00622

9.007

149

.000

.74000

.7354

Discussions

3.9533

.82199

14.205

149

.000

.95333

1.1597

Participation

4.2200

.80992

18.449

149

.000

1.22000

1.5063

Course Reading

3.4082

1.13930

4.344

146

.000

.40816

.3582

Video Clips

3.9933

.80115

15.134

148

.000

.99329

1.2398

Guest Lectures

4.0800

.90130

14.676

149

.000

1.08000

1.1982

Experiential Paper

3.9934

.79579

15.339

150

.000

.99338

1.2482

Potluck

4.0400

.90398

14.090

149

.000

1.04000

1.1535

I.D. Paper

4.1014

.90155

14.862

147

.000

1.10135

1.2216

Briefing Project

3.8889

.93951

11.353

143

.000

.88889

.9460

Research Paper

3.2656

1.08304

2.775

127

.006

.26563

.2452

Tests

2.9603

1.10683

-.441

150

.660

-.03974

.0358

Reading Quizzes

3.1600

1.18763

1.650

149

.101

.16000

.1347

Extra Credit

3.8933

1.01761

10.752

149

.000

.89333

.8778

                                                                                                  

The third research question of interest to this study was:  "How are various active/passive learning techniques related to students' perceptions of their growth in intercultural communication competency (defined as skill-acquisition, level of intercultural mindfulness, and level of intercultural willingness to communicate)?"  In order to answer this question, three two-tailed one sample t-tests were conducted examining whether or not means on the three elements of intercultural communication competency differed significantly in either a positive or negative direction from 3 (neutral).  Results for skill-acquisition are summarized in Table 3.  Key findings indicate that students perceived the exams and the reading quizzes to have no impact (either positive or negative) on how much they improved their intercultural communication skills throughout the course.  They felt all the other variables had a positive impact on skill acquisition.  However, different techniques played a larger role than others.  More passive techniques such as doing the course readings and writing the research paper had only a small positive effect, while more active techniques such as discussion, participation, guest lectures, and doing the experiential paper and the group project were perceived as having a large effect.

Results for intercultural mindfulness are summarized in Table 4.  Key findings indicate that students perceived the exams and the reading quizzes to have no impact (either positive or negative) on how much they improved their intercultural mindfulness throughout the course.  They felt all the other variables had a positive impact on skill acquisition.  However, different techniques played a larger role in their skill acquisition than others.  More passive techniques such as doing the course readings and writing the research paper had only a small positive effect, while more active techniques such as discussion, participation, video clips, guest lectures, the potluck assignment, and doing the experiential paper and the group project were perceived as having a very large effect.

            Results for intercultural willingness to communicate are summarized in Table 5.  Key findings indicate that students perceived the exams and the reading quizzes to have no impact (either positive or negative) on how much they improved their intercultural willingness to communicate.  They felt all the other variables had a positive impact on skill acquisition.  However, just as with the other variables, different techniques played a larger role than others.  For example, doing the research paper had only a small positive effect, while discussion, participation, video clips, guest lectures, the potluck assignment, the identity paper, and doing the experiential paper and the group project were perceived as having a very large effect.

Table 3: One-Sample Test for Skill-Acquisition

Sample Mean

Std. Deviation

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Effect Size

Team Taught

3.6887

1.00787

8.397

150

.000

.68874

.6833

Lectures

3.7351

.91434

9.879

150

.000

.73510

.8040

Discussions

3.9735

.83224

14.374

150

.000

.97351

1.1697

Participation

4.2715

.73877

21.150

150

.000

1.27152

1.7211

Course Reading

3.4333

1.03247

5.140

149

.000

.43333

.4197

Video Clips

3.8533

.84652

12.346

149

.000

.85333

1.008

Guest Lectures

3.9338

.86154

13.318

150

.000

.93377

1.0838

Experiential Paper

4.0397

.82366

15.512

150

.000

1.03974

1.2623

Potluck

3.9073

.92629

12.036

150

.000

.90728

.9794

I.D. Paper

3.9007

.92199

12.004

150

.000

.90066

.9705

Briefing Project

4.0213

.92171

13.157

140

.000

1.02128

1.1079

Research Paper

3.3413

.98924

3.872

125

.000

.34127

.3449

Tests

2.8867

1.05891

-1.311

149

.192

-.11333

.1070

Reading Quizzes

3.0927

1.06678

1.068

150

.287

.09272

.0869

Extra Credit

3.8267

1.02811

9.848

149

.000

.82667

.8040

Table 4: One-Sample Test for Intercultural Mindfulness

Sample Mean

Std. Deviation

T

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Effect Size

Team Taught

3.8355

1.03222

9.979

151

.000

.83553

.8094

Lectures

3.9205

.96970

11.665

150

.000

.92053

.9492

Discussions

4.1579

.76431

18.678

151

.000

1.15789

1.5148

Participation

4.3245

.75321

21.608

150

.000

1.32450

1.7584

Course Reading

3.7697

.93121

10.191

151

.000

.76974

.8266

Video Clips

4.1513

.81183

17.484

151

.000

1.15132

1.4181

Guest Lectures

4.2171

.82925

18.095

151

.000

1.21711

1.4678

Experiential Paper

4.2039

.87147

17.033

151

.000

1.20395

1.3815

Potluck

4.1118

.93177

14.711

151

.000

1.11184

1.1932

I.D. Paper

4.1258

.86645

15.967

150

.000

1.12583

1.2993

Briefing Project

4.1338

.92429

14.618

141

.000

1.13380

1.2266

Research Paper

3.4127

1.03746

4.465

125

.000

.41270

.3978

Tests

2.9474

1.07832

-.602

151

.548

-.05263

.0474

Reading Quizzes

3.1908

1.14934

2.047

151

.042

.19079

.1659

Extra Credit

3.8742

1.00203

10.720

150

.000

.87417

.8724

Table 5: One-Sample Test for Intercultural Willingness to Communicate

Sample Mean

Std. Deviation

T

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Effect Size

Team Taught

3.8146

.98254

10.187

150

.000

.81457

.8796

Lectures

3.7815

.97224

9.877

150

.000

.78146

.8037

Discussions

4.0464

.72423

17.754

150

.000

1.04636

1.4435

Participation

4.2053

.75998

19.489

150

.000

1.20530

1.6642

Course Reading

3.5497

.99122

6.814

150

.000

.54967

.5545

Video Clips

3.9073

.85128

13.097

150

.000

.90728

1.0657

Guest Lectures

4.0993

.81449

16.586

150

.000

1.09934

1.3493

Experiential Paper

4.1126

.86057

15.887

150

.000

1.11258

1.2927

Potluck

3.9868

.87929

13.790

150

.000

.98675

1.1222

I.D. Paper

3.8940

.87294

12.585

150

.000

.89404

1.0241

Briefing Project

3.9231

.92749

11.901

142

.000

.92308

.9952

Research Paper

3.3543

.98018

4.074

126

.000

.35433

.3615

Tests

3.0000

1.00664

.000

150

1.000

.00000

0

Reading Quizzes

3.1325

1.08735

1.497

150

.137

.13245

.1218

Extra Credit

3.8400

1.00389

10.248

149

.000

.84000

.83682

Results: Study B

RQ1:  Quantitative data from Study A showed that our students liked the active learning activities, but did not like the course readings, the tests, or the reading quizzes. Focus group data added clarification and additional insights into these findings.  In the comments quoted below student names have been changed to protect anonymity.

            Regarding active learning activities, students participating in focus groups gave the highest marks to our Experiential Paper assignment where they were to 1) do an in-depth interview with someone from another culture or 2) spend 3-4 hours interacting in a an unfamiliar culture (such as volunteering in a nursing home or attending an ethnic event such as a Jewish family's Passover celebration).  Students discussed their appreciation for opportunities to talk in-depth with people from cultures different from theirs. 

David:  My favorite part of the course was the experiential paper.  I interviewed a friend

            of the family that's from England.  I had so much fun talking to her.  I was there

for probably two hours talking to her and maybe a quarter of the things I used in my paper and the rest we just talked about soccer and football.  We talked

            about rugby.  She's really into rugby. 

And Trixie, another student, shared:

Trixie:  I interviewed a girl I worked with.  She's from Mexico originally and she's been her for about seven years. . . I knew, they have stereotypes of us but [there were] stereotypes that she encountered coming here.  It was just nice to talk to her cause I work with her and she comes in every shift and I used to just clean.  Now I talk to her.  I'll stay after for half an hour and just talk.  That's nice to get to know people. 

Direct interaction with culturally diverse others, at least with our students, seemed to support Hammond's (1996) finding that the use of in-class activities that provided students with some form of simulated or real intercultural interaction facilitated student appreciation of diversity.  Our students' liking of the experiential assignment will hopefully encourage them to interact interculturally in the future, even after their course in intercultural communication is completed.

            Another activity which was well-liked by students was the game, Barnga.  In Barnga, students are placed in groups and must play a simple card game without talking.  Winners move to different groups where unbeknownst to them, the rules are different.  Students come to see how when one visits a new culture, the rules are sometimes implicit and not what one expects.  This can produce some negative feelings that parallel those of ethnocentrism and aspects of culture shock.  Trixie shared, for example:

Trixie:  The card game was interesting.  At first we had absolutely no idea where you were going with it.  And before I realized what was going on, I thought the people in my group were so stupid.  I was like "No.  You're wrong."  I was so mad.  I just thought they were dumb.

David, who was in Trixie's class, continues: 

David:  For that particular activity, I came in late.  And I was in an observer role.  I think it is something you might want to consider--assigning people as observers without them knowin-- they don't get the rules at all.  They have no idea what's going on.  I was paying attention to two or three different groups and I got confused.  I'm listening to one group and thinking "Ok, I'm learning the rules here.  It doesn't sound that complicated to me.  Then when they switched and people started arguing about the rules.  It was like "What's going on here?"  And I think that is a valuable lesson too.  If we see two different cultures outside of our own that are in conflict, we may not necessarily understand either one of them.  The Arabia/Israel conflict, for instance, is probably foreign to us on both sides.

In this excerpt, we see that students are not only excellent sources for feedback on course assignments, but they can also make suggestions that are valuable in modifying activities to become even more effective.

            There were other activities that appeared to contribute to students' affective learning.  Students, for example, shared how much they liked extra credit opportunities that required them to hear speakers on campus.  They also enjoyed guest speakers we had invited to class and students suggested that we use even more of them.  Although this may not appear to be an active learning experience, students felt that they had the opportunity to become involved and ask questions.  Students also enjoyed the cultural identity assignment where they had to analyze themselves and the different groups/cultures to which they belonged. 

            A value of qualitative research is that occasionally, through the process of students sharing their perceptions, something is highlighted that researchers were not aware of originally.  When talking directly to our focus group participants, we found that they really liked the course structure.  One student shared, for example, "I liked the part where you could go and print off the modules and learning objectives so that you are always prepared for what you will be talking about in the discussion and you are able to participant when necessary."  In addition, some students liked our team-teaching approach where three instructors alternate giving lectures (although each instructor has a smaller group for discussion-day activities).  Students shared that this format gave them a chance to hear multiple experiences and perspectives.  As one student put it, "when you have rotating professors it keeps the presentation fresh and I appreciated that."

            Students were also clear about what they did not like.  Their comments reinforced what was learned from the quantitative survey—they did not like the readings, tests, or quizzes.  They were adamant that there was too much covered in the readings and it was difficult to digest.  Students suggested assigning less readings, but going more in-depth on the readings that were assigned.  The tests and quizzes were labeled "harsh" and even "impossible" because of the amount of material covered and some complicated wording.  One student claimed that she could have debated some of the questions and still believes she lost points unnecessarily.  Although students will probably never like tests, quizzes, and reading assignments more than interesting lectures and fun activities, the students raised several points that have motivated us to look into our readings, exams, and quizzes to find ways to make them a little more palatable.

            RQ2:  Students in focus groups talked about how many of the class activities enhanced their ability to learn cognitively.  Several students who shared that they liked the experiential assignment, for example, also shared how much they had learned from it.  One student spoke about liking that she had to pull citations from class readings to support what she observed during her experiential interview.  "It all tied together for me," she claimed, "and I learned from it."  Another student made similar comments about the cultural identity paper.  He not only learned about himself, but it helped him improve his writing skills. 

The card game Barnga, a clear active learning activity, was mentioned once again, this time in the context of how well it worked to help students learn about feelings associated with culture shock and ethnocentrism.  Another student specifically mentioned the video clips and related discussions used in class.  He said that the video excerpts "gave visual insight to help us understand concepts." 

            It was surprising that once again the structure of the course was discussed, this time as contributing to cognitive growth.  The student who had said he liked the team-teaching format, for example, shared that using multiple instructors made him "pay attention" – get more mentally involved. Another student shared that although our attendance policy was strict, it impacted his learning positively.  "I had to be there [in class] and in that way I learned."  A third student praised the teaching team for the sequence the course followed and how we gave a thorough background into intercultural communication in general before we had them analyze specific cultural communication. 

David:  I am glad you don't jump into readings or cultural stories of other specific cultures without these tools [ lectures on perception, nonverbal communication, Hofstede's value orientations, etc) that you showed us in order to analyze and compare what was different and the same [in cultures].  We needed that tool box and it was good that it you gave it to us.

            Readings were talked about more positively by students regarding this research question.  Students seemed to see the connection of course readings to cognitive learning.  They were especially appreciative that we required them to cite readings in their experiential and cultural analysis papers which were also reflective in nature.  They could then see the connection between their experience and research.  On the other hand, although one or two students claimed to like the quizzes because they "held you accountable for the readings" and "you had to come to class prepared," they did not seem to view the larger tests as being connected to cognitive learning.    

It should be noted that many of the activities discussed by students demonstrated both affective and cognitive dimensions.  This finding supports the principle that if you like something, you are more likely to get involved and learn something from the experience.

RQ3:  The third research question dealt with activities/techniques associated

with perceived growth in intercultural communication competence.  The quantitative data showed that all class activities, except tests and reading quizzes, had a positive effect on their development of intercultural communication competence especially in areas related to skills acquisition, mindfulness and willingness to communicate.

            Related to skills acquisition, students discussed listening, developing problem-solving skills, using patience and being open minded as important "take aways" from the course.  Jessica stated:

Jessica:  [I have learned] that I need to be more receptive instead of just shutting

people out.  . . actually be more open-minded.  You're not only going to work with people of different cultures in a business setting or overseas.  I think diversity is going to be more apparent here and hopefully more accepted.

Sandy also talked about learning to be nonjudgmental and stated that the class, "helps me respect others and not see that they are dumb or abnormal because they are doing different things than me.  It helped me respect and see other's cultures and not judge them from my ideas." 

            Finally, several students talked about how after this class they were more willing to communicate with people who are from a different culture than their own. 

Jessica:  Maybe if you have a family member that married into another

culture…now some doors have been opened because of this class.  There is new information I know, and now I can feel more comfortable talking to them or asking questions without fear of offending them.

This growing confidence in one's ICC can have future benefits.  Several students, for example, now wanted to explore travel studies and study-abroad opportunities.  They  talked about how they felt more confident about traveling to other cultures because they felt they had improved in their ability to interact with others of different cultures. 

David:  As far has stretching me, I think I'm more open to the idea of international travel.  I was afraid of going to another country where I would be the minority and with people using English as a second language or if they knew English at all!  After taking this course and knowing some of the principles of what to look for in another culture and what to find out before you get there and how that's going to change their communication, it's made me more comfortable with the idea of going to Europe or South America. 

Discussion

            The use of both quantitative and qualitative methods gave us a deeper understanding of how course activities/techniques impacted student learning in the Cross Cultural Communication classroom.  Both quantitative and qualitative data from our students supported the notion that experiential or active learning does positively impact student perceptions of their affective and cognitive learning and development of intercultural communication competence, which according to focus group accounts, seemed to be inextricably interrelated.  When students liked an activity like the card game, Barnga, they also seemed to learn from it and perceived that it enhanced their ICC.  Many previous authors have pointed out that the involvement in active learning promotes student satisfaction—this appears to be the case here as well. 

Another important finding is that a mix of instructional methods is probably best to enhance learning.  Quantitative results pointed to all of our class activities positively affecting learning outcomes.  Through our class activities, students gained insights that enhanced their intercultural understandings in ways that readings or lectures alone would not.  The qualitative data revealed, however, that not all students liked or learned from the exact same types of activities.  Additionally, qualitative data demonstrated that course structure and format could work well to enhance liking and learning. 

A consistency between both studies was the negative student feelings related to our tests and quizzes.  A part of this response could be explained by the very nature of the testing activity and the stress it produces in students.  Tests just are never fun!  On the other hand, the tests and quizzes could use some modification, and comments from focus group participants will enable us to know the most important changes to implement.

            The study supported a crucial tenet to research on active learning.  We must remember that it is not simply experience, but rich and structured experiences, to which students reflect and learn" (Katula & Threnhauser, 1999).  The overwhelming positive regard for our two most active learning assignments—the experiential assignment and our cultural analysis assignment in terms of affective and cognitive learning as well as increasing one's ICC, is helpful.  Not only do these assignments require students to do some deep reflection on their intercultural communication tendencies, but they incorporate course readings and outside sources that force students to tie together personal observation, reflection, and research.  Our students have reinforced the notion that careful thought and planning must go into creating/structuring these experiences for maximum student learning.

Limitations

            There were limitations in both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of this study.  In terms of Study A (quantitative), there was no control group.  The absence of a control group means that we have no reliable way to examine the magnitude of the effect. Study B used students who volunteered to participate in the focus groups sessions.  They might have had a positive attitude toward the class or its instructors which predisposed them to describing the class more positively than other students might have done.  In addition, two of the three instructors of the course facilitated the focus groups activities.  The instructors were careful to recruit volunteers and schedule the focus groups after final grades were recorded for the course.  However, as mentioned above, the presence of their instructors may have encouraged students to report more positive feedback than they actually felt.  It is important to keep this potential bias in mind while interpreting research results.  Additionally, teachers being researchers in their own classrooms in order to learn how to improve is part of the SoTL philosophy. 

Future Research

Examining the long-term effects of active learning is a good avenue for future research. There is no reason to believe that the impact on cognitive learning or ICC structures can take place from such short-term interventions as one activity/assignment.  It takes time to reflect and multiple engagements before one can grow (Mayhew & King, 2008).  Additionally, Bhawuk & Brislin (1992) state that it takes three or more years of cross-cultural interaction for people to gain intercultural competency—what kind of impact are we really having on such a complex topic in 16 weeks?  We hope that this particular SoTL project focusing on our classroom over a year of instruction can be a first step for other teacher-scholars who want to investigate active learning over time.

In sum, this SoTL project provided us with both quantitative and qualitative data which will be useful as we modify and improve our existing Cross Cultural Communication course.  Reflecting on student input is certainly not the only consideration when determining teaching effectiveness and the quality of student learning, but when coupled with instructor perceptions of the course and student assessment data, it can represent a crucial link to gaining the tools to guiding our students' growth in intercultural communication competency.

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CopyrightUW System

Susan Wildermuth (Ph.D. University of Minnesota, 2001) and Barbara Penington (Ph.D Marquette Univeversity, 2001) are Associate Professors in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.