The Gulliver project “To get to know each other leads to better mutual understanding”, carried out in the framework of the 2nd MTP of the European Centre for Modern Languages in Graz, bears the subtitle “Interactive teaching/learning of intercultural competence”.
The starting-point for the Gulliver project was the firm conviction that there would never be a united Europe without better mutual knowledge and understanding among its citizens. At the start of this 21st century, when many frontiers have disappeared, we thought it interesting to ask ourselves: What point have we reached in social cohesion in Europe? What part does education for interculturality play in it? Can it really be achieved in schools? How should one go about it? What is the relationship between the teaching of foreign languages and the acquisition of intercultural skills? Are we on the right track?
Foreign language classes seem to offer a favourable setting for teaching/learning intercultural skills. But teachers often fear that they lack adequate tools, knowledge, skill and experience to teach them.
We therefore set out to create, using the possibilities afforded by the ECML, a network of language classes in several European countries and to invite the pupils in those classes, together with their teacher, to take part in an interactive exchange via the Internet in order to see what the possibilities, advantages and actual effects of such work might be.
We wanted to promote the acquisition of intercultural skills in the real Europe of the present day, not through textbooks designed to teach languages but by means of an Internet exchange forum.
The aims of the Gulliver project were accordingly the following:
- to conduct an experiment by way of a large intercultural forum on which young people in several countries would work, together with their teacher. The language classes (English/French/German/Spanish) at secondary level (first and second cycles) were to be chosen from among ECML member states
- to ask the pupils in these classes to suggest topics in which they were interested and which they wished to discuss at a later stage with young people in other countries
- to organise a forum on the ECML site and get the selected classes to work on it in accordance with the pre-set timetable
- to use the languages being studied by the pupils as a tool for discovering young people in the other European countries
- depending on the country, to carry out different experiments in integrating class work in an Internet forum within the normal timetables and curricula laid down for each country’s programmes
- to see how such work affected pupils’ motivation, linguistic progress, openness toward others and acquisition of intercultural skills
- to see what influence working on an intercultural forum had on pupils’ autonomy and independent learning and the role of the teacher in the language class
- to cast light on the part which language learning can play in improving mutual understanding and respect among young Europeans.
Like Gulliver, we travelled through different countries with our pupils, but our vehicle was the Internet. We called our journeys:
- YESTERDAY – referring to the past (traditions, customs, history) (Where we came from)
- TODAY – referring to the everyday life of pupils both inside and outside school (Where we are)
- TOMORROW – referring to their hopes, dreams and fears about the future (Where we are going).
The pupils’ linguistic skills in one or more languages became a tool enabling them to discover other people.
The Gulliver project was implemented in four stages:
- Organisation of an intercultural exchange forum on the website (selection of a language class in several countries, drawing up a list of topics suggested by the pupils themselves, decisions about forum organisation, timetable of work on the forum, length and correction of contributions, etc.)
- Class work on the forum throughout the 2004/2005 school year in accordance with the set timetable. The operation of the forum was extended into the following year.
- Discussion of the results obtained as regards:
- the advantages and drawbacks of two or more classes in different countries working on an Internet forum
- the various aspects of this work: psychological, methodological, linguistic and technical aspects.
- Production of the CD-ROM.
The work on Gulliver began with a preparatory phase. The coordinating team ( see Project Info 1) met at the European Centre for Modern Languages at Graz on 13 and 14 February 2004 to prepare the central workshop and clearly define the profile of future participants. A letter (appended) was sent to national nominating authorities. Another letter was sent to the future participants. In that letter we invited them to choose a class with which they would like to take part in the project, and to discuss participation in the project with their pupils and ask them to suggest topics which they would like to discuss with others subsequently. All this preparation bore fruit at the central workshop, where the participants arrived having already done very important work in their own countries. That work contributed to the success of the central workshop, which took place in Graz from 16 to 19 June 2004 and was attended by 30 language teachers from 29 ECML member states (See Project Info 2).
In the course of that workshop the participants decided to open an intercultural forum on the ECML website and work on it with their classes throughout the 2004/2005 school year. The outcome of this work, which was very interesting from the methodological angle, was a list of Gulliver forum topics grouped in three thematic fields, YESTERDAY, TODAY and TOMORROW, each comprising 5 different topics (See Project Info 3, Methodology).
The workshop participants also took decisions on the organisation and operation of the website and the timetable of work for forum classes. After the central workshop the coordinating team became the project team (See Project Info 1), with the task of contributing to the coordinating team’s efforts in order to achieve this end-product.
The forum was set up in October 2004. During the first month of operation the Gulliver classes presented themselves (See Project Info 7). Some presentations included a photograph, PowerPoint or video presentation, while others were in text form. Exchange work on the Gulliver forum started with the TODAY field (November 2004), which the teachers thought would be easier for less advanced pupils. The following month was devoted to class work on topics in the YESTERDAY field, and finally came the work on TOMORROW.
Once the phase during which participants chose from among the 5 topics in each field those which interested them and posted their contributions on the forum via their teacher was finished, pupils resumed work on the three fields, reacting to the contributions of others and posting on the forum further contributions on topics they also wished to cover. In all, the Gulliver classes posted 415 contributions, replies and reactions on the Gulliver forum, as set out in the appendices (See Project Info 8). These few statistics show the frequency of choice for a topic according to country, the number of contributions per country and the languages most often used on the forum (See Project Info 6). You may also read some of the actual educational fact-sheets with which the Czech class worked on the Gulliver forum (See Project Info 5).
In view of the great interest shown by the participants in the work, the project team decided to extend the operation of the Gulliver forum into the following school year (2005/2006).
The Gulliver forum was closed at the project team’s last meeting, on 22 June 2006.
During the project team’s meeting on 18/19 February 2005, two questionnaires were drawn up: one for the teachers and the other for the pupils (See Project Info 4). Although unfortunately not all participants returned the questionnaire, the replies made it possible to evaluate the implementation of the project and the level of participant motivation (pupils and teachers) as work proceeded, and gave the project team an insight into the working methods employed by classes in working with the Gulliver forum, and into the difficulties encountered and successes achieved. We regret that more reactions were not received, but realise that the intensive forum work required much effort both from the teachers and from the pupils participating.
Throughout the work one question cropped up repeatedly: how to strike a balance between the need for sharing with others naturally and spontaneously and the constraints of the classroom; how to avoid superficial, banal exchanges among participants who were given the opportunity to exchange ideas without limit and without precise guidelines on the one hand, and on the other hand how to avoid over-directed, over-organised and excessively “school-type” work which lessens pupils’ motivation and interest.