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French Culture

Amy Ogan, Christopher Jones, Vincent Aleven


Intercultural competence, the ability to “gain insight on native perspectives, opinions, and values; reflect critically and engage with otherness”, is an integral part of any language learning curriculum, yet technology to support acquiring intercultural competence has been limited to multimedia presentation or to large-scale projects that perform little rigorous evaluation. On the hypothesis that culture must be displayed in context and yet is hard to see in such authentic situations, we developed a system that introduces attention-focusing techniques to “teachable moments” in feature film. The teachable moments highlight cultural attributes. In order to evaluate this instructional method, an in vivo experiment was conducted in the French LearnLab course. Students were randomly assigned to conditions in which an experimental group using the system was compared to a control group that viewed the same video clips without intervention. We found an increase in the intercultural competence skills of perspective-taking and critical analysis of culture.


Forthcoming, but will probably include

  • Culture
  • Intercultural competence
  • Critical cultural analysis
  • Cultural perspective-taking

Research question

How is robust learning of cultural competence from narrative excerpts affected by focusing attention on appropriate features?

Background and Significance

We explore these issues as they relate to students’ on-line learning of “intercultural competence,” now (in the US educational system) an integral part of many modern language curricula. Students are expected not just to learn to communicate in the given language, but also to acquire an ability to “gain insight on native perspectives, opinions, and values; reflect critically and engage with otherness” [4]. In an attempt to include these higher-order skills in language classrooms, the content standards of American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) emphasize cultural understanding [5]. For example, Standard 3.2 recommends that “Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures.” Practicing these skills differs from simply knowing a few typical facts about a culture (e.g., that the French standard criteria for completing high school is the baccalaréat exam) in that students must be able to search for cultural explanations and take into account multiple points of view. To achieve these learning objectives, a typical task might be to watch a film from the target culture in class with guided questions and support from the teacher, followed by a class discussion. But in an on-line course, what kind of guidance from a system will be effective in this regard?

Independent variables

This study compares watching video with attention-focusing techniques to watching video in a freeform system.


Focusing students’ attention on moments that highlight a noteworthy cultural feature in narrative excerpts helps students reason deeper about culture, even without providing interpretation

Dependent variables

The analytical post-test questions that comprised the first main type of assessment were developed from a component analysis of the cultural elements in the film clips. Each cultural elements in the film was formed into a question requiring cultural analysis that was situated within the context of the film.

  • Far transfer, immediate:

Students were evaluated on their contributions to a cultural discussion board using a validated scale that measures cultural perspective-taking skills.


Students who had attention-focusing techniques achieved higher levels of perspective-taking in a discussion forum as well as performed better with marginal significance on critical analysis of culture measures.


Annotated bibliography

Ogan, A., Jones, C., Aleven, V. (2005) Improving Intercultural Competence by Predicting in French Film. In Richards, G. (Ed.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2005. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Ogan, A., Jones, C., Aleven, V. Focusing attention on critical moments: evaluation of a system for teaching intercultural competence. To be presented, European Computer Assisted Language Learning 2006.

Ogan, A., Aleven, V., Jones, C. (In Press) Culture in the Classroom: Challenges for Assessment in Ill-Defined Domains. To appear in the Workshop Proceedings on Ill-Defined Domains at the 8th International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems, 2006.