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French Culture

Amy Ogan, Christopher Jones, Vincent Aleven


Previous research shows that video viewing (a frequent activity in language courses) is more effective when students receive guidance. We investigate how to support students in an on-line environment in acquiring cultural knowledge and intercultural competence by viewing clips from feature films from the target culture. We test the effectiveness of a set of attention-focusing techniques (pause-predict-ponder), some of which have been shown to be effective in other contexts. We created ICCAT, a simple tutor that enhances an existing classroom model for the development of intercultural competence. 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 we compared ICCAT versions with and without attention-focusing techniques. We found that the addition of the pause-predict-ponder seemed to assist students in acquiring cultural knowledge and significantly increased students’ ability to reason from an intercultural perspective.


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

Multimedia technologies are used with increasing frequency in language-learning classes, to support many aspects of language learning [1]. In regular classroom courses, the viewing of a film or video from or about the target culture is typically followed by an instructor-led classroom discussion. In the context of an online course, however, the use of video presentations creates a practical problem. While video content can now be easily distributed over the internet, video viewing in a language class without guidance from an instructor can result in shallow or little learning [2,3]. There is a need therefore to provide students with guidance to help them focus on salient features of the video. We explore this issue as it relates 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.
While students in the control condition scored an average of only 62%, students in the experimental condition scored an average of 72%. This difference was marginally significant on an ANOVA test (F (1, 34) = 3.68, p < .064, SDs = .12, .16). However, using the F statistic to calculate Cohen’s d, a measurement of the relative size of the observed effect, shows that the treatment had an overall effect size of .67 (a medium size effect).

In our second type of assessment, the “intercultural competence” measure, each post on the discussion boards was given a score according to the categories developed by Steglitz, and then an average score was calculated for each student across all of their posts (see Fig. 4). An ANOVA shows the experimental group scored a significantly higher average of 1.61 out of 3, compared to the control mean score of 1.36 (F (1, 34) = 3.9, p < .05, SDs = .42, .40).


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.