Michael Furmanovsky
Ryukoku University, Shiga, Japan
JALT National Conference, Maebashi 1999

Keypals for Intercultural Communication: Using course syllabi and other materials in teacher homepages to help design an intercultural e-mail exchange project.

I Introduction:
This presentation explores the process by which any EFL or CALL instructor in todayŐs Internet-driven world can go about collecting and utilising information and ideas developed by other teachers to customise and enhance their own syllabi or courses. It then goes on to look at how this process was utilised to create a course called "Keypals for Intercultural Communication."

II Production vs. Consumption:
Many of us are rewarded in our careers for our production of research or materials. But what about our role as consumers of our colleaguesŐ work? How do we use the freely available WWW resources provided by our colleagues-whether syllabi, course outlines, student handouts or online research papers- to adapt or design our own CALL (or other ESL) courses? These should be considered in line with the following:

The changing nature of Action Research in the Internet Age

The role of Online curriculum and syllabi

III@Setting up a keypals project: questions and and goals

Questions and goals were formulated prior to implementing the course in order to avoid potential pitfalls and to minimise research that would essentially be "reinventing of the wheel". Goals were set in two categories-(1) organisational and technical and (2) pedagogical/linguistic. The organisational and technical goals were to:

match students with partners whose English level was approximately the same and who would have some interest in, and motivation to find out about, Japanese people and culture;

find co-teachers in the other countries with compatible goals and methods;

organise students into pairs or groups to foster collaborative learning and to provide mutual support in dealing with technical and other problems associated with computer use and keypal exchanges;

make a smooth start with the first e-mail exchange and avoid the technical problems that often seem to plague computer related activities;

develop an efficient system for communicating with my students, co-teacher and the keypal partners in order to minimise the inevitable problem of certain students not writing regularly (for whatever reason);

find a way to monitor studentsŐ work and to provide feedback and advice without becoming intrusive.

The pedagogical and linguistic goals were to:

explore the concept of e-mail as a new kind of "dialogue," rather than just another form of letter writing;

slowly introduce students to the world of the Internet and make use of teacher-created homepages;

create an project which involved an actual intercultural exchange;

develop activities with the keypal co-teacher which involved keypals in direct collaboration on a particular issue or problem.

IV. Maintaining the keypal exchange and integrating Intercultural Communication: The critical role of the instructor or facilitator:

Among the roles that instructors can take on are:

Keeping in regular contact with the co-teacher to iron out problems with particular students on either side.

Writing to one's own students between classes to encourage or reprimand them and to update them on events in the lives of their keypals, such as a national holiday or an exam period.

writing to the keypals to update them on events in your students lives-holidays, school festival, reports for other teachers etc.

creating cultural information gaps and other puzzles which can be e-mailed. (Since the co-teacher is likely to have their own well- equipped computers, these may be formatted documents or pictures which are sent as attachments).

sending examples of "model e-mail dialogues" (with studentsŐ permission) to help those whose exchanges remain superficial.

creating activities based around information or pictures contained at a particular website (assuming that students have access and some training).

organising snail mail exchanges of pictures or a student made video.

V. Conclusion:

The existence of teacher homepages containing both syllabi and student handouts as well as published or unpublished research make the task of designing appropriate curricula for a particular ESL class or course much simpler and more efficient than just five years ago. An effort to design a course involving e-mail exchanges between students in two countries was considerably enhanced by this approach and allowed for the author to avoid numerous potential pitfalls in what can be a quite tricky undertaking. The information and ideas gathered from colleagues were adapted to the needs of lower intermediate students in a Japanese university and allowed for a relatively smooth e-mail exchange. This in turn permitted the instructor the luxury of being able to focus on non-technical issues and to develop-together with the keypal co-teacher-some collaborative and information gap-based activities designed to foster a communicative experience across cultures. A successful "Keypals for Intercultural Communication" course, can, at its best, help motivate students to become autonomous users of e-mail and the Internet and ultimately move them in the direction of becoming world citizens."


General ESL/Keypal

The Internet TESL Journal www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/)
Language Teacher
K. Kitao: http://ilc2.doshisha.ac.jp/users/kkitao/online/www/
IECC: stolaf.edu/network/iecc/
ESL Lab: http://www.esl-lab.com/

Japan based-homepages of ESL teachers

ˇ John Bauman http://plaza3.mbn.or.jp/~bauman
ˇ David Greene http://www.info.kochi-tech.ac.jp/greene/
ˇ Jon Brokering http://www.brokering.com/
ˇ Larry Davies http://www2.gol.com/users/lbd/efi/ipd/syll.html
ˇ Katherine Isbell http://www.miyazaki-mic.ac.jp/faculty/kisbell/
ˇ Kenji Kitao http://dwjc.dwc.doshisha.ac.jp/kkitao/index.htm
ˇ Charles Kelly http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~ckelly/
ˇ Victorian Muehleisen http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~ckelly/
ˇ Bill Pellowe http://www.ibeam-net.com/bpellowe/Bill.htm
ˇ Thomas Robb http://www.kyoto-su.ac.jp/~trobb/index.html
ˇ Patricia Thornton