The actualization of inter-university student interaction on Zoom during the COVID-19 lockdown period provided was an important milestone. It not only provided a platform for student collaboration but also increased the intercultural and interpersonal awareness among the participants. Such competencies are critical for students who would eventually work in different host communities upon graduation. This training incorporated great student-student, student-lecturers, and lecturers-lectures engagements, which made it quite engaging.
The project's key underpinning was to entrench diversity in learning and student experiences. This diversity was necessary in stretching student experiences. Therefore, participants were carefully selected from the two participating universities. A total of 21 students were drawn from the two universities; ten from University CEU Cardenal Herrera, Castellon (Spain), and eleven from LAB University of Applied Sciences, Lahti (Finland). As espoused by the Social constructivist theory of learning, the project was largely interactive. Nonetheless, lecturers were involved in offering guidance. Three lecturers; two from CEU Cardenal Herrera and one from LAB University, were involved.
In the inclusion-exclusion criteria for the project, the subject background was used as a parameter to achieve learning diversity. In this regard, the participants from both universities had competencies in different subjects. Students from CEU Cardenal Herrera were third-year students taking a subject called Maestros II. Maestros II aims is to teach future teacher B2 of English. Students from LAB University were in third-year studies of Bachelor of Business Administration.
Self-paced learning was applied in the project to minimize any potential strains on participants. Self-paced principle or learning is based on humans' cognitive process that favors progressive learning from simpler concepts to more complex ones (Jiang, Meng, Yu, Lan, Shan & Hauptmann, 2014). The project was planned into four sessions. Each session was run per week to ensure all the participants had enough personal refreshment and research time on the various topics of discussion. The key to the project was the need to keep it engaging, less straining, and informative. Therefore, the topics chosen throughout were not entirely technical but captivating. Ideally, this was a good way to accommodate possible extremes among the participants. The topics were wide-ranging and included food and drinks, traveling, and hobbies. A very relaxing icebreaker session preceded the project kick-off. During the icebreaker, students got the first opportunity to introduce themselves to one another and overcome possible anxieties.
The project of integrating plurilingualism in L2 teaching was premised on the need to promote networking among students from different universities and countries. Besides the general learning of language and the transaction of knowledge, the project envisaged improving intercultural competence among participants. Through reinforced interactions over the project period, the students would appreciate diversity, compromise on cultural uniqueness, and attain sensitivity in earning. The Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) approach was critical in fulfilling the project objectives.
Through interactive social learning, the project aimed to establish an ecosystem in which knowledge generation and dissemination among students will be seamless (Ben-Ari & Kedem-Friedrich, 2000). This interactive social learning reduces possible barriers to learning, including institutional affiliations, socio-cultural backgrounds, and individual learning limitations. Through fostering impactful back and forth exchange of experiences, the project focused on empowering the participants to overcome barriers to effective knowledge sharing such as low self-esteem, apprehension, language, and anxiety.
Contents and Delivery of the Project
The pluricultural project was launched during the lockdown period occasioned by the declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic. Zoom was used as a platform for conducting the project to attain maximum and effective participation. Zoom is currently the more reliable digital solution for large scale video conferencing due to its versatility, including real-time video, messaging, screen sharing, and break out rooms, among other important functionalities (Archibald, Ambagtsheer, Casey & Lawless, 2019). The project participants were organized into five groups comprising four students each. The composition was well mixed with 2 Spanish and 2 Finnish. They met on Zoom once a week for 1 hour.
Even though the program was well laid out with students exuding high self-motivation levels, various challenges encroached. Still, the uniqueness of the timing and running the project virtually posed a challenge. One of the daunting challenges was to suit the time and work synchronously.
There was also an overriding assumption that all participants would dedicate their time to the project. However, it was not possible to ascertain their involvement in topic selection for the next session and outside the Zoom time. Whereas teams were carefully selected to facilitate the ongoing building of cross-cultural relations, students were overly careful not to display certain aspects of their culture, which prevented full experience of authenticity in interpersonal student relationship. Ideally, restraint and inadequate freedom that comes with virtual teams undermine quality multicultural exchange (Vinaja, 2003). Conceivably, much exchange would occur if the teams had physical interactions even if once during the project.
The project was designed in such a way to be captivating and important. Participants were not to get involved all in vain. Student participants were made aware of the benefits of the project beforehand to anticipate what elements to assign greater importance. This approach is consistent with the concept of virtual team incentivization through creating anticipation (Fuller & Harding, 2015). In this regard, students knew that participating in the project would contribute to 25 % of the total mark for participation. The project was challenging since students were not used to online learning, and the students were not used to chatting face to face online.
Impact of the Project
The experience from this pluricultural project was beneficial to students from the two participating universities. It also provided the lecturers with an opportunity to visualize how impactful inter-academic communication is among students. The project significantly helped the participants to practice English at the B2 level. Consequently, they were able to prove that they can speak clearly and be understood. They improved their linguistic and pluricultural competences.
The participants from University 2 came from Finland and Vietnam. English is not a primary language in the two countries meaning that their active contribution greatly transformed their language and interaction skills. One key indication of how the project improved the student abilities was on their confidence level. During the program, there was evident gradual improvement in their confidence. The students became more aware and not afraid to make mistakes. After each session, they were asked to write a summary which was a good mode of assessment. The summary also helped to reinforce the student commitment to the project. The summary included ideas they shared and what new words they learned. This way, the participants practiced speaking, listening, and writing.
Archibald, M. M., Ambagtsheer, R. C., Casey, M. G., & Lawless, M. (2019). Using Zoom videoconferencing for qualitative data collection: perceptions and experiences ofresearchers and participants. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18, 1609406919874596.
Ben-Ari, R., & Kedem-Friedrich, P. (2000). Restructuring heterogeneous classes for cognitive development: Social interactive perspective. Instructional Science, 28(2), 153-167.
Fuller, R. M., & Harding, M. (2015, January). The impact of interaction anticipation and incentive type on shared leadership and performance in virtual teams. In the 2015 48th Hawaii international conference on system sciences (pp. 732-741). IEEE.
Jiang, L., Meng, D., Yu, S. I., Lan, Z., Shan, S., & Hauptmann, A. (2014). Self-paced learning with diversity. In Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems (pp. 2078-2086).
Vinaja, R. (2003). Major challenges in multi-cultural virtual teams. Proceedings: Southwest Case Research Association, 78541(956), 341-346.
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