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Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives

Edited By Jean-Luc Gilles

The PEERS program proposes international exchanges adapted to the context of teacher training institutions wishing to take advantage of internationalization in order to link training, research, and practice. PEERS is based on the completion of Research and Innovation (R&I) projects during the academic year, during which international groups of professors and students from teacher training partner institutions collaborate remotely as well as during two placements of one week. For the students, the PEERS program aims to develop competencies in distance collaboration with the help of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the management of intercultural groups, and the continuous improvement of their activities through reflective thinking and the spirit of research. For the professors the PEERS program aims to better link research and training, to reinforce their skills in the management of international research projects and to foster opportunities for international publications.

The aim of this collective book is to give an overview of the Issues, case studies and perspectives of the PEERS program. The first section entitled "Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Internationalization of Teacher Training in a Globalized, Multicultural, and Connected World", focuses on the foundations and general features of PEERS projects, as well as the context of globalization in the intercultural and connected world in which it is situated.

The second section, "Case Studies and Lessons Learned from the PEERS Project in Southern Countries" constitutes a series of chapters presenting case studies on PEERS projects focused on innovation and cooperation in the developing world. The third section, "Results of Research-Oriented PEERS Projects," considers the results from PEERS projects that have enabled the implementation of theoretical and practical educational research, generally taking the form of small-case research studies or innovations in the design of teaching units. Finally, in the conclusion we propose to present the key points of the three sections that make up this book "Linking Research and Training in Internationalization of Teacher Education with the PEERS Program: Issues, Case Studies and Perspectives".

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Chapter 16: Ideology, Culture and Language Preparing International and Critically Conscious Teachers: Difficulties and Advantages of a PEERS Project Focusing on Interculturalism (Rosanna Margonis-Pasinetti)

Rosanna Margonis-Pasinetti

rosanna.margonis-pasinetti@hepl.ch

University of Teacher Education, State of Vaud, Lausanne, Switzerland

Chapter 16: Ideology, Culture and Language Preparing International and Critically Conscious Teachers: Difficulties and Advantages of a PEERS Project Focusing on Interculturalism

Abstract

For three consecutive years, a group of students from the University of Teacher Education of State of Vaud (HEP Vaud), and from the College of Education at San Diego State University (SDSU), has collaborated to define a student exchange project. Three students from each institution engaged in individual projects implemented in two particular contexts: foreign language classes in the school system of Vaud, and bilingual education in the California public school system. Through a methodology based on pre and post reflection, interviews, and questionnaires to focus groups, the projects intended to explore how teachers addressed challenges in multilingual and multicultural classes. Students and faculty from both institutions focused on specific issues of research including how educational systems address the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students; effective pedagogical approaches to implementing interculturalism; and implementing critical thinking, technology, and collaboration within the day-to-day teaching and learning practices.←287 | 288→

I will never teach in the same way again!

A student during the exchange

1. Introduction

The main aim of this article is not to outline the methods of collection and analysis resulting in a series of rigorously scientific research results, but rather to acknowledge the number and complexity of processes triggered by confrontation with the Other, whether this is represented by individuals, places, habits, and customs, or above all by experiences of schooling from the point of view of pupils and particularly of teachers.

The belief that communication and exchange, collaboration around a project, and shared experience – with partners living, studying, and working on the other side of the world, near or far away – represent undeniable added value and indisputable enrichment in a program of teacher education is the key motivation for all the individuals who have taken part in the PEERS (Projet d’Étudiants et d’Enseignants-chercheurs en Réseaux Sociaux or Student and Teacher-Researchers Social Networks Project) program.

That said, motivation and engagement should not prevent us from remaining clear-headed about the obstacles and difficulties, both external and internal to the individual, that punctuate such an international experience. Fortunately so, as it is the inevitable confrontation of the person we are with the Other that we meet that engenders linguistic and intercultural understanding and a reflective step back from the opposed ideologies.

The trainers and trainee teachers involved in the project have benefited from a unique experience that has enabled them to experience real-life situations involving concepts that are now fundamental to the training of teachers preparing to practice their profession in a school context where a variety of languages, cultures, ethnicities, and social classes mix on a daily basis. In such a context the role and behavior←288 | 289→ of teachers, and the pedagogical and didactic choices that they make, can only be defined from a plurilingual and intercultural pedagogical perspective.

Despite the confrontation between different schools of thought, theoretical references, and educational policies, it was immediately evident that the shared experiences of the exchange project were comparable on both sides of the ocean.

The experiences of the project participants thus correspond to the words of Cuq (2003) who defines the concept of interculturalism as follows:

[…] interculturalism affirmed the importance of the inter- prefix, which enabled us to go beyond the multicultural. The intercultural is in fact the exchange between different cultures: coordination, connection, and mutual enrichment. Far from being an impoverishment, as claimed by conservatives, actual contact between different cultures offers an opportunity in which everyone can find a supplement to their own cultures (which they do not of course wish to give up) (Cuq, 2003, p. 136).

Chaves, Favier and Pelissier (2012) define multiculturalism, at the level of society, as “the cohabitation and parallel coexistence of several sociocultural groups within a society” and pluriculturalism, at the level of the individual, as “the capacity to identify with, and participate in, multiple cultures.”

As for interculturality, they describe it as follows:

The intercultural is defined as a dynamic process of exchanges between different cultures. The intercultural exists only where there is an exchange, an encounter, or a sharing. It is not a fact to be taught but rather an approach that aims to build bridges and links between cultures. This approach therefore requires a constant rebuilding of identity in relation to alterity; it is about accepting the diversity of perspectives, encountering other points of view, and understanding different ways of life; and also understanding that an individual is rarely the product of a sole cultural affiliation.

This is indeed what emerged from the spontaneous and non-transcribed discussions of participants in the HEP Vaud-SDSU PEERS project, with a focus on the experience rather than the tangible outcomes initially←289 | 290→ aimed for by the shared work, over the course of the three instances described in this chapter.

2. Outline of the HEP Vaud-SDSU PEERS Project

The exchange between the University of Teacher Education, State of Vaud (HEP Vaud) in Switzerland and San Diego State University (SDSU) in the United States took place over the course of three academic years, along the broad framework of the protocol defined for PEERS program projects. However, it was not always possible to follow this protocol to the letter due to unforeseen circumstances, particularly regarding student participation. We will return to this point later in the chapter.

Over the three academic years, between fall 2011 and spring 2014, with an OUT component (visit by the HEP Vaud group to SDSU) in October-November and an IN component (visit by the SDSU group to HEP Vaud) in March-April, this beta-test PEERS project was run as a collaboration between myself and two colleagues from SDSU, accompanied respectively by 7 and 9 students from each institution. It enabled us to explore a number of teaching/learning approaches, both at the level of pupils through visits and classroom observations, and at the level of trainee teachers, through the use of reflective and analytical learning approaches to visits and discussions that aimed to challenge opinions and lived experiences of the Other.

The shared and enduring objective was always to contribute to the development of competencies such as openness to the international (global) dimension of learning, taking critical distance in all learning situations, and gauging the role played by language in all its forms. These objectives applied to all the individuals involved in the project, both tutors and tutees.

From the earliest moments of the three PEERS projects shared by HEP Vaud and SDSU, the issue of language played a major role.←290 | 291→ Although the exchange between two plurilingual educational contexts was one of the project’s leading features, it quickly became apparent that there would only be one working language: English. Swiss educational policy has made English an international language learned by all pupils from elementary school onward, along with two of the three national languages. The students from HEP Vaud were thus able to cope fairly easily in an Anglophone training context.

When it comes to the Californian educational policy concerning languages, however – we have insufficient space to consider such policies in the United States as a whole – French is clearly a low priority given the numerical, economic, and sociocultural weight of Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Neither the professors nor the students from SDSU would have been able to participate in the projects if French had been even very partially used.

The English linguistic and cultural skills of the trainee teachers from the HEP enabled them to spend their time in San Diego in a situation of almost complete immersion, which was therefore particularly instructive and enriching. In contrast, during their visits to Lausanne, the professors and students from California required linguistic and cultural mediation at all times. This did however serve to further demonstrate the benefit provided by every situation of contact with otherness, even if easy or undemanding: acting as mediators enabled the Swiss professor and students to see in a new light the everyday realities that they took for granted.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR, 2001) highlights the relationship that exists between intercultural awareness and the skill of mediation:

Knowledge, awareness and understanding of the relation (similarities and distinctive differences) between the “world of origin” and the “world of the target community” produce an intercultural awareness. It is, of course, important to note that intercultural awareness includes an awareness of regional and social diversity in both worlds. It is also enriched by awareness of a wider range of cultures than those carried by the learner’s L1

and L2. This wider awareness helps to place both in context. []

Intercultural skills and know-how include:←291 | 292→

the ability to bring the culture of origin and the foreign culture into relation with each other;

cultural sensitivity and the ability to identify and use a variety of strategies for contact with those from other cultures;

the capacity to fulfil the role of cultural intermediary between one’s own culture and the foreign culture and to deal effectively with intercultural misunderstanding and conflict situations;

the ability to overcome stereotyped relationships (CEFR, 2001, p. 103–105).

3. Participant Profiles: The Trainee Teachers

Somewhat surprisingly, one fact was clear on both sides of the ocean: it was not always easy to find students who were ready to launch themselves into the adventure of the exchange. This was due to many reasons, primarily of a practical nature. Time after time, students who were very interested in the project and met all the required criteria for participation had to pass up on the opportunity due to a lack of childcare provision, major commitments relating to their placements, or important coursework linked to their training due just at the time of departure.

The partner institutions agreed from the beginning that the project would be designed for students training to teach middle and high school level. The first exchange with SDSU involved three students from the high school teaching stream, while the two others involved students from the middle school teaching stream. Since the professors involved came from a background of language teacher training, and a linguistic question was integral to the exchange between the two institutions (situated in Anglophone and Francophone countries but strongly marked by plurilingualism), the project participants from SDSU were mostly training to teach English as a first and second language, and the participants from the HEP were training to teach foreign languages.←292 | 293→

4. Participant Profiles: The Teacher Trainers

The personal, professional, and ideological profiles of the trainers involved – in terms of education and educability – had an unquestionably important role in the achievement and success of the PEERS project, providing as much distance and diversity as that between HEP Vaud and SDSU.

The three professors participating in the project immediately found common ground in their shared belief that internationalization and mobility should be part of twenty-first-century teacher training. They also discovered a shared plurilingual profile, a background combining teaching experience and academic education, and an insatiable curiosity to seek out new knowledge and new encounters.

This was however challenged by the impact of different views of education – in terms of the dominant and traditional educational philosophy – on methods of teaching and learning that affect the everyday life of teachers and pupils, and thus the ways in which they view the teaching profession. The Californian approach is more strongly influenced by ideology, with a particularly strong attachment to pedagogical thinkers such as Paulo Freire, and places greater emphasis on the development of transversal competencies rather than the accumulation of knowledge. The approach in Romandy (French-speaking Switzerland), on the other hand, allows space to choose transversal competencies but nevertheless provides a curriculum marked by explicit requirements regarding knowledge and disciplinary skills.

In summing up what the PEERS project had given them, the three trainers were in unanimous agreement: shared school visits, long discussions alone or with the students, and invitations to observe their respective lessons were opportunities for each of them to enrich their theoretical knowledge and open up to the educational landscapes of the two countries, thus achieving one of the principal objectives of the internationalization of teacher education (Koziol & al., 2011).←293 | 294→

5. Topics and Types of Collaboration

With the academic year beginning in September and the “OUT” leg of the HEP Vaud-SDSU exchange project taking place toward the end of October, the real launch of the shared project was always going to be the week in San Diego. These meetings immediately demonstrated the common interests of participants, and a plethora of possible study ideas emerged which then came up against reality. This was the reality of an overloaded timetable, different pedagogical schools of thought, and school systems based on different principles and language barriers. The long, in-depth discussions about these aspects were not documented, either with note-taking or audio recording, but they were moments of great richness and might each have provided material for research in their own right.

The shared interests and engagement of each individual involved enabled the project to be concluded within six months on three occasions; promising beginnings did not always culminate in conclusive outcomes from the point of view of the research results, but this is an inherent risk in any group project, particularly when collaboration is primarily remote. Such projects were however very fruitful for student education, with the plans and processes being important sources of learning and development for the trainee teachers, even without concrete outcomes.

In the first instance of the project, the topic of interest was how education can take into consideration the diversity of pupils on an everyday basis, particularly from the point of view of their linguistic and cultural needs. From this “umbrella question,” the six students developed six aspects of this topic, in six different contexts, in relation to their personal interests and with a view to carrying out research that would form an integral part of the coursework required to obtain their respective teaching diplomas.

The first shared discussions in San Diego led to an “umbrella question” encompassing the questions that formed the basis of the individual research carried out by the six students: “How do the Swiss and American education systems take into consideration the linguistic needs of pupils with different languages and cultures?” The question was approached from three points of view: the institutions, the teachers, and the pupils.←294 | 295→

In San Diego, one student investigated educational institutions to find out how they managed the issues of race, language, and unequal treatment. The second student worked with four teachers to measure the impact of teaching ideology on the results of their pupils learning English as a second language. Finally, the third student investigated the effect of high strategy tests on the dropout rate of pupils with English as a second language and from a lower socioeconomic background.

In Lausanne, the three students focused on the case of pupils with different language levels (too low or too high) in the foreign language class they attended. The first student investigated the institutional aspect by analyzing the Romandy, Swiss, and European official decisions and declarations. The second interviewed four teachers to discover what methods they used in their lessons with pupils at different levels. The third student looked at the way in which these pupils experienced their linguistic difference.

The six students shared theoretical reading and resources, and used the same research techniques: literature reviews, document analysis, questionnaires, interviews, and classroom observation. Several shared observations emerged from their work: ideology weighs heavily on education, which is never neutral; contradictions must always be questioned and different educational actors given the opportunity to speak; and theory and practice produce a praxis, an educational action underlined by a pedagogy of hope (as defined by Paulo Freire).

The second instance of the exchange project suffered from difficulties relating to the respective and sometimes challenging situations of the participants. With only one student at HEP Vaud and three students with very different profiles at SDSU, it was impossible to bring the project to a concrete and tangible conclusion. The initial idea had however enjoyed consensus: to investigate the concept of interculturality and its implementation in a global context from two angles, the place of interculturality in foreign language teaching (German in the Romandy area of Switzerland, English as a foreign language in San Diego) and its place in the teaching of non-language disciplines (history in both contexts).

During the first shared discussions in San Diego it became immediately evident that the research interests and reflections would be←295 | 296→ the same as in the first project: in the two different contexts the issues to investigate were the same, and still connected to the linguistic, social, and intercultural dimensions of language teaching and teaching in general. The research question shared by the four students was outlined as follows: “How can the intercultural perspective be integrated in different contexts and different teaching disciplines?” The research approach consisted of implementing various pedagogical and didactic approaches involving an intercultural perspective, accompanied by questionnaires and/or interviews.

In San Diego, the project was implemented in history and English classes in a vocational high school where two of the three students participating in the project were teaching, and which was visited during the stay in San Diego. These two students completed their diploma course.

In Lausanne, the sole HEP student was on a middle school teaching diploma course spread over two years. He used the 2012–13 year to develop the theoretical framework and outline the concepts, thanks in particular to the exchanges that took place during the PEERS project. He then implemented teaching units as part of his middle school teaching placement, and completed his thesis during the following academic year.

The third instance of the project brought together six students who shared two key characteristics: a very strong command of English, and participation on a totally voluntary basis, i.e. not linked to their diploma coursework. The concrete culmination of the project in that year would therefore be an end in itself. The subject that interested the whole group was the analysis of the presence in the common curricula of the two regions concerned (Romandy and California) of three competencies considered indispensable in the educational context of the twenty-first century: critical thinking, the use of technology, and the ability to collaborate.

During the first shared discussions in San Diego it became immediately evident that the research interests and reflections would be the same as in the first two projects: in the two different contexts the issues to investigate were the same and still connected to the linguistic, social, and intercultural dimensions of language teaching and teaching in←296 | 297→ general. One additional shared feature emerged during the meeting in the fall: in both California and the United States in general, as in Switzerland and Europe, individuals working in the field of education were struggling to implement common and coordinated curricula.

In the United States there was lively discussion about this initiative:

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. Forty-two states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have voluntarily adopted and are moving forward with the Common Core (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2017, retrieved from: <http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards>).

Switzerland was also working toward a consistent arrangement:

The intercantonal harmonization of compulsory education agreement (HarmoS) covers the duration and objectives of schooling levels and language teaching, as well as time blocks, and daily routine, while updating the provisions of the 1970 schooling agreement regarding the compulsory school age and the duration of compulsory education. The agreement came into effect on August 1, 2009 (Conférence Suisse des Directeurs de L’Instruction Publique [Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education], 2017, retrieved from: <http://www.edk.ch/dyn/11737.php>).

Collaborative pairs formed very quickly and spontaneously, and the students began to work in a particularly productive fashion. They decided to analyze the respective curricula and their transposition to the classroom from three angles: the development of critical thinking, the emergence of technological tools, and collaborative pedagogy. Each student contributed to data collection through questionnaires and interviews carried out in their respective placement institutions.

Remote collaboration and the second visit culminated in a shared presentation of project results during the final day of the spring term. This was the first “PEERS Study Day,” centering on the students’ presentation of their research project, and framed by lectures given by four external←297 | 298→ speakers from Europe and the United States. The program represented an important moment of experience and intercultural and linguistic awareness, in which mediation played a key role; the external speakers in effect added diversity to diversity, both with their origin and their professional, linguistic, and cultural profiles.

Dr. Gregg Glover, Associate Director of Admissions at the Graduate School of Education, Harvard University – Internationalization of Teacher Training and Globalization;

Dr. Fred Dervin, Professor of Multicultural Education at the University of Helsinki (Finland) – Internationalization of Teacher Training and the Intercultural Dimension;

Pierre Moinard, Head of Distance Teaching at the University of Cergy-Pontoise (France) – Distance Teacher Training: A Framework;

Dr. Gerry O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Geography and International Affairs Coordinator for St Patrick’s College, Dublin – Internationalization and Education: Experiences from Dublin.

6. Outcomes and Evaluation

Physical and sociocultural distance between the countries, educational contexts, and personal circumstances contributed to both the added value and to the obstacles faced by this PEERS project over the course of three academic years.

Although the two one-week in-person visits in each of the three years were unique, fruitful, and well-organized, the intermediary and above all concluding phases were challenging, and distance was not always conducive to a productive conclusion to the project (a publication, for example), nor to continuation of the collaboration between participants who exceeded the time required to complete the project.

It is difficult in such circumstances to evaluate the results of these three instances of our PEERS project except through outcomes and←298 | 299→ regular events. I would highlight two of these: firstly, the publication and oral examination of individual certification work, and secondly, as part of the third instance of the project, the organization of a PEERS study day held in Lausanne in March 2014. This second form of collaborative work evaluation is characteristic of PEERS projects focused on research, development, and training, and has the particular value of including student presentations on the project and its results in an international and plurilingual context ensured by the presence of experts from several different countries. Ideally, every PEERS-type project would culminate in such an assembly, but again, reality poses limits that are sometimes impossible to overcome.

7. Obstacles and Incompletion

At the beginning of this chapter I noted the importance of remaining clear-headed and realistic about both the strong and the weak points of our PEERS project, in order to avoid obscuring its true benefits with an idealistic vision of the interlinguistic and intercultural situation. Perfection is not the only alternative to inertia, and it is the journey that counts, not the destination.

It must therefore be recognized that in an age of global communication where the virtual reigns supreme and “everyone is connected at all times,” remote collaborative working still often remains illusory. The key moments of this project were always those between the two in-person visits, and after the end of the academic year. Working on shared documents thanks to tools such as Dropbox, which is undeniably effective, requires strict discipline and precise time organization, particularly when there is a time difference of nine hours between the homes of the participants. Fitting this organization into the burden of training and teaching in two different places requires careful juggling, and unfortunately did not always lead to the hoped-for success, at least in the context of the HEP Vaud-SDSU project.←299 | 300→

In our case, the problem of spatial distance was compounded by the difficult issue of the working and thus writing language. The Swiss participants were required to demonstrate a sufficient level of English, and were able to do so as a result of their plurilingual education system (with both official languages and English taught from elementary school). The participants on the Californian side certainly had the advantage of a much stronger English-Spanish bilingualism, but had no knowledge of French. The working language was therefore always English and in particular the English of education, which led to a number of difficulties concerning terminology and thus the definition of concepts related to the questions at hand.

8. Consistent Features and Benefits

Following these three consecutive projects, the professor from HEP Vaud, namely myself, is the person best able to highlight the consistent positive aspects and beneficial effects demonstrated during the three exchanges between HEP Vaud and SDSU.

Firstly, I would note the relative ease with which the initial study questions always emerged from the early discussions between the professors, who met twice a year, and the students who were meeting one another for the first time. These were:

How do the Swiss and American education systems take into consideration the linguistic needs of pupils with different languages and cultures?

How can the intercultural perspective be integrated in different contexts and teaching disciplines?

How are the development of critical thinking, the emergence of technological tools, and collaborative pedagogy, which are key elements in the respective curricula, transposed into everyday teaching?←300 | 301→

Looking at these questions, which reflect pedagogical and didactic concerns that trainee teachers must master during their training, and considering how easily they emerged, it is clear that despite everything that separates the two educational systems represented in the HEP Vaud-SDSU project, the challenges of education and teacher training are the same, and correspond to those highlighted in the studies cited in the bibliography. The first consistent feature is thus a shared need to respond collectively to problems affecting educational systems at a global level.

A second element raised by all three instances, and one which gained the unanimous support and satisfaction of project participants, is contact on the ground. Having the opportunity to go into schools, see pupils and teachers at work there, and discuss things with them, was always mentioned as the high point for each exchange visit on both sides of the Atlantic. The groups from Lausanne were particularly struck by the way in which classes were staffed and organized in the San Diego schools: the pedagogical use of space, particularly the display and projection walls; the priority accorded to tasks and collaboration, giving the teacher the role of enabler rather than bearer of knowledge; and the evaluation of the work of all pupils with a strong emphasis on the process and progress rather than the results. On their return visit to Lausanne, the Californians expressed their wonder and admiration of the typically Swiss dual vocational education system, which is being considered with interest by an increasing number of countries, including the United States.

Returning to the definitions proposed earlier, and particularly to the vision of experience and (inter)cultural awareness as a dynamic process – a continuous coming and going between the cultures present –, an added value to the project also resides in the fact that students and professors were required to play the role of mediator, which enabled them to gain a better understanding of what seemed to them to be entirely familiar.

Finally, we should note what the three HEP Vaud-SDSU projects brought to everyone on a strictly personal level, varying according to disciplinary and professional identity. These effects could, and perhaps should, be expressed through a qualitative research approach, but the obstacles identified earlier challenged the students as well as the trainers:←301 | 302→ the shortness of the time spent together, the difficulty of remote working, and the management of very busy professional schedules.

The experience had a great impact; the effects were not scientifically measured and left no real observable traces, but they often peppered the working discussions and informal conversations, through such phrases as “I will never teach in the same way again!”

9. Conclusions and Perspectives

The PEERS project shared by HEP Vaud and SDSU did not continue beyond 2014, as practical, essentially financial, obstacles, as well as issues linked to the duration of the exchange visits in light of the long journey separating the two countries, overcame the training benefits.

However, the three occurrences discussed in this chapter reiterate the need to support and develop international exchanges as an integral part of teacher education.

Although research topics are likely to emerge very easily from the initial contact between partners – the challenges to be overcome in the educational landscape are in no danger of disappearing – the obstacles must be accounted for on several levels. Particular care must therefore be taken to solve practical problems (funding, travel, and accommodation), and to have clear communication with all trainee teachers, particularly via an evaluation of the results of completed projects, which should be integrated before, during, and after each project as part of the study plan of the students and trainers who wish to take part in the adventure of the international exchange.←302 | 303→