The impacts of intercultural awareness in the use of electronic email exchange between Hungarian learners and native English speakers seem to correspond with Laura (2009) that use of email as a communicative device provides a platform needed to authentic communicative events, but the researcher neither tests the hypothesis nor evaluates the program.
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Laura (2009) also states that email communication enhances exchange of ideas between native speakers and L2 learners, which improves reading and writing skills and development of cultural awareness in the long run.
This is inconsistence with Kern (1998) reports that indicated no communication improvement of students who learn from interaction with their virtual peers.
Researcher deviation from scientific research procedures in developing research design, population and sample collection can not gain the status of real and useful investigation.
Unfortunately, although research shows that the sample group consisted of 13 pairs of both Hungarian and American students, it did not indicate how the samples were chosen or the demographic location of the research. It is also unclear of what “L2 learners” are despite being used throughout the research.
Also, the research did not indicate the range of sample group composition in terms of age, demographic location, gender and race, which suggests that the study findings provide unclear perspective on the selection of sample group.
In examination of social interaction such as an academic environment for his case, a researcher needs to gain first-hand information about social process, essential measurement tools and appropriate research methods.
For this reason, constant comparative method used as a qualitative analysis tool may hold more promise than their use since the researcher only looked at the end-product.
However, little research on constant comparative method supports the coding process of what Strauss and Corbin (1990) states as “breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualizing and categorizing data” (p.61) as effective data collection method, little research has reported their efficacy in social environment.
The study did not however describe how participants were trained or record data collected. No published studies have reported on the usefulness of computer-mediated communication as a platform for development of English language speaking and writing skills even though email communication has become common in consumer culture during the past decades.
The theoretical basis for this research included principles drawn from social-based practices of a learning environment to elucidate participants’ needs. Since the researcher was also a teacher of the Hungarian students, results of the study could have been manipulated to fit her perspective.
The research should have begun by introducing the reader of what intercultural communication is and how it relates to intellectual awareness. The author fails to mention what intercultural communication and competence in relation to academic learning environment.
Literature review provided here in discussion of intercultural communication is very limited and also fails to provide substantial evidence on intercultural communication as intellectual awareness tool.
For example, the author emphasises on the importance of computer-mediated communication to help students learn and interact with one another through debate and discussions, but many questions such as is email communication as the primary communication tool in schools remain unanswered in this area.
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It is also unknown from this literature whether the learning outcomes frequency or duration of email exchange influences cultural awareness or rather intellectual awareness and how long the effects lasts. In addition, it is unclear whether the positive influence of electronic emailing is affected by professional (the school instructor) and where the training of use of email is used.
None of the articles reviewed discussed specific learning outcomes of electronic emails in terms of the number of students who reported to have benefited from the program; therefore whether specific learning outcomes in relations to intellectual awareness are more or less effective in positively influencing intercultural awareness, language skills and elimination of stereotype remains unclear.
Future research should place emphasise on these variables if our understanding of the related factors influencing the use is to be expanded.
Research period of the project is reported to have started in spring 2005 and does not indicate the period in which the project was completed.
The study sample was randomised, but the criteria on which the participants were selected in terms of age and race and gender were not mentioned which means that the population as a whole was not fully represented.
When it comes to research objective, the author presents two objectives of the project which is confusing to a novice researcher. First; Laura (2009), states the objective of the project to be to develop better intercultural awareness and positive attitudes toward the target cultures, as students discussed information about the cultures, languages, and teacher education systems of the two countries (3).
Secondly, towards the beginning of the essay, in the introduction part, the Laura (2009) stated the objective to investigate the development of intercultural awareness in an electronic mail (email) discussion project between Hungarian learners of English and American speakers (1).
Even when known, neither of the objectives represents the underlying philosophy or may lead to tangible results. This makes it difficult for a reader to determine variables to be measured against each other in the research project.
Also, since the sample consisted of people who were community dwelling (a school setting), who were Hungarian learners and Native American speakers, pursuing language education and needed access to authenticate communicative events.
The results should be not be applied to other factors of learning population since its unclear how the samples were chosen. Future research plan should include randomised sample with clear variables in terms of age and race and use controlled trials with a larger and more inclusive sample than the selected 13 participants.
The author should have introduced measurement tools to be used in data collection and participants should have had a thorough knowledge of specific progression of communicative approaches used in the research. This case report describes the outcome of email communication to have improved their English language and writing skills for students who participated in the study.
It illustrates the importance of electronic email communication to have helped the students developed effective writing skills, improve critical thinking and reasoning skills. All these claims are based on assumptions as the researcher did not introduce variables to be used in the study objective.
Period of research project was not however included in evaluating numbers of individuals at regular intervals. Laura (2009) also required students in the study group to freely choose topic of their preference, which did provide controlled trials of the research hypothesis.
To begin with, she has too many research questions. For example, the study groups are asked by Laura (2009) to choose topics based on teachers education program, personal experience, personal communication, experience of school, experience with other cultures, teacher education program, travelling, minority-majority cultures, festivals, fashion, sports, environment, foreign language learning and teaching (4) to mention just a few.
It seems to me that she decided to implement emails as a teaching tool and at some point she realised ‘ahhh this email exchange thing is very good for raising intercultural awareness too! Oh I can publish it.
Design and Methods
Research methodology only uses the reflective papers of her students which is qualitative data and does not include triangulation. Combining both qualitative and quantitative methods (triangulation) may provide enough information that may improve validity of the results.
Triangulation approach uses multiple sources of data collection which extends the quality of data and reliability of the results (Robinson 1992).
The research should have also used methodological sampling paradigms of quantitative exploration for using observable, measurable and quantifiable facts which could have helped explain why some diverse principle and knowledge about the simple world (Perry 2005, p.55; Glense and Peshkin 1992).
Another important potential benefit of using quantitative paradigm is that it produces knowledge that is free from manipulation that can be generalized.
Information on such concerns are meaningful and may assists researchers during their evaluation like in guiding evaluation interviews and develop particular explanations and predictions to generalize from the sample population.
This information may also help a novice researcher to maximise his analytic skills such as structured observation and content analysis (Dorney 2007).
Researcher did not include additional criteria to help rule out difficulties in using language development in relation to vocabulary, grammar and style that were not related to email exchange. She does not take into consideration the Hawthorne effect despite the fact that she is the participants’ teacher.
Too many variables were used in the research. For example, participants belonged to different age groups, are at various language proficiency levels. She does not mention how their level was determined either before or after the project (pretest/ posttest).
She does not tell us how their intercultural competence was measured before and after the project. What were participants’ motives for taking part in the project? Were the Hungarians tested/ marked on their performance or participation? What were the US participants’ motives? She does not question that.
Both intellectual awareness and computer-mediated communication are represented in the studies reviewed, but the constant comparative method did not develop a theory that explained the mergence of electronic email and how they connected to the reality of the research of promoting cultural awareness (Glaser and Strauss (1967, p.28).
In coding procedure, Strauss and Corbin (1990) states that constant comparative method mentioned in open coding involves “the process of breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualizing and categorizing data “ (p. 61) but Laura (2009, p.6) in this case has only compared the participants texts and refinement of the categories and failed to conceptualize and break down the data.
This means that the data obtained here can not guide subsequent theoretical sampling decisions. As a result, studies that follow constant comparative methods of data dissemination after collecting initial data will allow use of insights from that analysis and offers full perspective of future research of data collection.
The researcher should have allowed contacts with participants spaced over time or tract changes in the text messages until a strong theoretical understanding of the event or phenomenon has emerged.
Follow up times that range from certain period should also be specified. The research methodology adopted raises questions about the validity, reliability and transferability of the findings.
Geographic region: The studies reflect intellectual awareness in an electronic email between Hungarian and American learners findings and offer a broader perspective on how the communication technology improves cultural awareness among other things.
The findings however, failed to provide geographical location of the study and since the author specifically mentions the research to be international email exchange, it would be impossible for one to consider findings only from one country to be reliable and conclusive. The study reviews were completed from February to April, making a total study period of 8-9 weeks.
This study shows incompetence in determining the exact study period, which should be either 8 or 9 weeks. Future research should follow participants beyond the stated period after questionnaires were issued to determine accurately of data obtained (Laura 2009, p.4).
The findings would have been useful if;
- it was a longitudinal study
- used learner diaries
- was not based on a one-to-one interaction through email (some of the participants did not even get on with each other!). A discussion board would have been much more useful (and perhaps more fun for the participants). This would also make the task of cultural exchange more authentic, as it is a totally made-up situation. In real life, we don’t really use emails to learn about each other’s culture. Although the descriptive information of how variables were selected is valuable, it raises questions about what is the expected the learning outcomes and how they can be used for future research. Knowing what to expect during the research analysis may help in evaluating the impacts of intellectual awareness in an electronic email and quality of data obtained and identifying areas for improvement.
The findings on the rates of efficacies of electronic email emphasised the need for development of hypothesis which could be measured at the end of the study. For example, Laura (2009, p.5) reported improved writing skills on Hungarian learners as reported by their American counterparts.
Participants demonstrated their ability to learn English proficiency skills through email exchange, but these findings did not support the use of electronic email communication as the primary learning tool for developing reading and writing skills among Hungarian learners.
Whereas the research is focused on intellectual awareness in electronic email, the study provides evidence that students experienced difficulties in language development in relation to vocabulary, grammar and style.
The research did not show how the school teacher trained in using constant comparative method and the arrangements of significant association with use of email exchange in academic environment to improve communication skills, which is inconsistence with the research objective to determine their relationship. These discrepancies could be attributed from different study population, or types of measurement used.
As indicated earlier in the literature review, language learners can learn effectively and more directly through email exchange, and the research relies on accuracy of data obtained from respondents. The research did not make efforts to reduce response bias in email communication in both Hungarian and American native speakers, the results should, therefore, be applied cautiously.
Threats to biasness can be reduced by having assessment and training administered by professional people and not the students instructor for this case. Additional research is required to determine the extent to which computer-mediated communication led to the observed benefit of improved writing skills and cultural awareness (Laura 2009, p.4).
Lack of training in email use among Hungarian learners and American natives will not have beneficial effects on the ability of students to speak and learn English skills, which could have strong negative effect on research results obtained.
Several study features that were required to determine email features in both written and spoken languages were inappropriate for specific design of the participants (Laura 2009, p.5). The author also reported that the Hungarian learners claimed to have improved their general writing, but did not provide any measurement to determine the credibility of these results.
All these findings indicate critical need for developing specific measurement tool regarding improved language skills before the results could be published.
The findings also suggested that suitable quantitative tool such as ethnographic fieldwork should have been determined at the beginning of the study to eliminate some instances of assumptions. Also, no calculations conducted to determine whether a statistically improvement was provided.
The main research is to develop ethnographic emphasis that understands and interprets participants’ views of the social world, academic environment for this case. Qualitative tool used was not appropriate for addressing views in social phenomenon because it requires people to interact more between perspectives and experiences (Firestone 1987) as opposed to how Laura (2009) generalized all the results.
The difficulties most often cited by participants were different perceptions in discussing education problems due to cultural diversity and age difference (Laura 2009, p.7), which might be the problem most affected by the interventions in this study.
Researchers are encouraged to consider diversity on education difficulties interpretation for participants who present with these issues for future research. The research should also include ethnographic fieldwork to collect data about the way participants acts when interacting.
According to Wolfson (1983), application of ethnographic fieldwork as a primary study measurement would provide most varied data and satisfactory results for research in pragmatics.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The adaptation of appropriate methods for research project is very important. Use of multiple perspectives such as triangular methods increases reliability of data collected, which can be used for future research. Much research has to be done in identifying research design, population and sample collection otherwise we would be far from understanding the complicated nature of research methodology.
All factors identified in this review that includes the relationship between humans and communicative devices must be considered if the expectation of concrete and reliable research is to be met. The fulfilment of this obligation can be accomplished through research, choosing desirable measurement tool, training on measurement toll to be used and addressing concerns of the students.
Although the sample size for this research was small, further research is recommended to refine this area. The researcher also specify if the study used interviews, surveys, questionnaire or observable data at the very beginning of the research and include participants characteristics such as gender, gender ratio and race.
List of References
Dorney, Z,.2007, Research Methods in Applied Linguistics, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Firestone, W. A. !987, ‘Meaning in method: the rhetoric of quantitative and qualitative research’, Educational Research, vol. 16, no.7, pp.16-21.
Glaser, B. G. & Strauss, a. L. 1967, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Aldine De Gruyter, New York.
Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. 1992, Becoming qualitative researcher: an introduction, Longman, London
Kern, R. 1998. Technology, social interaction and FL literacy. In J. Muyskens (Ed.), New ways of learning and teaching: focus on technology and foreign language education , Heinle & Heinle Publishers, Boston.
Laura, F. 2009, ‘Outcomes of an intercultural e-mail based university discussion project, Language and Intercultural Communication, vol. 9, no.1, pp. 1-10
Perry, F. L. 2005, Research in Applied Linguistics, Routledge.
Robinson, M. A 1992, Introspective methodology in interlanguage pragmatics research, HI University of Howaii, Honolulu.
Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. 1990, Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques, Sage Publications, Newbury Park.
Woldson, N. 1983, Rules of speaking: language and communication, Longman, London.