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Social networking: Developing intercultural competence and fostering autonomous learning

With the emergence of Web 2.0, the incorporation of Internet-based social network tools is becoming increasingly popular in the foreign language classes of today. This form of social interaction provides students with the opportunity to express and share their views with their peers, and to create profiles as well as online communities of common interests (Mc Bride, 2009). Furthermore, through their engagement in online social networking students develop relationships, build friendship and collaborate with others (Lomicka & Lord, 2009). Online social networking sites have enhanced the environment for language learning and have become a potential platform for Internet-based cultural tasks in L2 classes. As a form of telecollaboration, social networking fosters online intercultural interaction between students of different countries with a view to developing intercultural competence. With this in mind, the present study aims to explore how students from two different countries, namely Spain and Mauritius, can develop intercultural competence, through the use of the social network platform Elgg as a telecollaborative learning context. It also discusses whether online social interaction can foster student learning autonomy.
The project was task-based and lasted for four months (March – June 2013). The Spanish participants were preparing for the C1 and C2 (Common European Framework of Reference) Cambridge ESOL examinations, whereas the Mauritian participants were studying a degree in Computer Science. All the participants were non-native speakers of English, although it was the Mauritian students’ medium of instruction, which accounted for their good command of this language. The participants were expected to interact asynchronously by completing weekly tasks geared towards building a mutual intercultural understanding, and thereby leading to intercultural competence. They were afforded the opportunity to reflect on their own views and those of their partners, so that they could consolidate their learning of the diverse cultural factors of each country.
The study adopted a qualitative approach and data were gathered from various sources, that is, online blogs, two questionnaires administered at the beginning and end of the project, and interviews conducted individually on its conclusion. Finally, a survey in the form of a questionnaire consisting of ten statements was completed by the participants to perceive their views of their online learning experience.
The findings suggest that the participants were unanimous in feeling motivated to learn about each other’s culture through online social interaction. Moreover, they had gained an understanding of each other’s customs, habits and lifestyle. In addition, their engagement in the regular discussions led to the development of their collaborative skills. This asynchronous mode of computer-mediated communication supported their autonomy in learning, as a consequence of their being provided with the opportunity to critically reflect on their own views and those of their counterparts, whilst interacting socially.


Ruby Vurdien    
White Rose Language School

Ruby Vurdien is the director of White Rose Language School. She holds an MEd and EdD from the University of Sheffield and has been involved with EFL teaching for the last thirty years. She is also a Speaking Examiner for the Upper Main Suite ESOl examinations for the University of Cambridge. Her area of research is CALL and the application of Web 2.0 tools to language teaching.


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