The intercultural poetry exchange’ started and was designed as part of two university literature courses, Fiction for Engineers in Sweden and World Literature in the US. The exchange came about due to personal contacts between Magnus Gustafsson, the head of the Division of Language and Communication at Chalmers University of Technology, and Art Young and Donna Reiss two teacher/researchers at Clemson. The colleagues met at a conference and decided to set up the exchange in order to enhance their respective literature courses.
The Engineering students at Chalmers come from a variety of engineering disciplines and are principally MSc students with most of their engineering programme completed. Students are taking degrees in computer science, mechanical engineering, biotechnology, chemical engineering and interaction design. They have a range of electives to choose from and one of these is the course ” Fiction for Engineers” taught by Magnus Gustafsson. In a weekly class, the set texts are discussed and students are prepared for their portfolio assessment including a term paper assignment. Although English is not the first language of these students, the course is conducted in English like all the MSc courses at Chalmers and some of the electives.
Although it may seem curious to engage engineering students in a telecollaborative exchange about poetry, Magnus has a clear vision of why such projects are useful and relevant. He explains: ” All engineering programmes have an MTS (Man, Technology, and Society) requirement. Courses offered under that requirement tend to be superficial attempts at showing engineering impact on society. The blog exchange gives students first a real authentic audience with which to interact in interpreting society (the poetry has had an angle on society/man/progress &ndash Eliot, Tranströmer, Dickinson). Their encountering, sometimes for the first time since upper secondary, students from the humanities tends to serve as powerful insights into MTS and that their technologically infused perspective is fruitfully combined with other perspectives.”
Their partner university, Clemson University, is a land-grant institution focused largely on the sciences and engineering, but also having a commitment to the arts and humanities. The students taking part in the exchange are mainly English majors in the first or second year of their university coursework who are taking part in courses including World Literature, Introduction to Literature, Victorian poetry, or teacher education. The class meets twice a week with the aim of developing skills in critical thinking, close reading, and interpretation through assignments based on a series of eight works spanning a literary history from the epic Beowulf to Aravind Adiga’ s White Tiger (2008).
Dominant form of language production:
How long did the project last?
How was the project organized?
The students in both classes are required to analyse poems by well-known Swedish and American poets. When poems by Swedish poets are discussed, students are provided with the poems in the original language, Swedish, as well as translated versions in English by different translators.
Students are asked to analyse the poetry together in online blogs. Although there is no explicit teacher participation in the online interaction, students are provided with detailed guidelines of what to blog about and how to structure their online interaction. Students are usually required to contribute three entries to the blog discussion. The first post requires students to write about their initial reactions to the poems under discussion. This is followed by their second post which involves students’ reaction to some of the contributions made by their partners in the first round of messages. The third and final message from each student contains further reactions to the poetry discussion and also has their reflections on the way the online exchange has contributed to their understandingof the poetry. The third post also gives the students the opportunity to use their e-literacy skills to create a multimedia reaction to the readings.
During the first years the open source platform Claroline, hosted at the Swedish university was used. However, this was later discarded in favour of the free online blogging tool Blogger.com.
How were the students assessed?
As regards assessment, in Sweden, the poetry exchange forms part of the students’ journal assignment and can be used as a starter for their term papers whereas in Clemson, the exchange forms part of students’ written responses to literature and underscores the international dimension of their study.
Download book chapter about the project:
Bradley, L., Lindström, B., Rystedt, H., Gustafsson, M. (2011). A design for
intercultural exchange &ndash an analysis of engineering students’ interaction with English majors in a poetry blog.
In S. Thouësny L. Bradley (Eds.), Second language teaching and learning with technology: views of emergent
researchers (pp. 95-122). Dublin: Research-publishing.net.
What worked well?
The colleagues at Chalmers see the key to success in online exchange projects to be access to a network of practitioners and researchers who are working on similar telecollaborative ventures: Linda explains: ” It is building up long &ndash term relationships on a personal level whichhopefully get extended. Also, conferences, workshops and other collaborative meeting spaces where the exchanges can be presented are important elements to meet up and share experiences.” Magnus also underlines the importance of the work and commitment of his telecollaborative colleagues in Clemson:
” Donna Reiss’ long experience in online learning and her strong commitment to learning rather than teaching and Art Young’ s depth in literature and his learning perspective focus were both components that helped make the exchange as successful as it has been and necessary conditions I believe for its sustainability. They also helped to find a colleague who could carry on their end of the exchange when they retired (Cameron Bushnell) who has since been central to the development of the exchanges in 2010 and 2011.”
What did students think of the project?
What challenges did you face?
What did the teachers think of the project?
The project seems to have made an impact at a research level. The colleagues involved have published various publications about the exchange and this has allowed them to enter into contact with colleagues working in the research area of Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) and with other English writing departments in the USA. Linda reports that ” …the ESP (English for Specific Purposes) area in Scandinavia has shown an interest in the work we do, through exchanges like this one” .
The exchange has had other positive effects on the Swedish division. For example, the colleagues say that it has served to establish a solid, lasting relationship with the partner university. They have received several visits from these partner faculties in the USA and have also visited them several times. Furthermore, based on the success of the exchange, another exchange with Miami University in Ohio has been established. This came about when Professor Paul Anderson attended a conference presentation about the exchange in 2008. Magnus and Paul started a conversation about how the blog or the exchange idea could also be used for courses in technical communication and the first run of an exchange was set up in the fall of 2008 with a technical writing course at MU and an elective ‘ English for Engineers’ at Chalmers. Magnus was involved in setting it up but the Chalmers course was taught by Becky Bergman.
What kind of institutional support did you receive?
While the participating teachers are convinced of the value of this type of exchange for their students, they admit that they would like to receive more recognition from their institutions for their work. Magnus and Linda, the collaborating teachers in Chalmers, explain: ” We haven’ t received any support for course development and the exchange has not received any recognition outside the division. We would like the work to be recognized among colleagues elsewhere in the university as it caters to learning outcomes and the graduate profiles across many programmes. There are alwaysfinancial barriers for course development and given the potential of intercultural online exchanges also for other courses in the engineering programmes one would have liked some supportfor the project at departmental and management levels too…” .
However, the exchange has made a contribution to the international profile of the division in Sweden. For example, the activity is mentioned in division assessment procedures and it is cited in department activity plans under the context of ‘ continued international collaboration’ .