Examples, experiences and objectives in
computer-assisted communication

By Edmund Ohlendorf of IWB Radolfzell e.V., GERMANY, 1999

Contribution to EDUVINET Didactically and Methodically: Internet and Teaching



How was the Internet employed?

In early 1998 the EDUVINET Team set about testing and trying the interactive opportunities provided by the Internet at a number of schools in Italy, Spain, France and Germany. Pupils were given one question each on features and characteristics of their fellow countrymen and of Europeans, features considered unacceptable and a question on the extent to which the EU was in a better position to deal with problems better than their own national governments..

Having had some time for private reflection and discussion within small groups, some of the pupils (after some 10 to 20 minutes) presented their opinions on the topics using the freely accessible EDUVINET Discussion Forum EDUTALK. This occurred at staggered intervals during the months of April, May and June 1998.

For technical reasons and purposes of further study, a selection of the more interesting contributions was transferred from the Forum to normal html pages at the end of 1999 and may still be accessed there under the heading EUROPEAN IDENTITY "Pupils' Views on National and European Features or Characteristics" .


What resulted from employment of the new cross-frontier communication technique?

It was generally observed that Italian, Spanish and French scholars aged between 15 and 18 had less difficulty discussing national traits than their German counterparts. It was not until a number of opinions from other countries had accumulated that young Germans began to communicate their ideas on characteristics considered prevalent among their countrymen. In sum, their judgements tended slightly towards the negative, whereas their hopes regarding what constituted a European by contrast went in a positive direction. - On the latter topic, a scholar in Spain noted that Europeans should possess characters similar to those of the Spanish. But what if everyone were to have such thoughts?

In many of the contributions submitted by pupils of all the participating nations is the conspicuousness of attempts to describe national characteristics from the perspective of " what my personal preferences are". After a short listing of adjectives (as characteristics) they rapidly digress into:

Keeping to the task on hand and the level of abstraction depend to a great degree on age and their particular experience of life. Although in this respect, e.g. the music listened to and the cinema films attended, there are similar behavioural patterns among particular age groups of the young in various countries, closer examination of certain assessments does in fact also reveal "specific differential shading" as a result of nationality.


How best to continue and with what aims in mind?

The long-term teaching goal must direct itself towards:

Preparation of the young in the Member States of the European Union for peaceful co-existence. To achieve this aim the following is essential:

  1. The correction of negatively charged stereotypes
  2. The acceptance of specific peculiarities and circumstances as an enrichment (active tolerance)
  3. The emphasising of what mutually connects rather than what divides

The following proposals are intended to serve towards achievement of the above goals:

  1. Pupils can compare and analyse the already existing statements on national characteristics made by others from various Member States of the EU and whilst doing so be obliged to produce comparative criteria in the form of a chart.
  2. Pupils can analyse pupil contributions on the topic Conditions of Life of Young People in the European Union . As far as possible they should here, too, develop their own criteria for comparison.
  3. The topic "The Function of National Stereotypes" is one of the subjects due to be dealt with in the spring of 2000 on a cross-frontier basis by pupils in a variety of EU Member States . As a preparatory stage of work on the topic the establishing of existing stereotypes could be undertaken on the EDUVINET Discussions Forum .
  4. The remainder of topics for computer-aided pupil communication in the year 2000 also serves to deepen understanding of economic and social circumstances pertaining in various EU Member States.

Goal C, mentioned above, "The emphasising of what mutaully connects Europeans rather than what divides" sets great demands on both teaching staff and pupils with respect to previously acquired knowledge and the gaining of such has been shown to involve a great deal of time. Without corresponding modifications being made to timetabling and assessment criteria such complex subject areas can hardly be tackled with any degree of success within a standard school framework. Further details on this matter are included in the following two articles:

At a number of grammar schools in Baden-Württemberg a new type of course is at present being piloted which from the year 2001 onwards is to be a compulsory part of the timetable for all pupils at such schools. In these courses, termed "Seminar Courses", pupils are obliged to deal with a topic chosen by themselves and work independently at it for an entire school year. They are given assistance by two members of staff, as tutors, with training in differing school subjects. Assessment of individual work is based on findings recorded in a written paper and on performance at a seminar during which the pupil is obliged to provide information regarding his or her planning of goals, organisation of work and methods as well as routes taken to find answers and difficulties encountered. The Seminar Course is allotted three fixed periods per week in the pupil's timetable. How this particular time is to be used is a matter for the pupil primarily to decide and not the teacher tutors. The assignment is intended to be of an interdisciplanry and, if possible, also cross-frontier nature and constitute a project.

In the light of such conditions - time unbound by the dictates of period and subject planning - communication via the Internet also has a chance of becoming a valuable addition to the teaching process going beyond the level of mere chat and providing young people within Europe with an opportunity for deeper mutual understanding.

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