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Cultural Historical Learning in Virtual Worlds.

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Cultural Historical Learning in Virtual Worlds.
    Cultural Historical Learning in Virtual Worlds Katrin Biebighäuser, Gießen, Deutschland ISSN 1470 –  9570  Cultural Historical Learning in Virtual Worlds ©  gfl-journal, No. 2/2010 21 Cultural Historical Learning in Virtual Worlds Katrin Biebighäuser, Gießen, Deutschland In this article, a research project is presented in which the potential of Virtual Worlds for historical and cultural learning are evaluated. This article presents current discussions concerning the idea of Landeskunde while utilising the socio-scientific idea of spaces of memory . The project aims to help learners explore the history of Germany, particularly the division of Germany and German Reunification. This article offers initial insight into the collected data and shows the potential as well as problems of cultural historical learning in Virtual Worlds. 1. Introduction  Landeskunde  is considered an ‘impossible subject’ (“unmögliches Fach,” cp. Gürttler/Steinfeld 1990: 250) and has been discussed intensely for more than twenty years in various articles. One reason may be that there is always a gap between those facts and traditions that are gathered about a country in language lessons and the actual feeling for a country's culture and way of life gathered through experience. The concept of spaces of memory  is one of the latest trends in this discussion of  Landeskunde  that could help to  bridge this gap. In addition, this concept offers an interesting way to utilise digital media for teaching  Landeskunde . There are numerous new concepts for teaching  Landeskunde  today, but they mostly ignore the advances made in digital media in the last few years. In language learning, the Internet is used mainly as a tool of communication, which can be seen in various e-mail projects. About fifteen years have passed since e-mail was introduced for the first time in classrooms (cf. Donath 1996). Not only have the possibilities for using multimedia developed enormously since then, but also student’s communication habits. As Thorne (2003, 55ff) noticed, e-mail is seen by today’s students as a formal means of communication with teachers, but not as a means to establish an amicable connection with exchange partners in another country. Students would rather communicate via Instant Messenger or through social networks (vgl. MPFS 2009: 34) – a fact that should be taken into consideration for initialising exchange projects. In addition, there are far more possibilities in today’s online world than merely exchanging text messages.  Katrin Biebighäuser ©  gfl-journal, No. 2/2010 22 Since being introduced amid much hype in 2007, Virtual Worlds have become a form of digital media discussed in public as well as in second language acquisition pedagogy (see Raith 2008; Stevens 2006; Peterson 2005, 2006). In fact, these articles concentrate on the instruction of language skills and how Virtual Worlds can be used in this context. In my opinion, the potential of Virtual Worlds for language learning lies in its rich environment. Examining the hypothesis that Virtual Worlds can encourage cultural and historical learning, this article will present the concept of a research project to verify this hypothesis. First, recent developments in discussions about  Landeskunde  are discussed. This is followed by an introduction to Virtual Worlds, in order to connect the research project to the previous summary of  Landeskunde.  Focusing on one short sequence of data, the interaction of a bi-national tridem in a virtual space of memory is analysed with the aim of showing the potential and underlining the problems of Virtual Worlds for historical and cultural learning. 2. Cultural historical learning The concept of  Landeskunde  in the discussion of German as a foreign language is contentious. Methodological questions aside, this discussion is very extensive and centres specifically on the content that should be taught. This discrepancy also becomes apparent in the various terms for this field of German as a foreign language 1 , which point to different priorities. For this reason, one cannot translate  Landeskunde  as “cultural learning,” as the term  Landeskunde  covers further aspects. Depending on which aspect is emphasised most, the translation could vary between “cultural studies,” “historical learning,” “intercultural learning” and “area studies”. In the 1990s, the different emphasis on content and the methods by which to teach it were geared towards three big branches of  Landeskunde . These are systematised by Pauldrach (see Pauldrach 1992): The first branch is  faktische Landeskunde , which concentrated on the transfer of facts such as the political system or the history of a country. The second branch 1  Besides ‘Landeskunde’, there are also the terms ‘Deutschlandstudien’, ‘Deutschlandkunde’, ‘Deutschlandwissen’, ‘Landeswissenschaft’, ‘Landesstudien’, ‘Kulturstudien’, ‘Kultur-wissenschaft’, ‘Realienkunde’.  Cultural Historical Learning in Virtual Worlds ©  gfl-journal, No. 2/2010 23 is kommunikative Landeskunde , which offers a curriculum of everyday life and concentrates on routine communication and themes one has to know if one wants to communicate in the country. In conjunction with the fact that societies had become increasingly multicultural, the third  branch, interkulturelle Landeskunde , aimed to provoke intercultural awareness. Using the concept of culture in interkulturelle Landeskunde , the concepts of culture and of ‘intercultural’ were also discussed. Willis J. Edmondson and Juliane House (1998) came to the conclusion that interkulturell  has too many potential interpretations; there are numerous concepts including the adverb interkulturell 2 , but they are not necessarily related to foreign language learning. Aside from the trend of interkulturelle Landeskunde , interkulturell  seems to be a basic principle of learning, of communication and – particularly on this level  – of language learning. Adelheid Hu defends the concept of interkulturelles Lernen . She surmises that the problem in all these discussions – as Edmondson and House also argue – is that culture is seen as  being related to national topics (Hu 1999: 296). Hu stresses that people have complex  biographies and that, in an ethnic sense, cultures do not exist. Because of this, Hu proposes using a narrative-constructivist concept of culture. She stresses that reality is constructed by our cultural backgrounds. Hu concludes that when people exchange different cultural concepts and their values and norms, this dialogue can be regarded as interkulturelle Kommunikation  (Hu 1999: 297f.). Claus Altmayer builds upon this theoretical work to advance this concept of culture. As will be seen later, Altmayer’s work is basic for a number of concepts as well as for the research that will be discussed later, so that I will illustrate Altmayer’s ideas here in detail. Similar to Hu, one elementary assumption of Altmayer’s argumentation is the epistemological idea that reality is always constructed, based on individual paradigms that are acquired through socialisation (cp. Altmayer 2006a: 51). Because of this, according to Altmayer, reality is always something individual. Altmayer argues that culture cannot be known by just learning the facts of a community, but appears in texts as well. The term  Katrin Biebighäuser ©  gfl-journal, No. 2/2010 24 ‘text’ is used very broadly here to refer to something that contains pictures, photographs and other media to transport meaning between people. For this reason, cultural learning takes place while reading these texts, and the reader needs knowledge about the cultural  background of a text to be able to understand it. 3  The way in which texts are understood is related to principles that are based on the culture and the knowledge of the reader. Altmayer calls these principles kulturelle Deutungsmuster  , cultural patterns of interpretation (see Altmayer 2004). 4  He stresses that these patterns do not just vary between nations, but that each community has its own cultural patterns of interpretation. The aggregate of all the cultural patterns of interpretation of a group forms its culture, so the concept of culture is not fixed for nations (cf. Altmayer 2006b: 187). As a member of a community, each person has different sets of cultural patterns of interpretation that he or she uses to understand messages. Each group has its own culture. Therefore, the different sets of cultural patterns of interpretation of an individual form his or her personal cultural background. Based on this theory, Critical Incidents do not necessarily occur just because people live in different countries. It is possible to share things with another person, such as a profession, for example. Having this in common, the interlocutors have one set of cultural patterns of interpretation they share with another (cf. Altmayer 2006c: 257). Referring to this set, they will construe a text in the same way. To identify cultural patterns of interpretation, Altmayer uses the method of text analysis (cf. Altmayer 2004: 169ff.). He employs different texts to clarify the background of central keywords, thereby demonstrating the implicit meanings the texts contain. The problem with Altmayer’s concept is how to carry this concept into language classes. His concept is very ambitious; the text analysis could be conducted by high school students, 2  Like ‘interkulturelles Lernen’, ‘interkulturelle Kommunikation’, ‘interkulturelle Kompetenz’, ‘interkulturelle Missverständnisse’, ‘interkulturelle Erziehung’, ‘interkulturelle Pädagogik’ and ‘interkulturelle Germanistik’ (cp. Edmondson House 1998: 61f.). 3  This aspect has a long tradition in Intercultural Literary Studies, but Altmayer started an extensive discussion of this aspect of  Landeskunde . 4  Following the term from the social sciences 'social patterns of interpretation' (= gesellschaftliche  Deutungsmuster  , this translation seems to capture the entire meaning of kulturelle  Deutungmuster  . Furthermore, Altmayer alludes to the empirical social research and adopts the term  Deutungsmuster   from Ulrich Oeverman (cf. Altmayer 2006b, 185 and 2006c, 254).
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