The Cloud as Catalyst: Making Virtual Exchanges Real through Online Course Collaboration

Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand (Appalachian State University)

In language pedagogy, the ultimate goal has often been immersion, a kind of linguistic Grail in the quest for advanced proficiency. As a teacher of German language and culture in the US, I spend much of my time encouraging my students to study abroad in a German-speaking country so that they can use their language, live in the culture, and become part of it. In our Global Studies program at Appalachian State University, students have a program requirement to study abroad because "there is no substitute" for actually and physically being there, on the ground, with and among people. The pandemic, of course, immediately suspended physical study or research abroad in March 2020, thereby upending many of our traditional exchanges and plans. On the other hand, one unexpected benefit of this digital turn has been the attention granted to cross-cultural exchange options in virtual formats. Virtual exchanges were long considered far inferior to real exchanges, a poor substitute for in-person and on-site experiences. And yet, virtual options suddenly became a necessity for exchange of any kind. The almost universal pivot to remote learning established a basis of familiarity with technology that can be leveraged further.

In this paper, I will discuss a course collaboration between Appalachian State University and the University of Graz, specifically the Graz International Summer School at Seggau. The decision was made to have the Summer School go virtual in summer 2021. This circumstance therefore lends itself to an exploration of virtual collaboration with the Global Studies program at Appalachian State, through a course collaboration with the Summer School. Appalachian State students, in a course entitled "Global Dialogues," participated in Summer School courses and activities. In this paper, I will share the process of course development, the learning outcomes, and feedback from students and faculty. I will also discuss the pros and cons of this kind of virtual "direct" exchange. Ultimately, I hope that such course collaborations—emerging as a necessity in this new remote and virtual landscape—will serve as catalysts for more in-depth cross-cultural interactions. In the end, as we embrace more of these new journeys facilitated by our technology, we will see virtual and real exchanges as complementary and mutually beneficial.

American Studies US Meets American Studies Austria

Kristan Cockerill (Appalachian State University)

"That was so much fun," exclaimed a US-based student about a collaborative Zoom session with students at the University of Innsbruck. While "fun" may not be the best pedagogical goal, the discussion following this cross-cultural session also demonstrated that students were considering new perspectives and were asking different questions. In other words, they learned!

Efforts to explore cross-cultural perspectives among university students are best when students can experience another culture or when they interact with people from another culture. Perhaps most effective is when students can interact with peers in another culture. Pedagogically, this is the rationale behind a project linking courses at Appalachian State University with courses at the University of Innsbruck. In the case discussed here, the professors represent American Studies faculty in the US and in Austria as well as German language/culture faculty in the US. University of Innsbruck courses focused on the US Presidential election in fall 2020 and then on understanding humor in spring 2021 provided the topical bases for the collaborative sessions.

This paper identifies the groundwork needed to make this collaboration possible, the specific details of the cross-Atlantic exchange, and addresses the role that digital technologies have played in every aspect of the project. Additionally, the paper will examine a variety of "lessons learned" from this project as a guide toward helping others develop their own virtual cross-cultural exchanges.

"Turning Necessity into a Virtue": The Online Classroom as Chance for Intercultural Exchange

Cornelia Klecker (University of Innsbruck)

"Aus Notwendigkeit eine Tugend machen" is a German saying that roughly translates to "turning a necessity into a virtue." This is what happened in the winter term of 2020/21, the second "corona semester," that forced most of us to still teach online. It also coincided with the US presidential election, which was the topic of my American cultures course and the perfect opportunity for an intercultural and virtual exchange between students and faculty from the University of Innsbruck and Appalachian State University as well as guest professors from other US-American universities. This collaboration received such good feedback from the participating students on both sides of the Atlantic that this experiment was repeated the following summer term and a third run is now already in the works.

This paper seeks to lay out in more detail the origins of this intercultural online exchange and share the lessons we took away from both semesters. What worked, what did not work, what problems occurred and how were they solved or could they be remedied in the future? Furthermore, this paper will discuss the benefits for Austrian students of English and American studies as well as secondary school teacher training for the subject English of connecting with US-American professors and, even more importantly, students by reviewing student feedback as well as the learning outcomes.

Public Feelings with/in the Online Seminar Room during the Pandemic: Affective Blending of the Digital and Real to Teach American Poetry

Marie Dücker (University of Graz)

The COVID-19 pandemic is considered responsible for a disruption of education systems on an international scale. While schools and other learning spaces have seemingly been flexible in opening and closing their doors to learners, academic institutions in Austria have moved to far-reaching changes, introducing distance learning and online teaching for an undefined period that started in the spring of 2020. Ever since, face-to-face teaching has been discontinued, asking scholars to implement alternative and novel strategies of how to teach and assess. While we have been flooded with numerous software options, what has been neglected in public and affective discourse is the impact of distance learning and online teaching in times of crisis on the emotional landscape felt and experienced by students of American studies.

Introducing a buddy project to a group of interested students in one of my courses caused me to assess and rethink ways of connecting students in a digital world shaped by exclusion. By offering them to organize a buddy project, my aim has been to help them successfully transition from the digital room of my "WebEx" classroom in which they were teamed up and introduced to that of the real world, guiding them with the help of weekly challenges and thus blending the digital and the "real" outside world. All this has been done while introducing them to American poetry using various digital channels and methods. One of my central quests in this project has been to ask which affective and emotional benefits this buddy project has offered the students while being introduced to American studies during their first year at university. My main aim has been to ask how the affective atmosphere of COVID-19 has altered the students' (willingness and) ability to act and interact and whether this contact has been affectively charged in novel, unusual ways. One of my aims has been to create a resonating chamber for students to connect while at the same time learn about and immerse themselves in poetry. I argue that the group has developed a set of public feelings that is shaped by the pandemic's unstable and quasi-chaotic standards affecting the learning landscape and will provide a survey of the public feelings, action potentials, and trajectories established within this space of both digital and non-digital encounters that have been created for the group.

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