Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
News Release

March 3, 2004

Cultural Exchange in Real Time

Speaking "Screen-to-Screen" with Parisian Students Helps Smith Students Discover Subtle Differences that Shape French Culture

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Early on a Friday morning, Candace Walton's French language students pile into a classroom at Smith College that's filled with computer equipment. An undercurrent of anticipation is evident -- unusual for a 9 a.m. class at the end of the school week.

In Paris, James Benenson's English class mills about impatiently for the day to end. The engineering students are about to enjoy the French version of spring break, but have one more important conversation to conduct before heading off.

Both groups settle themselves in front of computers, Web cameras and microphones.

The talking begins, screen-to-screen, in real time.

The class, known as "Cross-Cultural Connections," is the first of its kind at Smith. Walton, who specializes in the teaching of foreign languages, conceived the course as a way to capitalize on new technologies, such as Web cam conferencing, to promote cultural understanding. Walton's students look forward to talking every Friday morning with their Parisian counterparts.

"At the very first video-conferencing session, my students asked to stay after class to talk longer," said Walton. "They've already become friends with the French students, and they stayed an extra hour just to talk."

Benenson's college-aged students are engineers at the École Normale Supérieure de Télécommunications and are learning English primarily to further their careers.

Whether linked "face to face" by Web cam conferencing, writing in a special online forum or answering online culture questionnaires specially designed for the course, a favorite activity of the students is word association. Walton notes that such an exercise can be quite effective in revealing subtle differences between French and American culture.

"If you look at the French responses for 'individualism,' for example, they are generally negative, while American responses are generally positive," she points out.

Online forum and e-mail interaction between foreign language students is an idea credited to Gilberte Furstenberg of MIT, who later developed Cultura, a project designed to encourage intercultural exchange in language courses. Walton's course extends the Cultura concept by adding Web conferencing for real-time conversations. She finds the new dimension "a great way to discuss the 'hard-to-put-your-finger-on' cultural differences."

"It's such a wonderful opportunity for an American student to engage with a real French person, and the French students are just dying to know what American students are like," she explains. "It creates the interesting possibility of American students already having friends in France if they decide to study or travel there."

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the country.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

Smith in the News

News Releases

Contact Us

DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z