Teacher educators today are faced with the challenge of preparing teachers for an increasingly globalised world, where teachers need to understand and accommodate the needs of more culturally diverse classrooms, as well as develop their students’ capacity to respond to cultural differences. At the same time, pre-service teachers need to be prepared to teach in digitally enriched learning environments, in both online and face-to-face settings.
This paper examines the development of intercultural competence amongst pre-service teachers through their participation in a global online learning and teaching environment. As part of a core teacher education subject, first year pre-service teachers participated in eTutor, an online learning and teaching environment in which pre-service teachers tutored primary and secondary school students from Australia, Nepal, India and Malaysia over a 14 week period. Framed by models of intercultural competence and using discourse analysis, the authors examined the ways in which pre-service teachers displayed intercultural competencies through their online posts as well as the extent to which the pre-service teachers themselves perceived their success in developing intercultural capabilities.
The findings suggest that, where pre-service teachers were able to engage students in the online environment, they increased their knowledge about their own and other cultures; their cultural awareness; and, importantly, improved their ability to see themselves in relation to others. The findings also demonstrate that it is more difficult to engage students in online environments than in face-to-face settings due to technological, access and communications factors as well as pre-service teachers’ own motivation. The resulting lack of reciprocity can form a barrier to the development of intercultural competence. However, the findings also show that even where reciprocity did not occur, learning vicariously through lurking in other parts of the eTutor environment supported the development of intercultural competence.
The implications from this study suggest that the development of intercultural competence through online environments is possible but is highly dependent on reciprocity; therefore attention needs to be paid to supporting active participation in online exchanges and working to prevent barriers to participation; and that higher levels of motivation result in greater intercultural competence.