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Unpacking Core Goal 4.2 in a Summer Study Abroad Program in Spain—Margot Versteeg (2020)

Overview

A professor of Spanish leading a short-term study abroad program in Spain seeks ways to leverage and assess intercultural learning for KU Core Goal 4.2, which states: “Upon reaching this goal, students will be able to examine a variety of perspectives in the global community, distinguish their own cultural patterns, and respond flexibly to multiple worldviews.” 

Background

SPAN 440, Hispanic Studies: The Spanish Civil War, is team-taught during a six-week study-abroad program in Barcelona, Spain. The students take this three-credit-hour course together with other courses (language and culture/conversation). Students are majors and minors in Spanish and Portuguese. For SPAN 440, I usually teach the first three weeks, which cover a general introduction to the importance of the Spanish Civil War for Spain and the country’s cultural production; then a colleague teaches the last three weeks on a more specific topic, such as poetry related to the war experience. 

I strive to foster in students the development of cultural sensitivity and respect for the complexity of the Spanish Civil War as a key event in the history of modern Spain. Through class assignments and site visits, the course provides students with a solid knowledge base about the key aspects of this conflict and sensitizes students to very delicate issues in Spain’s modern past. The course aims to develop students’ abilities to discuss these issues without being hindered by their own prejudices and value assumptions.

Implementation

The course pairs visits to “sites of memory” that are of importance in relation to the Spanish Civil War with texts and visuals that focus on the experiences of young people. Since the students are of the same age as the heroes of these books and films, they are able to compare their own set of cultural beliefs with those of the characters in the works we discuss; they are prompted to engage in this type of reflection by the questions they are asked. The site visits enhance students’ knowledge and offer exposure and opportunities for interaction with Spaniards of their own age, which promote deeper understanding. 

Student Work

Students are assessed based on participation and homework; they also write two traditional essays on the texts or movies discussed in class and prepare a final e-portfolio, which consists of a compilation of the materials students produced throughout the course as well as other artifacts and analysis that demonstrate their understanding of the content.

As is to be expected with this specific group of high-achieving students, they participated enthusiastically in the discussions, and most of them wrote solid essays. To further gauge the ability of the students to examine different perspectives in the global community, distinguish their own cultural patterns, and respond flexibly to worldviews other than their own, I incorporated – instead of a final exam – an e-portfolio graded by rubric. Students use the e-portfolio to show how they see the connections among readings, movies, and their in-situ experiences. Students were specifically asked to relate their readings to the experiential learning opportunities. While most e-portfolios represented high-quality work, there is some indication from their reflections that there is room for growth.

Reflections

My conclusion (for now) is that experiential learning activities combined with readings/screenings and solid background information give the students ample opportunities to show that they are able to analyze and discuss a non-US culture in relation to their own value assumptions. Several of the assignments I designed work well to assess KU Core Goal 4.2, and I plan to design more assignments of this kind. Although I want to keep the traditional essays, I will make more explicit that I want the students to demonstrate sophisticated understanding of the complexity of elements important to members of another culture (Spain) in relation to its history, values, politics, communication styles, economy, or beliefs and practices. As far as the e-portfolio is concerned, in the future I plan to provide more detailed instructions about how to configure the portfolio, and I will also work on tweaking the rubric. Although I was quite happy with the results (and I would say that the e-portfolio reflects the students’ learning far better than a final exam), next time I will be more demanding and critical from the outset.


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Background

SPAN 440 Hispanic Studies: The Spanish Civil War is team-taught during a six-week study abroad program in Barcelona, Spain. The students take this three-credit-hour course together with other courses (language and culture/conversation). For SPAN 440, I usually teach the first three weeks; then a colleague teaches the last three weeks. The design of the course takes this into account. The first three weeks are a general introduction to the importance of the Spanish Civil War for Spain and the country’s cultural production; the last three weeks of the course deal with a more specific topic, such as poetry related to the war experience.

Students are majors and minors in Spanish and Portuguese. In the summer of 2018, we had 12 students, mostly juniors and seniors, and one sophomore. Their backgrounds diverge greatly; we tend to have many pre-med and also engineering students. The course supposes that the students have completed previous coursework in Spanish at the intermediate level.

The course aims to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Students will gain historical knowledge about the civil war and the early Franco dictatorship.
  • Students will become familiar with a series of cultural representations (novels, poems, short stories, films, etc.) dealing with these traumatic events.
  • Students are introduced to the concepts of memory and trauma and introduced to the political uses of memory and forgetting.
  • Students will visit several sites of memory.
  • Students will improve their Spanish language and writing skills, as well as their general knowledge of Spanish culture.

As far as KU Core Goal 4.2 is concerned, the course seeks to stimulate intercultural knowledge and competence, which according to Bennett (2008), is “a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.” In this specific case, I strive to foster in students the development of cultural sensitivity and respect for the complexity of the Spanish Civil War as a key event in the history of modern Spain. Through course work and site visits, the course provides students with a solid knowledge base about the key aspects of this conflict and sensitizes students to very delicate issues in Spain’s modern past. The course aims to develop the students’ abilities to discuss these issues without being hindered by their own prejudices and value assumptions.

Spanish literature and culture courses are ideally suited to meet KU Core Goal 4.2. Because this course is taught as part of a Study Abroad program, it is important that steps are taken so that students receive maximum benefit from the immersion experience.

During study abroad, (lack of) time is a big issue. Over the years that I have been teaching the course, I have gradually shifted to more experiential learning activities. All excursions/activities incorporated in my half of the program are related to course content. I eliminated any tourism-oriented sightseeing activities. My goal is to benefit from the idea that exposure and discussion enhance students’ understanding of others and raise their awareness of complex cultural beliefs different from their own.

 


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Implementation

I start the course with a discussion about Don Henry from Dodge City, Kansas, who attended KU in the 1930s. Without telling his parents, Don Henry traveled to Spain where he joined the National Brigades and fought in the Spanish Civil War. He died in the trenches. After their son’s death, Don’s parents sued KU’s Board of Regents for having influenced the boy with “leftist” ideas. They lost the case, and KU was not found responsible for Don Henry’s change of mind. This impactful story – about a boy of the students’ own age who attended the same university as they are attending and made some far-reaching choices – is an ideal starting point for a discussion about the Spanish Civil War. I prompt students to answer the following questions: Why do you think Don Henry acted as he did? Would you do the same as Don Henry? Would you fight to defend a country and perhaps the entire Western world against fascism? Can you understand his parents? What do you think is the role of the university?

Once we have discussed Don Henry’s case, we take a closer look at the conflict he went to fight in. Students need considerable knowledge to make meaningful observations, and thus during class time we discuss two novels, a short story, a book chapter, and a set of poems. We also watch a series of movies and documentaries – some in class and others during additional afternoon sessions – that provide the students with a visual background. Each of these texts/movies deals with a specific issue relevant to the course: the position of the church, the educational system, the role of women, etc. To provide some basic historical context, we use Helen Graham’s long essay The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction.

Most of these texts and visuals are about young people. Since the students are of the same age as the heroes of these books and films, they are able to compare their own set of cultural beliefs with those of the characters in the works we discuss. They are prompted to engage in this type of reflection by the questions they are asked, such as:

  • What is the difference being getting a secular education in the US and being raised in a convent, like the young girl in the short story “Infancia Quemada” (“Burned Childhood)?
  • What are the expectations for young women today in the US, and what were those for the girls in the movie Belle époque?

These discussions of texts and movies are complemented by visits (during class excursions but also by students on their own, outside of class) to several “sites of memory” that are of importance in relation to the Spanish Civil War. We visit bunkers, an exile museum, the grave of a famous poet, jails, etc. In some cases these visits are guided tours by Spanish experts, often young (!) historians or art historians, who ask challenging questions and prompt discussion. These visits enhance students’ knowledge and offer exposure and opportunities for interaction with Spaniards of their own age, which promote deeper understanding.

After a visit to the Museo del Exilio (Exile Museum) in Figueiras, students have to “prepare” a suitcase with items that one could expect to have been found in the luggage of a refugee from the Spanish Civil War. The students also have to prepare a second suitcase with items that they, as people living in the 21st century, would carry with them if they found themselves in a similar situation in the present day. In alignment with KU Core Goal 4.2, this assignment examines if the students are able to adapt and apply, independently, insights gained in one situation to a new one.


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Student Work

I should first mention that the population of these study-abroad courses often consists of high-achievers who will work hard to receive an A in any course. They participate eagerly and complete all the homework. (In past years I have taught this course to other students who were not as intrinsically motivated, and the results were not as good.)

For my part of SPAN 440, students are assessed based on participation and homework; they also write two traditional essays on the texts or movies discussed in class and prepare a final e-portfolio, which consists of a compilation of the written materials students produced throughout the course as well as other artifacts and analysis that demonstrate their understanding of the content and their study-abroad experience.

Aside from the discussion prompts and assignments previously shared, study abroad allows for ample interaction with and among students, which allows for many opportunities to challenge students’ belief systems in conversations and discussions and can serve to gently correct misconceptions.

As far as the two essays are concerned, apart from a well-constructed paper written in polished Spanish, I assess students based on the following questions (see rubric):

  1. Has the student obtained sufficient knowledge, and can he/she apply this knowledge while interpreting cultural texts?
  2. Is the student aware of subtle nuances of the text that point to the complex cultural belief systems of which these texts are exponents?
  3. Is the student open to not basing his/her judgments and opinions exclusively on his/her own prejudices and norms?

As is to be expected with this specific group of students, they participated enthusiastically in the discussions, and most of them wrote solid essays (see example). These good results do not in themselves indicate that Goal 4.2 is completely met, however.

To further gauge the ability of the students to examine different perspectives in the global community, distinguish their own cultural patterns, and respond flexibly to worldviews other than their own, I incorporated – instead of a final exam – an e-portfolio graded by rubric; students use the portfolio to demonstrate the connections they see among readings, movies, and their in-situ experiences (see an e-portfolio example here). Students were specifically asked to relate their readings to the experiential learning opportunities. They were invited to incorporate the series of short response papers that they wrote to reflect on these experiential learning opportunities.

Although students performed well overall, the results of the assignments were not always entirely satisfactory. An assignment that I always incorporate as an extra credit option (and as an opportunity for the students to give me feedback) is the possibility for students themselves to create an assignment for future students of the course. For this assignment in summer 2018, one team of students proposed interviewing people on the streets about their knowledge of the Spanish Civil War. For me, this is a sign that the students are not sensitive enough to the delicate nature of this issue. These students displayed curiosity and openness, but they did not demonstrate empathy nor recognize the feelings of another cultural group. In short, they did not demonstrate sophisticated understanding of the complexity of elements important to members of another culture (Spain) in relation to its history, values, politics, communication styles, economy, or beliefs and practices.


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Reflections

Professor Margot Versteeg

Margot Versteeg

My conclusion (for now) is that experiential learning activities combined with readings/screenings and solid background information give the students ample opportunities to show that they are able to analyze and discuss a non-US culture in relation to their own value assumptions.

Several of the assignments I designed (Don Henry; the exile suitcase, etc.) work well to assess KU Core Goal 4.2, and I plan to design more assignments of this kind. Although I want to keep the traditional essays, I will make more explicit that I want the students to demonstrate sophisticated understanding of the complexity of elements important to members of another culture (Spain) in relation to its history, values, politics, communication styles, economy, or beliefs and practices.

As far as the e-portfolio is concerned, in the future I plan to provide more detailed instructions about how to configure the portfolio, and I will also work on tweaking the rubric. There are portions of the rubric specifically designed to assess students’ reflection and analysis, which includes learning related to Core Goal 4.2. However, a separate category will likely need to be created specifically targeting 4.2 skills in order to more fully understand the effect of the course on cross-cultural learning. Although I was quite happy with the results (and I would say that the e-portfolio reflects the students’ learning far better than a final exam), next time I will be more demanding and critical from the outset. I would want to see a draft version of the portfolio at an earlier stage (but as I have noted before, time is always a challenge during a three-week-long course). Additionally, I would improve the rubric for assessing the portfolio.

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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Year: 
2020

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