Collaborative Project–McDonough/Zhao-East Meets West



INSTRUCTORS/CREATORS: Carolyn A. McDonough and Jing Zhao

Communication among cultures has become increasingly frequent in an age of globalization, making cross-cultural communication skills essential in the tool kit of a modern day college/university student. As instructors in higher education, how do we assist undergraduate students in both the opportunities afforded through such instantaneous global communication and the challenge digital era post-millennial communication presents?

This 100-level course for undergraduate students will explore the question through an interdisciplinary approach combining two inherently multidisciplinary fields of study: Language Studies and Media Studies.

“Culture” is an extremely profound concept that can be approached from various angles. “Culture or Civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [human beings] as members of society,” as described by British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor. The term “culture” is complex in nature and studied by various disciplines, especially those under the larger umbrellas of the humanities and social sciences. Teaching “cross-cultural communication” therefore, is an interdisciplinary act incorporating multidisciplinary knowledge and interdisciplinary methodologies.

As instructors of Chinese language and Media Studies, we are keenly aware of the complexity of language, culture, media and educational technology. We were inspired to create a course on the intersectionality of these in the larger context of cross-cultural communication. We will combine our individual disciplinary approaches pedagogically as “critical co-investigators” and culminate the course with the “student as producer” in the Final Project. (Rosen and Smale, Open Digital Pedagogy=Critical Pedagogy, 2015)

The interdisciplinarity and cross-cultural communication focus of this course thereby also speaks to the concept of “connectivism” in both higher education and modern culture-at-large. “Learning is a process of connecting entities” and the “ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts” is a core skill. (Stephen Downes, Elements of Connectivism, 2011) Our course design is thus an embodiment of connectivism. Students are encouraged to make connections between elements of “culture” through various disciplines, some of which they may have little or no prior knowledge to access or experience in studying.  

Siemens points out the importance of “unknown knowledge” by stating that “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” (George Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, 2004)

This new cultural imperative, then, is the mandate of the student/citizen in the post-millennial digital, global era: that of being connected and making connections among various disciplines. Siemens emphasizes “[T]he starting point of connectivism is the individual” (Siemens, 2004) as the locus of a network which becomes an organization.

Learning, however, is not entirely under the control of the individual, according to Siemens.

Therefore, in order to make connections in interdisciplinary learning, students need to collaborate. For this reason, it is required that students work in teams of two to complete their Final Project. They will also need to research effective tools/resources and to present the results of critically utilizing them.

The course itself will become a network example of Siemens’s connectivism. 

Digital tools are thereby inherent in the course design and are an embodiment of establishing such networks for learning. Students will be required to use multimedia resources, and the “languages” of different media, to demonstrate a collaboratively established network. Critical thinking is highly engaged when encountering media texts and it is also enlivening to encounter new types of media in both teaching and learning.

Description of Final Project:

Students will be required to create a visual “academic ad campaign” in the form of a digital media flyer/poster/handout/online ad, etc. that promotes cross-cultural exchange via language study between universities. Students must conceptualize, design and create a visual that would be seen on campus, or on the university’s website, announcing an opportunity to study another language abroad, in the language of a host university.

For example, a flyer at the University of Florence would announce an exchange program to “STUDY CHINESE IN CHINA” written in Italian. Conversely, a flyer at the University of Beijing would announce an exchange program to “STUDY ITALIAN IN ITALY” written in Chinese.

In teams of two students per team, choose two universities from two different cultures. Research your choices. Collaborate by comparing and combining your research.  Design an ”academic ad” to announce and promote cultural exchange via a language study program. Your joint findings should inform the ad’s content while also communicating cross-cultural exchange through language study.

The following components are required in the Final Project:

-Digital Media Design (sourcing visual media/collecting visual media)

-Language and cultural references and/or symbols intended to promote, convey and facilitate cross-cultural communication.  

Your team will be responsible for creating TWO different “academic ads”. Please see the following visual example:


We encourage you to research print ads, posters, online ads, broadcast ads, travel publications, travel websites, cover art, artwork found in scholarly journals, etc., and DON’T FORGET to also look around while going about your day. We are surrounded, indeed barraged, by visual images and these can often spark ideas.


Digital design tools must be used and may range from basic Microsoft Office or more advanced digital design software such as Adobe Photoshop. Feel free to explore the many free photo editing apps like PicLab and filter apps, or go “old-school” by creating a hands-on collage of images from magazines (but this MUST be scanned in to a digital format and submitted digitally.)

The Final Project is to be submitted/posted digitally in .jpg or pdf file format to the class blog site. Peer review is highly encouraged.

The criteria we will use to evaluate and assess the Final Project and fulfilling its requirements are: 

-overall digital media design

-use of language and symbol

-does the ad/meme convey a sense of connectivism?

-is the ad culturally sensitive and gender friendly?

-was care employed in the design and in the use of digital technology to disseminate media?

Rationale for Final Project:


Technology is key in achieving connectivism. In a globalized era, in real time or asynchronously online, it is essential to seek the positive aspects of different cultures for peaceful co-existence in shared spaces, both physically and virtually. Therefore, the tone of our course is one of “care” toward our students, our network, our organization, and so on, in the hope of helping students identify, analyze, and apply the “nurturing” aspects of technology to enhance cross-cultural communication.

Using technology in a responsible and “caring” manner to discover the more “humane” side of technology instead of treating technology as “neutral” and emotionless  is very important in developing a “humane” attitude toward using “objects”. This kinder attitude will assist students in learning how to deal with the culture of technology upon us, which has become a part of everyday life globally, as they embark upon careers, while fostering both connection and cross-cultural communication.

Carolyn A. McDonough is a non-matric in the ITP Certificate Program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She is applying for the MA in Digital Humanities and holds her first MA in Media Studies with a BA in Medieval & Renaissance Studies. She enjoys how her degrees come together in the field of the Digital Humanities and is interested in cultural studies.

Jing Zhao is a student of Masters of Liberal Studies program at CUNY Graduate Center, digital humanities track. He is also a Chinese language teacher and translator. He is interested in studying the affordances of educational technology and second language teaching.

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