Australian and Chinese schools that wish to exchange digital stories should be aware that there may be technical, logistical and cultural issues to consider in order in order to ensure the success of their collaboration.
It is often not possible for schools in China to access the websites and apps that are available in Australia and elsewhere due to China's Internet policies. However, in China, equivalent tools are frequently available for schools and students to use. In Australia, on the other hand, many publicly accessible websites and apps may be blocked by schools or education departments to protect children. It can thus be difficult for students to exchange digital stories due to the different tools available, which can make sharing and access cumbersome.
It is possible for people outside China to test whether particular websites and web-based tools are accessible in China at any time (access can be intermittent) by typing the URL into a service such as https://www.comparitech.com/privacy-security-tools/blockedinchina/. This can save time when selecting suitable tools to create and share digital stories. In the Multimodal Stories for Language and Cultural Exchange project, which ran from 2013 to the end of 2014, Wikispaces was used as a password-protected repository for storing, sharing and discussing the digital stories made by school students in each country. Students in China were able to access Wikispaces but downloading large files was slow. Students in China were not able to access embedded video files of digital stories that had been uploaded to video hosting services like VideoBam (no longer in operation) or on storage services like Dropbox. For more information about these issues, please see Our Story.
The timing of school holidays in each country needs to be considered when planning the exchange of digital stories, especially if timely feedback about the stories is required from partner schools. School holidays in Australia and China fall at different times, leaving large blocks of time when collaborations cannot occur. Also, students in Chinese schools tend to spend a lot more time each week learning English than Australian students spend in their Language Other Than English (LOTE) classes, so it is advised not to be over-ambitious about the number of stories to be exchanged each year. There can also be quite significant differences in foreign language competency between students in Australia and students of the same age in China, with the English language competency of students in China being more advanced than the Chinese language competency of students in Australia. There is also a great imbalance in the number of students in China who are learning English and the number of students in Australia who are learning Mandarin Chinese.
Australia is a multicultural society and there are many different types of schools, some of which are associated with religions. Furthermore, within some Australian schools, many different cultural groups are represented. China also has some cultural variation. There are more than fifty officially recognised ethnic groups, although the Han group is the largest by far. Whilst it is important not to overgeneralise, it is safe to say that there are some broad cultural differences between the two countries that need to be considered. For example, teachers and students in China will probably try very hard to live up to expectations and may see a relationship with an Australian school as a great privilege. Pedagogical approaches also vary considerably, and Australian schools tend to put more emphasis on soft skills, sometimes also called 21st century skills, such as creativity, collaboration and communication.
Note: Photographs on this page of Guilin (top) and Shanghai (bottom) were taken by Mark Pegrum in April 2014 and may be reused under a CC BY 3.0 licence.
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