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Learning Management Systems II: “Online Cultural Inquiry: Mid-Westerners and Mexican Americans Moodling through The Odyssey and Paradise Lost”

by Lee Tesdell

In this session, Walter Kokernot described how his students work with other students whose life experience is so different from their own that it has opened them to more complex, sensitive, varied perspectives on readings such as The Odyssey and Paradise Lost. Sarah Moreman next described the challenges of establishing on online community of students with little access to technology and for whom English is a second language and college a culturally alien experience. Moreman also described the ways in which Moodle served her purpose as well as her students, primarily Mexican-Americans, and their assessment of the project. In sum, the authors teach literature and have used Moodle to bring their students together in order to collaborate on writing about their assigned readings.

The presenters provided a modification of the project they presented at the 2004 CCCC by updating their findings from an ongoing experiment involving a diverse online community of undergraduates, the members of this community living in both the border region of Texas and Mexico (Del Rio) and central Ohio (Columbus). They used Moodle, an open source course management system, to connect the cultures and students who are are significantly different; (one mostly first-generation, rural or small-town Mexican-American, the other mostly white and more urban, white collar). Their thesis contended that when students share their diverse cultural experiences they become more adept at reading such culturally foreign works as The Odyssey and Paradise Lost.

While students generally appreciated some of the themes of classical epics, their readings tended to be limited by their own experiences and local value systems, according to the presenters. Therefore, the instructors used Moodle to generate discussion in an attempt to deepen understanding of course readings. First, students met each other in online conversations about such casual topics as food and football. With such conversations, they explored their own assumptions and observations about the relationships between culture, power, and worldview; or in Milton Bennett's terms, students worked through stages of intercultural competence. The students moved from these casual conversations to discussions focused on The Odyssey and Paradise Lost. The authors discovered that when the students began discussing how, for example, Odysseus found his way through a variety of alien cultures, their insights were far more complex and engaging, being informed by their own conversations on the subject.

The presenters continued to give examples of this online collaboration as a form of critical cultural inquiry and its benefits for students and instructors.

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