You are here:

The effects of a virtual exchange on language skills and intercultural competence

, Michigan State University, United States

Michigan State University . Awarded


This dissertation explores the effects of a cross-cultural, cross-lingual virtual exchange on students’ foreign language skills and intercultural competence. Specifically, the dissertation investigates the effects of students’ participation in a twelve-week telecollaborative exchange on their use of syntactic complexity in foreign language writing as well as their self-assessment and demonstration of intercultural competence.

The basis for this study was a telecollaborative project between a third-year German class at a US university and an advanced English class at a German high school. The study combined the use of one-on-one, group-on-group, as well as reflective computer-mediated communication tools, and aimed at investigating cultural and linguistic competence as impacted by an electronic exchange. At the heart of the study were 19 tandem e-mail partnerships between the American learners of German and the German learners of English. The partners each wrote two e-mails per week in their target languages discussing pre-assigned cultural topics. In addition, both classes met for two class-to-class videoconferences in which they discussed cultural topics of their own interest. One of them was held in German and one in English. Additionally, there was a reflective component to the study. The American students kept a bi-weekly blog in which they reflected on their learning experience, exchanged ideas and learned from and with each other.

The research questions explored the effects of the virtual exchange on the American students’ interest in cultural learning, use of syntactic complexity in their writing, self-assessment of intercultural competence, and development of intercultural competence. Based on sociocultural theory (Lantolf, 1994), pushed-output hypothesis (Swain, 1995) and Fantini’s (2000) model of intercultural competence, the analysis included qualitative and quantitative measures and incorporated a variety of data sources including e-mail transcripts, blog transcripts, student essays and pre- and post-surveys.

The results showed that there was no statistically significant effect of the exchange on students’ interest in cultural learning, but that this was high both before and after the exchange. Additionally, the results revealed that the students produced texts with greater syntactic complexity at the end of the exchange as compared to the beginning of the exchange. The students’ self-assessment of intercultural competence varied and there were no significant changes. However, the qualitative analysis showed several interesting patterns in the development of intercultural competence, for example the development of cross-cultural awareness and strategies for successful cross-cultural communication. In addition, the analysis revealed a connection between the amount of words written and the overall effects of the virtual exchange on students’ intercultural competence and syntactic complexity.


Schenker, T. The effects of a virtual exchange on language skills and intercultural competence. Ph.D. thesis, Michigan State University. Retrieved May 9, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

For copies of dissertations and theses: (800) 521-0600/(734) 761-4700 or