Vol. 6. No. 4 A-2 March 2003
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Cross-Cultural E-Mail Correspondence for Reflective EFL Teacher Education

Meei-Ling Liaw
Tunghai University
Taichung, Taiwan


A cross-cultural e-mail project was implemented to provide a group of EFL student teachers in Taiwan with the opportunity to interact with bilingual/ESL pre-service teachers in the U.S. Analyses of the e-mail entries revealed that the Taiwanese participants obtained from their U.S. partners valuable information focused on the areas of interpersonal, socio/cultural, pedagogical, and language learning issues. The exchanges caused the students to reflect on various levels of their cultural/social assumptions as well as attitudes toward language learning and teaching. Their final reports confirmed the findings from e-mail entries and further manifested the students' clear awareness of their changes and efforts to become language professionals. The interactive nature of asynchronous correspondence provided an environment for meaningful long distance, two-way communication where learning was supported.


Due to factors such as increasing enrollment, teacher retirement, teacher attrition, and the widespread teaching of English in primary schools, the English as a foreign language (EFL) teaching profession today faces a global shortage of qualified teachers (Curtain & Pesola, 1994; Ghosn, 1999; Peyton, 1997). This problem is especially apparent in Taiwan, where its Ministry of Education has implemented a new national curriculum that includes English as one of the academic subjects in elementary schools (Craig, 1998). It is estimated that a total of nearly 8,000 EFL teachers still need to be recruited and properly trained to fill the newly opened positions. [-1-]

In responding to the need for quality EFL teacher education, my university also offers English majors an EFL teacher education course, which can be counted toward teacher accreditation program credits. The TEFL Methodology course includes lectures and activities to familiarize students with theoretical bases of EFL instruction and hands-on classroom practices. One special component of the course is the incorporation of cross-cultural e-mail correspondence, allowing prospective teachers to communicate with fellow pre-service bilingual/ESL teachers in the United States. The cross-cultural component of the course is an attempt to foster the prospective teachers' reflectivity through social/interpersonal interactions with a distant group of colleagues made possible by Internet technology.

Researchers in teacher education have argued that the ability for student teachers to reflect on their experiential and cognitive activities during learning can facilitate the linking of theory and practice and enables them to take on an active role in their own professional development processes (Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, & Mills, 1999; Chen, 1993; Hill, 2000; Stuart & Thurlow, 2000). It is hoped that through describing their own beliefs and experience and comparing them with those from a different community, the students of this course can discover and define for themselves the meaning of EFL learning and teaching.


A recent development in L2 teacher education has been the shift from an information transmission model to approaches that promote critical reflection in a context of collaboration. In critical reflection approaches, the teacher trainees themselves act as their own sources of information about what constitutes best practices. They examine their own teaching and beliefs and use them as a source for change (Richards & Lockhart, 1994). Through critical reflection processes, teachers become autonomous in transforming their teaching practice. Means for examining one's own professional development may include the use of language learning autobiographies, teaching journals, teaching portfolios, videotaping (Bailey, 1996; Bailey, Curtis, & Nunan, 1998), and social activities (Cole, Raffier, Rogan, & Schleicher, 1998; Darling-Hammond, & McLaughlin, 1995; Farrell, 1999; Ridwan, Renandya, & Lie, 1996; Wajnryb, 1992).

The social constructivist theory has many important implications for understanding the processes involved in reflective thinking (Yost, Sentner, & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000). As Vygotsky (1978) indicated, the social roots of cognition and the importance of the "zone of proximal development" (p. 86) in which interaction with knowledgeable peers play an essential role in learning. Social constructivists believe that knowledge construction is a shared experience and is developed by the dialectical interplay of many minds. That is, learning occurs when individuals engage socially in talk and activity about shared problems or tasks; isolation and lack of intellectual stimulation are detrimental to teachers' professional development. The educational goal for social constructivists therefore is to create social environments that induce students to construct their own understanding. Activities to enhance the active construction of new knowledge for all participants should play a vital part in reflective teacher education. Discussion with fellow teachers is one good example of such social activities (Darling-Hammond, & McLaughlin, 1995; Farrell, 1999; Ridwan, Renandya, & Lie, 1996). Interactive journal writing among foreign language (FL) teachers can provide individual members with opportunities to share, express, and reflect on his or her own professional development processes (Cole, Raffier, Rogan, & Schleicher, 1998). As pre-service and in-service teachers write about the problems they encounter and the ideas they discover, they can construct personal meaning in light of their experiences and beliefs (Wajnryb, 1992); discussions among themselves can promote critical reflection for EFL/ESL teachers (Ferrell, 1999). [-2-]

Besides traditional means, modern technologies can provide students with rich resources for reflection and help students to develop adaptive learning experience through reflective practice as well (Lin, Hmelo, Kinzer, & Secules, 1999; Seale & Cann, 2000). Along with advances in computer technology and its application to foreign language instruction and teacher education (Blanton, Moorman, & Trathen, 1998; Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, & Harkrider, 1999; Liaw, 1999; 1998; Wildner, 1999), the Internet is used to facilitate teachers' reflectivity as a part of some teacher training programs. A good example of such applications was Kamhi-Stein and Galvan's (1997) project, involving 25 Egyptian EFL teachers participating in an 11-week collaborative program. Their campus-based teacher education curriculum paired the EFL teachers with experienced ESL teachers in a nearby public school system for classroom observations. The Egyptian teachers were also paired with students in the California State University's MA TESOL program for e-mail dialogue. Through such interactions, all three groups of participants benefited from critically reflecting upon their own teaching practices and beliefs.

It is generally agreed upon that teacher education must provide experiences and knowledge that can be used by pre-service teachers to construct knowledge and attitudes (Larson & Clift, 1996), and that discussion with peers is an effective way to foster reflectivity that contributes to meaning and knowledge construction (Hatton & Smith, 1995). Both synchronous and asynchronous communications provide interactivity, but asynchronous communication gives users more time to reflect on ideas (Liaw & Huang, 2000). E-mail conferencing has been used by teacher educators in various content areas (Kolloff & Ogden, 1996; LaMaster, 1996; Nason, 1996; Yan, Anderson, & Nelson, 1994) to link pre-service teachers in fostering "the construction of richer, more powerful pedagogical understandings" (Blanton, Moorman, & Trathen, 1998, p. 247). Nevertheless, in the field of EFL teacher education, the use of Internet technology as a means to support discourse-based collaborative reflection--especially cross-cultural e-mail correspondence--is still growing, and more in-depth investigations are needed. In this study, I hope to obtain information about whether cross-cultural e-mail can accomplish its intended goal of fostering reflectivity of a group of pre-service EFL teachers in Taiwan. Specifically, this study aims to understand the process and outcome of e-mail facilitated cross-cultural interaction between pre-service teachers by examining the focus and level of possible "dialogic reflection" that occurred during interaction (Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, & Mills, 1999; Hatton & Smith, 1995).



Nineteen Taiwanese undergraduate students majoring in Foreign Languages and Literature participated in this study. They were either juniors or seniors who planning to become EFL teachers after graduation. Although none of them had previously taken an education course, almost all of them had had some experience teaching in private language schools or tutoring. The completion of this six-credit TEFL Methods course was a requirement for their teacher certification.

The seven U.S. participants were pre-service teachers from the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) who were seeking Spanish/English bilingual education certification. They were Spanish/English bilinguals and were of Hispanic heritage. As with the Taiwanese participants, the participation by this group was voluntary. [-3-]

The instructors of the course randomly matched the students. Since the numbers of participants at the two sites were not equal, each U.S. participant had two or three e-mail partners from Taiwan. The participants were informed in advance that their correspondence would be collected and analyzed for research purposes, but the focus of investigation was not specified.


As Russell (1993) pointed out, practice teaching experience is the most important and valuable aspect of a teacher education program; it was believed that the development at this stage could render the most opportunities for discussion and reflection (Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, & Mills, 1999). The two groups started the e-mail correspondence in the spring semester when practice teaching took place. The correspondence was done according to the participants' schedules. Based on the notion that emphasizing responsibility as well as choice in teacher education programs can ensure that pre-service teachers emerge as professionals capable of thinking like teachers and making sound decisions (van Lier, 1996), the participants were granted total autonomy over the correspondence process. They were free to choose topics for discussion, frequencies for exchanges, and objectives to be reached through the participation of the activity.

Data collection and analyses

The data collected included: 1) the e-mail entries and 2) the end-of-semester reflective reports. This study, based on the three benefits of using computer networks to generate social discourse outlined by Lin, Hmelo, Kinzer, & Secules (1999)[1], and the notion emphasized by Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, and Mills (1999)[2] that both "focus" and "level" should be considered in analyzing written entries, adopted a two-dimensional approach to analyzing the e-mail entries. The foci were to be derived by identifying and grouping the topics being discussed in the entries. The levels of reflection were described as follows:

Each e-mail entry was analyzed twice using different approaches to identify the focus/foci and the level of the reflection. For determining the focus of e-mail correspondence, instead of fitting data into pre-determined categories, an inductive analysis process was adopted to allow "the categories to emerge from the data through an interactive process of analysis and tentative category assignment" (Nunan, 1999, p.56). The e-mail entries were first scanned to identify the topics discussed. All of the related topics were then synthesized and categorized under one broader focus. After that, the level of reflection of each e-mail entry was identified according to the pre-established level characteristics. Although one entry may have contained segments that reached different levels of reflection, only the highest level of reflection that it had attained determined the level of that entry. Finally, the students' reflective reports were analyzed to understand further the overall effect of the approach. [-4-]


Due to differences in the academic calendars in the two countries, the student communication lasted for about six weeks with an intermission of one week of spring break in April. The first entries sent by the Taiwanese students were dated March 15 and the last ones were written around the first week of May, when their U.S. partners began to take final examinations. The week when the U.S. participants had their spring break, the exchanges were almost completely disrupted. The week when the U.S. participants had their midterm examinations, the exchanges were significantly reduced as well.

The Taiwanese participants wrote a total of 75 entries. The greatest number of entries written by an individual participant was seven and the least number was two, with an average of 4.4 entries per participant. The e-mail entries ranged in length from approximately 150 words to over 600 words, with an average length of 200-300 words per entry.

Topics and foci of e-mail entries

The participants covered a variety of topics. Most students had greetings and self-introductions in their initial entries, but moved quickly into discussions of topics they deemed interesting. These topics were further identified and categorized into four areas: interpersonal, social/cultural, pedagogical, and language learning (see Table 1).

Table 1. Summary of foci and topics of e-mail entries




Self-introduction, hobby, part-time jobs, family members, hometown, family life, marriage, relationships, career plans


Racism, customs, traffic, politics, societal problems, life styles, holidays, women's rights, current affairs, age and marriage, family value


Bilingual education, language planning policy, school systems, teacher education, teaching experience, classroom observation, teaching methods, learning difficulties, student motivation, study abroad programs

Language learning

L2 learning experience, SLA theories

The analysis revealed that the students focused their exchanges more on pedagogy-related issues than the other three areas. Nevertheless, their interests in establishing interpersonal relationships were clearly demonstrated in their discussion of and reflection on personal issues. For almost all of the Taiwanese pre-service teachers, this project was their first personal contact with peers from the target culture. For the first time, they were able to communicate and even establish valuable friendships; their excitement was evident and understandable. The establishment of interpersonal relationships served as a springboard for further exchanges of other ideas and topics, which eased the way toward more serious exchanges on issues related to professional development. For instance, it was common for the Taiwanese participants to write about their need to find a part-time job. Since they were foreign-language majors, most of them found part-time positions at private English language schools. The ensuing conversations became exchanges of ideas about teaching and teaching-related issues. For example, one student wrote: [-5-]

"I have already found my new job. I work as a teacher assistant in an English language center. I plan to be an EFL teacher. I have to improve myself both in English and understanding its culture and people. I learn a lot from you and I would like to say thank you."

Sharing personal experiences also led to discoveries of and reflections on societal and cultural differences. The two groups of participants became each other's cultural informants. The issue that seemed to attract the most attention from the Taiwanese pre-service participants was the attitudes of their U.S. partners toward marriage and family. Many of the U.S. pre-service teachers were married and had family responsibilities; they worked part-time and did not depend on financial support from their parents. All of the Taiwanese participants expressed their concerns and even shock that in the U.S. someone could get married before finishing their college education. They thought such people were "super humans." One Taiwanese pre-service teacher bluntly stated that it would have been a dishonor to her family if she had married before finishing college. The U.S. pre-service partner explained that in Hispanic culture it would have been a dishonor for someone to live with a girl or boyfriend without getting married. From the U.S. pre-service teachers' side, they were curious about the fact that most Taiwanese college students still lived with their parents. Consider the following exchanges:

A Taiwanese student wrote, "I am quite interested in what you said, especially that you are married and have a two-year old child. How lucky and courageous you are. I have known my boyfriend for more than two years. We really want to get married. However, my father said it would not be honorable that his daughter got married but not graduated first."

The U.S. participant responded, "I did not know that it would be a dishonor to get married before you finished college. That sounds very interesting to me. In my culture it is a dishonor to live with a boyfriend before you get married. I am sure that this would also apply to your culture, right?"

Since the U.S. pre-service teachers were of Hispanic origin, they educated their Taiwanese partners about the diversity of cultures in the U.S. In particular, they introduced Hispanic culture and its influences on the mainstream U.S. culture. This opened the eyes of many of their Taiwanese partners and prompted them to reflect on the diversity of cultures on the island. They exchanged information on the non-mainstream cultures in Taiwan and shared their views on the maintenance of minority cultures and languages. One of the students who happened to belong to a minority group in Taiwan reflected,

"It is a tough job for you to protect your own Spanish culture and identity but it is really necessary. In Taiwan, we have the similar situation. Some cultures and languages of the native people like Hakka, are going to disappear so people have more and more sense to keep their cultures alive. They refuse to just speak Taiwanese or Mandarin. They hope they can keep their languages through education."

After learning about the linguistic situation in the U.S., it suddenly occurred to another Taiwanese student that she, too, belonged to a language minority group. [-6-]

"After you saw my introduction about me, I have to change a bit of my introduction. That is my native language is Taiwanese. In fact, I had to ask my classmate to confirm this. You see that I have forgotten that Taiwanese is my first language because of the language policy in our country. We were forbidden to speak Taiwanese. Therefore, many people have forgotten how to speak it."

As students exchanged, described, and compared their own experiences and perceptions with those of their partners, discussion topics expanded. Nevertheless, due to their similar goals and backgrounds, the topics addressed the four main foci: interpersonal, socio/cultural, pedagogical, and language learning. Through their interactions, the participants sometimes confirmed their own beliefs on these issues, and sometimes they had their existing understandings challenged. Either way, the students exercised their reflectivity.

Levels of reflection attained

The levels of reflection ranged from the description of thoughts to changes in perceptions. An analysis of the e-mail entries revealed that the majority of the entries provided evidence of Level 1 and Level 2 reflections. (For a summary of the level of reflection attained by the numbers of entries, see Table 2.)

Table 2. Level of reflection attained by the number of entries


Number of entries







Level 1 reflection involved describing and sharing general background information as well as teaching and language learning experiences. This type of reflection occurred most commonly when the student teachers started the correspondence. In their "warm-up" messages, they shared personal background information and their observation of social and educational problems. The participants also shared their own language learning experiences and talked about what they had learned from the teacher education course.

One area in which the participants strongly focused their discussions was their classroom observations and teaching experience. Some Taiwanese student teachers expressed their concern and frustrations about being teachers in the future. The following entries were typical: [-7-]

"I did the observation twice; however, it seemed that nothing can help me. I have not prepared well to be a teacher yet. The class that I observed was a six grade class but their level maybe seven or eight grade. Most of them don't care about English. I can't see their motivation for learning English. I feel a little frustrated." "I taught an elementary class for five days and I swore to myself that I would never want to be an elementary school teacher again. I think that being an elementary school teacher is tiring."

Besides doubts and frustrations, many Taiwanese pre-service teachers also expressed their apprehension about doing practice teaching at the end of the semester. Since their U.S. e-mail partners were education majors and considered the "more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p.86), the Taiwanese student teachers turned to them for advice and assurance. For example, one student wrote,

"...I worry about the student teaching in the end of this semester. Could you please tell me your experience and feeling about it? From other people's experiences, I think I can be more confident."

In response to such messages, the U.S. pre-service teachers appeared to be helpful. They drew on their own experiences in providing suggestions.

"The key is to believe in yourself then all things are possible. Project this when you teach the class in front of the instructor. Also above all accept constructive criticism, so that you can improve your lessons in the future. What is helping me also is practice. I teach as many lessons as I can, and try to be well prepared."

Expressing their concern and sharing experiences about classroom observation and teaching evidently led to positive results. For example, after receiving suggestions for student teaching, one Taiwanese participant also had her U.S. partner look over her lesson plans in preparation for the student teaching. Much of the latter discussion between Taiwanese pre-service teachers and their U.S. partners turned to more fundamental issues, such as reasons for becoming teachers, and hence paved ways for some Level 2 dialogic reflection.

Level 2 reflection involved evaluating one's own thinking, comparing and contrasting thoughts, and commenting on each other's thinking. Being from different educational systems and cultural communities provided some grounds for comparisons and contrasts. This was most evident when the participants discussed their future plans and reasons for becoming teachers. Quite a few Taiwanese participants were dubious and indecisive about their future in comparison to their U.S. partners, who were already certain about their career plans, and had even made important decisions in life such as marriages and family responsibilities. For example, a Taiwanese student wrote,

"Your future is so certain. You will be a teacher. It is a great job. At least you know what you will do. What plan will I have? Now I am not sure. In fact, I really want to continue studying. However, I don't know what area I can choose. If I have a chance to study abroad, which area will I choose? I must think."

The desire to search for directions for their future was also reflected in the Taiwanese student teachers' explanations, which later became reassessments, of the reasons to become teachers. They initially told their U.S. partners that job security and societal status were their reasons to become teachers. However, after knowing that their U.S. participants chose to become teachers due to their "love for children and a sense of responsibility to the community," some Taiwanese participants felt a need to justify their pragmatic motives. This can be seen in the following entry, [-8-]

"I truly agree that a teacher must have love and care for kids and I admire your devotion in teaching. I also love kids and this is one of the reasons I want to be a teacher. Nowadays, it is not easy to find a good job. Teachers are well-paid in Taiwan. That's why many of my classmates study hard to be teachers. I failed to pass an exam to be a junior high school teacher not long ago. Many students took it but only a few passed it. I am not from a rich family and my parents quarreled all the time when I was young. I believe I will be a teacher to give my love to my students. Of course, teachers must have this quality but not only for money, right?"

Taiwanese participants began to search for reasons other than those they stated in their earlier messages. They explained how difficult it was for them to become teachers [3]. With all the barriers to overcome and pragmatic decisions to make, loving children could only be marginally included in their daily professional repertoire. Through interactive dialogues with e-mail partners in a different community, the Taiwanese students had the chance to critically re-evaluate their motives to become teachers and realized that factors more than simply personal ones had affected their decisions, especially the policies and systems of teacher training on the island.

An additional area where Level 2 reflection occurred was in the definitions of and attitudes toward bilingualism and bilingual education in the two countries. The U.S. pre-service teachers were bilingual and studying to be bilingual teachers. They introduced their Taiwanese partners to their views on bilingual/biliteracy development and U.S. views of this topic. The Taiwanese participants were struck by how differently bilingual education was defined and practiced in the two countries. For example, one Taiwanese student teacher who originally perceived bilingual education as simply the teaching of two languages commented,

"I am so surprised that in your society, bilingualism is despised by people. People in Taiwan are proud of having bilingual abilities or even multilingual abilities. Therefore, I chose this department to be my major and become a teacher afterwards."

After reading further explanations of bilingualism in the U.S., she realized the differences between additive and subtractive bilingualism, but still insisted that "no language or race is superior than the other." As described in a previous section of this paper, several Taiwanese pre-service teachers belonged to language minority groups on the island. By finding out the effort made by the minority groups in the U.S. to maintain their native languages and cultures, they had a chance to reflect on their own experience in using (or not using) their native languages, and realized that they actually had the same experience as their cross-cultural partners did.

Level 3 reflection involved agreeing on viewpoints about a specific topic or changing one's thoughts after discussion. After many comparisons and contrasts, some student teachers were able to reach points of agreement; some discussion even resulted in changes of views. The analyses revealed that typical Level 3 reflection occurred mostly in the discussion of instructional issues. While most partners agreed that learning should be made enjoyable, some Taiwanese student teachers opted for different instructional activities and classroom management techniques than those of their U.S. colleagues. For example, one Taiwanese student teacher first agreed with her U.S. partner's views about teaching but she also expressed her doubts about whether her U.S. partner's approach would work in the Taiwanese context:

"I agree with what you said. You want to be a teacher because you love children and want them to have good education. However, I have quite a few problems in dealing with my students. In Taiwan, students have got used to the fact that teachers are always strict and have a poker face. A teacher who is not always strict, the students would become too over doing. They would not see you as a teacher anymore."

In their exchanges, the U.S. pre-service teacher maintained her view that student-centeredness was crucial to the success of teaching and learning whereas the Taiwanese student teacher concerned mainly about winning the respect from the students. During the course of communication, they finally realized that cultural assumptions regarding the images of teachers and different class sizes had led them to have different preferences for classroom approaches. The partners finally reached mutual understanding and accepted each other's assertions. [-9-]

Another obvious perceptual change was cultural: As e-mail partners of different cultural backgrounds discussed relationships and marriage, they grappled with the messages they received. For the Taiwanese participants, it was "culture shock" at first knowing that most of their U.S. colleagues were married and had children. Afterwards, they accepted the seemingly "unbelievable" and tried to re-examine their prior cultural assumptions by inquiring into their e-mail partners' reasons for having early marriages. The Taiwanese participants seemed delighted with their new understanding.

Written Reports

The findings from the written reports further revealed insights into the knowledge gains and perceptual changes of the Taiwanese participants due to the e-mail correspondence. The written reports also showed that the students were clearly aware of such gains and changes. As students wrote their final reports, they recounted the significant issues they had discussed with their U.S. partners and how such exchanges had changed their thinking. The areas in which the Taiwanese students reported that they had felt the strongest impact were:

  1. the challenges to their previously held cultural/social assumptions;
  2. the inspiring effect of discussing and their reasons to become teachers with their partners; and
  3. discussion of pedagogical issues involved in language teaching and learning.

Socio-cultural impact: The participants felt that they gained a good deal of cultural information. They compared the ways of life and celebrations in the two countries, and realized how fundamentally similar they were. Nevertheless, the participants also found out how much their assumptions about U.S. culture or values contradicted what they learned from their U.S. partners. This was especially apparent with regard to relationships and marriages. Many Taiwanese participants had the prior image of American college students being independent and not committed to personal relationships. They were surprised to know that most of their U.S. partners were married or about to get married. They formed a new image of U.S. college students, which replaced the old one. Consider the following entries:

"At first, I feel surprised and astonished that she was already married, but later on I found that it is common and normal in her society." "The most surprising thing is that my e-mail partner is as old as I am but she will get married on August 8th. It surprised me because I always think that girls in America don't get married when they are still young. After discussing with other classmates, I know that many 'students' get married when they are still in school. As a result, when I wrote to her, she always liked to talk about her boyfriend, family, and marriage. I could not get used to it but now I like this new experience."

Professional inspiration: Another difference between the Taiwanese participants and their U.S. partners was the motivation and reason for becoming teachers. They appeared to be touched and inspired by their U.S. colleagues' motives. [-10-]

"I am very impressed by her ambition to become a teacher since teachers in American do not usually have high pays." "Her enthusiasm in teaching makes me feel ashamed and it touched me." "One thing surprises me is that she wanted to teach due to her love for children. Why I am surprised? It is because, to me, loving children is one thing, teaching children is another." "My partner's words move me very much. Teacher is not only teaching knowledge on books but in life. So being a good teacher should concern about their students."

Being inspired, at the end of the course the Taiwanese participants found themselves echoing their U.S. colleagues' words and ideas about teaching. The notion of being a good teacher for children's sake and making sure they possess the quality of a good teacher filled their reports.

"After sharing our experiences, I find that to be a teacher is not an easy work. Patience is necessary. The key to be a teacher is not to give up and to be very patient even sometimes students are not willing to learn. Teachers still need to continue to communicate with them. Teachers can't give up any student. To be a teacher should give students hope forever."

By comparing their own motives with those of their U.S. peers, they had the chance to reappraise their own goals in life. Some had clearer idea of what might entail being a teacher in the future; some had second thoughts and looked for other options. The following reports revealed changes of mind of becoming teachers after discussion and much thought.

"I told her that my major does not focus on teaching. If I want to become a teacher I will have to take more courses in teaching. On the contrary, her life career seems clearer than mine because she is a pre-service teacher now. As for me, I might continue on attending graduate school in the future."

Pedagogical Reflection: The final reports reconfirmed that the Taiwanese participants found out how different the general practices in teaching English in the two countries were. In the final papers, further disagreements regarding instructional methods used in the classroom and the decisions to insist on their own ideas were reported. The following two entries are examples of such assertions:

"My e-mail partner told me a lot of her practical teaching experiences. For example, she had a problem with a student who did not mix with others and generally did his own thing in the classroom. She said, for children, peer influence is very powerful. So, she changed the student's seat and let him sit beside good students. However, is it proper to do in this way for students in Taiwan? I must think...."

"One time, My partner asked me a question. If I plan to involve the students in a game, but they refuse to play it saying they are tired of it. What do I do? I answered that I would change another game and stop it. However, she said it not necessary if your students were little children. Therefore, her attitudes would be powerful and determined. She would not let students control her, so she used a little bit serious attitude. Am I too kind? I don't think so. I will depend on what kind of students I have." [-11-]

Discussion and Conclusion

It appears that this cross-cultural e-mail experience accomplished its intended goal of providing opportunities for this group of Taiwanese student teachers to engage in critical reflection with only minimum intervention from the instructor. The approach supported the social constructivists' view of learning and teaching since the participants' learning took place within a social context (Vygotsky, 1978), and the process involved active construction of understanding (Bruner, 1971). The social/interpersonal aspect of the approach was especially valuable to this group of participants since the collegial support and understanding created an environment for open discussions and voluntary changes in perceptions. Many educators believe that at the core of critical reflective thinking is the notion of creating meaning or conceptualization from a learning experience that enables a learner to see things in a different way (Seale & Cann, 2000; Brockard & McGill, 1998). For this group of student teachers, not only were their old notions of the U.S. culture as well as English language learning and teaching challenged through ongoing e-mail dialogues, deepened understanding and new knowledge were also constructed as a result of the cross-cultural interaction. Furthermore, some student teachers developed a firmer sense of commitment to becoming teachers; some, on the other hand, used the opportunity to reassess their many other choices in life.

The use of cross-cultural e-mail correspondence between student teachers can be a viable way to foster reflectivity and therefore, when possible, should be incorporated in EFL teacher education courses. The findings of this study also yield important implications for the teacher education policymaking in Taiwan. As shown in the e-mail exchanges, the Taiwanese student teachers were anxious about having to overcome the barriers to become certified teachers. This appears to have prevented them from previously thinking about the implications of becoming teachers.

In spite of the evident advantages of the approach in developing EFL student teachers' level of reflectivity in various areas, limitations of the approach should not be overlooked. Certain caveats should observed while interpreting the effects of the approach in fostering cross-cultural understanding. For example, one student stated that she agreed that her partner's Spanish identity should have been maintained, although she might not have completely understood the difference between Spanish culture and the Hispanic culture in the U.S. Also, when the Taiwanese students concluded that most American college students could be married and have children, they over-generalized what they learned from the correspondence with a small group of college students in a particular region in the U.S. In addition, the Taiwanese student teachers learned about bilingual education from their partners and concluded that many people in the U.S. did not value bilingualism. Of course, bilingual education in the U.S. can only be understood with sufficient knowledge of its social, political, and pedagogical context. Without such background knowledge, and enough time for in-depth discussion with their partners, the Taiwanese students' understanding was undoubtedly incomplete. In the future, an instructor could lead in-class discussion to avoid the danger of cultural stereotyping and misinterpretations during autonomous cross-cultural correspondence. [-12-]

This study did not set out to prove that the computer technology is superior than other means in promoting student teachers' reflectivity; rather, it documented how cross-cultural social interaction, by ways of e-mail correspondence, facilitated pre-service teachers' reflectivity. Nevertheless, the findings echo other studies that technology can be used to encourage pre-service teachers to become "reflective practitioners" (Chen, 1993; Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, & Harkrider, 1999). The advantage of the interactive nature of asynchronous correspondence was obvious. At the minimum, it helped to provide an environment for meaningful two-way communication where autonomous learning was fostered and supported. The reflectivity of the participants was stimulated through questioning, answering, self-controlled pacing, and joint-selection of topics for discussion. During the correspondence, not only was the learning process controlled by the students, but so was the construction of new knowledge. Holding the discussions online gave the students the freedom to pick and choose the new information they wanted to integrate into their existing knowledge structure. This is markedly different from many in-class discussions, in which students often look for the direction from their instructor. In addition, the near-instantaneous nature of e-mail made long-distance interaction possible.

Of course, one might argue that interactions among student teachers of the same culture in the same country would have also achieved similar levels and complexity of reflectivity. This, along with many other aspects of cross-cultural communication for reflective pre-service teacher education (e.g., group vs. paired interaction, whether longer period of time for correspondence leads to higher level of reflection, etc.), certainly deserves further investigation in future studies.


This author would like to express her most sincere gratitude to Dr. Mark Warschauer at U.C. Irvine and Dr. Richard Kern at U.C. Berkeley for their comments on the earlier draft of this paper.


[1] Lin, Hmelo, Kinzer, & Secules (1999) synthesized computer networks used to support students in engagement of reflection through community-based discourse and found three benefits of engaging in social reflective discourse: first, the engagement allowed people of different cultures and communities to display multiple perspectives and expertise; second, it motivated people to become reflective through evaluating and judging one's own work and thinking; third, the computer network recorded, traced, and displayed how the students' thoughts changed through the help of others.

[2] In searching for a scheme to analyze the type of reflection student teachers engaged in journal writing, Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, and Mills (1999) reviewed various tools used in a number of recent related studies. They concluded that both "focus" and "level" of reflection should be included so that the complexity and sophistication of the writing would not be overlooked.

[3] In Taiwan, teacher education used to be offered only to students who attended teachers' colleges and normal universities. Students who attended a comprehensive university, such as the one the participants were attending, did not have the opportunity to become teachers. Even with the recent policy, which permits a small percentage of comprehensive university students to take education credits, numerous restrictions and regulations can still hinder many hopefuls from eventually becoming certified teachers. Those who are interested in taking education credits have to go through competitive screening processes and take many extra credits (which quite often lead to prolonged studies in college) to get into the field. [-13-]


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About the Author

Meei-Ling Liaw (Ph.D., Texas A&M University) is Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan. Her research interest focuses on CALL, using information technology for language teacher education, and reading.

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