Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tech-Based Cross-Cultural Learning Models

Technology, culture, and instructional design:
A review of technology-based cross-cultural learning models
(view the framework)


With the trend of globalization and the call for understanding across diverse cultures, cross-cultural learning has become one of the important dimensions in modern education. The founders of United Nation Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) clearly states the imperative of cross-cultural understanding: “the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of human beings for justice and liberty and peace, are indispensable for the dignity of man” (UNESCO, 1951, front piece). Further, it reveals the harm that may be caused by the ignorance of cross-cultural understandings: “ignorance is not an isolated fact, but one aspect of general backwardness which has many features, like paucity of production, insignificant export, poor transport and communications, deficient capital and income” (UNESCO, 1951, p. 4). In the belief that bringing the cultures together would reduce prejudice and capacity to be open and flexible with other cultures would increase one’s global competitiveness, researchers have studied issues related intercultural competence including cross-cultural adaptation, cross-cultural effectiveness, intercultural effectiveness, cultural shock, intercultural communication competence, cultural adjustment, cultural communication effectiveness, and intercultural transformative process (Davis, Cho, & Hagenson, 2005). The skills around these issues are critical for one to survive and succeed in an increasingly globalized society.

In accordance with such notion of intercultural competence, Cole (2005) articulates that a key attribute of modern thinking is the ability to take another person's perspective and to empathize with their point of view, especially when cross-national comparisons and cultural variations within modern nation states among different ethnic groups have aroused major concerns related to the economic development and immigration growth. Such concerns over comparisons and variations among and within cultures often result in educational reforms in major modern nation states that rely heavily on modern technologies to invigorate their economic development and maintain their leading positions in the world economy. In the United States, for example, cross-national comparisons have contributed to the formation of A Nation at Risk: An Imperative for Educational Reform, and both cross-national comparisons and within-nation cultural variations have spurred the stipulation of The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

As a consequence of education reform driven by the need for cross-cultural understanding and intercultural competence, curriculum development increasingly focuses on social construction and use of technology in diverse cultural contexts (Koller, 1995; Dede, 1995). Today, when cultures meet computer and Internet technologies in education, researchers start to rethink computer-mediated communication according to international and intercultural communication expectations (St. Amant, 2002). For example, online communication technology enhances cross-cultural communication (St. Amant, 2002), and "culture of the artificial" enables individuals (or groups) from two different cultural spaces to create a third artificial cultural space in which to meet and share and pool their common cultural experiences for a common purpose, while recognizing and accepting their cultural differences as a further resources for cross-cultural learning-valorizing of cultures (Gill, 2007). Educators have been developing cross-cultural instructional design using modern technologies such as e-mail, Internet, and computer simulations (Davis, Cho, & Hagenson, 2005). Meanwhile, the evolution of constructivist learning environments enables immersion in distributed virtual worlds such as those based on computer games and simulations (Dede, 1995).

Although technology advancements put enormous promises into the design and delivery of immersive cross-cultural learning environments, the marriage between technology and education does not necessarily ensure the learning effectiveness of such environments due to several major challenges.

The first challenge might be the logistic issues that many institutions and organizations encounter when utilizing technology to create cross-cultural programs, especially when those programs span across countries or cultural groups that are geographically, economically and ideologically different. In addition, Davis, Cho, and Hagenson (2005) point out that the disparity of organizational cultures and languages can be hindrances in designing an activity that fit with cross-cultural programs. Cole (2005) articulates that schooling is only one institution in a vast complex of culturally organized institutional system while changing only one part of the system without changing other parts is at best a risky enterprise. Moreover, as in the case of the introduction of modern schooling into agrarian low-technology societies, one has to consider the costs as well as the benefits (Cole, 2005, p. 211).

The second issue in the delivery of cross-cultural programs is related to the cultural identity. In line with Hall's context theory that puts cultures into high-context (e.g., Chinese, Mexican, and Japanese cultures) and low-context (e.g., American culture) categories, St. Amant (2002) argues that for some cultures identity is essential to knowing how to interact or what to say in a given context. Therefore, in some non-traditional technology-based learning environments such as online discussion and simulation, virtual communication reduces cues of cultural identity and patterns of behavior (Davis, Cho, & Hagenson, 2005). Moreover, failingto address points of contention will cause adoption of culture-specific online communication practices that may result in miscommunication or financial loss (St. Amant, 2002, p. 207).

The third challenge has to do with the cultural supremacy in a U.S.- and European-dominant world. For example, the use of WebCT contributes to the overpowering influence of the US culture in the academy (Davis, Cho, & Hagenson, 2005, p. 388). In some respects the issue of within-country variation in culture and education is the historical consequence of the very factors that produced the spread of European-style education in the first place (Cole, 2005, p. 212). In addition, several practices associated with American uses of cyberspace conflict with certain cultural expectations (St. Amant, 2002).

Last but not least, three orders of gap of rationality (conceptual gap, design competency, and application gap) can lead to severe breakdown and disruptions of interaction (Gill, 2007, pp. 642-643). Reductionist logic reduces culture to a technical artifact, thereby reducing cross-cultural interface to a technical interface (p. 644).

Model practices enable us to innovate more effectively and to disseminate our current practice. This approach is appropriate for spreading practice that is sensitive and adaptable to multiple cultures and contexts, locally and globally (Davis, Cho, & Hagenson, 2005, p. 391). Based on the above context and understanding, we turn to examine the various models of technology-based cross-cultural learning.

Technology-Based Cross-Cultural Learning Models

We examine seven technology-based cross-cultural learning models in this section. By name the criteria of the model selection are two-pronged. The first prong is the learning goal, which, in our case, should be in accordance with promoting intercultural competence. The second prong is the delivery of the model, which should be technology-based. Using these criteria, I selected six models from the literature. The first four are web-based while the rest two are simulation/game-based.

Hong Kong-Australia Transnational Videoconferencing (Morgan, 2005)

This model used IP videoconferencing technology to connect two groups of business students from two universities, one in Hong Kong and the other in Australia. The goal was to “broaden interactions beyond the classroom and engage with those who might consider the same issues from a different cultural perspective” (p. 1). The preparation and instructional strategies of the model were carefully guided by Reed and Woodruff’s (1995, cited in Morgan, 2005) framework of using videoconferencing technology for teaching as the program planners and instructors set the expectations pertinent to the technical factors the students will encounter, engaged students with variety and interaction to keep interest and motivation high, reduce distractions by the technology, and encourage dialogue between the groups by making them feel comfortable.

The program planners scheduled two class videoconferences two weeks apart in which the students reviewed a different business case study on each occasion. Students from both universities were given the same case materials. The plan was for students from Hong Kong to present their analysis of the first case study to their counterparts in Australia, who were expected to respond to the analysis provided to them and to interrogate the presenters. For the second videoconference the roles were reversed.

The Inter/Intra and Cross Cultural Teaching Portal (ICCTP) (Tettegah, 2005)



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