Due to the increasingly widespread use of various information and communication technologies (ICT), individuals from different countries and cultures are able to learn and work collaboratively in virtual environments (Mowshowitz, 1997). Electronic communication tools, such as chat, e-mail, and the World Wide Web, now make it possible for students and employees to communicate and problem solve with colleagues irrespective of geographical location (Scott, 2000). One of the major downsides of this form of collaboration, though, is that members of a virtual team do not have the advantage of face-to-face interaction and communication. Instead they must rely solely upon an assortment of computer-supported cooperative-learning and class-work tools and strategies—some planned, some ad hoc—to coordinate resources (Bichelmeyer, Cagiltay, Evans, Paulus, & An, 2004). Unfortunately, little research has been conducted to systematically investigate the dialectic between culture and computermediated communication (CMC). There is currently an insufficient understanding of how individual learning and work, cultural features, and CMC mutually influence one another in a purposeful, virtual setting.
Culture And Collaboration
Culture is a loaded term because much damage can be done when thoughtfulness, respect, and care are not prime goals. When handled appropriately, the concept of culture permits researchers and practitioners traction on the intangible aspects of coordinated activity among individuals comprising national or professional collectives. At its worst, it becomes an instrument for the clumsy manipulation or management of an important aspect of collaborative learning and work. In an unsophisticated way, culture is used as a “glue” to homogenize different views. With tact, it can be used to appreciate the heterogeneous values and norms of peoples of the world. It is in this sense that the term is loaded. However, if we are to make progress in bringing together individuals from different nations to learn and work together, a better understanding of the characteristics and nature of this phenomenon is unavoidable.
To begin, scientific research on culture, as we conceptualize the term today, began in the 19th century. In 1871 English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (1871, p. 1) defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” The distinguished American anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s definition of culture is perhaps the most well-known. Geertz (1973, p. 89) defines culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men (sic) communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.”
According to some researchers (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Geertz, 1973), culture is the background set of assumptions and values that structure our existence and orient us through the events of our lives. Cultural elements can only be learned by living in a society for an extended period of time. Often, many people unconsciously hold certain cultural beliefs, and this may easily cause unintended conflicts among people from different cultures (Hambrick, Davison, Snell, & Snow, 1998).