The Effect of Cultural Differences and Educational Technology on Distance Education in the South Pacific

The Effect of Cultural Differences and Educational Technology on Distance Education in the South Pacific

Jonathan Frank (Suffolk University, USA) and Janet Toland (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch111
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Abstract

Innovations in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the development of global-knowledge- based economies are presenting higher-education institutions throughout the developing world with both opportunities and challenges. New opportunities for remotely located institutions are opening up, but the challenge is to ensure that these innovations can be utilized in a culturally appropriate manner at the local level. Despite a relatively low population base, the scattered geography of the South Pacific region has resulted in wide cultural variations between the different island groups. This makes the South Pacific an ideal region in which to explore the impact of cultural differences on online learning. This research investigates the opportunities offered by online learning; the focus is on the use of e-mail as a mechanism for encouraging Web-based interaction among students in two distance-education institutions with a culturally and geographically diverse student body.
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Introduction

Innovations in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the development of global-knowledge-based economies are presenting higher-education institutions throughout the developing world with both opportunities and challenges. New opportunities for remotely located institutions are opening up, but the challenge is to ensure that these innovations can be utilized in a culturally appropriate manner at the local level. Despite a relatively low population base, the scattered geography of the South Pacific region has resulted in wide cultural variations between the different island groups. This makes the South Pacific an ideal region in which to explore the impact of cultural differences on online learning. This research investigates the opportunities offered by online learning; the focus is on the use of e-mail as a mechanism for encouraging Web-based interaction among students in two distance-education institutions with a culturally and geographically diverse student body.

Subjects were drawn from business information systems and computer information technology classes at the University of the South Pacific and Central Queensland University. Three research questions were addressed:

  • 1.

    Does cultural background affect the extent to which distance-education students use e-mail to communicate with educators and other students for academic and social reasons?

  • 2.

    Does cultural background affect the academic content of e-mail messages from distance-education students?

  • 3.

    Does cultural background influence distance-education students’ preference to ask questions or provide answers using e-mail instead of face-to-face communication?

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Background

Cultural differences and online interaction is an active research area. The literature is broad and scattered and often focuses on the social effects of interactions, including online community building (Winiecki, 2003). Chase, Macfadyen, Reeder, and Roche (2002) reported on differences in online exchanges between culturally diverse students and teachers. Their findings suggested that attitudes towards person-to-person communication using new communications technologies vary greatly between cultures.

A Brazilian online learner wrote: “My perceptions of behavioral norms included being a listener and nurturer, rather than a critical thinker…I held assumptions about learning that were characterized by a teacher-centered approach with the design of instruction controlled by the instructor and learner performance influenced by the consent of the authority figure.” (Conceição, 2002, pp. 37-45).

Dunn and Marinetti (2002) suggest that “although learners in Chile, Zimbabwe, Australia, Switzerland and the Ukraine might all be wearing Nike trainers, listening to U2, eating burgers and browsing on Internet Explorer, the key aspects of their cultural identity - including how they learn - remain fundamentally different.”

Fay and Hill (2003, pp. 9-27) were concerned with understanding the connection or intersections of the larger (culturist) and the smaller (operationist) dimensions of online distance-education cultures designed and taught from one cultural perspective to another, and warned of the dangers of “the inter-institutional ‘transplant’ of courseware (with inherent ‘tissue rejection’ risks)”. In a study of culturally diverse distance learners, Lauzon (2002) found that “a sense of marginalization, sometimes even alienation, was palpable.” Students experienced dissonance out of conflict with the dominant educational culture. Merryfield (2003) used “cultural consultants” to assist with her online global education course at a university in the U.S. found that they increased the participating international learners’ sense of engagement and transactional presence.

There have been a number of papers that have examined the impact of cultural diversity and group interaction in computer-mediated communication environments (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998). Hofstede’s (1991) well-known model categorizes different cultures according to five pairs of dimensions (Figure 1)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Container Model: Knowledge flows directly from the teacher to the learner, independently of the learner’s environment.

Cultural Diversity: The way that people have different values and attitudes depending on where they were born and the society that brought them up.

Online Group Interaction: The use of computer-mediated communication, such as e-mail, chat, or a threaded discussion, by a group to communicate for the purposes of carrying out a task.

Enactment: Knowledge only takes on meaning as it interacts with the learner’s environment.

Long-Term Orientation: This refers to a societies attitude towards time; do they tend to plan for a long or a short-term time horizon.

Individualism/Collectivism: An individualist society is one where each person is expected to be self-sufficient and look after themselves and their immediate family. A collectivist society is one where every person is a member of a group, and loyalty is to that group. Typically, in an individualist society, any money earned will be kept by the individual that earns it, whereas in a collectivist society earnings will be shared amongst the group

Power Distance: Power distance refers to the way authority figures are perceived. In countries with a high power distance, a leader is an authoritarian figure or a benevolent dictator and their authority will not be questioned. In a low power distance country individuals are prepared to argue with leaders, who must be able to justify their decisions

Virtual Peer: An online peer from a student’s own culture who can provide a local example

Migratory Knowledge: Knowledge that can travel directly from teacher to learner without changing in form or substance

Wiki: A Web site or similar online resource that allows users to add and edit content collectively.

Digital Scrapbook: Students copy portions of text, images, and video into scrapbooks, and add their own summaries to use for individual study

Uncertainty Avoidance: This is how a society reacts to change or something that is unknown; a society with a high uncertainty avoidance will resist anything that is different.

Social Construction: In this model of learning, knowledge, cognition, action, and communication are seen as inseparable.

Masculinity/Femininity: Societies that are masculine would favor values such as assertiveness, competitiveness, and toughness. Societies with a more feminine focus would be more nurturing, cooperative, and concerned with the quality of life.

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