This chapter addresses the question, “How can we overcome potential cultural discontinuities in online collaborative project-based learning environments?” The authors first identify differing worldviews, communication practices, and technological issues that can present barriers that frequently arise in intercultural online courses. They then identify constructivist project-based teaching strategies that reduce these intercultural barriers. Differing worldviews can be reconciled by fostering collaboration, grouping, relevance, and metacognition. Communication barriers can be minimized by attention to language and community building. Technological problems can be reduced by using asynchronous communication, simplifying online communication systems, and providing technical training and ongoing technical support. The chapter concludes with a model for a polycentric culture that minimizes differences among individuals in terms of their worldviews, communication practices, and technological issues.
Intercultural Online Learning Contexts
Intercultural communication is described as the “study of distinct cultural or other groups in interaction with each other” (Scollon & Scollon, 2001, p. 539). The requirement for learners in culturally and linguistically diverse environments to communicate effectively with the instructor and with each other involves intercultural communication. Wilson (2001) charges that contact between persons who describe themselves differently can lead to cultural discontinuities.
Cultural discontinuities are obstacles in cross-cultural educational interfaces, brought about by “a lack of contextual match between the conditions of learning and a learner’s sociocultural experiences” (Wilson, 2001, p. 52). We have classified the following intercultural factors that impact online learning: (a) worldviews as reflected by cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 1997); (b) communication practices reflected in high and low context communication (Hall, 1976) and in cognition patterns (Tharp, 1989); and (c) technological issues.