A Framework for Engaging Language Learners in the Online Constructivist Classrooms

A Framework for Engaging Language Learners in the Online Constructivist Classrooms

Sarah Mitchell (Cleveland State University, USA) and Widad Mousa (Cleveland State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7286-2.ch010

Abstract

The traditional Westernized constructivist approach to online teaching will need modifications due to the proliferation of multicultural online classrooms. Instructional designers and teachers must uncover their own unconscious biases to foster a culturally sensitive learning environment. To discover discrepancies, the teacher must learn about and understand diverse cultures. With this knowledge, the teacher will be able to adapt their teaching skills to different populations. The employment of culturally sensitive techniques in the online constructivist model will promote a sense of belonging for all students.
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Introduction

As globalization increases, both social and professional communication between people from different countries will take place in an instantaneous manner. Knowing and understanding different cultures and languages is highly beneficial in the globalized market. The best way to acquire a new language or culture is to immerse oneself in it (Brown, 2007). For example, students can enroll in international classes. According to Zong and Batalova (2016, para. 1):

In 2013, the United States hosted more of the world’s 4.1 million international students than any other country. The next two destinations, the United Kingdom and Australia, hosted 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

In the U.S., students also travel abroad to become more culturally competent. “Nationally, the number of U.S. students studying abroad for credit during the 2015-2016 academic year grew 3.8 percent from 313,415 students to 325,339 students” (NAFSA, 2018, para.1). Although this data is not specific to the online platform, it shows an increasing trend of language learners in higher education.

Online classes are routinely offered in the college setting; it is assumed that language learners will be in these classes. According to Friedman (2016), there are more than 6.3 million undergraduate students in 4,700 colleges enrolled in an online class. To accommodate for students from across the globe, teachers must diversify their teaching strategies to produce a culturally sensitive learning environment.

With proliferation of technology, the world has been condensed. Students can easily log into their computer to enter a classroom a continent away. In turn, the online classroom has become more diverse. Traditional research of the online educational environment has focused on classroom pedagogy. There is minimal research on how cultural backgrounds affect the online learning process. Teachers have their own cultural preferences and unconscious bias toward learning styles and student expectations. Often, the instructor assumes that these preferences resemble those of the learners. This assumption can have “a profound effect on their educational outcomes” (Gibbons, 2007, p. 166).

Learning styles and expectations are connected to an individual’s background (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). To develop an inclusive multicultural online platform, the class instructor must understand the language learners’ cultural backgrounds and learning preferences. A culturally responsive online class considers the cultural diversity represented among the learners. To create and sustain a culturally responsive course, the class must be mindful of design, resources, assessments, and facilitation methods.

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Cultural Backgrounds Of Online Learners

It is impossible to list student learning styles, perceptions, and interactions related to varying societies. Some students may be accustomed to student-centered learning. Others may have learned via a highly structured deductive model. A list of learning traits can be exhaustive, including teacher roles, student roles, assignments, and assessment models. Instructors must recognize their own culture and teaching or learning assumptions. They must contrast these assumptions with other cultural teaching and learning norms to adapt their techniques (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010).

The online platform shrinks geographical distances between students. Therefore, the classroom can be filled with cultural beliefs from around the world. Adult language learners “enter the classroom with values and norms of their native cultural group” (Rhodes, 2017, p. 50). Knowing and understanding general characteristics of a students’ society can aid in the design of a culturally sensitive classroom. Students should be respected as individuals; stereotypes should not be formed based on country of origin.

The Hofstede model should be considered when designing and teaching a diverse online class. Learning styles and preferences are rooted in students’ cultural backgrounds. The instructor’s heightened sense of cultural awareness informs the content, assignments, and discussions. It will impact goals and objectives in a multicultural classroom. The constructivist online college classroom needs to be adapted and modified to be more inclusive for all societies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Language: The ability to communicate effectively by using receptive and productive skills in a culturally appropriate manner.

Online Classroom: A formal online setting that incorporates synchronous and/or asynchronous learning opportunities for language learners to actively interact with fellow learners. In this setting, students develop their language proficiency and gain cultural competence in the target language.

Constructivist Teaching: A pedagogy promoting students’ active involvement in their learning and knowledge construction through interactions in an authentic setting.

Language Learner: An adult learner who is acquiring an additional language and understanding of cultural traits using a formal online setting.

Learning Process/Styles: A language learner’s characteristics, learning styles, and traits that are culturally inspired and facilitate the acquisition of content domain knowledge and employment of metacognitive skills.

Multicultural Classroom: A diverse cohort of students with an array of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences.

Discussion: Formal student-student or student-teacher interactions to co-construct knowledge on a provided topic. This may be an informal interaction to build a sense of community in an online environment.

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