Cultural-Pedagogical Norms in Iranian Virtual Higher Education Institutions

Cultural-Pedagogical Norms in Iranian Virtual Higher Education Institutions

Davoud Masoumi (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) and Berner Lindström (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5023-7.ch004
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By discussing the cultural-pedagogically inscribed norms, this chapter argues that, regarding the design and implementation of e-learning from the perspective of globalization, it is critically important to recognize, understand, and thus take into account cultural situatedness. Such cultural-pedagogical norms are often taken for granted in educational settings. Drawing on the literature, this study presents a model of cultural-pedagogical paradigms in higher education in general and e-learning in particular. The authors use this model to explore cultural-pedagogical orientations in Iranian virtual institutions as an instance of a developing country. This is done from a comparative perspective, looking to the similarities and differences of teachers’ and learners’ points of view.
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Cultural discourses play an important role in shaping educational practices. They are embedded in a specific culture at different levels, from the individual level, the interpersonal level, to institutional, regional, and national levels. It could even be argued that education is important in “making” culture. This is, in specific ways, reflected in policy documents, curricular documents, and practical teaching and learning.

By reflecting prevalent ideas of good practice, the embedded cultural-pedagogical norms are seen as an “unanalyzed totality” (Dewey, 1925) that is embedded in every aspect of an educational system, and thus cannot be “ghettoized” (Henderson, 1996, p. 95). These norms and values, such as the role of the teacher, the nature of the tasks, the ways of communicating, and even the ways that physical artifacts are structured, inevitably shape educational activities and practices differently (cf. Olaniran, 2009; Selinger, 2004). In other words, the behavior of all of the actors in educational settings is affected by the cultural-pedagogical norms that surround them and the attitudes that they hold (Wild & Henderson, 1997).

Cultural-pedagogical norms refer to the shared patterns of behavior, understandings, and preferences in educational settings that guide the way teachers, students, and other actors approach learning and teaching, and also even more general educational issues such as organizing educational activities, ways of tackling educational problems, etc.

Educational technologies fulfil an important mediating function across cultures and generations. Such technologies work as ‘cultural amplifiers’, heightening cultural voices and norms that can transform human productivity by favouring specific cultural and cultural-pedagogical patterns in terms of communication, teaching, and learning strategies, etc. (cf. Crook, 1996; McLoughlin, 1999). On this premise, it can be argued that educational technologies are primary to educational development or change (Lipponen, 2002).

Reflecting advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs), higher education institutions across the globe are increasingly relying on ICT-based initiatives as solutions to their educational challenges (Lambropoulos & Romero, 2010). E-learning, blended learning/web-based learning, etc. are becoming an important part of higher education across the globe. In particular, e-learning is seen as a solution to the increasing demand of higher education in developing countries. The number of college students enrolled in online (virtual) programs in Iranian higher education institutions, as an example, has significantly increased in the last six years from 4 918 in 2007 to 19 000 in 2011.

Although the use of ICT in higher education institutions is growing extensively, there remain both technical and cultural challenges to its implementation. The cultural-pedagogical issues not only increase uncertainty within the e-learning environment, “but they also heighten the need for a culture-centered design and development” of the e-learning (Olaniran, Rodriguez, & Williams, 2010, p. 449). On the other hand, educational technologies cannot be passive structures, but rather evolve and develop a value and life of their own. Introducing technological products and services in education thus can challenge and even restructure education in other cultural settings, where those services and products are used.

In some cases, cultural and cultural-pedagogical challenges have resulted in the failure of educational institutions to achieve their goals (cf. Duncker, 2004; Ess, 2010; Postma & Postma, 2001). There have been many examples of technological products and services from North America, Australia, Great Britain, and Europe that were purchased but never used in Africa and Asia because the cultural-pedagogical norms built into the technology were not accepted (Gunawardena & McIsaac, 2004). Such challenges and dilemmas can even threaten the very survival of higher education institutions involved in e-learning (Coates, James, & Baldwin, 2005; Frand, 2000; Mok, 2005).

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