Culturally Significant Signs, Symbols, and Philosophical Belief Systems within E-Learning Environments

Culturally Significant Signs, Symbols, and Philosophical Belief Systems within E-Learning Environments

Caroline M. Crawford (University of Houston, Clear Lake, USA) and Ruth Gannon Cook (DePaul University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1885-5.ch011
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The contextual backdrop of the problem and goal of the study are based within the framework that the researchers wanted to be sure that the courses were unique in their appropriateness to their respective cultures; but they also wanted to see if the course adaptations provided cultural values and perspectives that were fairly consistent and appropriate across cultures and nations. The methodology is qualitative in nature, specifically focused upon development design research and narrative inquiry. The findings suggest that there were several levels of concern: learner concerns; instructional design or teaching concerns; management and organizational concerns; and, technology concerns. This study has addressed the question “what lessons could be learned from semiotic and philosophical instructional imperatives inclusion within e-learning environments?” As such, the interpretation of the findings of the study shed light on the importance of simple mediation tools, such as signs, symbols, and stories. The implications of the findings indicate that more research could shed light on how to help students feel comfortable enough to follow through and complete their e-learning courses. In viewing best practices for e-learning, students’ existent knowledge can be bridged with what they need to know by using a variety of the semiotic tools discussed in this study.
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Organization Background

The two universities that were the focus of this study significantly differ in size, and situation, but with similar missions with respect to their commitment to student success. Each has also committed to the success of their electronic learning (e-learning) programs. The priorities within each of the organizations are the design, development and implementation of the e-learning environments and the successful integration of the subject matter for the learner. One of the aspects also considered critical to the program’s success was the impact of the underlying philosophical belief systems of the instructional designers, the instructors, and the universities. All of these factors needed to congeal into cohesive interactive e-learning environments and the researchers discovered that this seemed to occur more readily when there was a concerted effort to integrate semiotic representations, specifically the metaphorical representations meant to frame and support the learner’s conceptual framework of understanding within the e-learning environment.

The first university (University A) is a smaller regional public university in the southwestern area of the United States of America. The primary focus of University A, at this point in time, is primarily upon graduate studies. Its mission is noted as being:

… an upper-level educational institution with a distinct identity, whose primary role is to provide fair and equitable learning opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students. The University serves a diverse student population from the state, the nation and abroad… by offering programs on and off campus.

The University’s faculty, staff, and administrators are committed to providing a humane, responsive, and intellectually stimulating environment for productive learning and working. The “University A” emphasizes (a) learning through teaching, research, scholarship, and professional and community service; (b) the advancement of knowledge; (c) delivery of educational opportunities through new instructional technologies and through distance learning; (d) a commitment to high academic standards; (e) sensitivity to the needs of the students and communities served by the institution; and (f) above all, integrity in all institutional functions. (University of Houston-Clear Lake, 2008, para. 1, 4)

The second university (University B) is a larger private university in the north central area of the United States of America. The primary focus of University B is upon student learning success within undergraduate and graduate studies. The mission is noted as being:

… in common with all universities, is dedicated to teaching, research, and public service. However, in pursuing its own distinctive purposes, among these three fundamental responsibilities this university places highest priority on programs of instruction and learning. All curricula emphasize skills and attitudes that educate students to be lifelong, independent learners.… provides sufficient diversity in curricular offerings, personal advisement, student services, and extracurricular activities to serve students who vary in age, ability, experience, and career interests. Full-time and part-time students are accorded equivalent service and are held to the same academic standards.

In meeting its public service responsibility, the university encourages faculty, staff and students to apply specialized expertise in ways that contribute to the societal, economic, cultural and ethical quality of life in the metropolitan area and beyond. When appropriate … develops service partnerships with other institutions and agencies. (DePaul University, 1991, para. 1, 4)

The two university missions demonstrate their underlying concerns associated with the developing importance of e-learning environments As such, the stated mission of each university offers a compatible starting point from which to view the information framed throughout the remaining of the discussion.

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