The challenges and benefits posed by diverse student populations in the online classroom.
One of the best aspects about teaching in the online realm is the opportunity to engage with a diverse student population. The online modality has increased the ability for many individuals to communicate with people from other cultures. As technologies improve, cross-cultural communication will become more assessable, and the need to develop cross-cultural communication acumen will like gain primacy. Moreover, as online education continues to expand into new and emerging markets, the ability for online faculty to engage diverse populations and develop cross-cultural communication skills will become ever more salient.
There are many challenges associated with cross-cultural communication, however. While this type of communication can be difficult in a face-to-face setting, the online milieu often enhances such difficulties. As Hannon and D'Netto (2007) indicated, communication is essentially cultural, in which non-verbal cues, shared backgrounds, and embedded presumptions are crucial factors toward effective communication. Cultural identity helps to form an individual's expectations and perceptions concerning communication. As Hooker (2003) noted, there are critical differences between cultures about formality, word choice, power-distance, the use of colloquialisms, and the use of time (monochromatic verse polychromatic).
Online faculty should therefore be cognizant of the diverse populations they are teaching. Although the traditional approach to online teaching concerning cultural diversity has been to create culturally neutral online environments, research has indicated the best approach is to tailor communication to a student's culture (Hannon & D'Netto, 2007). Specifically, pedagogical paradigms should be flexible to accommodate students from diverse cultural backgrounds. While certain cultures may reward students for being provocative and positing their thoughts openly, other cultures may value conformity and upholding the status quo (Hooker, 2003). Online instructors should consider this when responding to student's posts, whereby students from more open cultures might need guidance about how they direct their thoughts, students from more reserved cultures may need their instructor to prompt them to share more in-depth.
The curial point is to move beyond a culturally neutral mindset toward a paradigm that encourages students to embrace their differences in order to create a genuine dialogue within the classroom setting. Online faculty should strive to create an inclusive and inviting classroom environment that accommodates the diverse backgrounds of their students. By creating such an environment, students can benefit as they begin to discover there are many different, and relevant, ways to view complex issues. This helps to create a space in which holistic learning can take place, which benefits the student as they receive a more diverse education and learn how to function in a culturally diverse marketplace, and the faculty benefit as they learn new ways of teaching prescribe material.
Hannon, J. & D'Netto, B. (2007). Cultural diversity online: Student engagement with learning technologies. International Journal of Educational Management, 5. 418-432. doi:10.1108/09513540710760192
Hooker, J. (2003). Working Across Cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.