Reminders

Cross-Cultural Teaching

By Eric Nordin – November 13, 2013
OfflinePhoto of Eric Nordin

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.

Thanks,

Eric

Reference:

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.

 

About the author

Eric Nordin

Online Full Time FacultyGrand Canyon University

4 Comments

OfflinePhoto of Mike Richardson Mike Richardson said 21 months ago

Eric,

You make a number of interesting points regarding cross-cultural communication in the classroom. I appreciate the effort to sensitize us to this important issue. You identify a couple of significant cultural issues including approach to time and directness of communication. These are helpful for illustrative purposes and to help us to begin to realize we do not all perceive or understand even such basic issues in similar ways. Having an event or a chronological approach to the passage of time makes a significant difference in terms of expectations. Having a communal or an individual approach to life changes how we evaluate work and people, and how we determine what is and isn't important and what constitutes good character.

I am curious though, you bring up the idea of a culturally neutral mindset and approach. I can sure understand someone believing that they are engaged in a culturally neutral approach, and that is a misconception we should try to alert them to. Their approach indicates that they are unaware of their own cultural bias. Since culture is context, and everyone has a context, it is impossible for anyone to actually be culturally neutral, monocultural yes, but neutral no. All of our material and our approach in the online classroom is already biased toward a specific culture, notably the dominant cultural claims of the United States, and perhaps most of Europe. As a result, and to some extent, we are required to demand conformity to our cultural norms for education . I don't think this requires that we avoid being sensitive and responsive to our multicultural context. We should recognize the cultural implications of postmodernism in our classrooms, for example, and try to help students to bridge the gap with the tendency for curriculum to reflect modernity. 

A huge challenge for us in teaching such topics as Christian Worldview is to bridge some of the hot cultural topics of the day that have their root in the strong values of tolerance, pluralism and relativism so prominent in our present day North American culture. This reflects the challenge  to help our multigenerational classes dialogue constructively when some are clearly modern in their mindset and others are postmodern. With the magnitude of culture shifts facing us today we need flexibility of thought that should translate into our teaching.

You have indeed raised some fascinating issues that should be dealt with for us to be inclusive and assist all of our learners to engage effectively.

Thanks,

Mike


OfflinePhoto of Eric Nordin Eric Nordin said 21 months ago

Hello Mike:

Thank you for your thoughtful and edifying reply to my blog. You bring up many interesting aspects of the difficulties associated with attempting to teach, much less communicate, in a cross-cultural manner. Your point about the perils of attempting to be culturally neutral are well founded. Coming from a constructivist paradigm, our perceptions develop through our interactions with our society; thus, attempting to create a culturally neutral classroom is most likely foolhardy. My point, and Hannon and D'Netto's (2007), was we need to move beyond the idea of cultural neutrality toward a paradigm of cultural inclusion. Instructors and students come into the classroom with their own cultural biases, explicit and implicit, and bringing these biases forward can help create a more open and inclusive classroom setting. Given that those with a Western-orientation create the pedagogy, design, and policies of the online classroom, we need to pay special attention to students who may have a different orientation. In addition, we can localize this concept within the US as students from different regions may hold different values and ideas about how a classroom should operate, and how teachers should lead within the classroom and interact with their students. The critical point I am striving for, and attempting to integrate, in my classes is to consider a student's background and cultural orientation during instructor-student interactions.

Thanks,

Eric  


OfflinePhoto of Mike Richardson Mike Richardson said 21 months ago

Well done, Eric. I really like how you provided the context and clarified the points. The idea of pursuing a culture of inclusion is important, though I might suggest that the effort will find clearer application if we think in terms of a value of inclusion rather than a culture of inclusion. If we think in terms of a culture of inclusion I think we are in danger of using the word culture a in two different ways in close proximity which could confuse the issue. If we value inclusion we will work hard at understanding the cultural biases present in our own thinking, our pedagogy, and our course design and measurements. This seems to be exactly where you are heading with the latter part of your response. I greatly appreciate the inclusive heart, the awareness of cultural bias and the willingness to build a bridge to those students who are making an effort to learn in a cross-cultural environment.

Mike


OfflinePhoto of Eric Nordin Eric Nordin said 21 months ago

Hello Mike:

I think you bring up an excellent point about the differences, or rather the confusion, which can arise from an inclusion paradigm. Although a culture of inclusion may sound desirable, the issue of cultural relativism may become present, in which all aspects of a culture (the good and the bad) receive equal standing. Conversely, the value of inclusion is more discerning, whereas cultural differences are included as relevant and important, but there is more discernment about the differences between cultures. I think this concept can apply to inter-religious dialogue as well. While communication between individuals of faith is certainly important, when we dismiss the differences between faiths in order to achieve some type of commonality, we come to a superficial understanding of the respective faiths without achieving a genuine understanding.

Thanks,

Eric


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November 13, 2013

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