Foundations of cultural design in e-learning. Davoud Masoumi* Berner Lindström. Foundations of cultural design in e-learning - PDF

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Foundations of cultural design in e-learning Davoud Masoumi* Department of Education, University of Gothenburg Box 300, SE Gothenburg, Sweden, Fax:

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Foundations of cultural design in e-learning Davoud Masoumi* Department of Education, University of Gothenburg Box 300, SE Gothenburg, Sweden, Fax: *Corresponding author Berner Lindström Department of Education, University of Gothenburg Box 300, SE Gothenburg, Sweden, Fax: Abstract: This article is an attempt to investigate some conceptual underpinnings of cultural dimensions to the design and use of ICT based initiatives in educational settings, particularly in Eastern contexts like Iran, promoting a sociocultural perspective on education, instruction and learning. The article move progressively from clarifying fundamental issues about social and cultural factors on globalizations of education to definitional and operational considerations, and focused on several major issues: Understanding of Culture; Cultural considerations in designing and using ICT in e-learning; Cultural dimensions in E-learning; Characterizing some common traits in Eastern pedagogical cultures. By discussing the challenges and potential opportunities with preference to social and cultural factors in globalization of education, it was pointed that there are certain context-specific social and cultural factors indices - as well as educational attainments that affect the access to and use of its in developing countries. These factors / dimensions must be recognized and analyzed for the E-learning to be properly adapted and developed. Keywords: E-learning; instructional designing; Culture; Cultural dimensions; Eastern pedagogical culture; Developing countries; Iran Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Masoumi, Davoud and Lindstrom, Berner (2009) Foundations of cultural design in e-learning, Int. J. Internet and Enterprise Management, Vol.?, No.?, pp.?-?. 1 Biographical notes: Davoud Masoumi is PhD candidate at University of Gothenburg, Sweden since late He has been engaged in research in the areas of instructional technology and e-learning in higher education setting with a special interest in the enhancing quality of off-campus environments in developing countries social and cultural context. Currently, he is finalizing his thesis on enhancing quality in virtual campus in developing countries cultural - pedagogic context. Berner Lindström is professor of education at University of Gothenburg, Sweden and co-director of the Swedish national center of excellence LinCS. He has been serving as member of a number of governmental boards and committees in the field of distance and networked learning and higher education. His research interests is on technology mediated learning and the transformation of knowledge in contemporary society, both within the context of educational institutions and working life. 1. Introduction Educational reforms in developing countries like Iran are taking place in the context of a more general globalization (Carnoy, 1999). A part of this globalization is the development of a network society (Castells, 1996), with it s global interconnectedness and globalized knowledge. The networked society, building on technological advancement and new infrastructures, is an important context for the development of educational technologies and services across national and cultural boarder and for the educational practices on a national level. International trade in educational services in cross-cultural markets has expanded rapidly over recent years (Marginson, 2004; Rogers, Graham, & Mayes, 2007; Yadrick, Regian, Gomez, & Robertson-Schule, 1995). Educational services are one of twelve different kinds of services, which are negotiated at the WTO. Students studying abroad is the largest part of this. The spatial configuration of this mobility testifies to an increasingly differentiated and uneven global geography of education. Generally, students flow from East to West (Tawfik & Goodwin, 2004). However, providers of educational services are also delivering programs in other countries or providing programs on a global basis using modern information and communication technologies (e-learning) (Carrington, Meek, & Wood, 2007; Marginson, 2004). There is a widespread provision of programs, courses and qualifications by providers originating from, and in some cases operating, outside the students home country (Marginson, 2004). This global market, which is streams from West to East are undertaken in diverse ways including: Delivering mass higher education degree-based programs directly like Phoenix University, Establishing a Virtual University Network with partners from developed countries (with cooperation with local authorities) Exporting technologies, for example e-learning platforms, and educational materials, which are designed and furnished in developed countries for utilizing in domestic virtual universities. 2 ICT is at the core of this development. Technological advancement and the building of human capabilities are interrelated: each requires the development of the other for success and the rethinking [of] educational systems to meet the new challenges of technology (Edmundson, 2007, p. 99). Using e-learning is one way to increase access to education in general and technology education in particular, subsequently introducing new technologies, building new infrastructures and also improving technological literacy, on an individual and societal level. However, e-learning is a cultural artefact and as such it is infused with characteristics that reflect those of the designing culture (Downey et al., 2004; Edmundson, 2004; Henderson, 1996). In other words, any e-learning application will possess characteristics that reflect the culture of its originators, from the types of pedagogies they prefer to their cultural expectations and values. Educational services in general and e-learning in particular are important vehicles for cultural transformations in the globalization. Furthermore, globalization is dominantly grounded in Western culture, westernization (Al-Rfouh, 2006), and challenges existing cultures in developing countries in different ways. Cultural expectations and values in developing countries are influenced and challenged. However, there has been little focus on considering culture in developing educational products (Marginson, 2004). Accepting the view that culture is an integral part of every aspect of instructional design (Edmundson, 2003), it is important to consider social and cultural differences in designing and providing education and instruction (Collis, 1999). This is so not only for reasons of efficiency but also in order to promote a globalization that build on a recognition and appreciation of cultural differences. Socio-cultural theoretical approaches offer a foundation to consider culture as an integral part of the phenomenon of education, instruction and learning. According to Aykin, socio-cultural design needs to become a priority issue in designing and developing e-learning environments (Aykin, 2005). In a Vygotskian ((1978)) interpretation, the transformation of education as a cultural practice is fundamental to the transformation of society. Educational technologies as cultural media provide means for the propagation of cultural values in the transformation of these educational practices. They fulfil an important mediating function across cultures and generations. In the context of globalization they are both revolutionizing and conservative. People, as cultural agents, are at the core of this. Learners, teachers and other stakholders expectations about their lives, about the meaning of education, about knowing and learning significanly influence the shaping of the educational practices (Johari, Bentley, Tinney, & Chia, 2005). Correspondingly, there are a number of questions to be put by politicians, educators (educational developers, instructional designers, teachers etc.) and students in the developing world: How can educators in developing countries begin to see culture as an integral part of the designing and utilizing of new technologies? What changes in mindset, instructional practices, curriculum, and policy need to take place before utilizing ICT in education? How will the integration of culture be a contributing factor to improving the e-learning environments? Given questions like this, an important step is to identify and analyze social and cultural dimensions that may affect e-learning in different settings (Rogers et al., 2007). This article is an attempt to make a contribution to the development of a culturally sensitive approach to instructional design in general and the design of e-learning in particular. We do this by first examining some conceptual underpinnings for understanding culture as a phenomenon and to consider culture in the design of education. We review some of the literature relevant developing a methodology for the design of e-learning that 3 include a cultural analysis. We will then discuss some traits in Eastern pedagogical cultures, building on the research literature and on empirical work of our own. Lastly we will draw some general conclusions. 2. Understanding culture Definitions of culture like many other multi-definition concepts in humanity science are diverse, encompassing many aspects of human behaviour. The most common views on culture are based on the idea of culture as a set of value patterns that are shared across individuals and within groups (Szewczak, 2002). Hofstede (1997) defines culture as: patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting that all people carry within themselves (p. 9). He also describes culture as being reflected not only in the patterns of thinking, feeling and acting but also in the ordinary things in life: greeting, eating, showing or not showing feelings (Hofstede, 1997, p. 11). The source of this lies within the social environments in which people grow up and make their life experiences. According to Kashima (2000), some researchers, inspired by Vygotsky among others, see culture as a process of production and reproduction of meanings in particular actors concrete practices (or actions or activities) in particular contexts in time and space. Another point of view also announced by Kashima is that culture is a relatively stable system of shared meanings, a repository of meaningful symbols, which provides structure to experience (Kashima, 2000, 2004). Hofstede (2001) portrays the manifestations of culture as layers around a core of values. He proposed the metaphor of an onion to show how the various layers of culture relate to each other. In his view the outer layers of culture are more visible, superficial, and potentially changeable, whereas the inner layers involve elements that are less visible and change very slowly. Figure 1 Hofsted s Onion Model 4 Values Rituals Heroes Practices Symbols Adopted from Dunn & Marinetti (2007) Straub et al. (2002) take this a step further and use an analogy of a virtual onion, where the layers are permeable and do not have a given order or sequence, to convey the complexity and lack of predictability of an individuals cultural characteristics From a sociocultural perspective culture is seen as constituted in human practices, in continuous negotiations mediated by symbolic artefacts. Culture is something stable, but not static, at the same time as it is dynamic and changing over time. Furthermore, a persons cultural identity is something socially constructed and learned, not inherited. It is made up of experiences gained when growing up in his or her culture (Mushtaha & De Troyer, 2007). Culture viewed as a set of core values and patterns of thinking, feeling and acting (Ford & Kotzé, 2005) influence the way in which people communicate amongst themselves and with cultural artefacts, for example, e-learning systems, computer tools of different kinds or informational resources provided on the Internet. Culture affects how we think, how we act, how we respond to our environment, or in short who we are. And more specifically, how we view knowing and learning our personal epistemologies - is a part of our cultural identity. Sociocultural theorizing build on the premise that learning and knowing is socially and culturally situated (Bruner, 1996; Cole, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wertsch, 1991). Learning is situated in cultural practices (mostly institutional), permeated with cultural values and norms about knowing, learning, teaching, instruction and more generally education. These values and norms, inscribed in cultural practices, comprise what we can call an educational culture. 5 6 Foundations of cultural design in e-learning 3. Cultural considerations in design of e-learning Considering educational culture(s) in instructional design bringing culture to the nexus of discussions and enactments (i.e., what people do and how they do it) in designing e-learning, and seeking to align teaching and instruction to the cultural contexts of ethnically diverse learners challenges mainstream notions of teaching and learning. It should be clarified that culture itself cannot be objectified as just another factor to be programmed into designing e-learning environments. It is also more than simply helping learners with their identity or to help learners with examples that come from their own culture (Young, 2008a, 2008b). Culture is a fundamental dimension that permeats education on different levels, influencing design and use, as well as the different actors that are involved (for example designers, teachers, administrators, students) (Wild, 1999). The inclusion of a cultural dimension is thus a move to improve the quality of e-learning. According to Seufert (2002) the cultural impact on e-learning could looked upon from two core perspectives: design and use. This distinction is important for serveral reasons. As Wenger (1998) argued it is only possible to design for learning (for example by designing a technology, a curriculum, a method, a teaching learning material, a learning environment etc.) and not learning (or for that matter teaching) per se. As noted in the introduction E-learning models, technologies and curricula are often designed and developed in a different cultural context from where it is used. Whereas in one culture an educational product is very successful, for another culture it is not appropriate. Learning frameworks and software cannot be transferred in an isolated manner without its culture-related roots and the cultural context in which it is produced (Watson, Ho, & Raman, 1994). Apart from these considerations in designing, in the application of new e-learning environments should also be considered in terms of the immediate cultural differences that become apparent in the culture-based attitudes formed towards the use of technology (Van den Branden & Lambert, 1999) However, culture influences the acceptance and use of e-learning systems appears at different levels (Collis, 1999): society, organization, group, individual, and the subject matter discipline. Considering these different levels, the question is how more specifically to account for culture in the process of designing e-learning environments? What to look for and what to include? A vast number of pedagogical models of e-learning design have been provided in literature (Collis, 1999). Research by Hall (1981), Hofstede (1997), Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) and others have identified a number of dimensions of cultural variation, i.e. dimensions that appear in all cultures and in which cultures might differ. Hofstede (1997) in his studies identified five dimensions that can be used to distinguish different cultures. These dimensions relate to subjective culture. In cultures with a low-power distance index (PDI), like most of the European and North American countries, teachers and students tend to be perceived as equals. Teachers are not authoritative subject matter experts, but rather are facilitators of student-centred education. In high-pdi cultures, like most of Eastern countries such as Iran, teachers are authorities, and students not only do not question their knowledge but they see them as experts (Hofstede, 1997). Students in nations with a high- individualism index (IDV) expect to be treated as equals among peers and faculty, preferring to work as individuals and expecting recognition of individual merit. In contrast, members of collectivist societies depend on social relationships and may expect differential treatment based on their social class. Globally, collectivist societies are predominant (Hofstede, 1997). In cultures with a high-masculinity index (MAS), students compete openly, are achievement-conscious, and are disappointed by failure, whereas in a low-mas culture, teachers and students have more relaxed expectations. In cultures with a high uncertainty avoidance index (UAI), the teacher is regarded as an expert an unquestionable authority. Students prefer a structured learning environment, which is manifested through precise objectives, strict timetables, precise answers, and rewards for accuracy. In contrast, in low- UAI cultures, teachers act as facilitators of learning; students are comfortable with vague objectives, loose timetables, and multiple solutions to problems, and prefer to be rewarded for originality. Hofstede s fifth cultural dimension, long-term orientation (LTO), was theorized after his original 1984 study; he did not propose specific ramifications of this dimension in education. Selinger (2004) made a formative evaluation of the Cisco Networking Academy a web based course (developed in US) about installing and maintaining computers involving more than 300,000 students in 149 countries. She discovered widely differing use of the same online materials in different cultures. For example, student in Sweden and Denmark were encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning than those in France. The Scandinavians had grater autonomy, collaborated more, and relied less on the tutors than those in France, where there were little group work or peer support. These finding are broadly consistent with Hofstede s terms: more feminine (low MAS); low power distance (low PDI); and lower in uncertainty avoidance (low UAI) in Sweden and Denmark than in France. Despite the fact that it is widely referred to, Hofstede s work has been subject to extensive criticism. His cultural dimensions ignore important characteristics of culture such as religiosity, language, history and context (Yeganeh & Su, 2006). Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) described eight cultural dimensions at the national level. Each of their dimensions, like Hofstede s, was described as a continuum bounded by two extreme, opposing characteristics. Unlike Hofstede, they rarely speculated about the implications of cross-cultural dimensions in education (Edmundson, 2006). In their first main category, Relationships and Rules, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998) identified five dimensions. Universalism vs. particularism relates to the balance between rules and relationships. Universalists tend to adhere to rules, whereas particularists regard rules as flexible guidelines over which relationships typically take precedence. The individualism vs. communitarianism dimension, similar to Hofstede s IDV, refers to the tendency to perceive oneself primarily either as an individual or as a member of a group. 7 Members of affective vs. neutral cultures may be, respectively, emotionally expressive or emotionally detached and objective, in verbal or non-verbal communication. The specific vs. diffuse dimension accounts for the degree and level of interaction between people. Members of specific cultures tend to use direct and purposeful communication, while diffuse cultures tend to be less direct, often to the point of appearing evasive. The achieved status vs. ascribed status dimension relates to whether a culture accords status based on accomplishments or according to markers of group membership. This dimension shares characteristics
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