|Home > McConnell|
Networked Learning and Interculturality: Perspectives on Working in Intercultural Contexts
Symposium convenor: David McConnell
Increasingly, higher education is becoming the setting for intercultural education, where those involved are often from different cultures and may therefore hold different beliefs, values and expectations about the nature of learning, teaching, scholarship and research. Higher education institutions in many "westernised" countries now recruit large numbers of students from overseas: these students are a significant source of funds for these universities. Accommodating international students into 'local' higher education settings is therefore a challenge to many HE teachers. Requiring overseas students to merely 'integrate' into the local HE culture is unlikely to be the answer. Moving to forms of interculturally sensitive learning and teaching practices is more likely to prove acceptable to the overseas students as well as being practically and perhaps also ethically acceptable to the teachers and universities involved. Teachers and students alike have to develop new forms of cultural communication. This is the focus of this symposium.
This symposium will look at Networked Learning in the emerging and important context of intercultural learning where teachers and students from different cultural settings are working in geographically dispersed contexts. The six papers making up this symposium consider the nature of culture and interculturality from a variety of different but inter-related perspectives:
Banks, McConnell and Bowskill consider a recent online intercultural course where students and tutors came from the UK and China, and where the course design explicitly tried to provide an integrated and purposeful intercultural experience for all involved (see http://csalt.lancs.ac.uk/echina). They consider the possibility of teachers and students developing what some call 'intercultural' competence in these educational settings, and ask the question is that possible?
Bowskill, McConnell and Banks examine the same course but from the perspective of tutor development and integration. Against a literature background of little if any practical and theoretical understanding of how to develop online course tutors for participating in a virtual, intercultural course they suggest that a reflective 'space' in which the online tutors can communicate and share practical and theoretical experiences is a good way forward.
McConnell, Bowskill and Banks (again in the same context) consider higher education teachers conceptions of e-learning in the UK and in China. Their interest here stems from their experience of working over several years in the Sino-UK eChina e-learning programme during which they developed Masters level online courses. During this period they came to realise that intercultural exchanges in course development between the UK and China were paramount, and that it was necessary for all those involved to understand each other's conceptions of learning and teaching in order to ensure high levels of authentic course development.
Reynolds considers the case of international students, the application of participative methods in teaching and the possibility of greater cultural differences at play. The paper examines the experience of teaching multinational students in cooperative learning contexts, and considers the consequences of different research approaches in interpreting the meaning of these experiences.
Trehan's paper focuses on the adoption of a critical psychodynamic approach to our understanding of collaborative assessment processes in networked learning which have the aim of supporting diversity and difference. Her aim is to illuminate the dynamics of these processes, and by doing so show how little these processes do in reality support diversity and difference.
In Zhang's paper we return to the context of the Sino-UK e-learning programme. Here, the experiences of Chinese students taking the course are examined. Despite a prior belief that the technology of the virtual learning environment and the need to communicate in English might impede Chinese students' capacity to take part in the course and learn, Zhang shows that in fact this was not the case. She says that he major factors impeding these students ability to participate in the course was their wish to save "face" in their online communications, and their belief in the authority of the text and the teacher. The implications of this for the design and implementation of intercultural online courses is considered by the author.
Nicholas Bowskill, David McConnell, Department of Educational
Research, Lancaster University, Nicholas.Bowskill@gmail.com, David.McConnell@Lancaster.ac.uk,
We review the use of an online shared journal in the tutor forum of an intercultural online course. We argue this represents a new methodological approach to collaborative reflective practice in action and on action. This is also an important response to the call by Boud (2006) to create reflective practices that recognise team work and a course context. We describe the use of this approach in an online course with a tutor team made of 3 Chinese and 3 UK tutors. The two major features of the changing context of practice are firstly those associated with its collective rather than individual nature, and secondly its multidisciplinary or often transdisciplinary character. (Boud 2006).
Sheena Banks, School of Education, University of Sheffield,
This paper discusses findings from a research study of a Sino-UK online
course about the impact of intercultural understanding of e-learning in
an online course, involving UK and Chinese higher education practitioners
that was jointly designed by a UK and Chinese team. This topic is important
because of current policy trends where technology has become one of the
key drivers of globalization. Drawing on research data from computer mediated
communication in the course, the paper considers processes and factors
related to course design that may foster or impede intercultural understanding.
The main conclusion of the paper is that course design has an important
impact on the successful outcomes of intercultural e-learning, particularly
a course design that creates an online learning community where learners
can build social relationships and trust to share knowledge, values and
goals that facilitate collaborative learning about cultures. Emerging
findings are that styles of computer mediated communication can enhance
or adversely affect intercultural e-learning and a strong link between
social presence and learner support is needed. Finally, the paper identifies
the need for more research for the development of good practice.
David McConnell, Lancaster University; Nicholas Bowskill, Lancaster University; Sheena Banks, Sheffield University
The focus of this paper is on conceptions of learning and teaching in
the context of a cross-national, Sino-UK project funded by Hefce that
is examining the design and impact of e-learning, and e-learning delivery,
in China and the UK. The central aim of this project is to consider teacher
beliefs and conceptions in both countries, and how they impact on e-learning
pedagogic practice. The paper discusses the findings from two large-scale
interview studies of teachers' conceptions of e-learning. One study was
conducted in China and involved interviewing 20 higher education teachers
and other personnel about their conceptions of e-learning and teaching.
The other study was carried out in the UK, and involved interviewing 15
higher education teachers about their conceptions of e-learning.
There is currently considerable interest in understanding international students’ experience of higher education in English speaking settings and the increase in numbers of students visiting the UK for undergraduate and postgraduate education has made tutors more aware of the problems they and their students encounter – from dealing with language to adjusting to different educational and social customs. A particular aspect of this interest is the interconnection between the international classroom and the application of participative methods in that the increased interaction such methods involve make difference of any kind more significant.
This interconnection between difference – whether of gender, nationality, culture – and participative educational methodology - is equally important for us to understand in the context of Networked Learning, especially when it draws on pedagogical traditions with an emphasis on learning as ‘collaborative’, ‘cooperative’, or invokes the concept of ‘community’. The application of these methods usually involves a less directive role for the tutor and a more involving experience for the student. As a consequence, there will be a greater range of possibilities for cultural differences to play a part.
However there is a further link. Our ingenuity in designing participative approaches in higher education – including those involving international student groups - may have outrun our understanding of the social and cultural complexities which characterise them. The aim of this paper is to review attempts to research tutors’ and students’ experiences of multinational programmes in order to identify the perspectives which would seem to offer most to those of us who work with international groups of students – including in a networked learning environment.
So for example, some authors take a psychological position as a way of understanding students’ responses of frustration, confusion and anxiety when faced with unfamiliar pedagogical approaches or focus on purely educational aspects such as student performance, language difficulties or the impact of stereotypes. Other authors emphasise the interconnectedness of psychological phenomena with social and cultural contexts and important differences - whether as regards gender, religion or politics or place even more emphasis on students’ experience as constructed from social and cultural differences, and of understanding classroom experience as society in microcosm.
In an approach that is similar to the one taken in this paper, Archer and Francis have proposed a framework which acknowledges the different perspectives used in addressing the multi-national classroom and argued that these do not simply represent different but equally acceptable alternatives, but that differences are significant in that they predispose educationalists to quite different responses, socially and politically. Archer and Francis propose distinct discourses which can be seen as responses to diversity: for example a compensatory response – as when implicitly positioning students as needing help to conform to the ‘home’ behaviour norms; or multicultural – as when celebrating or subjugating cultural differences in the interests of establishing a collaborative learning environment.
The central theme of this paper will be to establish not simply the range of perspectives employed, but to examine whether some are more appropriate in informing our understanding of working with multinational student groups, particularly in a learning environment informed by cooperative principles. As a corollary the paper will consider whether some approaches are – at least if used exclusively – inappropriate, in that they view complex social events through a psychologistic lens.
Dr Kiran Trehan
Increasing attention is focusing on the value of Critical approaches
to enhancing networked learning (Hodgson & Fox, 1995, McConnell, 1999,
Trehan &Reynolds, 2002).
Psychodynamics and Interculturality
The interplay between psychodynamic approaches and network learning
provides an opportunity to explore collaborative assessment at an individual,
group and community level as conscious and unconscious processes. Psychodynamic
perspectives illuminate approaches that differentiate between behaviours
and activities geared toward rational task performance and those geared
to emotional needs and anxieties. The application of this approach emphasises
the importance of understanding human relationships through the idea of
connectedness and relatedness. In doing so, the emphasis is placed on
"learning from the conscious and unconscious levels of connection
that exist between the self and others, people and systems" (French
& Vince, 1999, p7). To develop our understanding of Interculturality
within collaborative assessment, we need to find ways of exploring the
nature of authority, the exercise of authority and power, the relationship
of individuals and the learning communities to their social, political,
cultural and economic environment. We also need to examine how emotions
(e.g. humour, fear, anxiety) reverberate on the relational nature of collaborative
assessment and impact on the International student community.
Challenges for Chinese Learners in Sino-UK Intercultural Online Interactions--Case Study of an eChina~UK Project Course
Zhenhong Zhang, Ronghuai Huang
Education has gone beyond national boundaries with the help of Internet
and other network technologies. People from various countries and places
have more opportunities to learn together online through computer mediated
communications and collaboration. However, technological possibilities
do not mean everything. Cultural diversity has imposed new challenges
on intercultural networked learning and makes it much more complex than
uni-cultural education. Identification of cultural challenges and understanding
of their causes become an important part of pedagogy in the era of cross-cultural