Reeder, Kenneth; Macfadyen, Leah P.; Chase, Mackie; Roche, Jörg, (2004 June) Falling Through the Cultural Gaps? Intercultural communication challenges in cyberspace. Proceedings, Cultural Attitudes to technology and Communication, Karlstad, Sweden. http://hdl.handle.net/2429/1329
Working backwards from their conclusions we first learn about a concern for cultural sensitivity from all participants. Something as simple as how participants introduce themselves (genealogy vs. resume) can indicate cultural difference. The authors point out that other gaps in communication can be highlighted by studies in second language acquisition, their point being that communication standards should be made explicit. “Rather, these participants may have experienced confusion or doubts as to whether basic interpersonal communication, academic language, or perhaps something in between (another site of negotiation?) was expected in the online situation” (Reeder 2004). They finally theorized about a hybrid form of communication that seems to be developing online: “For instance, Dudfield (1999) agrees that students are increasingly engaging in what she calls ‘hybrid forms of literate behaviour.’ Gibbs (2000) has extended this to suggest that new forms of communication are actually constructing ‘new forms of thinking, perceiving and recording.’… We might speculate however that our corpus and others like it represent a new genre, neither spoken nor written, yet drawing upon conventions of both. In any case, distance educators need to be cognizant of the relative “fit” between their participants’ origins in oral or literate cultures and the distinct genre requirements of online communication in e-learning”(Reeder 2004).
To my mind these are fairly constrained conclusions. The idea that course participants should be culturally sensitive and that instructors do better to make expectations explicit hardly seems to move us along – sure they bare repeating but they do not constitute something unique to online instruction. However, their final observation regarding a distinctive tone or voice in online communication is interesting – “hybrid forms of literate behavior.” I think there are many fruitful questions that burble around that conclusion. So, based on the conclusions this conference paper seems at least understated.
Looking elsewhere for highlights, we find a section header “3.1. THE INTERNET HAS A CULTURE” and here the authors do some interesting work:
Like all technologies, the Internet was and is socially produced – and all social productions are informed by the cultural values of their producers (Castells, 2001). The creators of the Internet were predominantly Anglo-American engineers and scientists “seeking quick and open access to others like themselves” (Anderson, 1995. p. 13). Their ethnic and professional cultures value aggressive/competitive individualistic behaviours. In addition, these cultures value communications characterized by speed, reach, openness, quick response, questions/debate and informality. Schein (1992) attributes similar values to the information technology community in general.
We observed that these communicative cultural values are embedded in the design of WebCT and similar Internet-based communications platforms. Layered over this foundational but ‘invisible’ culture of the Internet, the culture of the online modular courses under study here is similarly the product of its creators: predominantly university-educated Canadians, who are Western, English-speaking and female. (Reeder 2004)
Here is something we can get our teeth into and chew on. Thinking back to Owen’s first assignment we watched a thought leader speculating on “learning networks” as a new and important phenomenon. My take away was an insight that we do not need to limit ourselves, even in formal education, to LMS. So are there other social media sites that resonate with different cultural values? One way to answer this is to put on our cultural diversity glasses and look for these ourselves another approach is to ask members of populations we would like to reach — where they congregate online? This helps us identify new or new to us tools for online communication. Another is to imagine our course design in a different way. What if we ask participants to introduce themselves genealogically first; here I am thinking about connections to people and places (notice the discomfort we feel) and this is part of the value of this. My friend John Schumacher called it “the insanity of place” his example was to imagine approaching a stranger’s cart in the grocery store and, without explanation, taking an item out and looking at it. Yet even just 100 years ago we (members of the dominate culture) would have been comfortable with a genealogical introduction. Here I am remembering a highlight from the recent nonfiction book Quiet the author traces the change from persons of character to persons of personality (pg35). Reaching back to the authors conclusions and their curiosity in a “new genre, neither written nor spoken” I wonder if social media is likewise blurring the distinctions between genealogical introductions and resume introductions. I can learn about others in this course by Googling them and finding their LinkedIn profiles, their Facebook pages, (Twitter, Pinterest and so on) their online brand as it were. Their identity for me is likewise hybridized both personal and professional. That said, a lot of online communication has happened in the time since this paper was read – plenty of time to develop and refine some new genre. Alas, I am unsure this new voice is emerging. Blogs seem to follow conventions of essays or journals with long expository writing. Tweets seem to be somewhere between bumper sticker wisdom and aphorisms… though it does show a stylized kind of communication. Forums show a wide variety of writing ability and style sometimes with posts clearly translated by Google or that ilk. Criticism for poor writing, reasoning and argumentation are frequent and harsh. Forums seem to be a place where cultural diversity interacts and often with little sensitivity or with reference to “online norms.” I wonder more about silent participation. People who read and reflect on what they encounter but do not themselves add to the “conversation.” On one hand, I have shifted from LMS to the whole of the internet. Therefore, my sample is larger, but not systematic as I am reflecting on my observations of online communication — not conclusive but sufficient for me to be suspicious.
In the end this paper disappoints a little; the authors seem most concerned with grinding their axe with Canadian dominant culture.
Cain, Susan. (2012) Quiet :the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking New York : Broadway Books