Saturday, September 18, 2010

Considering cultural competence

Cultural differences can be evident in the way we dress, present ourselves,talk, socialise, in many aspects of who we are. The visual differences may be less pronounced when we are online, they are hidden, however there are many aspects of who we are that when shared can highlight differences, the way we talk, interact & communicate. Stephen Thorpe, in Enhancing Online Collaboration, suggests that "Cultural differences are likely to be more significant online, and they are not always obvious due to the lack of emotional cues and feedback." [p12]

Experiencing cultural difference is an exciting part of participating in an open online course within an international forum, however it can generate difficulties or challenges that need to be considered from a facilitators perspective.

Whilst there are many of these challenges that may not be able to be overcome it is part of the facilitator's role to at least recognise these challenges & make an effort to assist learners in overcoming them where possible.

What is cultural difference?

That amazing feeling, when you are travelling in a foreign country & you step away from the well trodden tourist trail to find yourself immersed in another culture is exhilerating. For me it is one of the attractions of travelling, that makes every trip new & 'different'. When I commenced the FO2010 course I took for granted that with many NZ participants there would be little in the way of obvious cultural difference, we all speak english & having travelled to NZ a few times & having had many Kiwi friends in Australia I did not expect any cultural differences to emerge. Yet they did and it has been an added bonus of participating in the course.

Some examples of cultural difference I have experienced during this course.

I am really enjoying using the term "it can all turn to custard", which I now understand to be a NZ phrase (my husband reminds me that in Australia we use a less dignified word for custard). I have heard the phrase used a couple of times, once from Sarah & then from Willy.

In another session we were chatting about where we were sitting and someone referred to the bird outside the window in a tree however she used the proper names for both, which were obviously NZ native, as some other participants also did not recognise what she was referring to. These little differences are what makes us specific to our culture.

Whilst experiencing cultural difference has been a joy for me I am sure there have been differences for others within the course that have not been such a 'joy'. I know that there are often technical challenges that have arisen for many on the other side of the globe, such as Folke's chipmunk and Karen's dropped connections during Elluminate sessions, but I have not read of any specific cultural challenges. Perhaps challenges with cultural differences is something that others would not share, would participants simply drop out of the course?

Language as a cultural barrier

Participating in PLENK2010 with such a large number (1500+) of international participants is allowing me to start to understand how challenging it is for non-english speakers to participate in an online course. There is a large community of learners from South America and they have formed their own FB group. As a keen FB user I checked it out but I was unable to read the text, there we go... a small taste of how it feels to be shut out due to a language barrier. I still have a long way to go before I think I will feel confident facilitating with learners who struggle with english. I need to watch & learn how others do this.

There are methods in place to allow non-english speakers to interpret what's going on, although I am not sure how to use it, there is an interpreting tool. Heli has described in her blog - 'Heli on Connectivism' the challenges she has faced attending the course when english is her second language and how she gets around this by finding another participants blog who offers a clear run down of what has been discussed, in saying that Heli obviously has a good grasp of english as her blog posts inidicate, she simply struggles with the pace of the Elluminate discussions - hey there's that much technical jargon (connectivist speak) I sometimes struggle.

What does it mean to be a culturally competent facilitator?

No one facilitator can expect to know all cultural differences & even if they did they could not know how they may effect different participants/learners but I believe the key to being a culturally competent facilitator is being open & available so that participants are made to feel comfortable raising any concerns that they have which in turn will give you a better understanding of the problem/issue & allow you as the facilitator to work with the participant to overcome it. However as facilitators it is still important to remember we can't 'fix' everything & sometimes it may be simply be giving participants the opportunity to raise their concerns that allows them to move forward, even without a magic 'fix'.

Welcoming people of different cultures, nationalities and ethnicities into an online group

As a facilitator it is important to take the time to do the 'touchy feely' welcomes & intros at the beginning of a course (and to a lesser extent at commencement of a session) so that everyone feels welcome. Where cultural differences pose a challenge I believe that simply by recognising where people are from at the outset allows any barriers to be 'broken down' to a certain degree and also recognition that inclusion of people from various cultures will allow for a richer learning experience if people are willing to share their thoughts and considerations from a cultural perspective, not neccessarily all the time but when it is relevant to the learning.

Ensuring the resources, images, communication tools and activities are culturally appropriate
I expect that this will pose yet another challenge to me as someone learning to facilitate online. By asking participants to be honest & offering their views as to the appropriateness of images, communication tools and activities where they feel neccessary will again set up an open forum.
As usual my conclusion is that I still have a lot to learn, but I expect that the more I learn the more I will realise there is to learn....lifelong learning...that is why it is so exciting.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect the speed at which the digital world encourages us to communicate makes langauage subleties a huge obstacle for participants. Possibly followup summaries etc as those that Sarah does for us will help.
    the other option is a "buddy" system where someone familiar with both languages, or at least with the difficulties of ESOL (English as a Second or Other Langauge) might be possible.
    I would hate to see us all become so politically correct and literal that the subtelties that gives us richness and depth get lost.