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.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Engaging personally

It has been a busy week online in my world. As you can see from my visual I have also been exerting some very positive influence on my 7 year old son, we will work on the spelling next week. But, back to me....


I have been using Twitter a bit more and am actually finding it to be a nice quick reference to what people are up to (reading & thinking about, rather than what they are eating for lunch). Now is the challenge of collating a list of people to follow then keeping up with them.

I participated in the Twitter discussion on Thurs evening with Sarah, Folke and Matty Bee, there were also other participants one of whom suggested to develop a successful online network you need to..."engage personally, contribute meaningfully, pay attention, listen a lot, be consistent". I think I will take this advice on board & make an attempt to be more consistent with connecting & keeping up with all the forums that I now have to monitor, Twitter, FB, Wikis blogs, email (blah yuck!) and posting to my blog.
I can see that Twitter will become one of my favourite places to go to see what others are up to, it can be quick and easy or I can get lost in the plethora of further reading references that people add. I have learned how to reply, retweet and use a hashtag to get involved in a 'stream' and I even used Twitter to comment on Mattybee's blog (at least I think I did). I can see that Twitter will be a good way to "orchestrate serendipity" as Rachel Happe explains in her article '5 ways to orchestrate serendipity'.

[Blog update as at 19th Sep] I have stumbled across a helpful preso on Slideshare re: Twitter basics by Heidi Miller [contributing meaningfully]. I tried to email the FO2010 group from Slideshare but was not very successful so I tweeted it. Then I followed Heidi on Twitter [engaging personally]

I also joined in this mornings #FO2010 group discussion in Twitter and it was interesting that some participants (including myself) were not showing up in the stream of comments/tweets. We are learning so much about the perils of experiencing technical difficulties. I am not sure if I will be initiating any Tweet streams or twit chats (need to get used to the lingo) any time soon but I will certainly use Twitter to keep in touch with a wide audience of learning professionals.

e-Gems Elluminate session Wed

I involved myself in an e-gems session held in Elluminate facilitated by Melanie Worral on the topic of Instructional Design. Rather than just exit the session and perhaps read a few references that were provided (lurk, lurk) I also opted to follow Melanie on Twitter ... this is me 'engaging personally'.

It was interesting to note that during the session Melanie engaged participants in a whiteboard brainstorm session/discussion which was very successful, however later in the session when she attempted to pass the mic to engage us all in a verbal discussion there was silence, so Melanie threw up another blank slide & we again typed our comments; there was hardly a white space on the board when we finished...note to facilitator: always have a plan B.


I have also commenced another course called Personal Learnning Environments, Network and Knowledge 2010 [PLENK2010]. Yet another ball to juggle and I have committed to another blog for this course, I forsee a lot of cross-referencing to this blog & vice versa.

I have noticed that I am becoming more 'open' to sharing of myself online. For my first post on PLENK2010 I added an image of myself..a little bit conceited, perhaps, however there is no way I would have posted a real image of myself 2 months ago. I am enjoying interacting with new people online and part of my interest is putting a face to the's the human thing. Again this is me engaging personally.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


The FO2010 session held yesterday was to be hosted in Dim Dim however due to 'technical difficulties' (yes it all turned to custard) with the mic for the guest speaker - Wayne Mackintosh. The mic was not working consistently therefore we transferred to Elluminate, which allowed continuation of his presentation re:Wikieducator. Wayne presented a brief history & overview of of this learning platform & some very interesting stats which highlighted that this forum is being used predominantly by over 45s/Gen Xers.

As a result of Wayne's presentation I was keen to learn more about Wikieducator, this was very scary as I realised that Wikieducator may well become an addiction for me. I listened to a previously recorded session in Wikieducator on Basic Wiki Skills which was very similar in layout to an Elluminate session, however there was a visual of the facilitator(s) when they were speaking, which also seems to be similar to Dim Dim layout. The goals of the session were very basic they run through how to create a Wikieducator account, step by step with the participants and also how to update your preferences. The facilitators are Nellie Deutsch and Gladys Gahona, educators from different parts of the world who are advocates of Wikipedia (WE) and make reference to their online counterparts who they often collaborate with as their online 'family'. As with many online communities that I have experienced, they are welcoming & willing to assist and support new users.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Attracting an audience


When I started blogging last year I was hesitant to publicly post for a variety of reasons but I expect they all related to my lack of confidence with the medium, and also with my lack of awareness of the 'rules', of blogging. I didn't want to write something that might be considered 'innapropriate' in a blog post, because anyone might read it. Little did I know at that stage that attracting an audience to read your blog is one of the challenges of blogging, otherwise it sits out in the blogosphere (perhaps waiting to bite you at a later date).

Participation on FO2010 has really allowed me to become comfortable with blogging, even though I am not blogging regularly I am often thinking about how I would say/convey what I am thinking in my blog, so my thoughts are developing into the 'next stage'. I am told that I will build an audience if I keep blogging because it does take time to build up a network of people who I am interested in communicating with, & vice versa.

I have come to realise that blogging takes work, not work like running a marathon but like tinkering on a vintage car, it is enjoyable work and it needs to be consistent & constant to build and maintain a network. I need to get myself out there, read & post comments on other blogs, then refer them to my blog (trackback).

The more blogging & blog reading I do the more I realise it is a very convenient method of communication, you can really dig deep into thoughts of others and as a result develop your own thoughts & opinions. Previously these in depth thoughts would have been written (and hidden) in personal journals, we would have needed to really get to know a person before they revealed their thoughts - or perhaps attend one of their lectures or read one of their publications - I don't know about you but there is no way I was going to be 'published' if it wasn't for blogging. Blogging (and all social media) allows the everyday person to convey 'their' message, regardless of how insightful or banal the message may be.
Who is the audience
Social networking sites allow you to develop an audience (friends??) who will listen to (read) your daily gripes and messages of celebration but what if they don't read it, if they don't make a comment on your status, you have still done your job by putting it out there, if you really want people to comment make it more...sappy, funny, controversial. I can guarantee that there are many of my FB friends??? who would not even consider reading my blog, let alone be interested in the content but they are still interested in how I am feeling after a busy day. I can appreciate the distinction between my social network and my blog audience, or what I would consider my professional online identity.

There are some students who backlash against allowing their lecturers into their social networks which has resulted in the coining of the phrase 'Creepy Treehouse' to describe the use of a place where adults attempt to entice children to play, this is the focus of an interesting blog post written by Jared Stein. Interestingly Sarah referred us to this article via FB and it has got me thinking about the distinction between learners; from uni students who don't want lecturers to know what they got up to on the weekend to professional online learners/facilitators who are keen to build an audience with whatever tools they have at their disposal. Yet again there is always more to think about.